Dateline 15 November 2006
The results are in. All that remains is the post-mortem. Everyone will offer simplistic answers. Some Democrats – mostly bloggers - will claim it is a mandate to impeach the President. Most will claim that it was principally about the Iraq War. While this was certainly a factor, there is no evidence that it was the major factor.
People were ready to vote Democrat. The electorate has restored the normal situation of the past 50 years, under which Congress and the Presidency have been under different parties. If a President is automatically a lame duck when his party does not control Congress, then it is a description you must apply to every two term President since the war. Bill Clinton’s party controlled Congress for just two years, as did Eisenhower’s. Reagan’s party never controlled Congress as a whole, though it held the Senate for six years. Bush is the only President since Roosevelt whose party controlled the House for six years of his Presidency, and the Senate for much of that time too. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton were all re-elected, despite facing in their first term the ‘lame duck’ status that Bush will face only for his last two years in office. Were those presidents all without consequence?
On the question of the significance of Iraq, we have only anecdote and polling evidence to guide us. In Connecticut voters plainly wanted a Democrat to represent them in the Senate, but faced with the choice between one who supported the Iraq war and one who opposed it, they decisively opted for the former. Polling by On Message Inc in Republican held swing districts uncovered the fact that only 25% rated ending the Iraq war as the most important issue (admittedly ahead of any other single issue). Asked which party they preferred on Iraq, voters in these critical districts narrowly opted for the Republicans.
Fully 44% agreed with the statement I think the Republican Party has been incompetent and is not getting the job done for America. This was well ahead of the 35% who agreed with the statement I generally agree with the issues and positions of the Republican Party and support their efforts. Recall, this was in districts which the Republicans won in 2004.
Only 29% thought that Republicans would cut taxes for the middle class, 42% for the Democrats. Only 22% thought Republicans would work to reduce the deficit, 47% for the Democrats. Just 21% thought Republicans would keep government expenditure under control, 38% for the Democrats.
Two things spring from this polling data. Neither party was close to a majority on these questions. Fully 62% do not believe the Democrats will control expenditure and a whopping 79% do not believe that Republicans will. Both groups are correct. But secondly, people who believe that Democrats will do more to control expenditure than Republicans, seem likely to face a disappointing couple of years.
What could happen, is that gridlock will control expenditure. Common Sense always likes to look on the bright side. While Democrats will call for more expenditure, perhaps President Bush will learn to veto legislation. On past form, the President will also call for more expenditure, but perhaps in areas the Democrats will be inclined to vote down.
In a system of checks and balances, gridlock is not necessarily bad. It has not always proved so in the past.
Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.