Turnout and Tipping Points

There’s another factor that feeds into potential retirements in Congress, discussed here and here, and that’s turnout. Conservatives appear to be fairly despondent about the performance of Republicans both in Congress and the White House. That suggests that the army of folks knocking on doors will not be as motivated in 2006 as they were in 2004, and thus that turnout will decline. This is bad enough, but both Republican incumbents and potential challengers have to know that turnout will not be supercharged. That means that, when combined with declining popular support for Republicans, they can’t count on turnout to save them. The implication, therefore, is that expectations of turnout should help to encourage incumbents to step down, and potential challengers to sit the race out. As I suggested in earlier posts, the more that Republicans fear that all of these dynamics threaten their control of the House, the greater the probability that additional Republicans will retire or sit out the race, because being in the minority is not as attractive as being in the majority. If this is true, we should see a slow trickle of good challengers not running and incumbents retiring, followed by an uptick in these trends at the (tipping) point at which these dynamics lead to the perception that control of Congress might turn over. Any readers have data to support these predictions?

Author: Steven M. Teles

Steven Teles is a Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for the Study of American Politics. He is the author of Whose Welfare? AFDC and Elite Politics (University Press of Kansas), and co-editor of Ethnicity, Social Mobility and Public Policy (Cambridge). He is currently completing a book on the evolution of the conservative legal movement, co-editing a book on conservatism and American Political Development, and beginning a project on integrating political analysis into policy analysis. He has also written journal articles and book chapters on international free market think tanks, normative issues in policy analysis, pensions and affirmative action policy in Britain, US-China policy and federalism. He has taught at Brandeis, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Hamilton colleges, and been a research fellow at Harvard, Princeton and the University of London.