How does the current generic ballot edge for Democrats compare to the mood at this time in the 1994 election -- when Republicans retook control of the House for the first time in four decades?On the other hand, I don't want to get too carried away. In addition to the "Politicians are all bums... except my guy, who takes care of me" mentality, There are some significant differences between today and 1994, most of them not so encouraging:
Here's a look at poll numbers from the NBC/Wall Street Journal from the first quarter of 1994 and the first quarter of 2006.
Right Direction Wrong Track Difference
1994 33% 47 -14
2006 31 57 -26
Prez/Approve Prez/Disapprove Difference
1994 55 36 +19
2006 39 54 -15
Congress/Approve Congress/Disapprove Difference
1994 31 58 -27
2006 29 56 -27
Generic/GOP Generic/Dem Difference
1994 29 34 D+5
2006 38 47 D+9
In 1994 Democrats at this point in the cycle held a five-point edge in the generic ballot test and were benefitting from President Bill Clinton's then strong approval ratings. Voters were unhappy with Congress, but a majority were not yet convinced that the country was on the wrong track.
Charlie Cook, a political analyst and founder of the Cook Political Report, explained that in 1994 "the bottom didn't start sagging for Democrats until early summer," adding: "At this point there wasn't even a whisper that there was a tidal wave out there."
1) The art of redistricting has been perfected. There are fewer up-for-grabs seats this year than there were 12 years ago.
2) The Republicans ran a tough and aggressive campaign in 1994. The Democrats have displayed nothing but caution and timidity since at least 2000.
3) Despite conservative protestations to the contrary, the media is heavily biased towards the right, and pushes as hard as it can to boost Republicans and trash Democrats without losing its credibility among casual readers and viewers. The TV and radio punditocracy doesn't even pretend to be anything other than unabashedly conservative, and there are precious few (if any) high-profile liberal counterparts to Limbaugh/Hannity/Coulter/Carlson/Scarborough.
4) Elections are now partially dependent on dodgy electronic voting machines that don't generate a verifiable paper trail, and are vulnerable to hacking and manipulation. Republicans also have sympathetic and unethical secretaries of state in control of their voting apparatus in key states like Ohio, Florida, and now California.
5) War! Terror! There was no fear card for the Democrats to play in 1994 to cling to power. While completely unearned, the Republicans will milk this one dry, as they always do. If the Democrats call the Republicans on how little they've actually done to protect us from terrorists, this could turn into a Democratic advantage. Unfortunately, I don't think they dare, but they will at least point out that the war is not going so well.
The only positive differences I can see are:
6) The rise of the liberal blogs as a fundraising, activist, and propaganda-debunking force, but I'm not convinced that their influence amounts to much more than a nudge at this point. There are a lot of smart, articulate, resourceful, passionate people in the liberal blogosphere, but an overwhelming majority of Americans have no idea what blogs are, much less read them.
7) The sheer number of Republican scandals, investigations, and criminal proceedings is absolutely staggering. Maybe my memory is hazy or selective, but I don't think there was anywhere near this kind of evidence of rampant criminality and incompetence in 1994. And, as the Fix column points out, the president's approval rating is a lot lower than it was in 1994.
As the saying goes, I will hope for the best, but expect the worst.