I'm generally not a news junkie, but I have this weird thing for watching election returns. In 2000, Election Day coincided with my birthday. I was house-sitting for my brother that week and spent the whole night glued to the television as though they were going to suddenly announce a winner at 4:00 AM. I had a similar fixation on the impeachment hearings during the Clinton administration. I was in grad school at the time and spent many a morbidly fascinated afternoon glued to C-SPAN while I corrected papers for the classes I TAed.
Given this propensity I seem to have for dramatic politics, I suppose it's not surprising that I spent my whole evening last night watching election returns. In fact, I probably shouldn't have found it odd that I was frustrated when the local NBC affiliate ended their broadcast day at 1:35 AM--right in the middle of a comment from some national pundit or other. Actually, until I moved here, I didn't even realize that stations still went off the air at night. In Chicago, the broadcast day never ends, it just turns into an infomercial marathon. But that's a rant for a different day.
While spending an inordinate number of hours last evening listening to newscasters, political commentators, and random professors from local colleges invited to offer their expertise on the current political climate, one of the main points I heard repeated again and again was that voters were overwhelmingly electing Republican candidates to the U.S. House and at the state level, yet they had allowed Democrats to maintain a small majority in the Senate. Nearly everyone I saw on TV seemed obliged to comment on this.
Now, I recognize it is significant which party holds the majority of seats in congress, especially when one party has the majority in both houses. However, the main point that the whole collection of talking heads seemed to be making was how this seemed to show some sort of indecisiveness on the part of the voters, that the country was not sending an across-the-board conservative mandate. Really? Surely I'm not the only one who did the math, am I?
Let's start with the House. There are 435 representatives in the house, each elected to a 2-year term, so every seat could potentially have changed parties. If the Republicans win the projected 243 seats, that would mean that voters chose a Republican candidate 56% of the time.
Now let's look at the gubernatorial races (because it gives me an excuse to use the word "gubernatorial"). Elections for governor were held in 37 of the 50 states. Republican candidates won in at least 21 of those 37 races, or 57% of the time.
Finally, let's consider the Senate races. This is where the political pundits have me confused. Each state has two senators and senate terms are six years long, so every two years about one-third of the senate seats are contested. A few races are still too close to call, including a real barn burner in Alaska where a write-in candidate may actually come away with a majority of the votes, but let's assume the Republicans win 24 of the 37 seats up for election. That would mean voters chose a Republican candidate 65% of the time.
Now let's look at those numbers again:
Five minutes of simple division makes it seem pretty obvious to me that voters not only were clear about their choices, but that results of the Senate races were even more overwhelmingly Republican-biased than the House or gubernatorial offices. The only reason the Senate maintains their Democratic majority is because they have nearly twice the number of Democratic Senators whose terms are continuing as Republicans (40 and 23, respectively).
It really makes me wonder: How on earth would these political commentators manage if we actually had a viable third party in this country?