Karl Rove's Spurious Numbers
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Nov 13, 2008 at 09:25:42 AM EST
Karl Rove, on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal:
History will favor Republicans in 2010. Since World War II, the out-party has gained an average of 23 seats in the U.S. House and two in the U.S. Senate in a new president's first midterm election. Other than FDR and George W. Bush, no president has gained seats in his first midterm election in both chambers.
Since 1966, the incumbent party has lost an average of 63 state senate and 262 state house seats, and six governorships, in a president's first midterm election. That 2010 is likely to see Republicans begin rebounding just before redistricting is one silver lining in an otherwise dismal year for the GOP.
These numbers from Rove are intentionally misleading, an effort to mix apples and oranges to make the case that the Democrats are doomed -- doomed -- in 2010, whether for the purpose of rallying the GOP base or depressing Democratic recruitment or fundraising efforts. Of course this isn't the first time that Rove has used fuzzy numbers. Many will recall Rove's feisty interview with NPR in October 2006 when he claimed to have "THE math" showing that Republicans would hold on to both the House and the Senate that fall -- but that doesn't mean I'm not going to shoot him down.
In order to arrive at these numbers, Rove not only throws in the first midterm election after a President is first elected to the White House, he also includes the first midterm election after a President assumes the White House -- a very different situation than what we see today. Why include these numbers? To cook the books so that the situation looks worse for the Democrats.
In what way will the 2010 midterms resemble the 1946 midterms, which occurred a little under two years after Harry Truman succeeded FDR, right in the middle of an economic downturn following World War II, and, more importantly, after 14 years of uninterrupted Democratic domain over the White House and the Congress? (The Democrats lost 54 seats in the House and 13 seats in the Senate, and control over the House and Senate, in 1946.) In what way does 2010 resemble the 1966 midterms, which were much more like the second midterm for the Kennedy/Johnson administration than a first midterm for a new Johnson administration? (The Democrats lost 3 seats in the Senate and 48 seats in the House that fall, though still had a 28-seat majority in the upper chamber and a 60-seat majority in the lower chamber.) The answer is that in neither case does the comparison apply.
Looking now at the House, specifically, when you take the eight midterm elections that actually look like 2010 -- a newly elected President, his party in Congress facing the electorate for the first time since he was elected office exactly two years earlier, not having previously served -- the party in power has lost an average of 16.125 seats, or about seven less than the number cited by Rove. If you remove the outliers at the top and bottom of the list (Bill Clinton's Democrats losing 54 seats in 1994 and George W. Bush's Republicans gaining eight seats in 2002), the average loss falls to 13.83 seats. In only two of the five instances in which the President's party controlled the House coming into the midterm did that party lose it (1954 and 1994); the other three times the party in power maintained its majority (1962, 1978 and 2002).
Taking a gander at the Senate, when you look at those eight midterm elections that are actually analogous to 2010, the party in power in the White House lost on average just 1.125 seats in the upper chamber of Congress. Just half of the time did the party lose any seats, with the party actually picking up seats in three elections (1962, 1970 and 2002) and not losing a single seat in one election (1982). Given the way the map looks in the chamber for 2010, I'm not banking on serious losses for the Democrats.
History isn't a predictor of the future, so this is a bit of an academic discussion. Nevertheless, if Rove is going to try to make historical comparisons to make the case that the Democrats are bound to lose, he'd better do a little better than this transparently specious claptrap (even if it is par for the course on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal).