Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Shortening my Stay in Purgatory

When I was a kid, I was always told that any suffering and adversity I went through would shorten my stay in purgatory. Well, reading election predictions might be my guarantee to a straight shot right past purgatory and on to the pearly gates (or fiery damnation, as the case may be).

Stu Rothenberg today notes (subscription required) that the wave this year is bigger than 1994, and says that if Republicans were sufficiently exposed (that is, if the GOP held more nominally Democratic or marginal House seats), we could suffer as much as a 60 seat loss:

How High the Wave? Don’t Just Think 1994; Think 1974, 1958, 1982
October 24, 2006
By Stuart Rothenberg,
Roll Call Contributing Writer

With only a couple of weeks until Election Day, we know there will be a Democratic wave on Nov. 7. And we can be fairly certain that by historical standards it will be high — possibly very high. But we still don’t know how many Republicans once considered safe will be swept out of office.

The national political environment currently is worse than it was in 1994, when the Democrats lost 52 House seats, eight Senate seats and 10 governorships, and when Republicans won GOP control of the House for the first time in decades.

You heard me right: It’s worse this year than it was in 1994, when voters were dissatisfied with the first two years of the Bill Clinton presidency.

President Bush’s approval ratings are worse than Clinton’s were — Bush’s are in the upper 30s, while Clinton’s were in the mid-to-upper 40s — and the 16 percent approval rating for Congress in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll ranks far below where Congress stood prior to the 1994 midterms (24 percent).

Similarly, the generic ballot in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was much closer back in ’94, when Republicans held a 5-point edge right before the elections. Now, there’s a 15-point Democratic advantage...

Given that, the past four true midterm wave elections saw the victorious party winning 52, 48, 48 and 26 seats, suggesting a reasonable range for success for Democrats this year.

Given that the political environment right now is worse for Republicans than at any time since 1974 — and that Republicans hold 232 House seats, which is far, far above their level in any of the four previous cycles — their vulnerability is great.

Of course, it matters where a party starts, since an overextended party (that is, one holding lots of seats that ought to belong to the opposition) inevitably has more seats at risk, while one that holds relatively few districts has fewer to lose.

The GOP’s 48-seat loss in 1974 was stunning because the party started the election holding fewer than 200 seats. In 1982, Republicans lost 26 seats starting at roughly the same point.

While the GOP isn’t overextended now, its 15-seat majority suggests it is now near the upper limit of its “normal” range. It holds a few Democratic seats, and Democrats hold a few Republican seats, but most districts are represented by the “correct” party. Still, with Republicans holding 232 seats in the House, the party has plenty of districts to lose.

So where does this leave us?

With the national environment being as it is — and given the last round of redistricting, which limits possible Democratic gains — Republicans probably are at risk to lose as few as 45 seats and as many as 60 seats, based on historical results. Given how the national mood compares to previous wave years and to the GOP’s 15-seat House majority, Democratic gains almost certainly would fall to the upper end of that range.

The paucity of competitive districts limits Republican risk, but how much? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. But if redistricting cuts that kind of wave by half, Democrats would gain between 22 and 30 seats next month. And if the new districts slice Democratic gains by a smaller but still significant one-third, Democrats would pick up from 30 to 45 seats.

Dangerously big waves can be very strong and very unpredictable. They can bring widespread destruction and chaos. Republicans now must hope that this year’s midterm wave isn’t as bad as national poll numbers suggest it could be, because those national numbers suggest a truly historic tidal wave.

I wonder if it's too early in the morning to start drinking?

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