Midterm Elections Update

With Republicans likely winning a Senate majority in today’s elections, it’s worth examining whether there are parallels to what happened in 2006 when Democrats reclaimed the majority in the House following 12 years of Republican rule.

As you may recall, 2006 was, like 2014, a “six-year itch” cycle. That is, an off-year election in the president’s second term.   In that year, Democrats gained the majority in the House largely by moderate Democrats defeating moderate Republicans, a dynamic that was for the most part reinforced in the 2008 elections.  The result was a more conservative Republican party in the house, and a more liberal Democratic caucus.

In 2010 the script flipped. In 2010 conservative Republicans defeated many of the moderate Democrats that rode the Democratic tide into office; another off-year election, in which Republicans reclaimed the majority in the House. Over the course of three congressional election cycles the two parties became more partisan and less moderate, essentially put in place the current hyper-partisan political makeup that characterizes the current House of Representatives.

The question, then, is whether the 2014 Senate elections, in which about six conservative Republicans will likely oust moderate incumbent Democrats parallels what happened in House elections beginning in 2006. If predictions hold and Republicans do gain the majority in the 114th Congress, there will be a parallel in that the parties will be (even more) more polarized than they were in the 113th, in that Senate Republicans will be more conservative and Senate Democrats will be more liberal, as there will be fewer moderates, who are currently mostly Democrats.

The obvious difficulty in drawing a parallel is the 2-year House term versus the 6-year Senate term.  Senators up for re-election this were mostly elected or re-elected in 2008, excepting those who were elected in special elections.  Therefore it’s not possible to draw a direct parallel, and it’s not clear whether it’s more useful to look at what occurred in the previous Senate election in 2012, or to look at when the majority of the Senators up for election were first elected.

Ken Gold is director of the Government Affairs Institute

All Posts | @govaffairsinst