The Health Care Vote and Democratic Losses

  When looking at the various articles about why the Republicans took over the House this year, the common theme seems to be the vote on Obamacare as being a determining factor in the analysis of some experts.    When researching this, I came across this ditty from Daily Kos dated 8/23/09 and titled “Are the Dour Democratic Projections About 2010 Justified?”  At that time, prognosticator Nate Silver, who they cite in their article, was predicting a 20-50 seat loss for the Democrats in the House, while Charlie Cook was more conservative with his 20-30 seat loss projection.  The author goes on to cite historical evidence when these experts are wrong.  For example, he notes that in the generic polls, the gap between Democrats and Republicans stood at a 9.7% advantage for the Democrats, which was a better showing for that party than those generic poll findings in 2008 and 2006- two disastrous years for Republicans in the House.  Hence, he concludes, that there is no need for the doom and gloom because although losses were to be expected, they would nowhere approach the 50 seat loss predicted by some experts.  He concludes his article: “This does not mean, however, that the Democrats can rest easy- not by any stretch of the imagination.  What is already a small enthusiasm gap among partisans could grow into a chasm if the Democrats fail to pass meaningful health reform… That might be something for the Democratis leadership to consider…” (Emphasis added).

     The Weekly Standard recently published an article concluding that the vote by Democratic members on Obamacare is what doomed them.  They analyzed the results of swing districts- those rated +5 either way on the Cook PVI- where Democrats held the seats.  I then went a little further and broke the swing districts apart as to whether they leaned Republican or Democratic.  In Republican-leaning swing districts where the incumbent Democrat voted for Obamacare, the winning rate was 20.8%, while in Democratic-leaning swing districts the incumbent Democrat won 68.4% of their races.  Overall, Democratic incumbents in swing districts (regardless of their leanings) won 55% of thheir races.  Compare this with two other unpopular Obama legislative initiatives- the stimulus and cap-and-trade.  For those Democratic incumbents from swing districts who voted “yes” on cap-and-trade, the winning percentage was 46.5% while those who voted “yes” on the stimulus, the winning rate was 52.3%- both of these categories falling beneath the winning rate for “yes” votes on Obamacare.

     So, for those few Democrats who voted “no” to Obamacare and who hail from swing districts, how did they do?  If the district was Republican-leaning, three of five Democratic incumbents (60%) won their race while the lone Democrat who voted “no” from a Democratic leaning swing district won their race.  Hence, regardless of the leaning of the district, 67% of the incumbent Democrats who voted “no” to Obamacare won their races.  So while the vote on Obamacare can explain Democratic losses in a broad sense, I believe that there were dynamics beyond votes on Obamacare at play this year.

     For example, look at the five districts which are rated strong Republican districts but were represented by a Democrat (“strong” defined as +15 Republican on the Cook PVI).  All five Congressmen- Bobby Bright, Walter Minnick, Gene Taylor, Chet Edwards, and Tim Matheson- all voted “no” to Obamacare, yet only Matheson prevailed on Election Day (a 20% success rate).  Hence, in the strong Republican districts represented by Democrats, even a “no” vote could not ensure eletoral success.  In other races (neither a swing district nor a strong Republican district), eight of the 14 Democratic incumbents- or 57%- voted against Obamacare and still lost their elections.  Hence, it would again appear that health care, isolated on its own, was not necessarily a major driver in voting decisions.

     Instead, a more likely explanation is that Obamacare played a secondary role in the elections this year regarding the House.  It was but one of many nails in the coffin of the Democratic electoral chances this year, but it would be foolish to assume it was the only nail.  In fact, a case can be made that cap-and-trade made a larger impact.  For example, consider that 57% of the 14 losing Democrats in that final category- neither strong Republican nor swing district- only two Congressmen voted against it (Marshall in GA-8 and Davis in TN-4).  Likewise, only two of these Congressmen (Boyd in FL-2 and Kratovil in MD-1) voted against the Obama stimulus.  Hence, a “no” vote alone on Obamacare was no guarantee that one would win their race.

    I also looked at the win margins of Democrats who prevailed in the swing districts as compared to the win margins in 2008.  Among those in Republican leaning swing districts who voted “yes” to Obamacare, the average win margin this year was 4.7 percentage points compared to an average 25.0 percentage point average in 2008.  In the Democratic-leaning swing districts, the average win margin dropped from 32.5 percentage points in 2008 to 9.3 percentage points in 2010.  Overall, the winning margin for returning incumbent Democrats from swing districts dropped from an average 30.4 percentage points in 2008 to 8.5 points in 2010.

     In the overall sense, did Obamacare do in the Democratic Party this year in the House elections?  Clearly, it did not help many incumbents, but one should not conclude it was the only, or even the major factor involved.  Instead, it was one of many actions by the Democratic Party that soured the electorate on the Democratic brand this year.  Considering the fact that the Obama Administration considers this their hallmark piece of legislation probably places greater emphasis as the most major contributing factor to their demise.  Despite my personal disdain for this 2,700 page piece of crap, perhaps the most disturbing aspect was the method by which it was passed.  For over a year, we had to listen to reports of back-room deals and pay-offs to states in order to garner a single vote to move the legislation forward.  We watched as Senators and Congressmen alike sacrificed principles (I am thinking of Ben Nelson and Bart Stupak) for the sake of a legislative pay off.  It was not only the piece of legislation that was passed, but the method by which it was passed that also turned people off to the Democratic brand this year.  Some rather conservative voting Democratic incumbents (those who voted against at least two of Obama’s big three of Obamacare, cap-and-trade, and stimulus) were swept from office by virtue of the “D” after their name- Bobby Bright (against all three), Walter Minnick (against all three), Gene Taylor (against all three), Jim Marshall (only for stimulus), John Kratovil (only for stimulus), Travis Childers (only for stimulus), Glenn Nye (only for stimulus) and Lincoln Davis (only for stimulus). 

      So moving forward, Obama and Pelosi can live in Fantasyland regarding the purported great things this law will do for health care in the country and its effect on the deficit.  If that Fantasyland is anything like the alleged promises of the stimulus or of cap-and-trade, they stand to lose even bigger in 2012.  I remain firmly convinced that after the electoral rebuke of the Democratic brand on November 2, 2010, Barack Obama is such a political blockhead that he will not alter course because he works under the mysterious and erroneous assumption that the liberal mindset is superior to the will of the voters.  There is no way this election cannot be interpreted as a national referendum on the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda.  And that referendum said loud and clear that their agenda went way too far way too quickly.