Congress, Democrats, Donald Trump, Election 2014, election 2016, election 2018, election 2020, election 2022, elections, House of Representatives, Im-Politic, incumbents, Republicans
As everyone is supposed to know, the United States has become a 50-50 country politically. As argued by this well known analyst,
“The two parties have been neck and neck since long before this midterm. Despite wild gyrations in the economy, the terrifying rise of antidemocratic politics on the right, and yawning policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, recent national electoral results keep coming in remarkably close, as if decided by a coin toss.”
And for a change, this time the conventional wisdom seems to be right – at least when it comes to elections for the House of Representatives. I just examined the results of these races going back to 2014 (the final election before the advent of what seems to be the ongoing Trump Era in American politics), and the evidence is strong that they keep becoming more competitive.
My yardstick is a margin of victory of five percentage points or fewer. And my sources are the New York Times tabulations. Here are the totals for the last six House political cycles:
Although the sample size is small, there’s a clear inflection point. But what’s a little surprising is that it wasn’t 2016, when Donald Trump shocked the nation, the world, and himself by winning the White House.
Instead, it was 2018 – which could mean that his impact on national politics didn’t start becoming clear until Americans had seen him as President for two years.
The above numbers indicate that this trend crested in 2018, but I’m not at all sure for one big reason: That year saw major (40-seat) gains for the Democrats.
The following two House elections saw much smaller shifts – indeed, these shifts (13- and 7-seat losses for the Democrats, respectively), were in the neighborhood of the 2014 and 2016 results (a 13-seat loss and a six-seat gain for the Democrats). But the number of close races by my criterion was much greater.
Moreover, despite the smaller shift produced by last month’s voting, nearly as many 2022 House races were decided by margins of a single percentage point or less (nine) than in 2018 (ten).
These results are even more surprising given that elections where lots of seats change hands mean that relatively large numbers of incumbents lose. Since all else equal, beating incumbents is difficult, you’d expect more elections during those years to be nail-biters. So a relatively large number of races were extremely close in a year that was pretty good for incumbents further strengthens the “50-50” argument.
The nail-biter count of course isn’t the only lens through which to view House, or any other, elections. Other major influences are the numbers of incumbent retirements and therefore open seats; the effect of presidential popularity and other coattail factors; voter turnout and how it tends to vary between presidential election and non-presidential election years; the overall condition of the country and how it’s perceived; and the importance of local issues in these most local of all national elections.
But even considering these considerations, increasing numbers of close races does seem to be a recent trend. So if you’re a politics junkie, and you think you’ve been staying up ever later on Election Night before knowing the final results or having a pretty good idea of them, it’s not your imagination.
P.S. As of this morning, two House races are still undecided. And they look like nail-biters!
This near-even split is clearly the result of having only two major parties, each of which similarly has a near-even split in the ethical and non-ethical priorities of their platforms. The decision at the polls is down to the personal benefits and potential privileges perceived by each individual voter, not the necessity of preserving a republic that accommodates and protects all citizens equally. Politicians pander to this with no regard for the consequences to our country, and I believe it represents one of the primary mechanisms by which democracies fail.
Alan Tonelson said:
Thanks as always, Jack, and hope you’re having a great holiday. Your description of the two parties may be right, but voter turnout in both presidential and midterm elections has been within a “trading range” for decades now and lately has been trending up. So (a) it seems that in the voters’ eyes, there’s been minimal-at-best deterioration in party/candidate quality for quite some time and (b) that doesn’t look like an indication of democracy failing: https://www.electproject.org/national-1789-present
Regards to you also, Alan. Democracy fails when one-half or more of the population is effectively disenfranchised by a candidate they rejected. This represents one of the core underpinnings of my belief that representative democracy is not an objectively valid system for ensuring self-governance. Also, I see no evidence that voter turnout is related to candidate quality. Rather, the positions of each party on the most contentious and self-serving issues bring voters to the polls. This is a formula only for contempt, and it creates a vicious cycle of decay from which there is no civil escape.