History Favors Republicans in 2010
The 2008 election numbers are not as stark as the results.
Political races are about candidates and issues. But election results, in the end, are about numbers. So now that the dust is settling on the 2008 presidential race, what do the numbers tell us?
First, the predicted huge turnout surge didn’t happen. The final tally is likely to show that fewer than 128.5 million people voted. That’s up marginally from 122 million in 2004. But 17 million more people voted in 2004 than in 2000 (three times the change from 2004 to 2008).
Second, a substantial victory was won by modest improvement in the Democratic share of the vote. Barack Obama received 2.1 points more in the popular vote than President Bush received in 2004, 3.1 points more than Vice President Al Gore in 2000, and 4.6 points more than John Kerry in 2004. In raw numbers, the latest tally shows that Mr. Obama received 66.1 million votes, about 7.1 million more than Mr. Kerry.
Four out of five of these additional votes came from minorities. Mr. Obama got nearly 3.3 million more votes from African-Americans than did Mr. Kerry; 2.9 million of them were from younger blacks aged 18-29. A quarter of Mr. Obama’s improvement among blacks — 811,000 votes — came from African-Americans who voted Republican in 2004. Mr. Obama also received 2.5 million more Hispanic votes than Mr. Kerry. Over a third of these votes — 719,000 — cast ballots for Republicans in 2004.
One of the most important shifts was Hispanic support for Democrats. John McCain got the votes of 32% of Hispanic voters. That’s down from the 44% Mr. Bush won four years ago. If this trend continues, the GOP will find it difficult to regain the majority.
Mr. Obama won 4.6 million more votes in the West and 1.4 million more in the Midwest than Mr. Kerry. Mr. McCain, on the other hand, got more than 2.6 million fewer votes in the Midwest than Mr. Bush. In Ohio, for example, Mr. Obama received 32,000 fewer votes than Mr. Kerry in 2004 — but Mr. McCain got 360,000 fewer votes than Mr. Bush. That turned a 119,000 vote GOP victory in 2004 into a 206,000 vote Democratic win this year.
Then there were those who didn’t show up. There were 4.1 million fewer Republicans voting this year than in 2004. Some missing Republicans had turned independent or Democratic for this election. But most simply stayed home. Ironically for a campaign that featured probably the last Vietnam veteran to run for president, 2.7 million fewer veterans voted. There were also 4.1 million fewer voters who attend religious services more than once a week. Americans aren’t suddenly going to church less; something was missing from the campaign to draw out the more religiously observant.
In a sign Mr. Obama’s victory may have been more personal than partisan or philosophical, Democrats picked up just 10 state senate seats (out of 1,971) and 94 state house seats (out of 5,411). By comparison, when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in 1980, Republicans picked up 112 state senate seats (out of 1,981) and 190 state house seats (out of 5,501).
In the states this year, five chambers shifted from Republican to Democrats, while four shifted from either tied or Democratic control to Republican control. In the South, Mr. Obama had “reverse coattails.” Republicans gained legislative seats across the region. In Tennessee both the house and senate now have GOP majorities for the first time since the Civil War.
This matters because the 2010 Census could allocate as many as four additional congressional districts to Texas, two each to Arizona and Florida, and one district to each of a number of (mostly) red-leaning states, while subtracting seats from (mostly) blue-leaning states like Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania and, for the first time, California. Redistricting and reapportionment could help tilt the playing field back to the GOP in Congress and the race for the White House by moving seven House seats (and electoral votes) from mostly blue to mostly red states.
History will favor Republicans in 2010. Since World War II, the out-party has gained an average of 23 seats in the U.S. House and two in the U.S. Senate in a new president’s first midterm election. Other than FDR and George W. Bush, no president has gained seats in his first midterm election in both chambers.
Since 1966, the incumbent party has lost an average of 63 state senate and 262 state house seats, and six governorships, in a president’s first midterm election. That 2010 is likely to see Republicans begin rebounding just before redistricting is one silver lining in an otherwise dismal year for the GOP.
In politics, good years follow bad years. Republicans and Democrats have experienced both during the past 15 years. A GOP comeback, while certainly possible, won’t be self-executing and automatic. It will require Republicans to be skillful at both defense (opposing Mr. Obama on some issues) and offense (creating a compelling agenda that resonates with voters). And it will require leaders to emerge who give the right public face to the GOP. None of this will be easy. All of this will be necessary.
Mr. Rove is a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.