Sunday, November 9, 2008

How does 1994 compare to this year?

The congressional elections this year are likely to invite comparisons with 1994. How to do the two stack up?


The Republicans made a large one-election shift in the Senate in 1994, winning eight seats and going from 44 to 52. The final numbers, after some seat swapping: Republican 53, Democratic 47. That year there were six open seats so the Republicans defeated only two incumbents.

This year the Democrats won at least six seats, going from a majority of 51 to at least 57 (with three seats still undecided). The Democratic flip was smaller (so far) but more significant in terms of voting power within the Senate.


In the House in 1994 the Republicans also had a big shift with a 54 seat win, moving the power from D 258, R 230 to D 204, R 230 and defeating 34 incumbents.

The balance of power this time will be at least D 257, with a few seats still undecided, meaning that Dems have restored the power they had before 1994. This year they have won at least 20 new seats after gaining 31 in 2006. The Democratic advantage in the House is 82 votes, compared to the 26 vote advantage the Republicans had in 1994.

They did not have a 'revolution' but steadily re-grew their majority over the last few election cycles. Approximately 20 incumbents were defeated in this election cycle with 22 defeated in 2006.

What does this mean in policy terms and the mood of the country?

The 1994 Republican 'revolution' was the result of two factors. One was the historical realignment of Southern voters who rejected the Democratic Party label. The "Democrats" elected in the South for decades were highly conservative with policy positions that fit better with the new Republican brand. With the second factor, Newt Gringrich's "Contract with America" to inspire them, Southern Democratic voters finally changed their party.

The election advantage for the Republicans was similar to that in 1946 when the country, discouraged with Truman's leadership, shifted the House by an eerily similar 54 seats. In fact, the Republicans gained the majority of votes for Congress seats for the first time since 1946.

But the Contract with America did not achieve what it had promised. For instance, a November 13, 2000 article by Edward H. Crane, president of the libertarian Cato Institute, stated, "... the combined budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract with America promised to eliminate have increased by 13%." (Wikipedia)

The relative failure of the Contract, the downfall of Gingrich, the unpopular impeachment, and the steadily growing extremism of the Republican Party, made the party lose its edge in both the Senate and the House, declining steadily (except for a slight bump when Bush was elected) since that time.

The majorities in both the House and the Senate when the new Congress convenes will be unassailable since the Dixiecrats are almost all gone, with only a few right-leaners like Landrieu still in place. The Republicans will be able to mount almost no defense in the House and will risk using the filibuster only rarely in the Senate since it will easily earn them the 'obstructionist' label and weaken their chances for a resurgence in 2010.

It is likely that the Democrats will make compromises with the Republicans to keep the bipartisan promise Obama made (unlike Bush breaking his promise in 2001) but we are still likely to see major movement on the issues Obama promised to work on in his campaign.

1 comment:

charvakan said...

You're right that we should see some major movement. It isn't just the power shift or the size of the Democratic majorities. It's the press of events, as the economic meltdown causes a sense of crisis and a need for action. There's the possibility for very rapid movement on a number of fronts, foreign and domestic, with success breeding more success.