Rest in peace, George Herbert Walker Bush

Late on the night of January 20, 1989, I walked out of Dan’s Cafe—a dive bar in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, DC[1]—after imbibing a few or five or six bottles of Rolling Rock. Clutching my long black overcoat around me, I started to cross 18th street (likely to get a bite to eat, as my apartment on 16th, just south of Columbia, was a few blocks to the east). The headphones of my Walkman covered my ears; I think I was listening to Depeche Mode.

I did not see the car until it was practically upon me. Helpful witnesses later said it was black—or maybe blue or perhaps green. Whatever color it was, it knocked me to the ground without stopping; perhaps because I had no time to stiffen in panic, I only separated my right shoulder.

Earlier that day, I had watched the sitting Vice President sworn in as the 41st president of the United States. In his acceptance speech the previous August, the then-Vice-President had called for a “kinder and gentler nation.”

So naturally, as I lay on the street unable to move, convinced cars would start knocking me between lanes like a human pinball, my first thought was, “So much for kinder and gentler.”

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George Herbert Walker Bush, who died Friday night at the age of 94, exemplified a vanishing strain of self-effacing, self-sacrificing American patriotism: son of a United States Senator, heroic Navy pilot in World War II, Yale baseball team captain (light-hitting, solid defensive left-handed first baseman), successful Texas oilman, two-term member of the United States House of Representatives (“House”) before losing the 1970 United States Senate election in Texas to Lloyd Bentsen (who would resurface as an opponent 18 years later), Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, envoy to China, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (where, unbeknownst to his family, my late father-in-law worked). Bush then served as Vice President of the United States from January 20, 1981 to January 20, 1989—at which point he ascended to the Presidency, the first sitting Vice President to do so since Martin Van Buren in 1837. He was also father to two sons who served a combined 22 years as Florida governor, Texas governor and president. With few exceptions, he tackled these activities with grace, dignity and the desire to serve his country to the best of his considerable abilities.

Because it is one of my primary passions, I write a great deal about American politics on this site, mostly through a data-analytic lens. Inevitably, I referred to President Bush 41 in a number of posts. To honor the memory of this American hero—with whom I rarely agreed, but whom I came greatly to respect—I will tell his story through those posts.

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The first inkling I had that someone named George Bush existed came when I was in 8th grade:

In March 1980, a woman named Barbara Bush, whose husband George I vaguely knew was running for the Republican presidential nomination, addressed the student body at Bala Cynwyd Middle School (see Philadelphia Inquirer story below). I remember little of what she said (other than being impressed this engaging woman was speaking to us at all), though I understood she was trying to get us to convince our parents to vote for her husband. That appearance may have helped, because on April 22, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Herbert Walker Bush beat former California governor Ronald Reagan in the Pennsylvania Republican presidential primary, 50 to 43%. Despite that victory, Bush lost the nomination to Reagan, becoming the latter’s vice-presidential running mate.

The_Philadelphia_Inquirer_Sat__Apr_19__1980_

Bush fit my home state’s Republican Party well in 1980:

Back home, Pennsylvania was narrowly electing a series of liberal-to-moderate Republicans who, again, I admired without always agreeing with them: Senator John Heinz in 1976 (even as [Jimmy] Carter won Pennsylvania by 2.7 percentage points), Governor Richard Thornburgh in 1978, and Senator Arlen Specter in 1980. Heinz easily won reelection twice before dying in a plane crash in 1991 at the age of 52. Like most Pennsylvanians, I was deeply saddened by the loss of this good man. […]  In 1986, I voted for pro-choice Republican Bill Scranton for governor.

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I followed the 1988 presidential election in three places. First, I watched the primaries and caucuses in the living room of the off-campus apartment I shared with two other Yale seniors in New Haven, CT. I touched briefly on Bush’s nomination here:

Since 1980, Republicans have tended to nominate the runner-up from the previous contested nomination (Ronald Reagan 1980, G.H.W. Bush 1988, Bob Dole 1996, [John] McCain 2008, Mitt Romney 2012), implying McCain would have been the prohibitive front-runner had he run in 2004 [in an alternate history in which Vice President Al Gore wins the 2000 presidential election].

Next, I watched the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in my mother’s condominium in the Philadelphia suburb of Penn Valley, where I was spending the summer; driving home along Hagys Ford Road one day that August, I heard on the radio that Bush had selected Indiana Senator Dan Quayle to be his running mate.

Finally, I watched the fall election in that Adams Morgan apartment. At an event at the Brookings Institute, where I worked, a few days before the election, I was one of only two people in the audience to raise a hand to the question, “Who here thinks [Massachusetts Governor Michael] Dukakis will win the election?”

Had I listened to my future self, I would have better seen what was coming:

From 1968 through 1988 it was the Republicans who had an even-more-impregnable “red wall,” with 22 states voting for the Republican presidential nominee in six consecutive presidential elections and 13 other states doing so in five of them. The Republicans won the White House in five of these six elections, averaging 417 EV [electoral votes].

Despite not wanting Bush to win, however, I was pleasantly surprised just one day later:

The 1988 presidential campaign was so banal that the Washington Post did not endorse either Bush or Michael Dukakis. Bush’s campaign sank to some particularly ugly depths (Willie Horton, flag-burning, demonizing liberals). The afternoon after Bush won, however, I watched President-elect Bush introduced James Baker as his nominee for Secretary of State. My surprised reaction was “wow, the governing Bush looks like an entirely different cat.” Other Bush Administration picks like Jack Kemp (HUD), Dick Darman (OMB), Thornburgh (Justice), Liddy Dole (Labor), and Brent Scowcroft (National Security Advisor) signaled to me a mature, less-ideological approach to governing.

I watched Bush introduce Baker on a television set just outside my Brookings office, and I followed the Cabinet selections in the New York Times and Washington Post, which I would read each morning over my coffee and bowl of Nut’n’Honey cereal. As for the morning I read excitedly about Kemp’s nomination…well, a gentleman does not kiss and tell.

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I have written about the results of the 1988 presidential election in multiple contexts. First, there was the simple—and unusual—fact that Bush’s win marked a third consecutive Republican presidential victory.

Still, it is important to keep in mind that the 2016 U.S. presidential election took place after eight years with one party (Democrats) occupying the White House and no incumbent running. Voters often look to change White House control in these elections: prior to 2016, of the six such elections starting with 1960, the party not occupying the White House had won five of them (1960, 1968, 1976, 2000, 2008). The exception was 1988, when Republican nominee George H. W. Bush beat Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis by 7.7 percentage points and 315 EV.

Second, I wrote this passage in the context of validating my measure (3W-RDM) of how Democratic or Republican state is, relative to the nation:

And had Mondale lost by “only” 7.7 percentage points—as Democrat Michael Dukakis would to Republican George H. W. Bush in 1988—he would also have theoretically won the combined 53 EV of New York (36), Wisconsin (11) and West Virginia (6), boosting his total to 126 EV (better, but still 144 EV shy of the 270 needed to win the White House).

1988 Presidential map

Still, that is close to the 112 EV Dukakis won in 1988. As the purple-inked states on this beautiful hand-drawn map show, Dukakis lost seven states (Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, California, Vermont, Missouri, New Mexico) totaling 125 EV by smaller margins (2.1-5.0 percentage points; mean=3.3) than he did nationally. Had Dukakis lost the election by just 2.7 points, he would theoretically have won 237 EV, only 33 shy of the necessary 270.

What I did not know then, however, was that Bush’s 1988 victory would mark the beginning of the end of a singular American political era:

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.

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); 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, 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).

As for the single Bush (41) Administration, I wrote little beyond this:

Clearly, history is not always predictive. The president’s party lost an average of 13.8 House seats in the four qualifying midterm elections from 1962-1982, yet President George H.W. Bush’s Republicans only lost 8 House seats in 1990, while President Bush was still receiving plaudits for the first Gulf War and the end of the Cold War. [emphasis added]

I also obliquely referenced the event that continues to define that Administration more than any other.

In a subsequent post, I will examine the defining events of 1998 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.

In his August 1988 acceptance speech, Bush presented a scenario in which the Democratic-majority Congress would keep asking him to raise taxes, and he would refuse each time, finally insisting, “Read my lips: no new taxes!” However, facing a ballooning budget deficit, Bush was forced to relent (a decision that likely cost him reelection, even as it paved the way for the budget surpluses of the late 1990s); on November 5, 1990, he signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. This compromise budget bill included a modest tax increase on the incomes of the wealthiest Americans, leading conservative commentator Pat Buchanan to challenge Bush in the 1992 New Hampshire Primary.

Incidentally, the events I was going to examine in that never-written post are thoroughly examined in this engaging new book by the indefatigable Steve Kornacki.

IMG_3982

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History shows that President Bush might have a tough time winning reelection even if he had not broken his “no new taxes” pledge”:

The 1856 US presidential election was the first in which a Democratic nominee (James Buchanan) faced a Republican nominee (John C. Fremont); Buchanan won. Since then there have been nine elections (1880, 1884, 1908, 1912, 1932, 1944, 1948, 1952, 1992) in which the party controlling the White House sought a fourth, fifth or sixth consecutive term; that party won only four (44%) of those elections.

And, in fact:

On Tuesday, November 3, 1992, [Arkansas Governor Bill] 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.

In 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.

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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.

Just like that, a new American political era emerged:

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.

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. […] 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.

This switch was accompanied by a drastic makeover of the Republican Party.

I plan to argue in a later post that something began to go haywire with the Republican Party right around Bush’s failed reelection campaign in 1992 and the subsequent Republican takeover of the House and Senate in 1994. I now feel that the party—with a few possible exceptions like Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker—has become completely unhinged.

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That President George Herbert Walker Bush really was a different kind of cat is best illustrated by the fact he pointedly invited President Donald J. Trump to his funeral, despite no love being lost between the two Republican presidents. Bush simply believed this is how things are supposed to be done.

And finally:

What so fascinates me about the 1948 presidential election is that while Harry Truman is my favorite president, the more I learn about Tom Dewey, particularly his prosecutorial efforts in the mid-1930s, the more intrigued I am. Love Truman though I do, I think Dewey would have been a solid president, not dissimilar to Eisenhower or the underrated first George Bush. 

Just as Truman’s presidency has been dramatically positively reassessed in the 66 years since he left office (to the point where he was recently ranked 6th-best), I firmly believe that of Bush 41 will also be.

Rest in peace, Mr. President. Your mission is complete.

Until next time…

[1] It was the sort of place where the men’s room, which locked from the outside, had a sign on its door reading “Please do not use drugs in the bathroom.”

Where do rank-and-file Democrats (and Independents) stand on issues right now?

In the wake of Democratic underperformance in the 2016 elections (losing the Electoral College, insufficient gains to win back the United States House of Representatives [House] or United States Senate [Senate], net loss of two governorships, hemorrhaging state legislative seats), various “autopsies” were released.

autopsies

Some autopsies reached conclusions that contradicted the finding of other autopsies (likely due to an inherent bias in the group conducting the autopsy). Left-leaning individuals (e.g., Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver) and groups (e.g., Center for American Progress) declared that the Democratic Party needed to be more responsive to its increasingly liberal and progressive base (in primaries, especially). The more centrist Third Way argued that liberals are still outnumbered by moderates and conservatives (though perhaps only in the Rust Belt states [Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin] won by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump). The race to be the next chairperson of the Democratic National Committee was seen as a proxy fight over this division, with Representative Keith Ellison representing the progressives and former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez representing the “establishment.” Perez won, 235-200, then immediately named Ellison deputy chairman in a nod toward party unity.

Other reports differed over whether Democrats should focus more on white men without a college degree or on younger and/or minority voters. I weighed in on this question here.  And the data journalism website FiveThirtyEight.com framed their “post-mortem” in the context of what Democrats would expect in their 2020 president.

Given this apparent divide over the best way for Democrats to proceed, which encompasses everything from messaging to election targeting to fundraising to candidate recruitment, I thought it would be a useful exercise to review what self-identified Democrats actually believe right now (along with the Independents they will need to capture to, say, win back the House in 2018). That is, what issue positions, as measured by available public polling, distinguish a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Democrats from a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Republicans? And, in these cases, when do a majority of self-identified, rank-and-file Independents align with the Democrats?

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Just bear with me while I review my methodology.

I used all polls available on the Issues page of PollingReport.com. This page breaks down non-partisan, publicly-available, issue-oriented polls into 20 categories: Problems and Priorities, Abortion, Budget and Taxes, Crime, Disaster Preparedness and Relief, Education, Energy, Environment, Food, Foreign Affairs and Defense, Guns, Health Policy, Illegal Drugs, Immigration, Law, LGBT, Race and Ethnicity, Social Security, Space Exploration, Transportation. Some categories, such as Foreign Affairs and Defense, have subcategories (e.g., Isis and Terrorism).

For each issue, I collected all polls for which partisan breakdowns (Democrat, Republican, Independent) were provided, going back (when necessary) to the summer of 2014. In this way I balance opinion recency with the desire to review as wide an array of specific issues as possible, while also capturing data from both the Trump presidency and the preceding Barack Obama presidency.

There are three important caveats about these data.

One, poll respondents sometimes choose issue positions based on their partisan identification (as opposed to holding an independent, a priori position). An example of this is a November 2015 poll[1] asking respondents whether the unemployment rate had increased or decreased under President Obama. A bare majority, 53% of Republicans said it had increased, while 76% of Democrats correctly answered that it had decreased. The opinions of Independents were not provided.

A related caveat is that partisan positioning may have shifted over time, particularly following the 2016 presidential election.

Two, these are national polls and thus cannot be used to divine partisan issue divides in specific states or Congressional Districts.

Three, issue preference distinctions between parties may mask key distinctions within parties, such as on abortion.

Issues are presented in no particular order. If polls were conducted across multiple months, I use the last month the poll was in the field.

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Income inequality. Democrats (87%, vs. 11% opposed, +76) and Independents (60%, +31) felt in 2015[2] that wealth is not fairly distributed among Americans, that the federal government should seek remedies (D 81%, +66; I 54%, +13), including increasing taxes on the wealthy[3] (D 84%, +72; I 63%, +32); smaller majorities of Republicans do not see this inequality (51%, +9) and oppose governmental remedies (64%, +30), including higher taxes (55%, +17).

Environment. Democrats and Independents strongly support the Paris] Agreement, oppose federal support for coal mining, believe climate change is man-made and support government intervention to reverse it. Smaller majorities of Republicans are more skeptical of climate change, support economic growth over environmental protection and oppose government intervention to reverse climate change/reduce global warming.

Reality of climate change. Democrats (80%, +61 relative to “About the same”) and Independents (54%, +13) felt in April 2017[4] that there had been “More extreme or unusual weather in the United States” in the past few years, while Republicans (60%, +33) thought it had been “About the same.”

Government role in fighting climate change. An April 2017 poll[5] found that 91% (+84) of Democrats and 73% of Independents (+49) were OPPOSED to “significantly cutting for scientific research on the environment and climate change, while 50% (+5%) of Republicans felt the opposite.

When asked in September 2014 which should receive higher priority, environmental protection or economic growth, 63% of both Democrats (+29) and Independents (+32) prioritized the environment, while a bare majority of Republicans (51%, +11) chose economic growth.

Coal production and fossil fuels. An April 2017 poll[6] found a deep partisan divide, perhaps driven by President Trump’s vociferous support for coal miners, over whether the federal government should encourage or discourage coal production. Democrats (80%, +66) and Independents (58%, +23), seeking to protect the environment, strongly favored “discourage,” while Republicans (69%, +50), seeking to protect coal jobs and the economy, strongly favored “encourage.” Still, this is not likely to be a winning issue for Democrats in coal-producing states such as West Virginia, which Trump won by 41.7 percentage points.

When asked in April 2016[7], 71% (+48) and 56% (+21) of Independents thought it would be a good idea for colleges and universities to stop investing in fossil fuels to reduce “global warming.” A majority of Republicans (55%, +18) disagreed.

Paris Agreement. In December 2015[8], Democrats were overwhelmingly in favor (86%, +77) of the United States joining “an international treaty requiring America to reduce emissions in an effort to fight global warming,” with Independents only slightly less enthusiastic (66%, +41). Republicans, while opposed, were far more evenly divided (52%, +10).

However, in what could be an electoral artifact, by June 2017 a clear majority of Republicans (68%, +47; averaging three polls[9]) supported President Trump’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, while 85% (+78) of Democrats and 62% (+33%) of Independents were opposed.

Planned Parenthood. In a September 2015 poll[10], 82% (+70) of Democrats and 56% (+19) of Independents supported federal government support for Planned Parenthood. Technically, there were “opposed to cutting off” these funds. Republicans (71%, +46) preferred to cut off the funds.

Gun control/rights. There is near-unanimity across all partisan groups for universal background checks and preventing terrorists from acquiring guns, although when either issue is framed as something supported by President Obama, Republican support plummets. For some additional context, please see this post.

Gun sales. Between July 2015 and April 2017, CBS News asked[11] six times whether gun sales should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are; for ease of presentation, I combined response for “less strict” and “kept as they are.” On average, 78% (+58) of Democrats thought gun laws should be made more strict; only 51% (+6) of Independents concurred. A solid 64% (+30) of Republicans, meanwhile, felt that gun laws should either be kept as they are (48%) or made less strict (16%). These results echo a June 2017 poll[12] in which 80% (+62) of Democrats and 54% (+12) of Independents support stricter gun control laws, with 68% (+41) of Republicans opposed.

Personal safety. Two polls (July 2016,[13] June 2017[14]), asked whether more guns or fewer guns would make the United States safer. Allowing for slight question wording differences: an average 82% (+70) of Democrats 50% (+10) of Independents said more guns would NOT make us safer; an average 70% (+48) of Republicans felt the opposite.

Perhaps reflecting the geographic self-segregation of Democrats into more urban areas and Republicans into more exurban and rural areas, Democrats (77%, +62) and Independents (64%, +36) in November 2015 said[15] they were more worried about being the victim of gun violence, while Republicans were more worried (barely: 50%, +5) about a terrorist attack.

Majorities of Democrats (82%, +69) and Independents (57%, +21) in October 2015[16] thought “better gun regulation” would reduce mass shooting, while 59% (+28) of Republicans favored “more people carrying guns.” Similarly, that some month[17], Democrats (79%, +60) and Independents (55%, +17) were opposed to “allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools,” while Republicans (64%, +30) were in favor.

Health care. Perhaps no issue divides Democrats and Independents from Republicans more than the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more colloquially known as the ACA or Obamacare, despite widespread (if barely among Republicans) agreement that Americans with pre-existing conditions should not be charged more for their health insurance nor should Medicaid enrollment to pre-2010 levels[18]. There was also partisan accord, in February 2015[19], on requiring “parents to vaccinate their children for diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella.”

ACA. A series of polls[20] conducted between May and August 2017 found that nearly all Democrats (85-91%, +77-87) and most Independents (57-65%, +28-41) opposed Republican ideas to repeal-and-replace Obamacare, while Republicans (58-61%, +24-34) mostly favored these ideas.

At the same time, in April and July 2017[21], on average, Democrats (90%, +83) and Independents (69%, +42) overwhelmingly supported making improvements to the ACA. By contrast, Republicans favored (65%, +34) continuing repeal-and-replace efforts. An April 2017 poll[22], conducted before the House approved the American Health Care Act, echoed this sentiment.

Obamacare exchanges. In June 2015[23], “the Supreme Court ruled that government assistance for lower-income Americans buying health insurance through both state-operated and federally-operated health insurance exchanges is legal.” Two polls conducted that month[24] found that, on average, Democrats (84%, +72) and Independents (67%, +20) favored this governmental largesse, while Republicans were (barely) opposed (52%, +10).

Single payer/Medicare-for-all. An series of polls in June and August 2017 poll[25] found that, on average, most Democrats (75%, +59) and a majority of Independents (56%, +22) favored the expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans, with 60% (+29) of Republicans opposed.

Marijuana legalization. Three polls conducted between January 2014 and August 2017[26] found a strong partisan divide: on average, 63% (+31) of Democrats and 60% of Independents favored legalization, while 61% (+26) of Republicans were opposed. Interestingly, between 2014 and 2017, overall support for marijuana legalization increased from 51% (+7) to 61% (+28).

Immigration. This is an issue where it is difficult to separate support/opposition for/to President Trump from support/opposition for/to issues associated with him.

Border wall along southern United States border. In February 2017[27], this central tenet of Trump’s presidential campaign was opposed by most Democrats (87%, +70) and Independents (61%, +25) and just as strongly favored by Republicans (77%, +57).

Executive order suspending entrance from seven majority-Muslim nations for 90 days. Trump’s executive order induced a stark partisan divide in early February 2017[28] (Democrats split 88-9% opposed, Republicans split 88-11% in favor), with Independents (51%, +6) just barely in opposition. A similar partisan divide was apparent on the question of a 120-day suspension of all refugee immigration: fully 92% (+84) of Democrats and 64% (+33) of Independents were opposed and 75% (+53) of Republicans were in favor.

When asked in September 2016[29] whether one supported or opposed “a blanket ban on the immigration of any person who lives in a country where there has been a history of terrorism against the west,” 78% (+62) of Democrats and 61% (+32) of Independents were opposed, while 54% (+16) of Republicans supported the idea.

In polls conducted in December 2015[30] and July 2016[31], an average 80% (+64) of  Democrats and 62% (+32) of Independents were opposed to a general Muslim ban, while Republicans (54%, +14) were somewhat in favor[32]. Other polls[33] released during this same time period had similar findings.

Illegal immigration from Mexico. In April 2016[34], when asked whether “you feel your own personal way of life is or is not under threat from illegal immigrants from Mexico,” fully 89% (+80) of Democrats and 68% (+38) of Independents, while Republicans were more evenly divided, 51-46%.

Syrian refugees. In November 2015[35], there was broad agreement (78-15% overall) that Syrian refugees should “go through a stricter security clearance process than they do now.” However, there was a partisan divide on the more general question of Syrian refugees coming to the United States. On average across two polls (November and December 2015[36]), Democrats (64%, +30) and (barely) Independents (50%, +4) were in favor (with the security clearance caveat cited above) and Republicans (72%, +48) were not in favor. And in September 2015[37], Democrats (69%, +40) and Independents (51%, +8) [38] favored increasing the number of Syrian refugees, while Republicans were opposed (67%, +37).

Islam. In February 2017[39], respondents were asked, “Generally speaking, do you think the Islamic religion encourages violence more than other religions around the world, less than other religions around the world, or about the same as other religions around the world?” Relative to “More,” Democrats (66%, +52) and Independents (53%, +25) chose “About the same;” relative to “About the same,” Republicans (63%, +38) chose “More.”

Use of military force. Going back a few years, a September 2014 poll found that more Democrats (59%, +23) and Independents (57%, +19) described themselves as “doves” (the United States should rarely or never use military force) and more Republicans (69%, +44) described themselves as “hawks” (military force should be used frequently to promote United States policy).

Equal protection under the law. I include here all LGBT and race/ethnicity questions.

Transgender. There is widespread agreement (75-23% overall, according to an April 2016 poll[40]) with “laws that guarantee equal protection for transgender people in jobs, housing and public accommodations.” However, that agreement does not extend to military service. In reaction to President Trump’s tweets about the subject, an August poll[41] found that Democrats (91%, +84) and Independents (72%, +49) strongly favored allowing transgender people to serve in the military, while Republicans (60%, +28) were opposed.

Same sex marriage. In three polls conducted between June and October 2015[42], an average of 67% (+41) of Democrats and 59% (+29) of Independents felt same sex marriage should be legal, with 56% (+20) of Republicans feeling it should not be legal (despite the June 2015 Supreme Court ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states).

Religious exemptions. Two April 2015 polls[43] queried the right of businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers on religious grounds, potentially violating anti-discrimination laws. The question wording was slightly different, but on average Democrats (74%, +52) and Independents (60%, 25%) opposed these exemptions and Republicans (62%, +34) supported them.

Voting Rights Act. A February 2015 poll[44] asked whether the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was still necessary “to make sure that blacks are allowed to vote.” There were two interesting divides on this question. First, Democrats (62%, +24) and Independents (52%, +5) thought the VRA was still necessary, while Republicans (61%, +24) did not. Second, and perhaps more telling, fully 76% (+53) of black respondents thought the VRA was still necessary, while white respondents split 48-50 against.

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In sum, majorities of rank-and-file Democrats and Independents (in opposition to majorities of rank-and-file Republicans)…

…believe wealth is not fairly distributed among Americans and the federal government should seek remedies, including increasing taxes on the wealthy.

…support the Paris Agreement, oppose federal support for coal mining and believe climate change is both real and man-made (with government intervention required to reverse it).

…strongly support federal funding of Planned Parenthood

…feel gun laws should be more strict, more guns will not make us safer (Independents more evenly divided), more worried about being the victim of gun violence than of terrorism, better gun regulation would reduce mass shooting (not more people carrying guns) and oppose allowing more teachers and school officials to carry guns in schools.

…strongly opposed efforts to repeal-and-replace Obamacare (opting overwhelmingly to fix the law), supported government assistance for lower-income Americans buying health insurance through state and federal health insurance exchange and favored a Medicare-for-all/single payer health insurance system.

…support the legalization of marijuana

…oppose building a wall on the southern border of the United States and any form of “Muslim ban,” feel that illegal immigration from Mexico has not hurt their way of life and support Syrian refugees entering the United States (under stricter security clearance)

…have (relatively) more benign views of Islam

…feel the United States should rarely or never use military force to promote policy.

…support allowing transgender people to serve in the military and same sex marriage, while opposing allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT persons on religious grounds.

…and believe the Voting Rights Act is still necessary to protect ballot access.

Let the campaigns begin!

Until next time…

[1] Bloomberg Politics Poll conducted by Selzer & Company. Nov. 15-17, 2015. N=1,002 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.1.

[2] CBS News Poll. July 29-Aug. 2, 2015. N=1,252 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[3] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Nov. 6-10, 2015. N=1,495 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[4] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9

[5] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[6] Quinnipiac University. March 30-April 3, 2017. N=1,171 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[7] 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll. March 30-April 3, 2016. N=1,010 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[8] Quinnipiac University. Dec. 16-20, 2015. N=1,140 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[9] NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll. June 21-25, 2017. N=995 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.1; Quinnipiac University. May 31-June 6, 2017. N=1,361 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.2; ABC News/Washington Post Poll. June 2-4, 2017. N=527 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 5

[10] Quinnipiac University. Sept. 17-21, 2015. N=1,574 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.5.

[11] CBS News Poll. April 21-24, 2017. N=1,214 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[12] Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[13] McClatchy-Marist Poll. July 5-9, 2016. N=1,053 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[14] Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[15] McClatchy-Marist Poll. Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2015. N=1,465 adults nationwide (margin of error ± 2.6), including 1,080 registered voters (± 3).

[16] Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind. Oct. 1-5, 2015. N=771 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.2.

[17] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Oct. 21-25, 2015. N=1,289 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[18] Politico/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. June 14-18, 2017. N=501 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 5.3.

[19] CBS News Poll. Feb. 13-17, 2015. N=1,006 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[20] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4; Kaiser Family Foundation. July 5-10, 2017. N=1,183 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[21] ABC News/Washington Post Poll. April 17-20, 2017. N=1,004 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.Margin of error ± 3.4; Kaiser Family Foundation. July 5-10, 2017. N=1,183 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3

[22] Quinnipiac University. April 12-18, 2017. N=1,062 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[23] CNN/ORC Poll. June 26-28, 2015. N=1,017 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[24] CNN/ORC Poll. June 26-28, 2015. N=1,017 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3; CBS News/New York Times Poll. June 10-14, 2015. N=1,007 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[25] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4; Quinnipiac University. June 22-27, 2017. N=1,212 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[26] CBS News Poll. April 8-12, 2015. N=1,012 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.; Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[27] CBS News Poll. Feb. 17-21, 2017. N=1,280 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[28] Quinnipiac University. Feb. 2-6, 2017. N=1,155 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[29] Monmouth University Poll. Sept. 22-25, 2016. N=802 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.

[30] Quinnipiac University. Dec. 16-20, 2015. N=1,140 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[31] CBS News/New York Times Poll. July 8-12, 2016. N=1,358 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[32] By September 2016, opposition to the proposed Muslim ban had ceased to be a partisan issue. A Monmouth University Poll (Sept. 22-25, 2016. N=802 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5) found Republicans opposed 54-32%.

[33] McClatchy-Marist Poll. July 5-9, 2016. N=1,053 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3;  Quinnipiac University. June 21-27, 2016. N=1,610 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.4; ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Dec. 10-13, 2015. N=1,002 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5. Across these three polls, average Democratic opposition was 81%, average Independent opposition was 59% and average Republican support was 64%.

[34] Monmouth University Poll. Aug. 4-7, 2016. N=803 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.5.

[35] CBS News Poll. Nov. 19-22, 2015. N=1,205 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[36] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Dec. 4-8, 2015. N=1,275 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[37] Pew Research Center. Sept. 22-27, 2015. N=1,502 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.9.

[38] Interestingly, a majority of Independents (58%, +21) in a November 2015 Gallup poll (Nov. 20-21, 2015. N=1,013 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4) were opposed to the specific number of 10,000 or more refugees proposed.

[39] CBS News Poll. Feb. 1-2, 2017. N=1,019 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[40] CNN/ORC Poll. April 28-May 1, 2016. N=1,001 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[41] Quinnipiac University. July 27-Aug. 1, 2017. N=1,125 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.4.

[42] CBS News/New York Times Poll. Oct. 21-25, 2015. N=1,289 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

[43] Quinnipiac University. April 16-21, 2015. N=1,353 registered voters nationwide. Margin of error ± 2.7; CNN/ORC Poll. April 16-19, 2015. N=1,018 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 3.

[44] CNN/ORC Poll. Feb. 12-15, 2015. N=1,027 adults nationwide (margin of error ± 3), including 733 non-Hispanic whites (± 3.5), and, with an oversample, 309 blacks (± 5.5).

The AHCA vote likely increased Democrats’ chances of winning the U.S. House in 2018

Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states, respectively, in 1959. As a result, 1962 was the first election year to reflect the current U.S. House of Representatives (House) configuration of 435 seats allocated across 50 states[1]. These were also the first House elections since John F. Kennedy won the presidency two years earlier. The rule of thumb is that the party of the president loses House seats in the first midterm (even-numbered years between presidential election years) elections following the first time that president is elected.

In 1962, the Democrats lost five seats, the Republicans won two seats, there was one new Independent, and two seats were eliminated (the previous two Houses had 437 seats in anticipation of Alaska and Hawaii seats and the post-1960 U.S. Census redistricting). To simplify matters, let’s call this a Democratic loss of two House seats.

**********

On May 3, 2017, the House voted 217-213 to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Of the 431 current House members, all 193 Democrats voted against the bill, as did 20 of the 238 Republicans, with one Republican (Dan Hewhouse of Washington’s 4th congressional district [WA-4]) not voting.

The AHCA was the third major attempt to overhaul the U.S. health care system in the last 25 years. On October 27, 1993, President Bill Clinton introduced his universal health care bill (designed in part by a task force led by First Lady Hillary Clinton) to Congress. After months of wrangling, it never came to a vote in either the House or the U.S. Senate (Senate), and the effort to pass the bill ended in late August 1994.

On September 9, 2009, President Barack Obama delivered a nationally-televised address to a joint session of Congress calling for Congress to pass health care reform, with the goal of universal coverage. Initial legislation passed the House on November 7, 2009 and the Senate on December 4, 2009. The Senate bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), was amended by the House to allow the Senate to pass it on a simple majority vote under a process called budget reconciliation[2]. Ultimately the amended ACA passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.

Both of these months-long, highly-controversial efforts were undertaken by a newly-elected president in the two years prior to his first midterm elections.

Hold that thought.

**********

As noted earlier, it has been common for a president’s party to lose House seats in that president’s first midterm elections. There have been eight such elections since 1960 (I exclude 1966, since Lyndon Johnson won RE-election to the presidency in 1964, and 1974, since Gerald Ford had not been elected to the presidency):

Figure 1: Net House Seat Losses for a President in First-Term Midterm Elections, 1962-2010

Net House Seat Loss by President’s Party in First Midterm, 1962-2010

Starting in 1962, the president’s party has lost an average of 21.5 House seats (median loss=13.5 seats) in that president’s first midterm elections (Figure 1)[3]. However, the rate of first-midterm House seat loss has accelerated over time. A simple weighting scheme[4] increases the average to 27.4 House seats lost. The simple average over the last five qualifying midterm elections is 28.6 House seats lost (median=26), and over the last three is 36.3 House seats lost (median=54). Finally, a simple linear regression model “predicts” that the average House seat loss for Republicans in 2018 would be 45.9!

Clearly, history is not always predictive. The president’s party lost an average of 13.8 House seats in the four qualifying midterm elections from 1962-1982, yet President George H.W. Bush’s Republicans only lost 8 House seats in 1990, while President Bush was still receiving plaudits for the first Gulf War and the end of the Cold War. Similarly, the 1962-1994 average was 19.5 House seats lost, yet President George W. Bush’s Republicans actually GAINED 8 House seats in 2002, in the first midterm elections following the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Still, here is where the examples of 1994 and 2010 are instructive. As noted earlier, these were the first midterm elections following a newly-elected president, with majorities in both the House and Senate, attempting to overhaul the nation’s health care system; both overhaul attempts were highly controversial and extended over much of the president’s first two years in office.

Democrats lost an average of 58.5 House seats over those two elections, handing control of the House to Republicans on both occasions (in 1994, for the first time in 40 years!)[5].

Could the same thing happen to Republicans in 2018, following the AHCA vote in the House, and what appears likely to be as long a process as the previous two attempts to change the U.S. health care system? Analysts I respect are already speculating about the possibility, but just bear with me while I offer my own analysis.

**********

In the 2016 midterm elections, Republicans won 241 House seats and Democrats won 194 House seats, meaning that Democrats would have to gain 24 House seats to win a majority of House seats in 2018. I have already written about the challenge to such a takeover presented by the large majority of very safe seats held by both political parties. In that earlier post, I found only 48 seats (28 won by Republicans[6]) decided by less than 10 percentage points and/or the winning candidate won less than 55% of the total vote (“close”); there were only 23 districts won by a Republican House candidate AND by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In total, there are 41 House districts in either/both of these two “vulnerable” categories.

The easiest thing for Democrats would be to win 24 of these 41 House seats in 2018 (while losing none of their seats). And, in an intriguing sign of things to come, 15-term Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) announced that she would not seek reelection in 2018. In 2016, Ms. Clinton won her House district, and she won her House seat by “only” 9.8 percentage points. Democrats are now favored to win this seat in 2018.

There are other warning signs for Republicans as well. After Republican Mike Pompeo won his House seat (KS-4) in 2016 by 31.1 percentage points, Republican Ron Estes won a special election for that seat on April 11, 2017 by just 6.8 percentage points, a pro-Democratic shift of 24.3 percentage points. Republican Tom Price won his House seat (GA-6) in 2016 by 23.4 percentage points, but Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is essentially tied with Republican Karen Handel in advance of the June 20 runoff in the special election to fill that seat, a shift of 23.4 percentage points. A total of 93 Republicans won their House seats in 2016 by less than 23 percentage points; if Democrats won only one-third of these Republican seats in 2018, that would still be seven more than they need to recapture the House.

**********

It is remarkable political irony that the ACA is now more popular than ever. On April 1, 2010, just after the ACA was signed into law, 42.7% supported it and 50.0% opposed it. Seven years later, those numbers had reversed: 48.4% support and 41.9% opposition, a 13.8 percentage point marginal shift.

At the same time, the AHCA has been less popular than the ACA ever was. The public disapproves of Congress’ performance (62.9% disapprove, 17.2% approve) and of the way President Donald Trump has handled health care (51.3% disapprove, 37.7% approve).

Still, 217 of 238 House Republicans in a historically unpopular body, acting at the behest of an unpopular president, voted in favor of an unpopular bill whose purpose was to “repeal and replace” an increasingly-popular law.

This is exactly what the creation of very safe seats does to democracy—it creates a perverse incentive to be more afraid of primary challenges from party extremes than of the broader pool of general election voters.

Table 1: Distribution of House Votes for the AHCA on May 4, 2017 By Vulnerability of House Member

  Close, Clinton Won Close, Trump Won Not Close, Clinton Won Not Close, Trump Won TOTAL
No 5 1 4 10 20[7]
Yes 5 17 9 186 217
TOTAL 10 18 13 196 237
% No 50.0% 5.6% 30.8% 5.1% 8.4%
Ratio 9.80 1.09 6.03

Overall, according to Table 1, only 8.4% of Republican House members (excluding Newhouse’s non-vote) voted no on the AHCA, as did an even smaller 5.1% of the 196 Republicans from the safest districts (2016 House vote margin>10 percentage points and/or the winning percentage>55%[8]) AND Trump won the district). Surprisingly, only 1 Republican House member (5.6%) from a close district that Trump won (Brian Fitzpatrick [PA-8]) voted no on the AHCA, while the other 17 voted yes, implying they are more scared of Trump voters in those districts than of all other voters.

On the other hand, four Republican House members (30.8%) from districts that were not close, but which Clinton won—John Katko (NY-24), Ryan A. Costello (PA-6), Patrick Meehan (PA-7), Dave Reichert (WA-8)—voted no, while nine voted yes. And, of the 10 Republican House members whose 2016 election was close AND whose district was won by Clinton, half voted no (Mike Coffman [CO-6], Ros-Lehtinen, Leonard Lance [NJ-7], Will Hurd [TX-23], Barbara Comstock [VA-10]) and half voted yes.

Thus, compared to “safe” Republican House members, Republican House members from the least safe (close, Clinton) districts were 9.8 times more likely to vote no on the AHCA, while Republican House members from the not-close districts Clinton won were 6.0 times more likely to vote no.

Simply put, Republican House members from districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 (regardless of how “close” their own 2016 election was) were 7.7 times more likely to vote no on the AHCA than Republican House members from districts won by Donald Trump.

But that still leaves 31 Republican House members from districts which were close in 2016 and/or Clinton won in 2016 who voted YES on the AHCA:

Close AND Clinton won (n=5)

Jeff Denham              CA-10

Steve Knight             CA-25

Darrell Issa                CA-49

Carlos Curbelo         FL-26

Kevin Yoder               KS-3

Close and Trump won (n=17)

Martha Robey           AL-2

Don Young                AK-At large

Scott Tipton               CO-3

Brian Mast                 FL-18

Mike Bost                  IL-12

Trey Hollingsworth IN-9

Rod Blum                  IA-1

David Young             IA-3

Bruce Poliquin         ME-2

Jack Bergman            MI-1

Don Bacon                 NE-2

John J. Faso                NY-19

Claudia Tenney        NY-22

Tom Reed                  NY-23

Lloyd K. Smucker    PA-16

Mia Love                   UT-4

Not Close and Clinton won (n=9)

Martha E. McSalley              AZ-2

David Valadao                     CA-21

Ed Royce                               CA-39

Mimi Walters                        CA-45

Dana Rohrabacher               CA-48

Peter Roskam                       IL-6

Erik Paulsen                         MN-3

Tom Culberson                    TX-7

Pete Sessions                        TX-32

Put it this way: if Ossoff wins the runoff on June 20 and a Democrat wins Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, the Democrats would need to win just 22 remaining seats to recapture the House (assuming they lost none of their own 20 close seats). There are 31 seats where voters can truly make an impact by continuing to hold their Republican House members accountable for their AHCA “yes” vote (in clear opposition to the overall political “lean” of their constituents).

And that does not count 9 other Republican House members who voted no on the ACHA but are still potentially vulnerable.

I am not predicting that the Democrats will recapture the House in 2018. I am only saying that a VERY strong opportunity to do so, based on accelerating historical trends, the closeness of 41 (of 241) seats, and the demonstrated impact of tinkering with national health care, is there, IF the Democrats can successfully capitalize on all of these trends.

Until next time…

[1] There had been a total of 435 House seats since 1912, after Oklahoma (1907), Arizona and New Mexico (both 1912) became the 46th through 48th states.

[2] This became necessary after the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof 60-seat Senate majority following the death of Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy on August 25, 2009 and the eventual victory of Republican Scott Brown (January 19, 2010) to replace him.

[3] Using the 1966 and 1974 data—10 first midterm election for any president—increases the average net House seat loss to 26.8.

[4] Where the 1962 value is weighted “1,” the 1970 value is weighted “2,” and so forth up to the 2010 value weighted “8.” Adding 1966 and 1974 increases the weighted average to 34.5 net House seats lost.

[5] Let me be very clear. I am NOT saying that the pursuit of national healthcare reform legislation was the sole reason for the Democrat’s very high House seat loss in 1994 and 2010. I would argue that, in 1994, the House Post Office scandal and the omnibus budget bill of 1993 (with its large tax increases) also played a huge role, as did backlash to the first black president and cap-and-trade legislation (which passed the House but died in the Senate) in 2010.

[6] This is actually a correction to that post, as I had neglected to count one close Republican House seat.

[7] Overall, 13 no votes were cast by Republicans from states Clinton won in 2016 (CO, NJ, NY, PA, VA, WA), six were cast by Republicans from states Clinton lost by less than 10 percentage points (AZ, FL, NC, OH, TX) and the other was cast by Thomas Massie of the 4th CD of Kentucky, a state Clinton lost by 29.8 percentage points. Go figure.

[8] This represents 81.3% of all Republican House seats won in 2016.

Bipartisan, half of the time…

My first political memory is asking my parents for whom they were voting for president in 1972, President Richard Nixon or Democrat George McGovern. “McGovern” my parents said. And just like that, at the age of six, I became a Democrat.

I am still a proud Democrat.

Wait, you ask. Isn’t this blog a repository for interesting, data-driven stories told with little-to-no subjective point-of-view?

Yes, it is. But sometimes personal backstory is necessary to provide context for later posts, especially if in one or more of those posts I question the actions of one of our major political parties.

Now, returning to the early 1970s…

My mother and I spent the summer of 1974 in Atlantic City, NJ; my father would drive down from suburban Philadelphia most weekends. One Thursday evening in August, I was watching TV in the small front parlor of the home of a family friend. That is how I watched President Nixon resign from the presidency “effective at noon tomorrow.” Not quite eight years old, I only partially understood what I was watching, though every adult’s somber expression told me it was something big.

I knew little about the new Republican President, Gerald Ford, but he seemed like a nice man. I still love the fact that he made his own toast in the White House kitchen. Being a Democrat, I rooted for Jimmy Carter to beat him in 1976, but not because of anything I disliked about Ford.

As a sidebar, I now view the 1976 presidential election as one in which the country would have won either way. Ford was—and Carter still is—a distinctly good and honorable man who tried his best to use the power of the federal government to improve people’s lives. I also think he was right to pardon Nixon: no other punishment would have hurt Nixon as much as resigning did, and the country was allowed to start to heal.

Three years later, a woman named Barbara Bush spoke to my middle school. She was campaigning for her husband George, who was running for president as a Republican. I was in 8th grade, and I was fascinated by learning about the liberal-conservative spectrum. While I was gravitating to uber-liberal Democrats like Jerry Brown (more than President Carter, or even Ted Kennedy), there was something about Bush I liked.  His “voodoo economics” talk and strong support of something called Planned Parenthood made him seem like a true moderate, someone I could at least respect, if not always agree with.

Hold that thought for a moment.

Bush ended up becoming Ronald Reagan’s 1980 running mate. Despite reluctantly supporting Carter over Reagan (and John Anderson), we were devastated by the Republican landslide that November. But by April 1981, my Democratic mother was talking about how well her small carpet-cleaning business (which she had bought from its previous owner a year or so earlier, greatly improving our personal financial situation) was doing in the first few months of the Reagan Administration. For a time, it really did feel like we were making a fresh start from the turbulent 1970s.

Back home, Pennsylvania was narrowly electing a series of liberal-to-moderate Republicans who, again, I admired without always agreeing with them: Senator John Heinz in 1976 (even as Carter won Pennsylvania by 2.7 percentage points), Governor Richard Thornburgh in 1978, and Senator Arlen Specter in 1980. Heinz easily won reelection twice before dying in a plane crash in 1991 at the age of 52. Like most Pennsylvanians, I was deeply saddened by the loss of this good man. I met Senator Specter in 2003, when he reaffirmed his strong support for Title X (the federal funding program for family planning services) to my Family Planning Council colleagues and me. My mother loved Thornburgh for pushing funding for state-university partnerships to treat folks with mental retardation. My only sibling is an older sister, who has suffered from severe mental retardation since a few months after her birth and has lived in a wonderful state-funded Center for more than 40 years. In 1986, I voted for pro-choice Republican Bill Scranton for governor, still my only Republican vote. (Only with hindsight do I regret voting for Democrat John Silber over Republican Bill Weld for governor of Massachusetts in 1990.)

The 1988 presidential campaign was so banal that the Washington Post did not endorse either Bush or Michael Dukakis. Bush’s campaign sank to some particularly ugly depths (Willie Horton, flag-burning, demonizing liberals). The afternoon after Bush won, however, I watched President-elect Bush introduced James Baker as his nominee for Secretary of State. My surprised reaction was “wow, the governing Bush looks like an entirely different cat.” Other Bush Administration picks like Jack Kemp (HUD), Dick Darman (OMB), Thornburgh (Justice), Liddy Dole (Labor), and Brent Scowcroft (National Security Advisor) signaled to me a mature, less-ideological approach to governing.

The point of this stroll through the first half of my life is that as a strong partisan Democrat, I could still find common ground with many Republicans. On a personal level, one of my closest friends in high school was a staunch Republican who loved Reagan as much as I loved Walter Mondale. Mondale was my first presidential vote, in 1984, and still one of my proudest.

I plan to argue in a later post that something began to go haywire with the Republican Party right around Bush’s failed reelection campaign in 1992 and the subsequent Republican takeover of the House and Senate in 1994. I now feel that the party—with a few possible exceptions like Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker—has become completely unhinged.

Until next time…