Friday, January 22, 2010

Margin for Change

Michael Barone (with a generous nod to yours truly---though I do want to emphasize that I am only borrowing Jeffmd's graph) digs into the Massachusetts election results and finds an interesting fact: Coakley won Congressional Districts that voted 64+% for Obama; Brown carried the rest. Applying this metric to other states, Barone finds that only 104 districts in the country fall in that category. A Republican holds only one of those seats.

So will November 2010 see the election of 331 Republicans to the House? Probably not. That number is achievable (Democrats surpassed it in 1936), but highly unlikely.

But these figures do indicate that the Republican party still has plenty of room to grow, places where it can gain without a radically transformative political dynamic. It also makes the notion of recapturing the House for the GOP in 2010 much more believable.

This data provides an interesting frame to this Politico piece talking about some of the challenges Republicans still face. They certainly cast a revealing light on the following paragraph:

The most important ones: 40, the net seats to win the House, and 10, the net seats to win the Senate, are very difficult — perhaps impossible in the case of the Senate — to achieve. Republicans have picked up 40 or more House seats only seven times since 1912, when the chamber grew to 435 seats. They have picked up 10 or more Senate seats only four times in that period. They have done both three times in the past century.

It seems certain they will pick up some seats, perhaps as many as two dozen or more in the House. That would be in line with the historical average pickup for the opposition party in a president’s first term.

Two of the times that Republicans gained that much in the House and the Senate in the same election were 1946 and 1980. They nearly reached that margin in 1994 (netting only 8 Senate seats). 1994 might be the most apposite comparison, but all 3 elections were "change" elections, with a public dissatisfied with a Democratic status quo.

So the numbers are doable, but this article focuses on a true difficulty for Republicans:
But Republicans still will fight against another set of numbers: the large number of voters who simply don’t like the brand the GOP is selling. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found only 30 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of Republicans. That is 8 percentage points lower than the favorability rating for Democrats. And 22 points lower than Obama’s.

“The American people are against their agenda,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) said of the Democrats. But Westmoreland said the Republicans are “having a hard time” getting their agenda out, too. “We have got to do a better job getting that out.”

Even Republicans aren’t thrilled with Republicans. A CBS News poll showed only 55 percent of Republicans hold a favorable view of their congressional delegation.

And voters also still don’t trust Republicans with big decisions. A recent Washington Post poll found 24 percent trusted congressional Republicans to make the right decisions for the country — 8 points fewer than Democrats and 23 points fewer than Obama.

“Scott Brown didn’t even really run as a Republican,” Dowd notes. “He ran as an outsider.”

The Republican party has not yet proven to the voters that it can be fully trusted with power. The brand has been considerably tainted by the economic/political turmoil over the past few years. And the American people don't seem to want the resurrection of the power structure of 2006.

One of the best ways for the GOP to cope with this---and one that Scott Brown realized---is through running decentralized campaigns. The national GOP should let a thousand flowers bloom in all the races across the country. Individual candidates will have to find individual messages that work. One of the electoral benefits of being out of power is that the GOP does not need to defend a comprehensive set of policy choices: there is considerably less incentive for a party line. Instead, Congressional candidates can offer a variety of responses to present problems. The experimental flavor that the GOP so needs right now is aided by political circumstances.

The GOP should appear open to change and to appear the party of responsible change. They can also benefit from appearing as the party that will fight against irresponsible change.

Americans in 2008 voted for a reform and not a revolution. They may now fear that they have gotten the latter, or some bizarre hybrid of elite continuity and a radical expansion of government power. If Republicans can appear a voice for the former (that is, for reform), they could have much to gain.

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