Midterm Elections Say Nothing About The National Ideology

Bill Scher

After the Democrats lost the Kentucky governor’s race last week, following the Republican down-ballot triumphs in the 2010 and 2014 midterms, declarations that the Democratic Party is dead quickly made the rounds. The implication is that Barack Obama’s two presidential election victories say less about the nation’s ideological direction than the state legislative, gubernatorial and U.S. congressional elections.

As I explain today in Real Clear Politics, that’s bunk.

Literally every two-term president, going back to the four-term FDR, suffered bad midterm and off-year elections. Sometimes a bad midterm was a precursor for a larger backlash, like George W. Bush’s in 2006. Or sometimes it was a footnote in the president’s successful quest for ideological realignment, such as with Ronald Reagan’s 1986 Senate loss, or FDR’s failed purge of conservative Democrats in 1938.

Whether or not the country continues it’s move leftward depends mainly on whether the national economy continues to improve. Of course, good organizing the ground helps. But even strong get-out-the-vote efforts don’t move the need more than a percentage point or two. It’s useful to pull out tough races, but it can’t alter larger trends. And we can’t know what the larger trend is yet.

What we do know that, as of today, Barack Obama presides over an economy that is far better than what he was first given. If that remains true next year, then it will liekly be a good Democratic year. If 2020 is better than 2016, than that too would be a good Democratic year, just in time for congressional districts to be redrawn, ending the gerrymandering that has Republicans maintain a grip on the U.S. House.

Presidents set the national agenda, and Democrats have won the presidential popular vote for five of the last six elections. So don’t let anyone tell you than the midterms and off-year election results mean that the nation is fundamentally conservative and Republican.