Even so, Republicans would be foolish not to act on the assumption that voters want policies sharply different from those of the Obama Democrats. No other administration in recent memory has suffered such a repudiation in its first offyear elections. Franklin Roosevelt’s Democrats actually gained House seats in 1934, as did George W. Bush’s Republicans in 2002; John Kennedy’s Democrats came very close to doing so in 1962. Dwight Eisenhower’s, Richard Nixon’s and George H. W. Bush’s Republicans in 1954, 1970 and 1990 suffered small losses, as did Jimmy Carter’s Democrats in 1978.
A more salient comparison is with the fate of Ronald Reagan’s Republicans in 1982. Both Reagan and Obama came to office with reputations as inspiring orators and with professional pedigrees (movie actor, community organiser) unusual for a practical politician. Both came to office while the economy was languishing and both saw recessions deepen in their first two years. But there was a big difference in voters’ responses. In 1982 the Republicans lost 26 seats in the House – a significant but not enormous loss. Exit polls showed that most voters believed that Reagan’s economic policies would produce a good economic recovery in the long run. Lower tax rates, reductions in scheduled government spending -voters believed these would lead to a private sector recovery after an extended period of economic stagnation.
Compare that with the results this week. The Obama Democrats lost about 65 seats – an unusually high number. And polling showed that most voters believe that their policies of increasing government spending and deficits and increasing at least some tax rates will lead not to a private sector recovery but to a continuation of the stagnation so apparent in just about every economic statistic.