First thoughts on the Senate vote NOT to repeal the ACA

At 1:29 am EST on July 28, 2017, the last of three closely-watched Republican United States Senators (Senators) announced their votes on the “skinny repeal” bill, a bill intended to partially repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka ACA, aka Obamacare).

According to Anna Maria Barry-Jester of the data journalism website, the intent of this bill was to…

…effectively end the individual mandate and the employer mandate, delay the medical device tax, make some changes to waivers states can use to change how they comply with insurance regulations, and defund Planned Parenthood for a year.

 This was actually the third time the United States Senate (Senate) had voted to repeal (and possibly replace) the ACA that week.


Just bear with me while I review recent history.

As I wrote here, on May 3, 2017, after not having the votes to pass an earlier draft, the United States House of Representatives (House) voted 217-213 for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a significant step toward repealing and replacing the ACA.

The AHCA, however, was then declared “dead on arrival” in the Senate. Knowing this, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made a strategic decision. Rather than draft an ACA-repeal-and-replace bill using “regular order”—introducing legislation in appropriate Senate Committees (starting with the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions [HELP] Committee), holding public hearings, listening to testimony from a wide range of witnesses, marking up the bill in these Committees (seeking bipartisan support in the process), voting the bill out of the Committees, then bringing the bill to the Senate floor with ample opportunity for amendment and debate—McConnell instead designated 13 Republican Senators (all men) to write a bill in secret. The process was so secret, in fact, that one of those 13 Senators, Mike Lee of Utah, publicly complained that even HE did not know what was being drafted.

What ultimately emerged from this unusual process was the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).

For any reader not familiar with Senate procedure, here is an explanation of the bill’s title. A piece of legislation introduced on the floor of the Senate can be defeated simply by preventing it from coming to a vote, most effectively accomplished by a filibuster, which requires 60 votes to overcome. Effectively, then, any bill would require 60 yes votes to pass. One exception to this rule is legislation required to “reconcile” bills authorizing spending with bills appropriating funds for that spending. This reconciliation process only requires a simple majority to pass (if all Senators voted, that would be 51 votes, or 50 votes plus that of the Vice President, as President of the Senate). The Senate parliamentarian must rule on whether any legislation meets the requirements of reconciliation.

This bill was first introduced, as an amendment, on the Senate floor at just before 3 pm EST on July 25, 2017. The plan was to swap the text of the unlikely-to-pass AHCA with the text of the BCRA.

One day before the vote, 80-year-old Republican Senator John McCain, home in Arizona recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot from over his left eye and having just been diagnosed with a form of brain cancer called glioblastoma, announced that he would fly to Washington, DC in time for the votes.

The first vote was a “motion to proceed to debate.” It passed 50-50, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote. All 46 Democratic Senators (and two Independent Senators who caucus with the Democrats, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) voted No, as well as two Republican Senators: Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Senator McCain voted Yes on this “motion to proceed;” had he not returned to the Senate from Arizona, the motion would have failed 50-49 (or, more likely, McConnell would have delayed the vote until after the August recess).

Immediately after the vote, McCain was recognized on the floor of the Senate. Sporting a fresh, angry scar over his left eye, McCain proceeded to blast the Senate for violating its own longstanding traditions on how to craft and debate legislation, calling for a return to the “regular order” I described earlier. After explaining that he voted for the motion to proceed only to allow the vote to proceed, McCain announced, “I will not vote for this bill as it is today. It is a shell of a bill.”

More than six hours later, the Senate defeated, 43-57, the replacement of the ACHA with the BCRA[1]. Nine Republicans—Collins and Murkowski plus Bob Corker (TN), Tom Cotton (AR), Lindsey Graham (SC), Dean Heller (NV), Lee, Jerry Moran (KS) and Rand Paul (KY)—joined all 48 Democrats/Independents in voting No. McCain voted Yes on this bill, making it somewhat unclear which bill he was opposing in his earlier floor speech.[2]

At around 4 pm EST on July 26, the Senate voted on a “repeal-and-delay” bill that would repeal the ACA (as much as could be repealed under reconciliation)[3] following a two year delay, ostensibly to give Republicans (more) time to craft a broadly acceptable legislative alternative.

This bill was defeated 45-55, with seven Republicans voting No. Joining Collins, Heller and Murkowski were Lamar Alexander (TN), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Rob Portman (OH)…and McCain.

Thus far, only Collins, Heller and Murkowski had voted No on both “substantive” bills (BCRA, repeal-and-delay), with only Collins and Murkowski voting No all three times (motion to proceed, BCRA, repeal-and-delay).

Of course, so had every Democrat and Independent. More on that later.

These three votes were merely a prelude for the key vote scheduled for early on the morning of July 28.


Technically, the final vote that took place that morning was not meant to be the final vote. As with the previous two votes, it was a vote on an amendment to replace the text of the AHCA with a new bill, in this case the “skinny repeal” bill. It was assumed that this would pass, and a series of amendments would be introduced and considered. The final vote on the amended “skinny repeal” bill would take place in the post-dawn hours of July 28.

The first sign that even the “skinny repeal” bill might not pass the Senate came at around 5:15 pm EST on July 27. Four Republican Senators (Graham and McCain, joined by Bill Cassidy [LA] and Ron Johnson [WI) held a press conference to declare that they would not vote for “skinny repeal”—which Graham called a “fraud” and a “disaster”—unless House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) guaranteed that a) there would be a House-Senate conference committee and b) under no circumstances would the House simply pass the “skinny repeal” bill and send it to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

These four Senators  were publicly admitting that the “skinny repeal” bill was merely a vehicle to advance the ACA repeal-and-replace process to another arena, an arena in which they expected finally to draft ACA repeal-and-replace legislation that could pass both the House AND the Senate.

Notably, the full text of the “skinny repeal” bill had not yet been released, having purportedly been drafted over lunch earlier that day.

Put another way, the Senate was attempting to pass a bill almost nobody had seen, that the Senate did not want to become law, only so that a new bill could be written by an appointed group of House members and Senators. It is unclear how many, if any, Democrats would have joined that process.

By 9:46 EST that evening, Cassidy, Graham and Johnson had received sufficient assurance from Ryan that the House would NOT simply pass “skinny repeal” that they announced their intention to vote Yes on the bill they had just publicly declared a fraud and a disaster.

About nine minutes later, McConnell released the full text of the “skinny repeal” bill, now called the Health Care for America Act (HCFA), to the public. Debate commenced on the Senate floor, dominated by Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, who refused to yield to Democratic Senators waiting to ask questions about the just-released bill.

I had been following both Twitter and the FiveThirtyEight live blog (worth reading in its entirety), so I was able to read this distillation of the conventional wisdom in real time:

Perry Bacon Jr. 11:19 PM  

The bill has out been out for about an hour, and I don’t think I’ve seen a single Republican senator who has committed to voting against it. Either we are going to see some kind of “West Wing”-style dramatic moment, or it’s passing. I would bet on passage.

It also meant, however, that at 12:15 am, I was able to read this Tweet from Steven Dennis:


After McCain came on floor, he spoke to Cornyn, who appeared upset, turned around and gave a thumbs down to Daines.

“Cornyn” is Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and “Daines” is Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines, who earlier that day had tried to foment discord among Democrats by offering an amendment “that mirrored, word-for-word, the single-payer insurance program that Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, has proposed.” His hope was to get Democrats to cast politically unpalatable votes in favor of a Medicare-for-all system. It did not work, however, as every Democrat either voted No or “Present.” And as I point out here, support for a single payer health insurance system is not necessarily a politically damaging vote for Democrats.

Six minutes after Steven Dennis tweeted about McCain, the Senate began to vote on a motion offered by Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee, to send the HCFA back to the HELP Committee for further review. This motion failed on a party line 48-52 vote, which is appropriate since the bill had never been IN the HELP Committee in the first place.

At 1 am EST, however, after all Senators had voted, the vote was still “open.” This is because Republican Senators were suddenly concerned that McCain would vote No, and they wanted to delay the next vote (replacing the text of the AHCA with the text of the HCFA) as long as possible. If McCain voted No, while Collins and Murkowski also continued to be No votes on ANY ACA repeal bill, that would be enough to defeat the HCFA (48 D/I No + 3 GOP No = 51 No). On the Senate floor, live on C-SPAN2, Republican Senators (and Vice President Pence, who had arrived on the Senate floor to break a possible tie) could be seen huddled around McCain, and then around Murkowski, trying to get either of them to cast a Yes vote.

Finally, at 1:25 am EST, the Senate proceeded to vote on the amendment to replace the AHCA with HCFA.

Had every Senator actually declared their vote in alphabetical order during the roll call, this is what someone watching the vote would have heard from the Senate clerk:


“Ms. Collins. Ms. Collins, No. […]

“Mr. McCain. Mr. McCain, No. […]

“Ms. Murkowski. Ms. Murkowski, No […]”

While I believe Collins and Murkowski cast their votes when their names were first called, McCain waited until the roll call vote had reached Democratic Senator Gary Peters of Michigan to stride up to the clerk’s desk. He waved his right hand to get the clerk’s attention then said “No” while firmly turning down the thumb on his right hand.

The video of McCain’s vote, and the audible gasp it elicited from Democratic Senators, is a must see.


When all the votes were tallied, this final (?) attempt to pass the HCFA had been defeated, 49-51.


As I continue to process the impact and import of this vote, I have four data-driven thoughts:

  1. Collins (19.6% of the time), McCain (13.3%) and Murkowski (13.3%) are the three Republican Senators most likely to cast a vote against President Trump on any bill on which he has taken a clear position, according to the FiveThirtyEight vote tracker. These may not seem like very high percentages, but the median Republican Senator only votes against the Trump position 4.3% of the time.

Collins is one of only three Republican Senators to represent a state that Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016. The other two are Cory Gardner of Colorado and Heller, who faces reelection in 2018. Collins and Gardner are not up for reelection until 2020, although Collins is reportedly thinking very seriously about running for governor of Maine in 2018. This is exactly the type of vote that burnishes bipartisan credentials.

McCain would be 86 years old if he chooses to run for reelection in 2022, something that may be much more unlikely following his cancer diagnosis. McCain had nothing to fear electorally from this vote.

Murkowski is not up for reelection until 2022, and she won her 2010 reelection campaign as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller. So she clearly has an independent streak and also had little to fear electorally.

On the other hand, the Yes votes of Heller and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, both up for reelection in 2018 in states Clinton either won or lost narrowly, may be more politically problematic. I am mildly surprised that at least one of them did not vote No once the bill’s defeat had become clear.

  1. Lost somewhat in the focus on Collins, McCain and Murkowski is the fact that not a single Democratic Senator voted for ANY iteration of ACA repeal (with or without a replacement).

As I wrote here, Democrats face a serious challenge if they want to win back the Senate in 2018, despite only needing to flip three Senate seats to do so.

Of the 25 Democratic Senators facing reelection in 2018 (as opposed to only eight Republican Senators), 10 represent states Trump won in 2016.

Five of those 10 Senators—Joe Donnelly of Indiana (voted WITH Trump 46.7% of the time), Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota (50.0%), Joe Manchin of West Virginia (54.3%), Claire McCaskill of Missouri (42.2%) and Jon Tester of Montana (37.0%)—represent states Trump won by solid double-digit margins.

On average, these five Senators have voted WITH Trump just under half of the time (46.0%). The median Democrat has voted WITH Trump just 23.9% of the time. In other words, these are the Democratic Senators most likely, along with the Independent King (43.5%) and Mark Warner of Virginia (41.3%), to defy their party leaders and support Trump.

So it is an extremely telling sign that not ONE of these vulnerable Democratic Senators (nor King or Warner) ever came close to voting to repeal the ACA. They clearly calculated that favoring the ACA was the smart move politically, even in their deep red states.

  1. In this post, I list 31 Republican House members who voted for the AHCA and who represent districts which Clinton won and/or were close (margin <10% and/or GOP%<55%).

I would speculate that many of these 31 “vulnerable” Republican House members voted for the AHCA, a bill they may not personally have supported, with the hope that the Senate would ultimately pass a more politically palatable bill they could then support with more enthusiasm.

Instead, of course, the Senate was unable to pass ANY ACA repeal bill. These 31 Republican House members will now face reelection (in an environment projected to be terrible for Republicans, as I expand upon here and here) having to defend an enormously unpopular vote to repeal the ACA, with no actual legislative success to show for it.

  1. On a related note: Republicans have been advocating for the repeal and replace of the ACA for more than seven years, since even before it became law in early 2010. This full-throated advocacy was a central reason they recaptured the House in 2010 and continue to hold it. Republicans have also voted to repeal the ACA dozens of times, knowing full well that President Barack Obama would veto any actual repeal bill.

Now that Republicans control the White House, the Senate and the House it is no longer enough, presumably, simply to cast a vote to repeal the ACA; nothing short of full repeal (with or without a replacement) will suffice for the Republican base after years of (perhaps misguided) promises.

And here I will speculate on where all of this might lead.

If there is one thing I learned as a student of political science (BA, Yale; AM, Harvard), it is that the party holding the White House fares poorly in midterm elections. This electoral underperformance results from a combination of three partisan actions: 1) voters of the party controlling the White House either become complacent or discouraged, and fewer of them vote; 2) voters of the “out” party are energized and enthusiastic about voting for their party candidates, and more of them vote; and 3) political independents tend to break heavily toward the “out” party to balance the actions of the Administration.

Not a single House or Senate Democrat voted to repeal the ACA, including the most vulnerable of them, signaling they believe ACA support will help them (or, at least, not hurt them) even in the most Republican areas. Republicans in swing districts may have voted for a repeal bill, but since the ACA was not actually repealed they will receive no credit for their vote (disgruntled Republicans may not vote, while Democrats and Independents will most likely vote against them).

I make no predictions about what will happen in the 2018 midterm elections, but I strongly suspect that this series of health care votes just made the Democrats’ prospects substantially better.

Until next time…

[1] This bill actually required 60 votes to pass because it did not meet the Parliamentarian’s requirement for a reconciliation bill.

[2] That said, if you view this vote as a PROCEDURAL vote—in essence, a motion to proceed to an entirely different bill—then this vote makes more sense. McCain was following all of the historic standard procedures of the Senate, like allowing bills to come to the floor for amendment and debate without objection.

[3] Technically, this was an amendment, introduced by Senator Paul, to replace the AHCA with a repeal bill from 2015.


This post is unusual in that I am describing (and speculatively analyzing) data I do not yet have, as well as all of the reasons I seek these data despite my reservations.

This year’s Amazon Prime Day began at 9 pm EST on July 10, 2017 and ran until 3 am EST, July 12, 2017. During those 30 hours, Amazon Prime members received sizable discounts on a wide range of products sold online.

One such product was the Health&Ancestry kit sold by 23andMe. According to Anne Wojcicki, CEO and Co-Founder of 23andME, the company was founded in 2006 for two reasons:

First, to empower you, the consumer, with more information about yourself. I want you to learn more about who you are, where you are from and what you can do to live a healthier life through the information you learn from your DNA.

Second, to accelerate genetic research on a wide range of health conditions from Parkinson’s disease to lupus to asthma. Our research team has made hundreds of discoveries by analyzing the genetic data from customers that have consented to participate in research. We hope you will consider joining us in this important research effort.[1]

My wife is an avid member of Amazon Prime, and she saw an opportunity to purchase two Health&Ancestry kits for the price of one.

So she did.

She bought one for her, and she bought one for me.

They were waiting for us when she, our daughters and I returned home from a four-night trip to the Philadelphia area.


Oh boy.


In a recent post, I presented my reasoning for making a career change at the age of 50. I announced my intention to write a book, and I proclaimed that I was a writer.

I am still working out the details of the book’s contents and the logistics of its production, but I will present a rough synopsis here.

I have often been asked the question, “Why do you love film noir so much?” It is a question for which I have had great difficulty formulating a cogent answer, though I make a rudimentary attempt here.

As currently conceived, my book will be an attempt to answer that question, both for interested readers and for myself, carefully tracing the events in my life leading to my current enthrallment and (increasing) expertise. I will examine, for example, the path I took from the Hardy Boys and old-time radio episodes through classic detective fiction (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr, Rex Stout, inter alia) through the hard-boiled school of detective fiction (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald) through “noir” writers of crime fiction (most notably Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis). I will explore how I discovered and fell in love with the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan films (as described here, here and here) and the Perry Mason television series, conditioning me to appreciate older black-and-white crime films, then was lucky enough for Yale to have six film societies when I was an undergraduate there. Finally, I will describe my experiences at the annual NOIR CITY film festivals in San Francisco, including discussion with fellow film noir devotees about why THEY love these films.

Interesting as I believe these stories to be, however, they only scratch the surface of my visceral connection to these films.

To get closer to the truth, I will also have to examine certain other, more personal, aspects of my life.

Because, as I recently e-mailed to a friend, “my very existence is a noir plot.”


Just bear with me while I briefly discuss classic American film noir.

A common theme in film noir is the search for hidden or masked “identity.” Thus, Nina Foch’s titular character in My Name is Julia Ross (dir. Joseph H. Lewis, 1945) is held prisoner by a prominent family and falsely presented as the wife of the scion of the family (played with bland psychotic menace by George Macready). In a brilliant flashback sequence in Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947), Robert Mitchum’s Jeff Bailey (aka Jeff Markham) explains to his girlfriend (Virginia Huston) that he is not exactly who he has pretended to be. In The Stranger (Orson Welles, 1946), Welles plays a Nazi war criminal living under an assumed identity in a small college town in Connecticut.

The most basic examples of this theme are “amnesia” films, including Street of Chance (Jack Hively, 1942), Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, 1945), Somewhere in the Night (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946), High Wall (Curtis Bernhardt, 1947) and The Crooked Way (Robert Florey, 1949). In these films, the male leads are literally investigating themselves (following a literary tradition at least as old as Oedipus Rex), trying to determine their identities (or, in the case of Street of Chance, recovering a new identity brought on by a blow to the head that was then reversed by a second blow to the head two years later. Trust me, it works when you see the film or read the source novel, Woolrich’s The Black Curtain [1941]).

Other classic noir films, taking their cue from Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), revolve around an investigation into the life of someone who has just died under mysterious or unusual circumtances. The best example of this type of investigation is that conducted by Edmond O’Brien’s insurance agent into the life (and death) of “The Swede” (Burt Lancaster) in The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946). O’Brien would then famously investigate his own murder in D.O.A. (Rudolph Mate, 1950).

I digress this way because the more I think about the structure and content of the book I plan to write, the more parallels I uncover between these cinematic explorations and my own recently-accelerated search for my own “true identity.”

Let me explain.

To begin with (literally), I was adopted in utero[2].

I know very little about my genetic parents other than what I recall hearing from my legal mother and her older sister over the years (to my adopted parents’ eternal credit, they never made a secret of my adoption, and I thus never had cause to doubt their love and caring). While I rarely discussed learning more about my background with my legal mother, I always sensed that the subject made her uneasy. It was not that she thought that I would revert to my genetic family, were I able to do so. It was more…I don’t quite know…an unwillingness to “share” me, especially after having spent all those years raising me.

The circumstances of my adoption are telling in this regard as well. My legal mother had married my legal father in January 1960. After one miscarriage, my legal mother gave birth to my legal sister in March 1962. It was an extremely difficult labor (18 hours), and my legal sister suffered profound brain damage in the process. She was later diagnosed with severe mental retardation, intermittent explosive disorder and autism spectrum disorder, among other serious ailments. Today, 55 years later, I am her legal guardian, as she remains institutionalized in Philadelphia.

Following this exceedingly difficult birth, my legal mother suffered a second miscarriage before contracting uterine cancer, ultimately resulting in a hysterectomy.

As a father of two strong and healthy daughters, I cannot even begin to understand the guilt and anguish my legal mother must have felt in those years (perhaps resulting in the anxiety I sensed in her at the prospect of “losing” her “healthy” child). Well, a little bit I can, in that my wife and I suffered the gut-punch of a partial molar pregnancy before the successful conception and birth (though not without its own perils) of our oldest daughter.

The result, however, was the courageous decision by my legal mother and father to adopt (unseen) the baby of a young unwed mother in the fall of 1966. This, of course, was less than seven years before the Supreme Court declared state laws outlawing abortion unconstitutional in Roe v. Wade.

For the record, despite the circumstances of my conception, I remain staunchly pro-choice. My genetic mother must have gone through a variety of emotional tortures upon learning of her unwanted pregnancy, and I cannot now begrudge her the right to control her own body, in collaboration with her physician, conscience and other persons in whom she confided. If I had never existed as a result of her decision to abort (legally or otherwise), so be it.

At any rate, those were the circumstances of my adoption. The circumstances of my conception (other than the necessary physical act), however, are more shrouded in mystery.

As I understand it, my genetic mother was an unwed 18-year-old woman, of Scotch-Irish ancestry (which fits neatly with her likely having been born and raised in Philadelphia). Somehow, she became intimately involved with a 28-year-old married man (with three children already) of Colombian heritage who taught at the college level somewhere in Philadelphia. And one of them had a Native American grandparent…or was it a great-grandparent? Finally, it was the savvier (and even more beautiful, by all accounts) older sister—my genetic maternal aunt—who arranged the adoption.

Could this have been an illicit teacher-student liaison? Perhaps. I have always been struck by the fact that the winter holidays take place nine months prior to my late-September birthday (the 30th, to be precise). Am I the result of a campus holiday party drinking (or worse—this was the mid-1960s, after all) bout carried to a particular woozy conclusion?

To top it off, I have this idea that I was once told that all of the records of my adoption were lost when the agency that arranged my adoption was destroyed in a fire.

What I lack, though, is tangible proof of ANY of this. Despite my mother’s tale of going to the library to look up Colombian features (and having to wrap her white Jewish mid-1960s suburban mind around the possibility that I might be black), she may very well have turned a Columbia University professor into a Colombian[3].

So when I write that “my very existence is a noir plot,” I mean exactly that: to the best of my knowledge (albeit with a bit of creative embellishment), I was the unexpected result of the seduction of an unmarried younger woman by an older married professional man, possibly through excessive consumption of alcohol or other illicit drugs.

Or maybe she seduced him, who knows?

Whether my genetic father was ever even aware of what he had wrought, I do not know. My gut instinct is that he did not…meaning that there may well be a 78-year-old retired professor somewhere in the world who has no clue that he has had a son for the last 50 years. Throw in the plucky older sister (I see Susan Hayward in the role) and the convenient fire eliminating all traces of the transaction, and you have the makings of a fine noir plot.


While my legal mother lived, I thought very little about pursuing the matter further.

If I am completely honest with myself, it was not just my mother’s uneasiness which held me back. The paucity of verifiable details relating to my genesis meant that I could effectively create any story I wanted regarding my background.

In short, I could construct any “true identity” I choose.

Luckily for me, this was almost exclusively idle speculation. I loved and cherished my legal parents, accepted my legal sister with the open curiosity of a child, and, for the most part, had a happy childhood. I simply never felt the need to seek out a different, “better” family.

Still, after my legal mother died in March 2004 (my legal father having died 22 years earlier), the idea of tracking down the true circumstances of my conception slowly began to take hold in my mind.

One afternoon, in the short span of weeks between learning that she was pregnant and the subsequent discovery (at the 12-week ultrasound) that the fetus was dead, the woman who would soon become my wife had the following insight.

This child, when it was born, would be the first “blood relative” I would ever know[4].

That completely floored me.

I had always been able to look with a detached objectivity at the hereditary heart disease that claimed too many of the male members of my legal father’s family (including my legal father, at 46, and his father, who died 12 years before I was born), because, well, I had not inherited this condition.

And I managed to live for 40-plus years with a blithe ignorance of the genetic time bombs possibly ticking inside of me.

Marriage at the age of 40 and co-parenting young children over the next 10 years changed that. Not only was I now taking improved care of my own health (to be around as long as possible for my new family), but it was suddenly imperative to learn, if possible, what hereditary characteristics, good and bad, I had passed on to my daughters.

Some months before my 50th birthday I finally made the decision to collect whatever information was available on my genetic family.

I will skip the details of the process (though I may revisit them in a later post). Suffice it to say that if I want to learn specific details about my genetic family, I will have to petition the Orphan’s Court of Delaware County.



And that was how matters stood when we arrived home this past Monday night to find the 23andMe Health&Ancestry kits waiting for us.

My wife, who was not adopted, and who thus has a far more complete understanding of her genetic inheritance (the good, the bad and the meh) was incredibly eager to spit into her tube, seal and shake it (so the special fluid can mix with the hard-won saliva), carefully enclose the tube in the protective plastic bag and specially-designed white cardboard box, and mail the results back to the lab in North Carolina. This involved a very cheerful conversation with our favorite mailman who (I paraphrase) exclaimed that “yeah, people love these things!”

I, on the other hand, found myself avoiding the kit for a day or two. When I finally unsealed the kit two nights ago, I moved through the process with the speed of molasses in winter, questioning my desire to continue at every stage.

My hesitation was only heightened by reading the online registration materials and (voluntary) research consent forms.

Any excitement I might have felt at learning which of the 31 populations my DNA reflect, and to which haplogroups I belong, was dampened at the thought of all the negative things I could learn about myself. Seriously, I thought, there are special reports for Hereditary Thrombophilia, Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease?!?

The latter two, of course, have no cure.

It is no wonder kit users are advised to seek genetic counseling before submitting their saliva sample for testing.


Upon further reflection, I realized that my hesitation was not really rooted in discovering any genetic pitfalls of which I was previously (and blissfully) unaware. As I reminded myself when completing the voluntary research questionnaire, I take good care of my health, and I am in solid shape for a 50-year-old man. Whatever health downturns are coming my way, I will at least be able to approach them from a position of strength.

No, my hesitation stemmed from the fact that, once I have these results, I will irrevocably lose a great deal of flexibility in constructing my identity. Many more details will have been added to my sketch, particularly if there is a high-percentage match to an actual genetic relative among the 2 million or so persons registered with 23andMe.

Ultimately, all of the registration requirements were completed and sufficient saliva appeared in my tube. The tube was sealed and found its way into its protective plastic bag and specially-designed white cardboard box. That box then found its way into the hands of our favorite mailman. I was not there when this happened, so there was no cheerful conversation.

I used the passive voice deliberately in that last paragraph because I kind of slept-walked through the entire process.

A process which is now complete, which is how I came to receive a cheery welcome e-mail today from the CEO and Co-Founder of 23andMe.

In all of the amnesia film noirs I listed earlier, the protagonist seeking his true identity feels both exhilaration and trepidation at what he will learn about himself.

Even as I enthusiastically embark on a literary search for my noir-based “true identity,” I share the nervous anxiety of these noir protagonists at what will be learned in the process.

Until next time…

[1] From an e-mail sent to me, signed by Ms. Wojcicki, on July 21, 2017 (3:32 pm EST).

[2] A sentence I usually end with one of my favorite self-penned one-liners: “…making it very hard for me to sign all the paperwork.” Ba-dum-bum.

[3] Examination of my facial features does lend credence to the notion that I am of partial Colombian descent. My decades-long affinity for single-malt Scotch whiskey (less so Irish whiskey, which has played me false a number of times) is an entirely different matter.

[4] Not counting the two or so days I spent in Philadelphia Hospital with my genetic mother before I was…taken away. Clearly, I have no memory of these days.

July 2017 Odds and Ends

My wife tells me that she gets annoyed when blogs she follows take too much time between posts.

For mostly travel-related reasons, I have not been able to post a full article since July 6, and I will not be able to do so again for another week at least.

Since my preference is never to annoy anyone (knowingly, at any rate), just bear with me and this stopgap post consisting of short follow-ups to previous posts.


In this post, I decried the American tendency, upon meeting someone for the first time (or reconnecting with someone after a long period of time), immediately to inquire “What do you do?” By which the inquisitor means, “What do you do for a living?

I also introduced you to my long-time friend and mentor David Mayhew, professor emeritus of political science at Yale University.

Distant ancestors of Professor Mayhew helped to settle Martha’s Vineyard. For various reasons I may explore in a future post, my feelings about the Vineyard are… complicated.

However, every summer when I return (my wife and her mother co-own a house there), I am always pleased to see this sign as my wife, daughters and I drive to the waterside hamlet of Menemsha, as I did this past Saturday night:


Our intent when travelling to Menemsha is to have supper at this establishment:


In the summer of 2015, we were standing in the line to order food (the window on the right; the window on the left is for ordering ice cream) when Nell nudged me to get my attention. She then leaned forward and whispered, “That’s Ted Danson!”

“Where?” I responded in a matching whisper.

“There, right in front of you!”

I hadn’t yet looked closely at the tall man immediately in front of me in line, but a discreet glance confirmed for me that the actor who will always be “Sam Malone” to me was indeed standing mere inches from me.

He is even more handsome in person.

And just behind us was his wife, actress Mary Steenburgen (who will always be Malcolm McDowell’s love interest in the 1979 film Time After Time to me[1]

She is even lovelier in person.

What made the moment even more slightly-surreal was the way she called him “Ted,” as in “Ted, what do you want to eat?”

I know his name IS Ted, but the casualness of it reminded us that even the most famous celebrities are “just people.”

Had they not been out for a quiet summer evening with their grandchildren (and had I been quicker on my feet), I might have introduced myself and my family.

I say “quicker on my feet,” because in the moment I could not think of any remotely intelligent way to start a conversation.

And I did not want it to be like the time I was attending a Phillies spring training game in Clearwater, Florida in March 1993, when I got a chance to meet my then-idol, Phillies left-handed pitcher Terry Mulholland (who would start the All-Star Game that July for the National League, throwing 2 innings and allowing one earned run).

Standing in the parking lot behind Jack Russell Stadium that scorching afternoon, a Harvard doctoral student with a Yale BA, all I could think of to say was “Nice truck.”

Well, it WAS a nice truck.

It was only on the drive back home from Menemsha that I recalled my wife’s indirect connection to Mr. Danson. Suffice it to say that someone my wife knows quite well has worked with Mr. Danson.

So if I ever see them at The Galley again…

Staying on the Vineyard a brief moment longer, I noted here that Vineyard Haven is home to a superlative video and DVD rental place, Island Entertainment, which is itself home to a top-notch collection of film noir titles.

[Update 7/29/2019: Sadly, Island Entertainment has permanently closed]

The entrance may be unprepossessing:


But inside is this:






And this:


On this most recent trip, thanks to Island Entertainment’s expanding collection of film noirs, I was able to scratch Inland Empire (dir. David Lynch, 2006), Where Danger Lives (John Farrow, 1950), The Killer That Stalked New York (Roy Rowland, 1947) and Tension (John Berry, 1949) off of my “film noirs I have not yet seen” list.

I have now seen 574 (11.9%) of the 4,825 titles in my film noir database.

A database, I am happy to report, that is nearly complete.

Stay tuned…


In this post, I presented a simple regression model for “predicting” the number of seats in the United States House of Representatives (House) the Democrats will flip in 2018. My three independent variables are 1) the change in Democratic share of the total 2018 House vote from their share in the 2016 election (when the Democrats lost the national House vote by 1.1 percentage points), 2) that 2018 will be a midterm election and 3) the product of these two variables (to estimate whether the impact of the election-to-election vote share differs between midterm and presidential elections; it does).

The Democrats need to flip 24 seats to regain control of the House in 2018.

As of today, the adjusted average of generic House balloting has the Democrats winning by 7.3 percentage points. That would be an 8.4 percentage point shift from 2016. According to my model, that would most likely result in a gain of 29.4 seats, 5.4 more than necessary.

I have since added a slight tweak to these results. Using my calculation of the 95% confidence interval around this estimate (from a 7.5 seat loss to a 64.1 seat gain; this is what happens when you have only 23 data points to estimate an ordinary least squares regression with three independent variables), I was able to determine the standard deviation of a normal distribution around my seat-change estimate. From this information, I am able to calculate the cumulative probability of 24.0 and higher in this normal distribution.

In plain English, I can now present the probability, based upon this model, that the Democrats will gain at least the 24 seats necessary to recapture the House.

Drum roll please…

The probability the Democrats recapture the House in 2018, based upon an estimated change in vote share of 8.4 percentage points is…61.9%.

I would translate that probability into “leans Democratic.”

Until next time…

[1] The IMDB reminds me that Time After Time was directed by Nicholas Meyer. I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Meyer when he premiered his 1985 film Volunteers at Yale, during my sophomore year there.  Rest in peace, John Candy.

Writers Write, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Career Changes

What I can’t remember is whether my first exhortation to join the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) arrived in the mail before—or after—my 50th birthday in September 2016.

AARP cardWhat I do remember (because they are still neatly piled next to the printer, just a few inches to the left of my computer screen as I stare at it) is that I subsequently received three additional exhortations. It may have been one exhortation and three “membership kits.” I haven’t read them all that carefully.

When the first AARP mailing arrived, I immediately recalled the Drywall tune “The AARP Is After Me.”

Mostly, though, I was just confused.

It is true that I was in the process of finding a new gig in my multi-decade career as a “non-profit-preferring public health (mostly) data analyst slash program evaluator slash research project manager.” I had been laid off 15 months earlier from my sixth position (positions spanning a total of just under 19 years—“soft money” gigs are brutal), as I detail here.

But “retired?”

Not even close.

At the same time, the job search was moving about as quickly as poured molasses—in the winter. Almost nothing even remotely in my field inspired me (to the extent I could concisely define what my “field” was). Too often, when a job did inspire me, I was “educationally overqualified” for it. It is amazing how many interesting jobs in my “field” have educational requirements along the lines of “bachelor’s degree, master’s degree preferred.”

My thoughts wandered.

Ø  I recalled multiple conversations about earning a doctorate, mostly to the (admittedly anachronistic) effect of “that and $10 will get you one of those incredibly delicious fresh-squeezed half gallons of orange juice at Wegman’s.”

Ø  I recalled insisting for years, after resigning from my first doctoral program in June 1995, that I would only get a doctorate under four specific conditions: 1) I needed it to advance to a particular job I wanted, 2) my employer funded it, 3) I could complete the doctorate while continuing to work for this employer, and 4) any required data were already collected and cleaned. The point being that a doctorate would be a practical achievement that advanced my career in a tangible way[1].

Ø  I recalled reviewing job applications with my colleagues for a research assistant position at my most recent employer. The position was clearly master’s-level, but quite a few applicants had doctorates. We used to sit in my supervisor’s office and mock these applicants.

Ø  I recalled the ferry scene in the 1994 film Disclosure in which the Michael Douglas character is abjectly terrified of becoming one of the many “ghosts with resumes”: marginally older men who had lost lucrative positions yet still commuted into Seattle every morning in search of a new position, knowing the chips were stacked against them.

My fear, of course, was that I was becoming one of those ghosts with a resume, the ones we laughed at (whistling past the graveyard?) in my supervisor’s office. And I questioned whether completing a doctorate at 48 (as opposed to 28, or 38) had been a huge mistake.

It didn’t help that what was really nagging me in the deeper recesses of my mind was the idea that, after 19 years, six professional positions, a MA in biostatistics and a PhD in epidemiology, I no longer WANTED a career in…whatever it was I did.

That was the most unnerving thought of all.


This is where I was going to ask you to “just bear with me” while I presented entertaining data on mid-career changes at the age of 50, plus or minus.

Those data, however, do not appear to exist (excepting an unsourced claim that while 85% of persons aged 45 and older consider a career change, only 6% actually do so). This excerpt (from the section titled “Does BLS have information on the number of times people change careers in their lives?”) from the National Longitudinal Surveys page on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website explains why: 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) never has attempted to estimate the number of times people change careers in the course of their working lives. The reason we have not produced such estimates is that no consensus has emerged on what constitutes a career change. […] Most people probably would agree that a medical doctor who quits to become a comedian experienced a career change, but most “career changes” probably are not so dramatic. What about the case of a web site designer who was laid off from a job, worked for six months for a lawn-care service, and then found a new job as a web site designer? Might that example constitute two career changes? If not, why not? Is spending six months at the lawn-care service long enough to consider that a career? How long must one stay in a particular line of work before it can be called a career?

Until a consensus emerges among economists, sociologists, career-guidance professionals, and other labor market observers about the appropriate criteria that should be used for defining careers and career changes, BLS and other statistical organizations will not be able to produce estimates on the number of times people change careers in their lives.

There is also this cheerful 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office detailing how the “number of long-term unemployed people over 55 years of age has more than doubled since the recession and more than [one-] third of unemployed older workers have been out of work for more than a year.”


What DO exist, however, are multiple online sites providing guidance for someone in my age bracket contemplating a new career. Topping the list, not surprisingly, is the job-search leviathan Similar advice is proffered by…wait for it…the AARP, as well as this one-stop shop.

Given the quantity (if not quality) of advice for mid-career job seekers out there…

I am somewhat surprised that (again, unsourced) only 6% of career-change contemplators actually take that step.

Especially when you consider the sheer number of Food Network cooking competition contestants who fled careers as stockbrokers, public relations specialists and every other high-powered white collar job you can name to go to culinary school and pursue their dream of being a professional chef.

Hmm, maybe that is where I first got the idea…from all those hours watching Food Network with my wife…


My heroically-supportive wife and I have been extremely fortunate that we have been able to thrive financially for two years while neither of us has earned a paycheck.

Still, our resources are finite, and as the two year anniversary of my layoff approached, our conversations about next steps began to become a bit more contentious. At one point, out of sheer exasperation, my wife flung this question at me:

“Why don’t you write a book?”

She quickly clarified that what she meant was “write a mystery, something that will sell,” but a very different idea had already started to take root in my mind.

Before I elaborate, however, let us step back six months in time.

My doctoral thesis, as I have discuss here and here, assessed the long-term health impacts of neighborhood walkability, or the lack thereof.

Last December, I was sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, and I noticed a series of pamphlets and brochures for WalkBoston. In the process of reviewing the academic epidemiologic literature on neighborhood walkability (and the built environment more generally), I had foolishly overlooked even the possibility of the existence of local organizations already acting on this literature.

AHA, I thought, this is perfect! I set up an informational interview with the director of the organization. It was a very cordial and informative conversation, despite my skill set not being a good fit for the organization. At the close of the interview, she gave me the names and contact information of four other people who might provide further guidance. I eventually met with three of them (I never did hear back from the fourth contact)

The first meeting was helpful, but mostly as a way to solicit further contacts. The second meeting I will return to in a moment.

The third meeting was the most revealing, in that I heard the painful truth, the truth I had suspected but not yet fully articulated to myself. The truth was this: for someone with my educational attainment, experience and…well, she did not say either “age” or “salary history,” but the implication was there…there may be only three or four jobs a YEAR (outside of academia, which I have ruled out for now) that would be an appropriate fit

She also described the process by which I could become essentially a “statistician-for-hire”—I believe the term is “vendor”—for state agencies, not all that different from the consulting, part time and self-employment gigs suggested on the “find a new career at 50!” websites discussed above.

Talk about tough love.

At the second meeting, meanwhile, I felt like I had found a new home. There was even a new position—one matching my eclectic skill set reasonably well—to be announced in a few days.

Naturally, I applied for that position as soon as it was posted. And I was very excited about it until…

…I began fully to contemplate the implications of returning to a full-time 9-5 Monday-Friday position, one that, even with a fairly routine commute on local public transit, would not get me home until 6:30 pm or later (given my tendency to leave the office later than 5 pm to avoid “crush hour.”

Due to my doctoral work and subsequent layoff, I had not worked a full 40 hour week for four years. For four years, then, I was often available (and eager) to pick up my daughters from school; schlep one or the other to ballet class, doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, soccer practice, basketball practice, rock-climbing, swimming lessons or the odd play date; run to the grocery store or CVS; and otherwise help out around the house (that dishwasher is MINE).  It also meant that I was able to spend time, especially after the layoff, on my own research projects, culminating in the launch of this blog last December

The thought of returning to a full-time job in a career with diminishing appeal—losing all of that precious family and personal time in the process—caused a switch to flip in my brain. Suffice it to say, the passion I had displayed in my second meeting was far less apparent during the actual job interview, and I was not offered the position.

This non-offer occurred three months ago. Since then, I have been mentally dissecting the barriers (both external and internal) to finding a new job for myself. I ultimately brainstormed dozens of reasons, which I carefully sorted into six broad categories (including “Existential”) and compiled in a Word document.

One key (and by now obvious) conclusion from this exercise was that I had burned out on my previous career, just as I had burned out 20 years earlier on academic political science (ironic given how much I have written on this post and elsewhere about contemporary and impending political events).

Wait, I thought, that’s right. I had already radically altered my career path once in my adult life.

So why not do it again?

And so I finally return to the idea of writing a book. Not to the book itself (I’ll get to that in later posts, I suspect), but to the very IDEA of writing a book.

The idea that served to shine a spotlight on the simple notion of being a writer.

Like, you know, full time, as a career.

As the immortal Johnny Slash would say, “That is a totally different head. Totally.”

And as I thought back on every innocuous work-related e-mail I turned into a multi-page memo, every mandated Quarterly Report I edited and polished until it gleamed, every short (and not so short) essay I penned commenting on a Facebook post, every film noir article I have outlined in my head, and every blog post I have crafted with the obsessiveness of a perfectionist, I realized something…


Writers write, so it seems I am about to write a book, while maintaining this blog and continuing to crank out essays on Facebook and elsewhere.

As for our finite resources, we will figure out something. I have ideas there, too, but they are between my wife and me.

And maybe, just maybe, I have not completely closed the door on a return to my previous career. Those WalkBoston brochures also inspired me to submit three abstracts, one for each of my three doctoral studies, to the 2017 American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting & Expo. Much to my surprise, two of them were accepted for oral presentation.


If you happen to attend APHA this November, please check out my talks.

But the bottom line is this.

I am 50 years old, and I am about to join that purported 6% by embarking on a new career: writer.

Wish me luck.

Until next time…

[1] When I ultimately did earn a degree in epidemiology (defended December 2014, commenced May 2015), the first two conditions had already gone out the window, while the latter two conditions more or less held. But the practicality had given way to a combination of a need to finish what I had started two decades earlier (albeit in a different field at a different university) and a genuine new-found love for epidemiology.


Clinton Derangement, or The Birth of a Notion

During the 2016 campaign, I was struck by two overlapping narratives.

One was the intensity of animus toward Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, particularly among Republicans. This felt to me less like policy disagreement and more like personal vendetta. This animus expressed itself manufactured outrage (and HOURS of Congressional hearings) over the Islamist militant attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 and the use of a private e-mail server while serving as President Barack Obama’s first Secretary of State. While neither Benghazi nor the e-mail server cast Ms. Clinton in the best possible light, the obsessive focus on them as somehow criminal acts (leading to chants of “Lock her up!” at the 2016 Republican National Convention) smacked of political overkill. Thus, the adjective “manufactured.”

To me, this animus echoed the fervor with which Republicans had gone after her husband, Bill Clinton, while he served as president of the United States. The Whitewater-Lewinsky investigations, which ran (with brief stoppages due to lack of evidence) from January 1994 to Clinton’s acquittal by the United States Senate (Senate) on February 12, 1999, were an earlier manifestation of what I will call “Clinton derangement.”

Two was the emergence, led by Donald Trump, of a virulent strain of raw nationalist populism, driven by mass rallies, calls for violence against journalists and protestors, and anti-elitist resentments (aimed at the establishments of both major political parties). Trump encouraged this nationalist populism through outrageous, often vulgar statements and Twitter musings, culminating in the Access Hollywood audiotape, released on October 7, 2016, on which Trump appears to brag about sexually assaulting women.

So, you ask, where is the overlap?

Well, consider the curious case of U.S. House of Representatives (House) member Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

Immediately after the release of the Access Hollywood audiotape, Rep. Chaffetz announced that he was no longer supporting Trump’s presidential candidacy. His reason, passionately expressed during a media blitz, was that he could not explain to his 15-year-old daughter how he could support someone who utters “some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine.”

Just 19 days later, however, Rep. Chaffetz tweeted this: “I will not defend or endorse @realDonaldTrump, but I am voting for him. HRC is that bad. HRC is bad for the USA.”

I wonder how that second conversation between Rep. Chaffetz and his 15-year-old daughter went.

In short: for Republicans, no matter how “abhorrent” (Rep. Chaffetz’s word) or “reprehensible” (the word of a Republican cousin-by-marriage who still voted for Trump) Trump’s behavior or how far he strayed from Republican orthodoxy, Hillary Clinton was somehow simply worse.

I wrote “strayed from Republican orthodoxy,” but the reality is that the nationalist populism embraced by Trump already existed among a significant segment of Republican voters.

Simply put, Trump did not create his voters, his voters created him.


The more I thought about these two strands, Clinton derangement and an evolving Republican strain of nationalist populism, the more I found myself thinking about the presidential election of 1992 (and the subsequent midterm elections of 1994).

And an argument began to take shape in my mind, one that greatly clarifies both Trump’s emergence and Clinton’s defeat:

  1. With the elections of 1992 and 1994, the Democratic and Republican Parties switched governing roles. The Democratic Party went from being primarily a Congressional and state-house party to primarily a national (i.e., White House) party, while the Republican Party went in the opposite direction.
  2. Republicans blamed Bill Clinton for breaking their iron grip on the White House, and they have been punishing him (and his wife) for it ever since.
  3. The Republican Party underwent a profound transformation in the aftermath of the first Bush presidency (1989-93) as a result of both internal actions (e.g., Bush breaking his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes) and external events (e.g., the end of the Cold War). The common enemy (the Soviet Union) which had held together the disparate ideologies of the Republican Party for 25 or 30 years vanished, and previously dormant “fringe” factions asserted themselves.
  4. This newly radical Republican Party was characterized in part by a nationalist populism (embodied by Pat Buchanan) and a resentful anti-government ethos (embodied by Georgia Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich). And they had a new common enemy: the Clintons.

I will explore these arguments over a series of posts, beginning with this one.


Just bear with me while I present three election data “items” related to the 1992 and 1994 elections.

Item 1.[1]

On Tuesday, November 3, 1992, Clinton captured 43.0% of the popular vote cast for president, 5.6 percentage points more than G. H. W. Bush (37.4%) and 24.0 percentage points more than Independent H. Ross Perot (19.0%). Considering only votes cast for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates (“two-party vote”), Clinton beat Bush 53.5 to 46.5%.

Clinton also won 32 states, plus the District of Columbia (DC), for a total of 370 electoral votes (EV); Bush received only 168 EV.


Four years earlier, however, G. H. W. Bush had won 53.4% of the popular vote against Democrat Michael Dukakis (45.6%), winning 40 states and 426 EV; Bush beat Dukakis 53.9 to 46.1% in the two-party vote. Bush’s near-landslide victory (in the Electoral College, anyway) meant that Republicans would control the White House for a third consecutive four-year term.

electoral-1988-sIn other words, in just four years, Democrats had increased their share of the two-party popular vote by 7.4 percentage points, flipped 22 states from Democratic to Republican, and increased their EV total from 112 to 370.

That is an astonishing turnaround.

Item 2.

Following the 1992 elections, Democrats controlled 57 Senate seats and 258 House seats, while 30 of the nation’s governors were Democrats.

Just two years later, following the 1994 midterm elections, Democrats controlled 48 Senate seats and 204 House seats; only 19 governors were Democrats.

Put differently, just two years after Democrats regained control of the White House for the first time in 12 years, Democrats were absolutely slaughtered in Congressional and gubernatorial races, losing a net nine Senate seats, 54 House seats and 11 governor’s mansions.

That is not a turnaround. That is whiplash.

Item 3a.

Table 1: Summary of Democratic performance in Presidential, Congressional and gubernatorial races: 1968-2016

Presidency 1968 – 1988

(24 years)

1992 – 2016

(28 years*)

Post-1988 Change
Average % Total Vote 42.9% 48.7% D+5.8 perc pts
Average % 2-Party Vote 45.1% 52.0% D+6.9 perc pts
Average #Electoral Votes 113.0 313.4 D+200.4 EV
Average States Won 9.0 (+DC) 23.7 (+DC) D+14.7 states
Victories 1 4†† D+3 wins
Years in White House 4 16 D+12 years
Senate 1968-1992

(26 years)


(24 years)

Post-1992 Change
Average % Total Vote 51.2% 48.8% D-2.4 perc pts
Average % 2-Party Vote 53.0% 51.2% D-1.8 perc pts
Average # Seats 54.5 48.3 D-6.2 seats
Years in Majority 20 9.5 D-10.5 years
Average % Total Vote 52.9% 47.4% D-5.5 perc pts
Average % 2-Party Vote 54.1% 49.6% D-4.5 perc pts
Average # Seats 262.1 208.7 D-53.4 seats
Years in Majority 26 4 D-22 years
Average % Total Vote 51.7% 46.7% D-5.0 perc pts
Average % 2-Party Vote 52.9% 48.8% D-3.9 perc pts
Average # State Houses 31.0 20.7 D-10.3 state houses
Years in Majority 26 4 D-22 years

         *Through 2020

         Through 2018

         ††Excluding popular vote victories by Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016

In the six presidential elections from 1968 through 1988 (Table 1), Republicans won the presidency five times, four times by landslides (1972, 1980, 1984) or near-landslides (1988). The one Democratic victor was Jimmy Carter in 1976, in the wake of Republican President Richard Nixon’s Watergate-related resignation in August 1974, Nixon’s pardon by his successor (Gerald Ford) and various Ford gaffes. Still, Carter only managed to beat Ford by 2.1 percentage points (50.1 to 48.0%) and 57 EV (297-240[2]); Ford actually won more states: 27 to 23 (plus DC). In fact, had Ford flipped 5,559 votes in Ohio (25 EV) and 7,232 votes in Mississippi (7 EV)—just 12,791 votes out of 81,540,780 cast, he would have won 272 EV and held on to the presidency.

Overall in those six presidential elections, the Democratic candidates averaged 42.9% of the popular vote (45.1% of the two-party vote), victories in nine states (plus DC) and 113.0 EV. The White House essentially “belonged” to the Republicans during this period.

During the same time period, however, Democrats controlled the House and held a majority of governorships. They controlled the Senate for 18 of 24 years, excepting only 1981-87. Following the 13 even-numbered elections from 1968 through 1992, Democrats averaged majorities of all votes cast for Senate, House and governor[3], for an average of 54.5 Senate seats, 262.1 House seats and 31.0 governor’s mansions.

In other words, from 1968 through 1992, while Republicans held a near lock on the White House, Democrats controlled Congress (both Houses for 20 years) and a majority of governor’s mansions. One interpretation is that voters preferred Republicans in the White House to conduct foreign policy (i.e., fight the Cold War) and preferred Democrats to manage domestic affairs (i.e., protect entitlements).

Item 3b.

AFTER 1992, however…

In the seven presidential elections from 1992 through 2016, Democrats won the presidential popular vote six of seven times (despite only winning the Electoral College—and thus the White House—four times), the exception being 2004, when Republican George W. Bush won reelection by 2.4 percentage points (50.7 to 48.3%) over Democrat John Kerry, capturing 286 EV to Kerry’s 251.[4] Once again, Ohio was pivotal. If Kerry could have flipped 59,188 votes there (out of 122,303,590 cast nationwide), he would have won 271 EV and the presidency (though he still would have lost the popular vote).

Overall in those seven presidential elections, the Democratic candidates averaged 48.7% of the popular vote (52.0% of the two-party vote), victories in 23.7 states (plus DC) and 313.4 EV.

Meanwhile, since January 1995, Democrats have only controlled the House and held a majority of governorships for four years (2007-11), while controlling the Senate for only nine-plus years (May 2001[5]-January 2003, 2007-15). Following the 12 even-numbered elections from 1994 through 2016, while Democrats managed rough parity in Senate votes, they lost the overall vote for House and governor, earning an average 48.3 Senate seats, 208.7 House seats and 20.7 governor’s mansions.

The overall lower average of EV won by White House winners and the near-parity in Senate votes means that the more recent differentiation between Democrats as “White House” party and Republicans as “Congressional/gubernatorial” party is not quite as apparent.

Figure 1. Democratic % Presidential Popular Vote, U.S. Senate Vote, U.S. House Vote, Governor Vote: 1968-2016

Democratic % President, Senate, House, Governor, 2-party, 1968-2016

Figure 2. Democratic % Electoral Votes, U.S. House Seats, U.S. Senate Seats, Governorships: 1968-2016

Democratic % EV, Senate Seats, House Seats, Governors, 1968-2016

The Democratic presidential victory in 1976, Republican presidential victories in 2000 and 2004, and Democratic successes across the board in 2006 and 2008 obscure the trends in Figure 1 (Democratic percentages of the two-party vote cast for president, Senate, House and governor, 1968 through 2016) and Figure 2 (Democratic percentages of EV, Senate and House seats, and governorships, 1968 through 2016). However, the dramatic shift in governing roles (“national” vs. “legislative”) can still be discerned, especially in Figure 2, which focuses on the winning of control-determining EV, Congressional seats and governor’s mansions.

Figures 3 and 4 clarify the 1992-94 governing role shift by displaying, for each presidential election, the average of the Democratic results in that election and the previous one, and for each set of Senate, House and (two-year cycle) gubernatorial elections, the average of the Democratic results in that election and the previous two elections. In other words, each value in Figures 3 and 4 encompasses an identical rolling three-even-year-elections time frame.

Figure 3. Democratic % Presidential Popular Vote, U.S. Senate Vote, U.S. House Vote, Governor Vote: 6-Year Rolling Averages, 1968-2016

Democratic % President, Senate, House, Governor, 2-party, 6-yr-ave, 1968-2016

Figure 4. Democratic % Electoral Votes, U.S. Senate Seats, U.S. House Seats,      Governorships: 6-Year Rolling Averages, 1968-2016

Democratic % EV, Senate Seats, House Seats, Governors, 6-yr-ave, 1968-2016

The dramatic shift in party governing roles in 1992-94 is now strikingly clear, especially in Figure 4. What is also readily apparent is just how poorly Democrats have been faring in governor’s races since 1992. I have written elsewhere about the current extreme Republican advantage in governor’s mansions (16 Democratic, 33 Republican, 1 Independent). As Figures 2 and 4 show, the gap was not very different in the mid-to-late 1990s, during which Democrats held an average of only 18 governor’s mansions.

In a subsequent post, I will examine the defining events of 1988 through 1994 in more detail, moving from then-Vice-President G. H. W. Bush’s acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention through the wildly successful (for Republicans) 1994 midterm elections. I will follow that post with one in which I theorize about how resentment at Bill Clinton’s 1992 (and 1996) electoral successes and the Republican Party’s shift from “national” to “legislative” party may have resulted in the “surprising” 2016 elections.

Until next time…

[1] All presidential and Congressional election are from Dave Leip’s indispensable Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, as are 1990-2016 gubernatorial election data. Gubernatorial data from 1967 to 1989 from the equally invaluable OurCampaigns.

[2] Ronald Reagan, who had challenged Ford for the Republican nomination, won the remaining EV, cast by a Washington state elector.

[3] Five states still hold gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years: Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi (next election: 2019), and New Jersey and Virginia (next election: 2017). To maintain consistency with presidential and Congressional elections, I combined the election results for gubernatorial elections held in even-numbered years with those held in the preceding odd-numbered year.

[4] Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee John Edwards won the remaining EV, cast by a Minnesota elector.

[5] On May 24, 2001, Republican Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched to “Independent,” turning a 50-50 Senate tie, broken by Republican Vice President Dick Cheney into a 50-49 Democratic edge. In the subsequent 2002 midterms, however, Democrats lost a net of two seats, giving the Republicans a 51-48-1 edge.