Wave election coming? I don’t think so.

Congressional Republicans have 17% favorable/70% unfavorable polling numbers. And I’m expected to believe that they’re about to have a wave election in their favor? Color me skeptical.

There’s been lots of hand-wringing (or, from the other side, gloating) about the possibility of a 1994-style swing against the Democrats in 2010. Anything’s possible, I suppose – though I suspect that much of the current poll reflects current economic distress, likely to have been somewhat releived by Election Day 2010 – but John Amato points out that the Democrats’ polling numbers, anemic as they are, reflect glowing health compared to the Republicans’.

Is there really going to be a “wave” election in the direction of a Congressional party that current has a 17% favorable/70% unfavorable rating, in competition with a party that stands at 38/57? Color me skeptical.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

5 thoughts on “Wave election coming? I don’t think so.”

  1. Mark,

    A lot can happen between now and next November, of course. But it's still true that the best predictor of election results is the perception of the in-party's performance. Think of it like this: if you see a poll of a Senate race that has the Republican up 45-30, you might be inclined to give up on that seat. But if the leading candidate is an incumbent, then the picture's a little different–everyone knows his name, and the fact that less than half of the voters are committed to him indicates that he's vulnerable.

    Right now, the Democrats are like the incumbent; those undecided voters are more likely to break against us than for us. Of course, if the economy rebounds or health reform passes, the picture could look radically different.

    For some more, see this post at The Monkey Cage:


  2. I am skeptical too, but people are fickle and polling numbers can change dramatically in short periods of time. A lot can happen between now and November 2010.

    Better evidence supporting continued Democratic dominance of Congress can be found here. Of course, these numbers could change dramatically depending on how the Supreme Court rules on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

  3. I think that the these predictions are based on past "normal" swings between two parties that are seen as somewhat equivalently capable to run the government. I think that the 21st century rejection of the Republican Party by the broad mainstream of public opinion is not "normal", but has yet to run its course. I don't think the GOP will rebound until it reboots, and moves away from their present nihilistic course. Assuming that the economy recovers and a Health Care Reform that is not a policy disaster passes, I would think it more likely that the Democratic majorities would grow in 2010, not shrink. The people are not done punishing Republicans yet.

  4. What were the Republican Party's approval numbers before 1994 and 2002? Those were the last two times (and only instances since Eisenhower) the GOP got both a majority of votes and seats.

  5. '94 can never happen again, for a number of reasons. But the most important is that the Republican Congress elected in '94 proved to the GOP's base that electing Republicans didn't really accomplish anything the GOP claimed to want to do. They'll never be able to motivate the base again to that extent, given how (justifiably!) cynical the GOP base is about the candidates.

    The Obama administration is on it's way to rendering the Democratic party base similarly cynical, but that would just level the playing field, not give Republicans an advantage.

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