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1982 vs. 2010: The Difference is in Out-party Identification

- November 16, 2009

My colleague “Pat Egan”:http://as.nyu.edu/object/PatrickEgan.html sends along the following observation about parallels between the 1982 midterm elections and the coming 2010 midterm elections:

bq. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the economy — or at least the parts of the economy that matter with regard to elections — will not turn around to any significant degree by Election Day 2010. “Unemployment is forecast”:https://www.wachovia.com/common_files/MonthlyEconomicOutlook_Nov2009.pdf to remain in the double digits; personal income growth is expected to be anemic; and even real GDP growth (the one bright spot) is projected to be only decent, not dazzling. In other words, in some ways we’re looking at a potential replay of the 1982 midterms, which took place two years after a charismatic president (Ronald Reagan) swept dozens of new members of his party into office. Plagued by the bad economy of the early 1980s (although not as terrible as the current one), Republicans lost 27 seats in the House. The parallels continue: “Gallup”:http://www.gallup.com/poll/116479/Barack-Obama-Presidential-Job-Approval.aspx currently has Obama’s approval rating at 52 percent; Reagan’s November 1981 rating was also 52.

bq. The big difference between then and now? Party identification. “In the 1980s, a strong plurality of Americans continued to identify as Democrats”:http://electionstudies.org/nesguide/toptable/tab2a_2.htm despite the Reagan Revolution. Today, the out-party enjoys no such advantage: “recent surveys”:http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=1516 find the share of Americans affiliating with the Republican Party to be at or near historic lows as the number of Independents surges. A lesson that Obama and the Democrats might take from all of this is that– despite the town hallers, the birthers, and the tea partiers–they would do well to continue to carve out a distinctive approach to domestic policy that can be contrasted in 2010 to the lack of solutions proposed by an unpopular G.O.P.