Home/Daniel Larison/No, Really, It’s Not 1994

No, Really, It’s Not 1994

Convinced that his popularity was eternal, Obama responded by saying, yes, but there’s a “big difference” between 1994 and 2010, and that big difference is, “you’ve got me.”

The funny thing is, Obama might have been right. Because things might be much worse for Democrats in 2010 than they were in 1994 – and the big difference might well be Barack Obama. ~Jonah Goldberg

Pop culture references from the ’70s aside, Goldberg doesn’t do much to support this claim. For things to be worse than 1994, Democrats would have to lose 55+ seats in the House. There is no reason to believe that this will happen. Even the most relevant piece of information he cites in the column is potentially misleading. He writes:

Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Report – not exactly an RNC direct-mail operation – says Obama’s approval rating (already below 50 percent) will likely rival Clinton’s in November of 1994.

Yes, that’s very likely, because Clinton’s rating in November 1994 was 46% according to Gallup. The RCP average of Obama’s approval has him at exactly 46%. What it means for the midterms is not automatically clear. Clinton’s approval rating had dropped into the mid to low 30s during his first two years in office before recovering as the midterm elections approached. This superficially makes it seem as if Clinton’s approval rating in the mid-40s had something to do with massive Democratic losses, but it was actually those much worse approval ratings from earlier in his first term that partly explain Democrats’ ’94 woes. The reality is that Obama has never been as unpopular as Clinton was at certain points in 1993-94, and barring some major event between now and November it’s not likely that his approval rating is going to move much either way.

Invoking the weak economy isn’t that much more persuasive. The ’81-’82 recession was more severe and lasted longer than the recession from which we have been recovering, unemployment was higher in September 1982 than it is now, Reagan’s approval rating was in the low 40s for much of the year, and the presidential party still lost just 2826 House seats. Even the incredibly unpopular George Bush in a sixth-year midterm presided over a loss of just 30 House seats when his approval rating was at least ten points lower than Obama’s is now. That doesn’t mean that Democrats should automatically expect a similar result to 1982, but at most I see them losing 30 seats in the House and maybe five in the Senate. If I had to pick an exact number, I would now make it 25.

For some more actual analysis, Reid Wilson at Hotline has an interesting post that makes the case for why Democratic losses will likely be far short of the 39 (really 40) seats that the Republicans need to take the House.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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