The incredible obviousness of the Democrats' political fortunes
The topic du jour appears to be the Obama paradox. How, some writers are asking, can the Democrats be both passing a lot of legislation and be headed for a defeat at the polls?
But there's no contradiction. No paradox. Instead, there's unity. Oneness. Om. This is night following day. Recall my article last Sunday on the determinants of elections. In particular, recall Gary Jacobson's equation for midterm elections, which uses presidential approval, change in real disposable income and the number of seats the majority holds (political scientists call this "exposure," because each seat you hold is a seat you can lose).
Democrats won their massive majority because of an economic collapse. They've passed so much legislation because they have a massive majority based on an economic collapse. But the economic collapse isn't over. And having a lot more seats than the other party means 1) voters blame you for the condition of the country, and 2) you have a lot of seats to lose. What the bad economy and the huge majority giveth, the bad economy and the huge majority taketh away. Om.
If there's a tension here, it's in the way that public opinions and the system interact -- or, more specifically, the way they don't. You can look at this and ask why Democrats passed all this legislation that made them unpopular. But if Democrats had sat around and done nothing after the stimulus, does anyone think they'd be more popular? On some level, Democrats understand that if people's incomes had gone up over the last year, their agenda would be popular enough, but that in the presence of persistent joblessness, they're going to lose the election. The only thing to do in the meantime is try and pass legislation that'll make the country better off. That's what they've done, or at least what they think they've done.
July 16, 2010; 3:24 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Midterms
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