The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Monday, November 15, 2004

SENATE MANDATE, PART DEUX

A couple days ago I linked to this blog post from Night Light, which pointed out that Democratic senate candidates received over three million more votes than Republican candidates did. This would seem to complicate that whole "mandate" and "political capital" narrative Bush is trying to push.

In response, over at TigerHawk Jack wondered,
is this a valid comparison? After all, the aggregate popular vote for the Senate addresses only 33 or 34 states, not 50. Obviously, if these races were distributed more disproportionately among "blue" jurisdictions, Brendan's point would prove exactly nothing. However, if they were disproportionately in "red" states, Brendan would be on to something. On this Sunday morning I lack the energy to figure out whether the distribution of those votes nationally supports Brendan's argument or undercuts it. Maybe I'll update later.
Well since Jack appears poised to go on one of his non-break breaks, I took it upon myself to do some of the number-chrunching. More specifically, I compared 2004's Senate results to those of the 2002 midterms. I chose 2002 because the overall result of that round of elections was pretty similar to that of this year's set, with Republicans picking up a few seats each time, and winning most of the close races.

Going by CNN's numbers, the total national vote breakdown was:
GOP: 21,443,548 (50.7%)
Dem: 19,613,804 (46.4%)
Other: 1,228,576 (2.9%)
That's interesting: An election with a similar legislative result to this year shows the numbers reversed in the popular vote, with Republican candidates gaining about 2 million more votes than the Democrats.

But what accounts for this difference? Jack thinks that the inclusion of more deep "blue" states in this year's elections has something to do with it. Is he right? Let's take a look at which states had Senate elections when, and which ones were close (within 10 percent)...

States with Senate elections in 2002 but not in 2004 (competitive races in bold):
Delaware
Maine
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Montana
Nebraska
New Jersey
New Mexico
Rhode Island
Tennessee
Texas
Virginia
West Virginia
Wyoming
States with Senate elections in 2004 but not in 2002 (competitive in bold):
Arizona
California
Connecticut
Florida
Hawaii
Indiana
Maryland
Nevada
New York
North Dakota
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Utah
Vermont
Washington
Wisconsin
States with Senate races in 2002 and 2004 (close in 2002 in bold, close in 2004 in italics, close in both in CAPS... hmm this could get messy!):
Alabama
Alaska
Arkansas
COLORADO
Georgia
Idaho
Illinois
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
LOUISIANA
Missouri
New Hampshire
NORTH CAROLINA
Oklahoma
Oregon
SOUTH CAROLINA
SOUTH DAKOTA
Okay, what have we learned from this?

--The big blue states did play a part in this. California and New York both had Senate races in 2004 but not in 2002, and both of those races were romps for the Democratic candidate. Conversely, Texas had a Senate race in 2002 but not in 2004. But a couple big states can't account for a 5 million vote swing all by themselves. For instance, Pennsylvania, a large state that leans Democratic, gave Arlen Specter a double-digit victory in its Senate race.

--More close races in the red-ish states in 2004. In '02 the close races were evenly distributed between Dem and GOP-friendly states. But this year virtually all of the close races, regardless of the incumbent's party affiliation, were in Bush states. Of course, the Republicans won every close race except for Colorado. Since the blue-ish states had a higher proportion of snoozer races, the total Dem vote was higher proportionally than two years ago.

This is an odd debate to have, though, since...

--The Senate is perhaps the world's most propotionally-odd parliamentary body. Lisa Murkowski won her seat with 121,027 votes, while Barbara Boxer was re-elected to her seat with 5,599,219 votes, yet both Senators will have essentially the same amount of power on the Senate floor. Because of numbers like those, the Senate is prone to scenarios like this year's, in which the total Senate popular vote shows the opposite of the true balance of power in the body.

One last thing, though:

California and New York are full of . . . Americans! The people of my home state are not tens of millions of electoral asterisks. Republicans who look at California and say "oh, it's just California, you know how they are" are not helping the discourse. It's all a part of the general strategy to paint the Democratic party as nothing more than a hodgepodge of evil interest groups, and to say that certain aspects of the Democratic coalition "don't count" because they're "not real Americans". This usually happens with three groups: City dwellers, California&NewYork, and black people.

California and New York have something else in common: Republican governors.

POSTSCRIPT: And if your counterargument to that last part is "you guys don't have respect for, say, Texans and Alabamans either", let me put it this way:

What Californians say: "Hey, we're Americans too!"
What Texans say: "Hey, you're not Americans!"

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