Before last November's election, the conventional wisdom was that Republicans would experience large losses in Congress. The party of Newt Gingrich had supposedly put its majority at risk by pursuing an aggressive legislative agenda that was too extreme for mainstream America. Many pundits argued that the Republican majority would suffer the same as its predecessors in 1948 and 1954: two years and out.
But the electorate confounded the experts by reelecting a GOP House majority for the first time since 1930. How did conventional wisdom miss the mark so badly? This essay provides an assessment of the November House elections.
Republicans in the 104th Congress had the most conservative voting record of any Congress in the post-World War II era. Its record for conservative voting shattered the previous record set by Republicans in 1949. Voters registered their overwhelming approval of this agenda by returning 92 percent of the incumbent House Republicans to office. Our statistical analysis reveals no evidence that House Republicans who did lose were defeated because of their support for conservative votes. In fact, Republican winners had slightly more conservative voting records than losers. This holds even when the analysis is confined to Republicans in moderate-to-liberal congressional districts. Likewise, there is no evidence that voting for the Contract with America harmed reelection prospects of Republicans from moderate-to-liberal districts. Finally, there is no statistical evidence that organized labor' s $35 million campaign had any impact on election outcomes involving Republican freshmen.
Continued conservative dominance of Congress seems likely for the remainder of this century. In every off-year presidential election since the Civil War, except one, the party of the president has lost seats in the House. Republicans continue to run well in southern and border states and are in a position to continue to gain seats in these regions. Democratic members are expected to continue to retire at higher rates than Republican members.