What’s the Meaning of This?

In the midterm election of a new president’s first term, it is usual for the president’s party to lose seats in both the House and the Senate. Let’s take a look at the particular seats which Nate Silver (at his NYT blog) says are the most likely Democratic Senate losses, roughly in decreasing order of likelihood for a Republican takeaway:   

 

N. Dakota and Arkansas are generally pretty conservative states. It’s surprising N. Dakota ever had a Democratic senator in the first place, and the retirement of Byron Dorgan would nearly guarantee a Republican victory there, regardless of what year it was. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas is in trouble, perhaps surprisingly, because she <i>didn’t</i> support President Obama’s agenda, particularly on Health Care Reform. It’s likely the voters there would prefer an actual Republican to a Democrat who merely votes like one.

 

Pennsylvania and Indiana are swing states. Although Obama won Pennsylvania handily, do recall that McCain thought he had a chance there, up until the very end. Additionally, this is Arlen Specter’s seat that’sup for grabs. It’s only now in Democratic hands because Specter switched parties, not because Pennsylvania had elected a Democrat to that seat. Had Specter not switched parties, he would have been massively favored for re-election.

 

Obama won Indiana by a margin of only about 2% of the popular vote. In the first midterm of his administration, it’s not surprising such a state might go to the other party. The same argument could be made for Colorado and Nevada, though Obama won those states by much more significant margins. Al Gorelost these states, and pretty convincingly, only four years before. That they might swing back and forth is hardly surprising.

 

The final state where Mr. Silver gives the Republicans better than a 50% chance of takeover is Illinois. This is Obama’s former seat up for the vote, a seat he won in a hotly-contested race in 2006. Undoubtedly, the controversy surrounding Rolland Burris’ appointment (remember Blago?) has complicated matters for theDems. Still, for all the power of Chicago, the downstate voters there tend toward the conservative, and Illinois has frequently had Republican representation in the Senate.

 

The loss of none of these seats for the Dems would be shocking, in any year. Perhaps a clean sweep by the Republicans would be impressive, but only due to volume, not because of any seismic shift in opinion. That is, most of these (except, perhaps, for Illinois) are marginal seats anyway, which the Democrats would only be expected to win or to hold in special circumstances (such as Byron Dorgan’s incumbency).

 

So what would it mean, in terms of the mood of the electorate, if the Democrats lose many, perhaps most, of these seats? Does it mean America has suddenly swung far toward the Tea Party? Does it signify a rejection of the Democrats or of Obama?

 

Not really. It seems to me more like a pretty normal first-term midterm, a number of factors (including several retirements) having conspired to make a several soft seats available to the other party all at the same time.

 

 


About dcpetterson

D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He lives with his wife, two dogs, a cat, and two lizards, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts for fun.
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32 Responses to What’s the Meaning of This?

  1. Mr. Universe says:

    shrinkers in da house!

  2. DC Petterson says:

    Well, a glaring error in my first Refugees column – It was, of course, John Kerry, not Al Gore, who lost Nevada and Colorado to G W Bush in 2004. But Gore also lost both states for years before that.

  3. filistro says:

    Like I said… we got it right here, intelligent thoughtful commentary from Really Smart People. In fact, Nate’s new column on the same issues contains this little oddity: As was the case last week, there is some tension between the generic congressional ballot, which remains quite favorable to Republicans, and local indicators like polls and expert forecasts, which are more ambiguous. Now it’s not often that anything Nate says makes me roll my eyes and go “DUH”… but that one did. Of COURSE “local indicators” trump generic polls… and render them, in effect, useless. That’s like saying, “Despite Sparky’s well-known preference for tall blonds, his attraction to any particular woman is still greatly influenced by that woman’s personality and manner….”Jeez… ya think?Which is why the generic poll is not the one I’m looking at. There’s a whole world of difference between “a Republican” and “THIS Republican.” If you don’t believe me, just ask Delaware.

  4. filistro says:

    Hey shrinkers, what do you think about the “inter-connectedness factor”? (I’ve been wanting to post this specific question at Nate’s blog but it’s so hard to battle through the moderation thicket… and equally hard for anybody who wants to answer to get through either.)By “interconnectedness” I mean the nature of various races impacting each other. I think the Teaper Craziness is reaching a dangerous level of critical mass. Any one or two of these wacko candidates would not hurt other more conventional Republicans, but now that we have a whole group of them.. and a highly visible group at that… we could be getting into a situation where the brand is really being impacted.When you just say “Republican” and people start to giggle, that can’t be a good thing on a national scale. I really wonder how many rank-and-file R’s who would normally be pretty safe are becoming at least somewhat endangered by the high-profile wackos.

  5. shrinkers says:

    @filistro – re: inter-connectedness …Yes, when people roll their eyes and snort at mention of Republicans, that’s not positive for them. There’s another aspect too. Say a voter becomes convinced that some nutbat Teaper in another state is going to get into Congress — or even a whole litter of them. That may make said voter more likely to vote against even a relatively sane local Republican. Voters may want to make sure the nutty types don’t don’t have too many friends in Congress with them.So I think it’s possible that the O’Donnells may not only help their Democratic opponents get elected. They may even help Democrats in other states.

  6. shiloh says:

    Just some random thoughts …Barack Hussein Obama is still president ’til Jan. 2013 no matter what 🙂 and no, if the Reps regain the house they won’t in any way try to impeach Obama as they’d just look stupid and petty as America continues it’s struggle back from (8) years of disaster ie cheney/bush. Plus impeaching Clinton worked out really well for the Reps, eh. ;)>Bill Clinton is very popular ~ Hillary Clinton is very popular soooo I would assume they will be doing many campaign ads as well as campaigning where they can for endangered Dems, hopefully.>If the Reps regain the House, wouldn’t be surprised if souse boehner isn’t elected Speaker as he is represents old school, the antithesis of teabaggers lol.>Murkowski just announced she’ll be a write-in candidate as wingers continue to cannibalize each other :)Oh the humanity if AK ends up w/two Democratic senators!You bet’cha!>Both Fisher and Strickland in OH may have started their negative campaigning a tad too late …>As I have mentioned previously, after Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States of America! 🙂 everything else is just gravy …>turdblossom kowtowing to Limbaugh re: DE’s (41) year old virgin Rep er perpetual welfare queen as she makes her living by continually runnin’ for office and losing 🙂 then living off of her campaign contributions lol~ Too funny!When you find yourself in the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect! ~ Mark Twain

  7. Jeff says:

    I know you’re whistling in the dark, I just don’t know the tune (Could it be the theme from the movie “Titanic.”It’s somewhat delusional to think that Lincoln was in trouble because she wasn’t liberal enough! Halter couldn’t beat her in the Democratic primary,where one assumes the majority of liberals in Arkansas would be found. And you might want to check again — she did vote for HC.Spector wouldn’t have been a “massive favorite for re-election if he hadn’t switched parties. He switched because he didn’t have a ghost of a chance of winning a GOP primary.Obama’s seat wasn’t “hotly contested” in 2006. Obama beat Alan Keyes in 2004, and the race was about as hotly contested as the SC senate race is this year. If you will recall, he made his brilliant speech at the ’04 Dem convention, and shortly thereafter started running for President. Defining PA as a “swing state” because McCain thought he had a chance there is certainly a creative idea. What other McCain ideas do you believe in?And lets see, Colorado a swing state. Hmmm…. Democratic governor, legislature, both elected senators, majority of House delegation, and went solidly for Obama. Shouldn’t be fertile GOP country. We don’t know how November will turn out, but saying the prospective loss of 40 seats in the House and a half-dozen or more in the Senate is par for the mid-term course, is whistling Dixie.

  8. Jeff says:

    @filistro (and shrinkers).”When you just say “Republican” and people start to giggle, that can’t be a good thing on a national scale. I really wonder how many rank-and-file R’s who would normally be pretty safe are becoming at least somewhat endangered by the high-profile wackos.”======Probably the same number of regular D’s who are becoming at least somewhat endangered by high pro-file wackos in their party, like Dennis Kucinich and Bill Ayres and Barbara Boxer and whatsisname in SC.You really don’t think that somebody in Ohio is going to change their vote because a fruit-loop got on the ballot in Delaware?

  9. filistro says:

    @Jeff… You really don’t think that somebody in Ohio is going to change their vote because a fruit-loop got on the ballot in Delaware?Actually, yes… that’s exactly what I think. Because these wackos are different, not at all like Kucinich. These are people who represent the ascendant wing of their party, who bear the mantle and carry the scepter, and are acknowledged both by the party and the media as the face and voice of the movement.And when a skilled strategist on their own side (like Karl Rove) reasonably points out that the Empress has no clothes, he is smacked down and brought to heel… but there are no such constraints on the voters, who can see perfectly well the state of the Empress’s wardrobe.So yes… I think there are plenty of people in Ohio and Florida and many other places who will change their votes because Christine O’Donnell is the new face of the party they would previously have voted for.

  10. shiloh says:

    @Jeffapologies to fruit-loopsbtw, Kucinich and Ayres are happy to know they are high profile loland whatshisname in SC is so high profile you can’t remember his name. ;)take care, blessings

  11. WA7th says:

    A pretty normal first-term midterm doesn’t draw viewers or sell advertising. So, even if the Dems lose none of these seats, even if they only lose one seat each in House and Senate, it still will be a TSUNAMI!!! OF EPIC PROPORTIONS!!!which will be guaranteed GREAT NEWS!!!! FOR JON MCCAIN!!!!Now, see if you can get the empress to look at the camera over her shoulder as she’s walking away, so that we can see both her face and that niiiice… uh, wardrobe.

  12. gramma says:

    I’ve been wanting to post this specific question at Nate’s blog but it’s so hard to battle through the moderation thicket… and equally hard for anybody who wants to answer to get through either.)Nate@538nyt- great insight538blog@nyt–is banal and soulless

  13. gramma says:

    sorry filistro i pre-empted part of your content-mea culpa

  14. Bart DePalma says:

    DC:1) The GOP candidates leading are far more conservative than the previous Senator.2) You forgot some races: Ayotte leading in NH, Blunt leading in MO, Johnson leading in WI, Buck leading in CO, Rubio leading big in FL and Portman leading big in OH.3) Incumbents who are tied below 50% are usually in serious trouble, far more so in this environment: See Reid and Boxer.This is a normal midterm election???Get to high ground, there is a tsunami warning.

  15. DC Petterson says:

    Bart, to your points:1) This article isn’t about the internal struggles of the Republican Party. Perhaps I’ll write about that another time.2) I did not “forget” the contests you mentioned. As my piece described, I dealt with the particular Senate contests which Mr. Silver listed as most likely turnovers. NH, MO, WI, FL, and OH are not among those (CO is, and I talked about it.)3) The question of where other incumbents stand in regard to current polls was not the topic of my piece. Again, I discussed the contests Mr. Silver listed as most likely turnovers.

  16. shiloh says:

    DC, Bart is reading comprehension deficient, but, but, but excels in disingenuous hyperbole 😉 as I’m sure you already know as it’s quite evident in most of his over the top, childish, nonsensical diatribe.But we still like to provide a home for him 🙂 as he has probably been rejected by every other progressive site he frequents on the net … and as we all know, winger sites are totally uninteresting :::zzzz::: w/their 24/7 hatespeak, nauseating, sore loser meme.take care

  17. Bill B. B. says:

    Well Some Auto insurance comp. and the local utility hog dumped millions of $ in the primaries out here and their referendums both went down in flames. And now their are two rich women vying for office here, and every time they dump their millions into their campaigns they create more animosity for trying to buy the elections. Californians know how they made their money, and it doesn’t look well on them. Mink looks well in season but thats not a California thing.

  18. Bart DePalma says:

    DC:You are offering a hypothesis that this is a normal midterm election.Thus, your attempt to limit the quantity of the GOP candidates leading their races by using Nate’s rather conservative percentages needed to be supplemented.There is also a quality dimension that makes this election different than any other since 1994 – the candidates leading their races are far more conservative than usual. This indicates a fundamental shift in the preferences in the electorate, not a normal midterm election.

  19. DC Petterson says:

    @Bart re: “fundamental shift in the preferences in the electorate”This effect appears have impacted Republican candidates, not Democratic ones. So perhaps there is a shift within some segment of Republican voters. But as I said, perhaps I’ll discuss the internal politics of the Republicans another time.I’ve seen you argue elsewhere that the “Tea Party” is primarily about “fiscal conservatism;” balanced budgets, reduced spending, smaller government. Certainly this has been the platform of the Republican Party since at least the 1980’s. I detect no “shift” there whatever. If any “shift” is happening within “the electorate”, that will be apparent after 3 or 4 election cycles. Anything that exists for a single election is a fad, not a “fundamental shift”. Let’s reconsider your hypothesis around 2020.

  20. shiloh says:

    @DCIf any “shift” is happening within “the electorate”, that will be apparent after 3 or 4 election cycles. Anything that exists for a single election is a fad, not a “fundamental shift”. Let’s reconsider your hypothesis around 2020.~~~~~~~~~~Coincidentally, this is the same way historians will look at cheney/bush’s misbegotten Iraq War as 30/40 years from now it will be quite evident for all to see how well the Sunnis/Shiites/Kurds are getting along.As Petraeus said quite eloquently, the war could never be won militarily, only by political cooperation and history has shown for the past 600/700 years, the Sunnis/Shiites/Kurds haven’t always got along 😉 much like liberals and conservatives in America, I digress …take care

  21. Bart DePalma says:

    @Bart re: “fundamental shift in the preferences in the electorate”DC: This effect appears have impacted Republican candidates, not Democratic ones.BD: No and yes.No, the Dems are not running any true conservatives in response to the current conservative electoral rebellion.Yes, the Dems are doing their best to run away from or even openly disavow their progressive governance. No one outside the deepest blue urban enclave is campaigning on the “stimulus,” nationalizing GM & Chrsyler, Obamacare, Cap & Tax or any other major Dem “accomplishment” of the past two years – except maybe claiming falsely that they fixed the financial problems which led to the current recession. Our CO senator who used to brag that he would rather vote for Obamacare than to be reelected, is now lying through his teeth about being a fiscal hawk.DC: So perhaps there is a shift within some segment of Republican voters. But as I said, perhaps I’ll discuss the internal politics of the Republicans another time.BD: Tell it to all the Indis which have bailed entirely on the Dems. DC: I’ve seen you argue elsewhere that the “Tea Party” is primarily about “fiscal conservatism;” balanced budgets, reduced spending, smaller government. Certainly this has been the platform of the Republican Party since at least the 1980’s.BD: The GOP stopped governing this way during the Dubya Administration.DC: I detect no “shift” there whatever. BD: Seriously, do you live under a rock? If you respond to visuals, go to Pollster.com and take a look at the national trend interactive charts on nearly any subject covering 2009 and 2010.If you like numbers, start with this Gallup analysis of how the Indis have abandoned the Dems.http://www.gallup.com/poll/141086/independent-voters-favor-gop-2010-election-tracking.aspxYou can also check out the internals for Indis from any poll providing them.If any “shift” is happening within “the electorate”, that will be apparent after 3 or 4 election cycles. Anything that exists for a single election is a fad, not a “fundamental shift”. Let’s reconsider your hypothesis around 2020.

  22. shrinkers says:

    “Tell it to all the Indis which have bailed entirely on the Dems.”Entirely? Really? There is not a single independent voter anywhere in the country who supports a single Democratic candidate? You’ll have to provide some evidence for this singular claim.Or are you referring to the enormous number or Republican voters, people who always have,and always will, vote Republican, but who now call themselves “independents” because “Republican” has become some tainted by the actual elected Republican politicians? The rhetoric of the Republican base has not changed since the 1980’s, except perhaps for an increasing element of desperation and fear. There’s no real shift there at all, just louder and more shrill.

  23. Bart DePalma says:

    For those of you who prefer an objective and fact based portrait of your political opponents, here are some good descriptions of the Tea Party:For a very, very nice summary of how the Tea Party works, go read Joanathan Rauch’s article “How Tea Party Organizes Without Leaders:”http://www.nationaljournal.com/njmagazine/cs_20100911_8855.phpFor a great overview of the makeup of the Tea Party provided by extensive polling, with a hit and miss analysis of what motivates this rebellion, go read “Mad as Hell” written by Rasmussen and Schoen.http://www.amazon.com/Mad-As-Hell-Fundamentally-Two-Party/dp/0061995231The authors put out a basic summary of the book in a trio of articles for the Washington Examiner you can find here:http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/One-nation-under-revolt-859047-102901454.html

  24. shiloh says:

    Bart, you couldn’t sell your billionaire sponsored/funded astroturf teabagger crap at Nate’s old blog ~ why do you think you can sell it here …just wonderin’It’s like you have your own private echo chamber where you keep repeating yourself over and over again expecting a different result ie insanity!take care, blessings

  25. Bart DePalma says:

    Shiloh playing Sergeant Schultz: “I see nothing, NOOOOTHING!”

  26. Jungle Jim says:

    by DC PettersonIn the midterm election of a new president’s first term, it is usual for the president’s party to lose seats in both the House and the Senate.Is this really what you meant to say, or did you mean “it’s NOT unusual …”

  27. DC Petterson says:

    Jungle Jim :”It is usual…” or “It is not unusual…”- do you see a vital difference? I am not certain of the distinction you are making.

  28. Jungle Jim says:

    I’m not sure I would agree that its “usual”- as in this is more than likely (although it may be in recent terms), however, its indisputable that it’s not unusual. Perhaps its a just a subtle difference in our points of view.

  29. Jungle Jim says:

    Maybe I should flesh this out better. My actual disagreement is with the premise- that this is perfectly normal and no cause for alarm. What’s going on right now is in no way normal, and I would argue, very alarming. I have this nagging feeling that things are going to get much worse if the Reps retake the House, never mind the Senate. Here’s why I think so:Consumer spending drives our economy. When consumers aren’t spending, businesses don’t spend either. That only leaves the government. When Congress refuses to spend that leaves no one. Goverment spending in MHO is the only thing that’s kept us from the Depression of 2008- we could still have a Depression of 2012 as result of Rep obstruction. And of course, they would simply blame Obama. I think its a mistake to rationalise this as “usual”.

  30. DC Petterson says:

    Jungle JimThank you for your expansion. You make excellent points.My point was that the loss of these particular seats did not seem unexpected, given the conditions. You are correct, however, that the Teapers are dangerously insane.

  31. shrinkers says:

    This is an attempt to turn off the bold print.

    Perhaps we need a way to edit existing posts?

  32. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me. . I am looking forward to your new posts.

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