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Monday, April 17, 2006
Barone: Republicans Will Maintain House--Updated!

Here's an interesting analysis of the situation with the House races:

Hypothesis Two is one I developed myself, and it's based only on the elections of the last 10 years. In the five House elections from 1996 to 2004, there has been very little variation in the popular vote percentages for both parties. The Republican percentage of the popular vote for the House has fluctuated between 49 and 51 percent, the Democratic percentage between 46 and 48.5 percent.

This has been true despite great differences in the job ratings of the parties' leading figures. Republicans won pluralities of the popular vote for the House in 1996 and 1998, when Bill Clinton's job rating was high and the favorability ratings of the highly visible Newt Gingrich were very low. Clinton's job rating was high in 2000, too, but Republicans still won the popular vote 49 percent to 48 percent. In 2002, when George W. Bush's job rating was up around 70 percent, Republicans won 51 percent of the popular vote for the House. In 2004, when his job rating was around 50 percent, Republicans won 50 percent.

The slight uptick in Republican percentages in 2002 and 2004 can be explained by higher Republican turnout. Looking ahead to next November, there is reason to believe that the Republican base is turned off -- by high spending, by immigration -- and may not turn out as heavily. But if so, how much difference will that make?

Polls are not good predictors of turnout -- only elections are. Last week, we had a special election in the 50th district of California, whose Republican congressman resigned in disgrace and went to prison. In 2004, the 50th district voted 55 percent for George W. Bush and 44 percent for John Kerry. Last week, the district voted 53 percent for Republicans (there were 14 candidates, the winner among whom goes on to a June 6 runoff) and 45 percent for Democrats. There were only two of them, and the leader, Francine Busby, got 44 percent of the vote -- the same percentage as Kerry. That may be 1 percent higher when the last absentees are counted.

Note as well that the lefty netroots pushed the heck out of this race, hoping to avoid the run-off election that was required when Busby was unable to reach the 50% mark. The big question, of course, is what happened in 1994. Then I suspect the House banking scandal was the biggest factor in leading to a sudden and sharp realignment. There is nothing comparable today.

Update: Also see Jim Geraghty, who notes that the pre-election story of the last three cycles has been that the Democrats' base is motivated.

Wake me the day the story is, “the Republicans are expected to have huge turnout.”
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