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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 4:47 pm 
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One of the things that I believe gets missed during the election cycle is the fundamentally divergent nature of House and Senate races. This really came home for me when people started talking about "firewall" states and such.

Note--this article is a treasure trove of information on viewing historical political trends regionally in the US.

In the House, the states get to draw up the districts for the representitives. This is significant for a couple of reasons. Obviously it means that districts can be (and are) drawn up--and more to the point, redrawn--in ways that produce the best possible results for the party who is in charge of the process (in most states that's the one with the majority in the State Legislature). However, it also means that districts can (and sometimes do) reflect shifts of demographics. If, over a couple of decades, the constituency that reliably elects a US House member moves geographically, the district can be mutated to follow it to a great extent... or redrawn to split that constituency, hiding the political effects of the demographic change.

Usually, this means that in any state where there is a heterogenous political population, most US House seats are nailed down to relatively "safe" districts, where either there will never be enough oppostion to risk the seat flipping, or there will be enough opposition to not bother with the seat at all (from the point of view of the majority party in that state). Sometimes it's better to spread out the opposition among several districts so it becomes ineffective, in other words, and sometimes it's better to concentrate it so as to limit influence to a handful of seats. Either method serves a majority party well, but often, the minority party will go along with the second method more cooperatively, since narrowing the number of races to contest is in their financial interest too.

All this is basic stuff, I know.

The Senate is where it gets trickier, perversely, because it's simpler. The state lines are where they are. There is no capability to redraw them at this point. If a state is "safe", it will likely stay that way. If a state is already competitive, it is harder to make it "safe". Senate seats thus have more electoral inertia, but they also have no means of "hiding" demographic shifts via redistricting.

(On a side note, it is worth noting that one-party control is a relative thing. Once upon a time, as recently as the 1950s, it was not uncommon for the then-majority party in the South to control 93% of the House seats, while the then-minority party controlled 70% of the House seats in the West. Those numbers would be almost unthinkably high now. A more mobile nation means a less strongly regionalized nation.)

None of this takes into account the inertial effects of incumbancy, which of course generally makes safe seats even safer.

That's what makes the results of this recent election interesting for me.
The former minority party lost no seats at all, incumbent or not. That makes me think this wasn't just an anti-incumbent wave. No Senate or House seats--open or incumbent--that had been in Democratic hands went over to the GOP. This was a entirely one-sided shift, not just a net shift a la 1994 or .

Now, there are certainly some districts and states, especially in the NE, where a moderate Republican was changed out for a moderate Democrat. Ideologically, there was little difference between, say, Chaffee and Whitehouse in RI. I would say that in a lot of cases the shift was thus political (anti-GOP) or ethical (anti-corruption, thus anti-party in power as a rule) but not ideological (pro-liberal)...except that local political change, in sufficient numbers, leads to national ideological change, because the capability to draft legislation is controlled at the national level by the majority party.

Thus, while I may find my local Democratic candidate too moderate for my tastes, I know that voting for her could (and evidently will) mean that the legislative agenda will be closer to what I want, even if she doesn't necessarily advocate everything on it. This is most true in cases where active negation is supported by a moderate candidate, for example, the anti-flag burning amendment. My senator-elect said she would have voted for such a measure...which annoyed me, but I realized that was a very safe and useful thing to say in her position, in that under Democratic leadership, she will never HAVE to vote on such a measure, because no Democratic committee chair would ever let it see the light of day.

The same goes for Casey in PA. He's anti-choice (albeit not to the extend Santorum was). But apart from a potential Supreme Court nominee's approval, that doesn't matter, because it's just never going to come up in a Democratically controlled Senate, and Casey isn't going to push the issue.

The perils of divided government. :)

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 4:58 pm 
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Added note:
The NY Times has a good graphical analysis of the House districts that swung Democratic. The mean party shift was 31% among them. :shock:

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 5:39 pm 
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As I've said before, what we Canuckians call a Minority Government is often the best kind. It takes a lot of cooperation and deal-making and compromise, and sometimes they even pay attention to the well-being of the people!!!

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 6:18 pm 
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Ax,

One thing that should be factored in to the recent election is the anti-democratic eccentricity of the Bush Administration. It would be difficult, in other words, to sort ideological dissatisfaction from party dissatisfaction, because even moderate Republicans were having to toe the party line for an extreme right-wing agenda. Thus, for all practical purposes, all Republicans were viewed as extreme right-wing and would be forced to remain so as long as their party was in power. The only way to get moderacy was to dump the party, first of all, and I think that most people did realize that.

It happens that the Democrats skillfully ran moderate candidates across the board, and there was also the luck of the draw in that the seats that were up for re-election happened to be those held by moderate Republicans. So what's left of the Reps in power happens to be those who are extreme by choice and not by force, and there is more center than there is left, given the candidates the Dems chose to run.

But I'm not convinced that the country as a whole does not remain farther to the left than Congress, newly constituted.

What did the Bush agenda look like - the agenda that was supposedly supported by this huge silent majority of virtuous, family-value people?
Anti-gay, anti-women, (anti-diversity, period), anti-science, anti-due-process, anti-two-party-system, anti-environment, pro-world-domination. What percentage of the people in this country would you guess to be represented by all points on that agenda?

My guess at a percentage would be very, very low. What happened in the last two elections is that Bush managed to garner fractionally less than 50% of the vote from people who felt strongly about one of those points based on either strong religious belief or fear of terrorism.

What do the majority of Americans seem to be thinking? - by majority I mean more than 60%? This is just my guess at where the 'center' lies.

• Pro-Civil rights protection for minorities and women, including gays, but no quotas, no use of the word 'gay' and 'marriage' in the same sentence, and limits to the reach of affirmative action.
• Pro-due-process, pro-separation of powers, pro-two-party-system
• Pro-choice
• Pro-science
• Pro-environmental protection where corporate pollution of air and water are concerned; indifference toward most if not all non-urban issues.
• Pro-defense but Anti-world-domination

Where do you think the new crop of Dems falls out on these issues?
Will they undertake to repeal the Military Commissions Act? Will they review and repeal parts of the Patriot Act? Will they put budget limitations on the war in Iraq? Will they deal legislatively with the way the Bush Administration used material witness warrants to subvert habeas corpus? Will they close down Guantanamo and any other secret prisons and bring all those detainees to trial? Will they demand an accounting by Homeland Security? Will they issue subpoenas for their peers suspected of corruption? Will they attempt to improve relations with the Arab world? With North Korea? With Central and South America? Will they remove the restrictions on federal money for stem cell research? Will they restaff FEMA and send the bastards back to New Orleans to finish the job they were supposed to do in the first place? Will they insist that existing environmental legislation be enforced, i.e. by fining states that don't comply with the Clean Air act? Will they not only raise the minimum wage but enforce the elimination of wage disparity for women and minorities? Will they approach our illegal immigration problem constructively?

My guess is that the answer to all those questions would be "no," and I haven't even asked the radical questions about ratification of the ICJ, recognition of Cuba, legislating an incomes policy, easing the candidacy requirements for third parties, and so on.

I am thinking that there might have been a stronger ideological component to this election than there appears to be on the surface, because our government had moved way, way out toward a seriously un-American extremism and all we've been able to do in this election is clamp down on their suppression of dissent. We haven't been able to install any fundamentally new perspectives - not because new perspectives are unwanted but because the Dems were afraid to offer them.

Everyone believes this propaganda that America moved way to the right and I think that it just ain't so. Right-wing extemism is the same radical fringe that it always was - they just benefitted temporarily from coincidence of interest with those who momentarily feared Arab terrorism more than they feared anything else on earth, including dictatorship and minority persecution within our own country. Most people wanted, and have always wanted, to stop short of making war on the whole world, trashing the constitution, crucifying gays on barbed wire fences in Wyoming and making sure every woman in the country is barefoot and pregnant. I think that what we are going to find over the course of the next two years is that the government of the US remains well to the right of mainstream America, and I'm just wondering what the response of our true middle will be. When the difference appears to shrink, you know, it becomes harder to define.

Jn

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:02 pm 
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jny--

I agree and disagree. :) Abstractly speaking, you are probably correct at the national level. But no one is voted on at the national level, not even the President. The fact of the matter is that because of the structure of the Senate and thus the Electoral College, rural voters in low population states have a grossly disproportionate influence on the flavor of the national politcal situation. That's the underlying reason for the electoral success of the GOP from 1964 on, as it's their single most dependent demographic, and the one they have built their national strategy around.

As a result, even if the country as a whole may be to the left of where even the newly elected Congress is, practically speaking, it doesn't show, and won't until there is a larger gap...as there was before the election.

It makes me want to slap Jefferson around a bit. :D

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:02 pm 
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To me it's clear that the overall trend in the US of the last twenty to thirty years has been to move to the "right". I say this cautiously, because it's not always clear just what "right" and "left" mean, and there are subtrends that contradict the major trends.

What is the difference between the Republican revolution of 1994 and the Democratic revolution of 2006? I believe the biggest difference is that the Democrats of 2006 were closer to the center than the Republicans of 1994. Both revolutions were in part reactions against the sitting President, but the 2006 far more so. What had Clinton done as of 1994 to create such a backlash amonst swing voters, after all? We weren't involved in a messy war back then. The 1994 revolution was an electoral correction to bring the overall balance of the government more in line with the ideology of the electorate. The 2006 revolution was much more a backlash against the things the President had done, though it was also a severe ideological correction. But compare how far right the Republicans had to go before getting pulled back with how far the Democrats could go left in 1994.

I think the tendency of the electorate is always to punish the party in power. I think it's telling that the Democrats could only last two years with control of both houses and the presidency, while the Republicans were able to last most of six years, even with a messy war going on.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:08 pm 
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Faramond--

1994 had everything to do with the last step of GOP dominance of the rural Plains, Mountains, and South being completed. It was the tail end of a demographic shift more than anything else.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:27 pm 
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Faramond wrote:
What had Clinton done as of 1994 to create such a backlash amonst swing voters, after all?


If I am remembering correctly (and that is a big "If") the biggest thing that Clinton did that caused a backlash was pushing health care reform, and particularly putting Hillary in charge of that effort.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:41 pm 
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Vtf--

That and the gays in the military thing are about it in my recollection.

The other other thing to keep in mind :) is that the population moved south and west in significant numbers from 1950 on, thanks to, primarily, Air Conditioning. One could argue that Freon was the most politically imporant invention of the 20th century. :D

While not everyone who moved into what was turning into a GOP stronghold was conservative, districts were redrawn so as to dilute any snowbird effect, while the absolute number of House seats in the south especially grew. Thus, while the GOP only has a 60/40 advantage in southern House seats, they have nearly as many as the Democrats did when they held a 90/10 advantage. Conversely, the greatest number of Democratic House members STILL came from the South...until 1994.

Stand back, I have charts:
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Image Note that for some reason the creator of the charts runs the time backwards along the X. :scratch:

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:50 pm 
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The creator of the graphs WAS a bit backwards ... sure, it is more interesting / relevant data, the newest data, but people are used to read time left to right on the X axis :x

*stands well back of Ax and his charts*

*cups hands about mouth*

Interesting info, though!


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:59 pm 
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Yes, it is.

Another to keep in mind is that the Republicans used their growing power to build on itself. A good example is gaining a majority in the Texas legislature, and then redistricting to gain a significant number of seats in the House (I forget how many). I hope that the Democrats do not try to emulate that tactic, which I think borders on being unethical (paticularly the way it was practiced by Tom Delay and his cohorts).

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 7:59 pm 
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But I don't see how calling something a demographic shift counters the basic reality, that there has been a rightward shift.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 8:08 pm 
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Because of the nature of the system, especially redistricting for effect and disproportionate effects in the Senate and Electoral college, it is not only possible but likely that the rightward shift in political effect happened without having an actual lasting shift in the opinions of the population over time.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:13 pm 
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Quote:
To me it's clear that the overall trend in the US of the last twenty to thirty years has been to move to the "right". I say this cautiously, because it's not always clear just what "right" and "left" mean, and there are subtrends that contradict the major trends.


I think 911 was a large factor in a seemingly temporary shift to the right. The republicans road the coattails of that for a while, but the people had enough of the extremism that grew from that.

Left and right are certainly relative terms. Looking at us from a global perspective, were are certainly left of center.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:15 pm 
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Having grown up in the country, I trust the political views of people in the country much more than those of people who live in the cities ;). It's more of an attitude towards life, though - the people in the cities expect the gov. to do stuff for them, whereas in the country, you do stuff for yourself and expect the gov. to stay out of your hair.

For the most part. Obviously, there are plenty of opportunities for rural spending :D.

But in PA, Philly, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg are populous enough to cancel out the rest of the state. Most of PA is rural, but all those small towns aren't going to elect the President - the cities will.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:23 pm 
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But Axordil, the Republicans took the House in 1994 as well! It's not just Senate and electoral college effects. A majority of congressional districts went Republican, no matter how you look at it. Dems received only 44.7% of the House votes in 1994. That's not an artifact of any electoral system or demographic shift. It's a thumpin'. I am not saying the country lurched to the right in 1994. I'm saying there has been a gradual trend over the last 30 years, marked by sudden shifts left and right caused by a confluence of circumstances. I think it's clear when you look at the differences between the 1994 and 2006 revolutions that the shift right in 1994 was more dramatic than the shift left in 2006. Certainly the country has never gone as far right as Bush went! Not even close. But that Bush even could get about half the vote in two elections should tell us something, I think.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:24 pm 
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Mith--

Quote:
Obviously, there are plenty of opportunities for rural spending


I was going to say. :D I know for a fact that my wife's farming cousins believe in being fiercely independent right up until the moment the subsidy check shows up. I'm not faulting them, mind you...there are fewer and fewer small (around here, that means under 500 acres) farms every year. They run a small trucking company to help ends meet, i.e., provide some cash flow. And I respect them for not selling the family land to developers, even as the subdivisions emerge like toadstools around them...

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:27 pm 
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No, Holby, I think the shift to the right has been happening since before 2001. Now the next 20 years may well produce an overall shift to the left, which perhaps 911 delayed.

Don't a lot of rural voters expect the government to hand out subsidies? Don't city voters depend more on a working infrastructure, which is why they have more of a stake in "governmental assistance"? I'm not sure I believe those generalizations you make, Mith.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:33 pm 
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No, Holby, I think the shift to the right has been happening since before 2001. Now the next 20 years may well produce an overall shift to the left, which perhaps 911 delayed.


The shift right has been occurring since post Carter days (ie Reagan), but the Clinton scandals and 911 certainly lurched the country even moreso to the right. Tuesday's vote was a correction of that lurch but not necessarily a shift to the left overall.

The Bush administration screwed the right wing party by being so damned extreme.

*sigh* I can barely make sense out of what I just said.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2006 9:34 pm 
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Faramond--

Redistricting of new districts in the South and West from the 60s onward is enough to explain the shift in the house.

If you want to argue that there are more people living in traditionally conservative parts of the country, I won't disagree. That is not the same thing as there being more conservatives, people being more conservative, or the country turning more conservative.

I look at the US 30 years ago and see someplace barely out of Jim Crow, where virtually all gays were still closeted, and wives could only just get credit cards in their own names. There are particular liberal notions that have fallen out of favor (busing comes to mind) but compared to then, on the whole, the US is a marvel of tolerance and openness.

The rightward "shift" is an invention of pundits and media. What happened is that various forces on the right actually got their act together after 1964, figured out the demographics, and launched a long-term project to become much more competitive than they have any right to be.

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