Thursday, November 04, 2010

It's the Ideology, Stupid!

Here's a paragraph from TNR that makes some sense, unlike the usual drivel that Judis and Chait propose in a diurnal fashion:
What about age? The conventional wisdom before November 2 was that seniors enraged or terrified by changes in Medicare would turn out in droves to punish those who voted for health reform while young people disillusioned by Obama’s failure to create the New Jerusalem would abstain. That did happen, but only to a modest degree. Voters of ages 18-29 constituted 12 percent of the electorate in 2006; 11 percent in 2010. Voters over 65 were 19 percent of the total in 2006; 23 percent in 2010—noticeable but hardly decisive. If 65 and overs had constituted the same share of the electorate in 2010 as in 2006, the Republicans’ share would have declined by only .7 percent—about one-tenth of their actual gains.

We get more significant results when we examine the choices Independents made. Although their share of the electorate was virtually unchanged from 2006, their behavior was very different. In 2006, Democrats received 57 percent of the Independent vote, versus only 39 percent for Republicans. In 2010 this margin was reversed: 55 percent Republican, 39 percent Democratic. If Independents had split their vote between the parties this year the way they did in 2006, the Republicans share would have been 4.7 percent lower—a huge difference.

But why did they change? Here we reach the nub of the matter: The ideological composition of the electorate shifted dramatically. In 2006, those who voted were 32 percent conservative, 47 percent moderate, and 20 percent liberal. In 2010, by contrast, conservatives had risen to 41 percent of the total and moderates declined to 39 percent, while liberals remained constant at 20 percent. And because, in today’s polarized politics, liberals vote almost exclusively for Democrats and conservatives for Republicans, the ideological shift matters a lot.

To complete the argument, there’s one more step: Did independents shift toward Republicans because they had become significantly more conservative between 2006 and 2010? Fortunately we don’t have to speculate about this. According to the Pew Research Center, conservatives as a share of total Independents rose from 29 percent in 2006 to 36 percent in 2010. Gallup finds exactly the same thing: The conservative share rose from 28 percent to 36 percent while moderates declined from 46 percent to 41 percent.

This shift is part of a broader trend: Over the past two decades, moderates have trended down as share of the total electorate while conservatives have gone up. In 1992, moderates were 43 percent of the total; in 2006, 38 percent; today, only 35 percent. For conservatives, the comparable numbers are 36 percent, 37 percent, and 42 percent, respectively. So the 2010 electorate does not represent a disproportional mobilization of conservatives: If the 2010 electorate had perfectly reflected the voting-age population, it would actually have been a bit more conservative and less moderate than was the population that showed up at the polls. Unless the long-term decline of moderates and rise of conservatives is reversed during the next two years, the ideological balance of the electorate in 2012 could look a lot like it did this year.

If this is true, the silly analysis of MessNBC and CNN on how to win back the House in 2012 is as time-wasting as it seems. Rather, how to keep the new conservatives alert to the dangers of Obamacide is going to be Fox's main item of business. Here is Chait's Lamentation onanother TNR article.
Why are Republicans in strong position to hold the House [in 2012]? Three reasons:

1. Natural geography. Even if House districts were drawn up with no partisan tilt in mind, Republicans would have a natural advantage. Democrats are frequently clustered together in overwhelmingly Democratic districts, creating ultra-safe seats that waste votes. There are fewer districts that are equally concentrated with Republican voters.

Thus Republicans can win the House even if they don't have more voters who support them. The median House district is about 3 percentage points more Republican than the nation as a whole. In order to hold the House, Democrats need to control a lot of Republican areas, some of them extremely Republican areas. The GOP is much less dependent on holding onto seats in unfriendly territory.

2. Redistricting. If that's not a problem enough for Democrats, it's about to get a lot worse. Republicans had their wave election at a very convenient time, putting themselves in position to control numerous state legislatures and thus control the next round of redistricting, which will last a decade. Partisan gerrymandering can be an extremely powerful tool, and combined with the natural geographic gerrymander, can give Republicans an overwhelming advantage, if not quite an absolute lock.

3. Timing. The best way to have a wave election is to have the other party control the presidency during a bad economy or some kind of major scandal. Democratic waves in 2006 or 2008 owed a great deal to the non-existent income growth during the Bush years. The GOP wave owed a great deal to the economic crisis. But in 2012, Democrats will still have the White House, so they won't benefit from an anti-incumbent wave. (They may pick up some seats due to sporadic voters re-engaging.) The best hope of a big wave would come from a deep and extended economic crisis that gives Republicans control of government in 2012, continues through 2014 and paves the way for a midterm backlash. But that's not exactly a positive scenario.

Of course, Chait dares not speak of the Senate, which in 2012 will have 22 Dem seats vulnerable versus eleven GOP, which will make for a landslide opportunity given the number of states now with Republican governors.

I for one can't wait. Let's choose now who would be the grown-up GOP candidate for POTUS...!

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