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Midterm Elections and the Blue Wave

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By: Jay Cost – nationalreview.com – March 15, 2018

Unless Trump’s approval rating climbs, get ready to say, ‘Speaker Nancy Pelosi.’
Democrat Conor Lamb’s victory in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district has people wondering whether the Republicans can control the House in November. PA-18, after all, went to Trump by 20 points in the 2016 election, so if Lamb could defeat Republican Rick Saccone, even narrowly, that must mean trouble, right?

Indeed, it does. History suggests that Republicans face a monumental struggle to hold the lower chamber of Congress. Yet the warning signs have been present for so long that Lamb’s win doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know.

To put matters bluntly, it all gets back to Donald Trump. Midterm elections have become referenda on the president of the United States, and there are enough House seats potentially in play each cycle that an unpopular president will probably cause his party to lose the House. Trump has been unpopular since he took the oath of office, which is why the GOP is in so much trouble.

For generations after the Civil War, the House of Representatives basically reflected the durable North–South divide: The North voted mostly Republican, and the South voted overwhelmingly Democratic. From 1874 to 1894, the House was competitive between the Democrats and Republicans because enough Northern seats were in play. Democrats could not win a majority of the North, but they could win enough that, combined with their stranglehold on the South, they maintained a majority in the House. But after the Panic of 1893 — and the ensuing recession that hit the country very hard — the North shifted toward the Republicans, where it more or less stayed until the Great Depression (the progressive decade of the 1910s being the exception to the rule).

At that point, the North became more or less split between Democrats and Republicans, while the South stood loyally with Democrats. That gave Democrats their 40-year majority in control of the House of Representatives, from 1954 until 1994. Yet as the post-war period wore on, these regional divisions gave way to the more ideological politics that we see today. Indeed, the notion of a North–South divide does not make nearly as much sense as it used to, unless framed in terms of race, ethnicity, religiosity, and socioeconomic status — in other words, the same factors that drive politics in most regions. With the South slipping out of the Democrats’ grasp — slowly at first, then suddenly in 1992–94—there are now enough seats in play for both sides to win the House.

The result is a House of Representatives that more accurately reflects public opinion, which in the Wilsonian age of president-as-superman, hinges largely on views of the commander in chief. The results have been remarkably predictable over the last quarter century, which is when the South basically stopped being loyal to the Democrats.

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Source: Conor Lamb’s Victory Suggests Pelosi Could Regain Speakership