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March 12, 2007

A Democratic Tide?

Oh, it looks bad for the GOP. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, Republicans are despairing: 40 percent of them say they expect the Democrats to win the next election, while just 12 percent of Democrats say the GOP will win.

But Samuel L. Popkin and Henry A. Kim have a bracing historical reminder for Democrats in Sunday’s Washington Post:
The last time either party captured the White House two years after wresting
control of both House and Senate in midterm elections was in 1920. Democrats who
think that it is their turn to expand their pet programs and please their core
constituencies have forgotten how quickly congressional heavy-handedness can
revive the president’s party.
As Popkin and Kim point out, there have been four times since 1920 when the opposition party picked up one or both houses of Congress at the mid-terms but then lost the presidency two years later. These were in 1946, 1954, 1986, and 1994. In three of those four instances (all but 1986), the opposition candidate lost to an incumbent president—Truman, Eisenhower, and Clinton—and, in the fourth case, to the vice president, George H.W. Bush. Of course, 2008 will be entirely different. The Republican candidate for president will not come from the Bush White House, though that may well be to the GOP’s advantage given the fiasco in Iraq.

The swing toward the Democrats in recent public-opinion polls is substantial. At first, the numbers may not look that impressive. Charlie Cook recently pointed out in National Journal that, according to Gallup’s aggregated surveys for 2006, Democrats enjoyed a 3.9 percent edge in party ID (34.3 percent Democratic; 30.4 percent Republican; and 33.9 independents); that’s roughly a 5-point swing toward the Democrats from 2002. But when independents were asked which way they leaned, the Democrats’ edge rose to 10.2 percentage points. Says Cook: “That’s the biggest advantage either party has enjoyed since Gallup began pushing leaners in 1991—and it is significant. Leaners tend to end up voting for the party they tilt toward almost as consistently as do voters who say they belong to that party.”

Popkin and Kim are absolutely right, however, that the GOP could still hold the presidency in 2008, even in the face of Democratic gains in public opinion. I have the greatest respect for the two front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but I am not yet convinced that they can overcome the obvious obstacles to their election. According to the New York Times/CBS poll, if the election were held now, Americans would choose an unnamed Democrat over an unnamed Republican by a 20-point margin. Nonetheless, both Clinton and Obama have run behind in polls first to John McCain and now to Rudy Giuliani. Are Democrats so sure the country has put sexism and racism to rest that they want to bet the future of the country on that proposition? I wish I felt confident that was true. Perhaps as we get closer to next February I will.

Paul Starr



Blogger merjoem32 said...

Hillary and Obama do have a lot of obstacles to go through. We will see just how insurmountable those obstacles are at the end of the 2008 presidential race. The election will also indicate just how tolerant we are of African Americans and women.

March 26, 2007 3:29 PM  
Blogger Jake - but not the one said...

If liberals (Democrats?) can take a larger (veto proof) lead in the Senate and House, I can live with a Republican president.

Would things be any better with Democrats in charge of both chambers AND the Executive branch? How long would it take for hubris to overwhelm any common sense a Democratic president might have?


April 24, 2007 4:19 PM  

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