Monday, June 15, 2009

Democratic House of Representatives

I don't think most folks are aware of how consistently, and sometimes enormously, the Democrats have been the House majority party over the last 50 years. Does anyone know where there is a website that allows one to make a multiple-choice quiz to import to a blog, similar to does with polls?

Which reminds me, I haven't done a poll in awhile, have I?

Well, if I ever find such a site, here are the answers to the test I'll put up.

Starting with the 86th Congress in 1959, the Democrats had a 66% majority in the House, a number wildly different from what we think of as a majority today. They did not drop below 56% for the next 36 years, when the supposed great Republican Revolution in the elections of 1994 produced a bare 53%-47% starting in 1995. In those 36 years, the Democrats had a 60% supermajority for 20 of them, topping out at 68% in 1965-66. That's nothing. The Democrats had 75 and 80% majorities in the 30's.

The Republicans, OTOH, have never had a supermajority, or anything close to it. During the 12 years the Democrats spent in the wilderness from 1995-2006, the Republicans had 51, 52, 53% majorities the whole time. When the Democrats leaped back in in the 2006 elections, they grabbed 54%, higher than the Republicans ever had. The federal government, for all the assistance that Republicans have (unfortunately) given to it, has been an essentially Democratic institution for almost 80 years.

There are certainly a variety of conclusions one could draw from this. If you are a Democrat, you might fairly point out that the country occasionally chooses a Republican president, but from their own districts pretty reliably choose Democrats. You might cite any number of reasons why Republicans deserved their low numbers.

I bring the numbers up because of the general misconceptions we have about our own recent history. The 8 years of the Reagan Era were actually part of the decades of Democratic dominance. Reagan governed against the prevailing winds of 56-63% Democratic majorities. The 8 years of the Bush 43 era were actually the most evenly divided in our history. The Republicans have had the House, more than 51 Senators, and the presidency in only 2 years, 2005-2006. I bring this up mostly because of the overheated rhetoric of Republicans "controlling" all branches of government during those years. Rubbish. Kennedy and Johnson had control. Carter had control. Bush had Arlen Specter.

I also ask you to keep those numbers in mind when looking at these graphs that Glenn Reynolds ran over at Instapundit today, here and here.


Sam said...

wow. That puts things into perspective. Good post.

Gringo said...

Inspired by my comment on "Gabillion?"

copithorne said...

One thing to note is that is is only around the time of Reagan that politically parties became intellectual homogenous as they are today.

Used to be that the South elected Democrats who were nonetheless capable of being very conservative. The Northeast elected Republicans who nonetheless could be quite liberal.

There was a progression over race starting with the 64 civil rights act and moving through Nixon and culminating in Reagan that shook all that out so that one party is right and one party is left.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Gringo - probably.

Copithorne, partial agreement. I would put the break point at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, with things gradually shaking out over the next two decades.

Gringo said...

IMHO, one factor in political parties becoming more ideologically homogeneous has been the creation of computer-generated gerrymandered Congressional Districts, which make Districts as homogenous by party affiliation as possible and thus as easy as possible for incumbents to get reelected. As incumbents have safe seats, there is less motivation for compromise and for reaching out to other parties. We will never be able to do away completely with gerrymandering- it existed long before the advent of the computer - but it needs to be greatly reduced

I recommend reading this essay.The Myth of the Racist Republicans. The older Republicans in my family were proud of the family member who fought on the side of John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, while the older Democrats were Jim Crow adherents. Which may prejudice me in favor of the essay’s contents.