LEWISBURG — For Democrats, last week’s midterm elections were about as bad as you can get, says a Bucknell University professor and political science expert.
“It is true that midterm elections aren’t usually favorable for the president’s party, particularly when the president is unpopular,” said Chris Ellis, associate professor of political science. “This fact, combined with the fact that many key Senate seats were being contested on red terrain, made Democrats expect this to be bad. But this election, combined with what happened in 2010, means that Obama had one of the worst set of midterm elections in history. He entered office with massive majorities in the House and Senate, and he’ll enter his final two years with a Senate safely in Republican hands and the largest Republican majority in the House in nearly 100 years.”
In part, the results were a function of turnout. Midterm electorates tend to be older, whiter, and richer than presidential ones, which works very strongly to the Republicans’ advantage. But a bigger problem for the Democrats wasn’t who was turning out to vote, Ellis said, but who they were voting for. “We’re still doing the final post-mortem on the polls, but it appears from that an overwhelming majority of independent, undecided and swing voters chose to vote Republican.”
There really weren’t any bright spots at all for Democrats, in the House, in the Senate, or in the gubernatorial elections. The only Republican of consequence to lose was Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.
“Gridlock will continue, no doubt about it,” Ellis said. “The parties didn’t even put as much effort as they usually do into their ‘the elections are over, let’s all get along’ show.” If anything, business will slow to even more of a crawl, as now Republicans in the Senate can block Obama’s federal nominations much easier than before Republicans learned a powerful lesson in this election: whatever they’re doing, it’s working electorally.” “Democratic leaders have complained for years that Republicans are taking obstruction and hyper-partisanship to new levels,” Ellis said. “And they may well be right. But if voters have no interest in punishing them for it, there’s no reason to stop doing it: now, they can just bide their time until the next presidential election, and hope to win the presidency and control all three branches of government.”
Said U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-10, of Cogan Station: The incoming Republican majority for the 114th Congress has a clear mandate to lead and fulfill an optimistic vision to get our country back on track. The American people can expect Republicans to put forth serious proposals to fix our tax code, solve our spending problem, reform our legal and regulatory systems and improve our children’s education. Republicans have reasonable proposals and a winning philosophy to governing.”
One important thing that this election revealed is just how difficult it will be for Democrats to retake the House any time in the foreseeable future, Ellis said. The new House map shows that the Democratic Party is now almost exclusively an urban party, a coalition of racial and ethnic minorities and liberal whites who live in densely-packed urban areas. What this means is that there are a large number of Democratic House members elected by overwhelming margins. But it also means that there are an even larger number of seats, spread throughout suburbs, rural areas, and the South, where Democrats are not competitive at all. For purposes of House elections, in other words, Republicans are distributed more efficiently than are Democrats.
“The Republican Party is often talked about as having a problem in presidential elections, since Republicans aren’t appealing to the younger, ethnically diverse group of people that tend to vote in presidential elections,” Ellis said.
And this is true: Hillary Clinton, or whomever the Democratic nominee is in 2016, “will face a much less daunting electoral map than her Republican opponent,” Ellis said. “But to a large extent, the reverse is true in the House, For Democrats to be competitive in enough seats to have a plausible chance of taking back the House anytime soon, they need to think of something compelling to say to — among other groups — white men in the suburbs and exurbs, who are essentially tuning the party out entirely.”
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