Dems Will Get Shellacked: So What?

Jeff Alworth

I've been meaning to comment on the many, many polls that foretell a November apocalypse for Democrats. Paul Gronke's post yesterday was a good enough provocation, so here goes. Three things are true: 1) Dems will probably lose seats, many, and may lose one or both houses of Congress; 2) both Democrats and Republicans will almost certainly misinterpret the election results; and 3) election results do not, of themselves, result in positive policy changes. Let's take these in order.

The Apocalypse
If the election were held today, Democrats would likely lose the House and might well lose the Senate. The two are not unrelated. In the six previous times the House has flipped since WWII, the Senate also flipped. Now, patterns are not destiny, so our results may vary. Still, anticipate carnage.

Misinterpreting Results
Let's imagine the armchair quarterbacking following the carnage. Almost certainly, it'll look something like this: "Americans, disgusted with policies Dems enacted over the past two years, punished them at the election by clamoring for the party of small government." The media have already started making this argument, so it's hard to see why they'd stop after the results come. Liberal Dems will make this argument, though they'll argue Americans really wanted MORE socialism, not the namby-pamby stuff they got with Obama. And conservative Republicans will nod sagely and say, "See: Sharron Angle. Toldja. Let's keep tea partyin'."

But we already know why the Dems are going to get pasted in two months: the economy sucks. Kevin Drum, looking at recent polling, put it this way:

Summary: Americans trust Democrats more to handle the country's problems, they think Democrats represent their values better, they think Democrats are more concerned with the needs of people like them, and they think Democrats deserve to be reelected at a higher rate than Republicans. They also think (though I didn't show it below) that George Bush is substantially more to blame for our economic woes than Barack Obama. And the result of all this? They say they plan to vote for Republicans by landslide numbers.

Both parties should be concerned about misinterpreting these results. Americans don't actually like tea party radicalism. A landslide win will suggest to Republicans that they do, and we can expect to see even crazier, less qualified candidates for 2012--which won't have good, long-term consequences for their success as a majority party. Dems will probably lose their nerve and agree to play along with the right, chasing after doomed ideas like immediate British-style austerity measures and deficit-cutting. This, too, will put them in poor standing with the electorate. But still, both parties will be strongly inclined to follow the narrative and react this way.

Is anyone actually unclear that only reason the GOP is getting a massive electoral windfall is because of the economic crisis (that their policies precipitated, but that's a different rant)? Then why are we going to suddenly have amnesia about a truth we had just days before an election and run with a story we know is bogus? But that's what will happen.

Elections Are Not Policy
We tend to put WAY too much emphasis on election results, forgetting that they are only the first move in a long political chess match to change public policy. But it's almost impossible to see enough moves ahead to predict how election results will change policy--especially in the long term. Here's a couple of differing scenarios, each one plausible enough for the purposes of this thought experiment. In the first, the GOP take both houses back and in triumph, try to pass lots of radical legislation. Most of it gets derailed as the caucus splinters, the GOP are punished brutally at the ballot box in 2012, and Obama starts his second term with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. In the second scenario, the Dems hang on to both houses ... barely. Not enough, however, to soothe blue dogs or overcome Senate filibusters, and so the next two years feature gridlock that the GOP use to crush Dems in 2012, ushering in the Sarah Palin era. (Okay, it was plausible right there 'til the end.) Buiild your own: they're fun and easy to make plausible.

And that's just two years. Think about any issue and imagine the permutations it might take if you threw in just a few variables--which always get thrown in. Bush's entire administration was defined by events no one predicted. Would Barack Obama be president if al Qaida hadn't attacked the US? Freaky to think, but no. So the lesson is that you stick to your guns, try to govern the best way you know how, and fight like dogs to get elected and pass good laws.

November will come, something will happen, and then 2011 will come. And then we'll start the whole thing over again.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Bill Clinton had a disastrous mid-term election in 1994, with Gingrich's troops taking over the House with their "Contract on America," and the pundits pretty much wrote Clinton off as a failed president who was sure to be voted out in 1996. As we all know, things didn't turn out that way.

    Will Obama's presidency follow the same pattern? Perhaps, but two things suggest otherwise:

    1. Obama doesn't appear to have the political savvy of Clinton.

    2. Republicans today are far more combative, obstructionist, radical and unwilling to compromise than even the Gingrichites.

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      Yes, and we know that Bill Clinton had a zipper problem which got him impeached and nearly convicted and removed from office, a scandal which brought us GWB.

      I'm glad we have a president who is a family man and has character. I worked in Bill Clinton's campaign, attended his inauguration but everyone who was his supporter never knew when the rug was going to be pulled out from under us.

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        Character? who are you kidding? Obama has told more lies in his first 2 years than GWB told in 8 years and he has run up a larger deficit in 2 years than every president from Washington thru Reagan combined.

        http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/72404

        Can you imagine how unpopular he would be if he hadn't recklessly blown through trillions and trillions of dollars desperately trying to buy votes and friends?

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          you're so adorable, Chet. it's almost as if you had a mind of your own and were not happily playing the tool.

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          Over 90% of the deficits the current administration has run are attributable to the two wars Bush started, TARP (Bush's bank bailout), the unpaid for tax cuts Bush pushed through in his first term, and the economic collapse which started in 2007. See this chart.

          Furthermore, for the entirety of the Bush administration, Bush kept the wars off-budget so he could claim smaller deficits. Putting those wars back on budget which the Obama administration did immediately after taking office, accounts for over 1/3rd of current deficit spending simply by no longer lying about the cost of the wars which the Bush administration did every year since 2002-2003 when the wars started.

          In short, you are either lying or delusional in trying to pin the current deficits on the policies of the Obama administration.

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            Why do you waste your breath with these people. They could care less about facts, hence they always quote some source no one has ever heard of before.

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        Clinton couldn't get HCR passed and neither could Obama. Clinton's strength was that he was both much smarter than Obama and much much much more in touch with Americans not to mention much more likable.

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          Chet, you know that HCR means "health care reform" right? cuz otherwise you don't sound very well informed. given that HCR was passed this year. and signed by Obama. and is now being called, by your friends on the right, "Obamacare".

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          Well, Clinton was more "in touch" with Monica, I'll give you that. The rest of your statement? Not so much. Obama did get HCR passed...where have you been the past two years?

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    Nobody knows what will happen in Nov. And Gallup's meandering around on generic Congresional preferences just proves that point.(presently even) So this speculation right now is utterly without merit, about what the meaning is. And we all know that there is utter dishonesty about what the spin is after an election. So why not keep the focus on actual policy questions and advocacy, rather than crystal ball gazing and the propaganda talking points of each side?

    The polling organizations can't agree themselves on their likely voter screens, and when they poll registered voters they get a very different picture. So if Dems get their people to actually vote they should hold Congress.

    Blue Oregon needs to do better than this.

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      Bill, first off, call me out for this post, not BlueO. Second, on this:

      "So if Dems get their people to actually vote they should hold Congress."

      I'm all for it. The point is that this election isn't the end point. It's the second act in what we hope will be a decades-long progressive era. Our race-horse culture causes us to forget this sometimes.

      Finally, what point does it serve to dismiss negative polls? I'm not in favor of telling ourselves happy stories to keep the energy up. The energy needs to come from somewhere other than the next election. Elections, as I say, aren't the end; they're the means. We gotta keep our eye on the ball.

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      Not a chance Jeff's article was simply trying to get hardliners like you ready for the drubbing that awaits. I disagree with Jeff on many of his assumptions especially his interpretation of what this election will mean. The election that was misinterpreted was the 08 elections. American's didn't just hit their heads on a log and become liberals overnight. That election had nothing to do with everyone embracing the liberal agenda and everything to do with an unpopular president and two unpopular wars not to forget the media's success in shielding the American people from the reality of who Obama really was by refusing to print anything negative about him. The republicans are going to beat the left like a drum in November and what it will mean is they are NOT on board with the policies and actions the left has taken the very first chance they get and they are really angry with the fact that no one was listening to them when they said NO to HCR and a dozen other issues the left jammed thru on them anyway. Don't fool yourselves more people identify positively with the tea party than the democrat party right now and justifiably so

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        For anyone reading through the comments--Chester's is a great example of why Dems shouldn't get discouraged by an electoral loss.

        Chester's view is the animating force in the Republican Party right now, and it gives me great hope that the long-term future is in the hands of sane liberals.

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    United We Fail, Divided We Stand

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    Jeff,

    I really like you drawing us to consider the flow of politics pre and post election cycle.

    The mid-term shake-up in Congress may be of use to those of us in the progressive base who may be able to gain more attention from Democratic leaders, once the flow of middle of the road politics to the undermotivated base to underperformance in key races comes into painful focus.

    As they say, it's time to lead or leave.

    ~mike

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    There's a long way to go before we can say definitively "dems will get shellacked". We're going to lose some seats, but the odds of keeping the Senate are strong, and the House is still reasonably solid (but getting tougher by the day.)

    The big question: Will Democrats find their motivation to turn out to vote?

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    Jeff,

    I'm not sure I share your same sense of "so what?" about the change in leadership, if it happens.

    There's no way healthcare, financial reform, and a host of other bills would've made it through Congress if the Republicans were still in control. If Republicans win both the House and Senate, then it could be difficult - if not impossible - for Obama to push through his agenda.

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      Thats exactly why voters are going to turn out in record numbers to make sure they don't keep control Jason... The American people overwhelmingly DONOT want to see what the rest of Obama's agenda looks like and the people who are leading in all of those polls are running on the platform of unwinding the parts of the agenda he has already jammed thru

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        voters are going to turn out in bigger numbers that 2008? really?

        wow, that'll be astounding. given the vast number of 2008 voters who have said they're giving it a pass this year.

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    Jeff My debt to you in beer gets longer and longer.

    You captured nicely the direction I was hoping the discussion would go in the other thread. Unfortunately, we got the "predictions suck" reaction so quickly that the substantive conversation got swamped.

    And to Bill, I'll just repeat: no one know "precisely* what will happen in November, but if you are claiming that 9.5% unemployment and a 43% presidential approval rating is not bad news for the ruling party, then I think you are being purposely naive.

    The Dems can hold the House by focusing on the weaknesses of the opposition party, by trying to educate the voters about the impact of the stimulus ("How bad would unemployment actually be..") and by highlighting the Republicans' inequitable economic proposals.

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    TPM has a nifty little graph showing the difference in Obama's approval ratings over the last year have only changed by 4 points. It's boring flat line.

    This election is certainly not the time for Democrats to roll over and play dead.

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    my silver lining in this? the most vulnerable Democrats in 2010 are Blue Dogs.

    if there's a lesson to be learned (ok, if there's a lesson i wish could be learned) it's that playing the mushy center doesn't work. sorta-kinda is tepid swill. the Dems who have stood steadfast for progressive/liberal ideals will have steadfast support from their constituents. Pete DeFazio has proven this for years. if Dems had passed a more sweeping stimulus bill, they'd be in position to add to their numbers. but far too many took the "safe" route, which was timidity, and now they're going to pay.

    sweep 'em out. let's elect Dems with the courage to do what is right, not what seems safe or politically expedient.

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      Agreed. Still looking to fight for every seat this cycle, and next, and the next... but I agree that if there had been more aggressive action on the stimulus bill, we would have a very different economic situation and hence electoral one next month.

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    This is sort of a riff on what Paul said above.

    It may be possible to hold the House (and if so, the Senate will hold as well). The last two summers have been dominated by extreme nativism and have been hard on Obama and the Dems. When the temperatures cool, so do tempers, and much of America backs away from the edge. It's possible that Dems could have a better-than-expected autumn.

    But the point of the post is to say that no matter what happens at the election, Dems still have lots of work in front of them. I'm not at all persuaded that a Boehner House is a terminal condition--nor am I convinced a Pelosi House is salvation. There's the election and then there's the work after the election. Both are important.

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    "You get the government you deserve"

    The U.S.A. deserves the GOP. Actually, it deserves Palin/Beck 2012.

    This will continue until the U.S.A. works out its karma. We've got a long way to go.

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      I don't think for a minute that Oregonians or American "deserve" GOP policies that would privatize Social Security, continue tax evasion for the wealthy and mega corps and dismantle public schools.

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    If any election results have been misread , they were the 208 outcome. The progressive liberals believed it was an open checkbook for their ever expansive entitlement programs and a more centralized government. While the economy cratered, Obama fiddled with non reform of health care. He couldn't even get it passed with a majority in both houses without shenanigans.

    On the state fronts, many, many states continued profligate spending and tricks to make their budgets not look as bad as they were. Here in the late summer/fall of 2010, the animals are coming home. A disollusioned 20 something voter base has all but checked out, angry uber conservatives who sat out 2008 are back and many moderate/unafiliated voters have decided that the Nanny State is not what they signed on for.

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      Hey, Kurt Chapman- what about Tom DeLay's/the GOP's Medicare Part D? That was as expensive an increase in entitlements as has ever come down the pike (so expensive because the GOP stipulated that Medicare will pay market prices for medications). And I believe some shenanigans were needed to squeak that through the House.

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    Is anyone actually unclear that only reason the GOP is getting a massive electoral windfall is because of the economic crisis (that their policies precipitated, but that's a different rant)?

    Jeff, I believe you are half right here. It's not just the deep recession, it's also the politics of bailouts and stimulus, it's the uncertainty introduced by arbitrary subjugation of contract law and unclear future tax policy, it's unsustainable spending, it's the unpopular health care takeover.

    In sum, folks feel that their representatives are not representing them and are confused about who the representatives do represent.

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    Part of the problem is that speculation as to what might happen is reported as if it were news of something that did happen. Not only are elections reported on like horse races, but the odds are reported as if they were news of the race. That's ok if you're betting, which is how some people view politics, but if you care about how election results affect people's lives, then it would be nice to get some substance about the issues, not just who thinks who is ahead.

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    Stephen, for some reason my page isn't loading correctly and I can not reply in the string. You are absolutely correct, the Medicare Part D prescription coverage was another huge entitlement increase. And yes, it did occur on the Republican's watch. I didn't agree with it then and do not now. What many progressives choose to forget however, is there was a competing bill from the democrats which was even more costly and would have passed in the alternative. That doesn't make it right however.

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    Nov 3rd is soon enough to worry about the after-election work. Until then, I am focusing on getting out every Dem voter I can to volunteer and to VOTE! It's hard enough to get people to turn out, but it gets harder when some people start beating the "we're gonna lose big-time" drum with over a month to go until the election.

    Like you said, Jeff, there is work for the election and work after the election....let's focus on the election work. There's certainly plenty of it.

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    I'm going to do all I can to get everyone I know out and voting this Fall. Let's rock the vote, People!

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