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Election: Why Republicans Fared

By Dan Mulcare / Assistant Professor of Political Science
On November 26, 2010

The 2010 midterm election had something for everyone, especially Republicans. If you were part of the Grand Old Party, you rejoiced in the winning of the House of Representatives, with a monumental swing of at least 60 seats. Additionally, the gain of six Senate seats has put additional pressure on Democrats to consider conservative policies. For Democrats, despite their drubbing, they can take solace in that the upper chamber and the White House remained blue, and they have time to convince the public to support them in 2012.

Before I detail what I believe the parties should and should not do in order to remain viable, I should first discuss the reason that the Republicans fared so well and the Democrats faltered. First, it should be noted that every election cycle produces its own electorate, far from the entire American populace speaking as one at the ballot box; there are certain groups that are overrepresented and those whose voices are conspicuously absent.

For instance, as compared to the 2006 and 2008 contests, in this election there were fewer young, liberal, democratic and lower-class voters than those who were older, conservative, white, republican and upper- class. To put it another way, those who were more likely to vote Democrat stayed home and those who supported Republicans came out to the polls. Probably most importantly, two groups, women and independents, trended towards the Republican Party, and if the GOP is able to hold onto these voters, they will do quite well in the 2012 races.

The second main development that emerged from the exit polls was that in most categories, the electorate shifted back to the 2004 voting patterns, which saw the Republicans hold onto the Congress and presidency. Indeed, all of the gains the Democrats made in the House over the past two elections were wiped away, and the same could have occurred in the Senate if the more fringe Tea Party candidates did not run in the general election. These results could derive from a "throw the bums out" attitude by the electorate, who now used the last three elections to express their displeasure with the status quo.

On the other hand, the last four years could have been a liberal exception to the normal conservative voting patterns that we have witnessed since the early 1980s. It will not be clear which of these trends express the actual attitudes of the electorate, so both the Republicans and Democrats should not assume electoral cycle will favor their party.

So what should the Republicans do to maintain their momentum? Clearly, the voting population sent a strong message that they were mad as hell and that they wanted change. The Republicans should recognize that, for the time being, they have the electorate behind them; those who came out to vote either share the Republicans' agenda or, at the very least, the conservative critique of the Democrats' agenda. Specifically, over the past 30-plus years, much of the electorate has supported deficit reduction, and this election signaled that many agree with the Republican (and Tea Party) constitutional concerns about the health care bill, stimulus package and (Bush and Obama) bailouts.

An additional positive electoral result for Republicans is that they were able to win majorities in many key state houses. Consequently, they will be able to direct the redistricting process, ensuring that their party has a better chance to win a majority of House seats over the next decade.

To maintain their gains in the House and win the Senate and Executive Branch, the Republicans will likely have to do several things. They must successfully curb the deficit and reduce the overall debt, fulfilling one of their main campaign promises. This will be easier said than done.

First, most Republicans support the renewal of all of the Bush tax cuts, which would cut off a major source of revenue that could be used to bridge the budget gap. Second, many Republicans do not want to touch military spending or entitlement programs like Social Security, which count for about 8 percent of total expenditures, leaving little areas.

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