The Basic Political Balance


A couple of numbers from the EMR exit poll. Party identification was 38 percent Democratic, 36 percent Republican. That's only a point different from 2004's 37 percent Democratic, 37 percent Republican. Republicans did worse because they had less support from independents this time.

On ideology, 36 percent identified themselves as conservatives and 21 percent as liberals. This is in line with the long historical trend. The liberal label hasn't been an advantage since the early 1960s, when most voters had living memories of the Depression of the 1930s and the New Deal. Such voters are almost all gone today.

The exit poll has the popular vote at 53 percent Democratic and 45 percent Republican. A tally of the returns in Thursday's paper showed them at 51-47 percent Democratic. Final results won't be in for weeks from Washington and California, which will give Democrats a higher percentage than the latter number. Whether it ends up as 53-45 or 52-46, it will look very much like the Republicans' 1994 advantage of 52-45.

Does this represent a revolution in party strength? A significant change, I think, but not a revolution. The Democrats never dipped below 200 members in the House, except for one moment in the Gingrich revolution when there was a vacancy, and now they're up to about 231, the number of seats in which they currently hold a lead as the counting in some races continues.

The Immigration Issue

Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard makes the case that immigration restriction wasn't a plus issue for House Republicans. In Arizona, with the biggest illegal border crossing crisis in the nation, two loud advocates of immigration restriction and opponents of guest-worker and legalization provisions lost: incumbent J.D. Hayworth in the Scottsdale-Tempe Fifth District and open-seat primary winner Randy Graf in the Eighth, which includes the east side of Tucson and Cochise County, site of most of the illegal border crossings. In 2004, Graf won 43 percent in the primary against incumbent Jim Kolbe, who favored guest-worker and legalization provisions. With Kolbe retiring, Graf won the same 43 percent in the primary again, but that was enough to win a three-candidate race. I tend to agree with Barnes's take. If an anti-immigration candidate can't win in these two districts, where can he win? As I said on Fox News on election night: "Nativism and protectionism are political weapons that in a certain light look very strong, which seem to be gleaming swords that will slay all before them. But, again and again, they crack like glass in your hand."

Proof comes from an exit poll: "Should most illegal immigrants working in the United States be (a) offered a chance to apply for legal status or (b) deported to the country they came from?" Legal status was favored by 57 percent, deportation by 38 percent. Those favoring legal status voted 61-37 percent Democratic; those favoring deportation voted 56-42 percent Republican. You might object to the wording of the question, but the results suggest to me that anything perceived as a harsh stance on immigration is not an electoral winner and that even those who agree with the harsh stance are not very likely to be propelled to vote Republican because of it.

Mickey Kaus takes a different view. He cites evidence that a lot of Democrats, including successful challengers like Sen.-elect Jim Webb in Virginia, took the enforcement-first stance. But before the election, Kaus was touting opposition to immigration as a strategy for Republicans. It doesn't seem to have worked for them, whether you look at Hayworth and Graf, who were high profile on the issue, or for challenged incumbents like Rick Santorum, who wasn't able to make it a salient issue in his race.

As for protectionism, well, yes, that was a position long emphasized by Sherrod Brown, who won big in the Ohio Senate race, and a position taken to one extent or another by most Democratic candidates. Almost all incumbent House Democrats voted against a free-trade measure as innocuous as the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Protectionism has become a partisan issue, with virtually all Democrats for and most Republicans against. So you can score a Democratic victory, like this year's, as a victory for protectionism. It will certainly have consequences. Trade promotion authority lapses on June 30 next year, and the chances that the Democratic Congress will renew it are close to zero. The Doha round of world trade talks is currently stalled and unlikely to be renewed in time for an agreement to be sent to Congress. In any case, the fact that the Agriculture committees will be chaired by Tom Harkin from corn-growing Iowa and Collin Peterson from the wheat-growing Minnesota Seventh District means that the 2007 farm bill will not meet the standards of any Doha agreement that could conceivably be reached. The lapsing of trade promotion authority will doom the regional and two-country trade agreements that special trade representatives Robert Zoellick, Rob Portman, and Susan Schwab have been negotiating. We won't be moving toward more protectionism, probably. But we're going to miss many chances to advance free trade.

It's interesting that a party so many of whose members pride themselves on their sophistication and mental superiority is taking a strong stand against the one thing that has always been taught in Economics 1, whether the instructors are Keynesians or Friedmanites–that free trade is better for everyone. Chalk that up to the AFL-CIO, whose massive turnout efforts achieved much success: Twenty-four percent of those surveyed in the exit poll said they were union members or that there was a union member in their households. That's a pretty big chunk of the electorate, considering that only 8 percent of private-sector workers and slightly under a majority of public-sector workers are union members.