Saturday, May 15, 2010

Congress will be changed?

On the liberal blogs, folks are excited that for the first time in a long time, the AP poll concludes that Democrats are favored on the generic ballot by 5 points and the majority of Americans want Democrats to continue to control Congress after the 2010 elections. But the bigger news, the one that should keep Congresscritters of both parties up at night is this: "Only about one-third want their own lawmakers re-elected."

Usually, Americans take the irrational position that Congress sucks but that their Congresscritter is great. And then somehow these voters are shocked that the re-election rate of members of Congress as a whole are incredibly high:

(Copyright and credits to the Center for Responsive Politics)
As you can see, since the the rates if anything have been remarkably stable at a high level. Even when the Congress changed hands in 1994 and 2006 the reelect numbers were 90% and 94% respectively. The lowest percentage in recent years was in 1992, when there was redistricting and a similar "throw the bums out" mentality in the voting populous. And even then it was only 88%. OK so I used the House numbers for that, and if you look at the Senate, the numbers are much higher.

Why? Well you can't redistrict a state to make your state safe for your reelection. So if a vulnerable senator is up and the political winds are against him (and occationally now her), he (or she) will lose. There is no built-in safety net of the gerrymander.

So what does this rotten number mean? Again, let's use the years 1992, 1994, and 2006. 1992 is not fair because it was also a presidential year, which meant higher turn out. But 1994 and 2006 were big years for both parties where the public were fed up with Congress and took it out on the party in power and swept large numbers of new comers into Congress from the opposite party. Even then, looking at the graph, you wouldn't know it.

However, it is important to note that in all of the primaries this year thus far, the incumbents who were semi-seriously challenged (ala Claudia Wright against Rep. Jim Matheson and some dude against Rep. Larry Kissel) were forced into a primary against someone with no money. Those who were seriously challenged are gone. (see Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV)) No incumbent that has been seriously challenged this year has withstood the heat. In Pennslvannia, Rep. Joe Sestak looks like he has a good shot at continuing that trend against Specter. In Arkansas, LG Bill Halter looks to have made the run off against Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Three straight "change" elections...and yet not much feels like it changed. Maybe if you believe what they tell you on talk radio you might think we are marching forwards a communist dictatorship, but that takes a lot of willful ignorance.

If you look at what Obama campaigned on, only a handful of items that he talked about have passed Congress. And only one big thing--the stimulus--passed that wasn't part of the conversation in 2008. The rest--immigration reform, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, Financial Regulation, Cap n' Trade--are either dead or on life support. Well that isn't fair. It looks like Financial Reform will pass, but it is unclear whether the bill will take a last minute diversion to dilution. Right now, the amendment process is making the bill better.

So even if Democrats lose control of the House and hang on to the Senate--what the pundits say will happen--don't expect Ronald Reagan's face to go up on Mount Rushmore any time soon or anything else that dramatic.

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