The political landscape in 2009 resembles that of 1993 so much that it’s scary, at least if you’re a Democrat. My Examiner column considers the extent to which 2010 is likely to resemble 1994. I argue that the biggest variable between the upcoming cycle and the glorious one of 15 years ago is the severity of the current recession:
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were both elected thanks in large part to a bad economy. However, the recession that carried Clinton to victory was a mild one from which we largely had recovered by the time he took office. The current recession is quite severe and was still intense on Obama’s inauguration day.
In one sense, this makes the Democrats’ position especially perilous. If the economic situation a year from now is similar to the situation today, voters will probably be even angrier at the Democrats than they were in 1994.
On the other hand, our economic woes provide today’s Democrats an opportunity they lacked in 1994. Then, the economy had bounced back before Election Day, but the Democrats received little credit because the downturn had not been severe and the recovery was old news. This will not be the case if, next year at this time, the economy is perceived as well down the road to recovery.
In this respect, 2010 may end up resembling 1982 more than 1994. That year, the economy was in a recession comparable to the current one. Yet the Republicans took nothing like the hit the Democrats experienced 12 years later. The GOP lost 27 House seats (14 percent of their total, as compared to the 21 percent lost by the Democrats in 1994). In the Senate, where the Republicans benefited from favorable “math,” the balance did not change at all.
By November 2010, the economy will probably be noticeably further along toward recovery than it was in November 1982. Thus, the Democrats have reason to hope they will avoid not just “a 1994,” but also “a 1982.”
However, elections are never just about the economy.
Thus, to compare 2010 to past cycles, we must ask whether the Republicans will find the kind of coherent message and strong leadership they profited from in 1994. In addition, will the fact that, unlike in 1994, Republicans controlled Congress until recently make voters reluctant to restore them to power? Finally, will Obama’s leftist agenda cause voters to cut him and his party less slack than voters cut Republicans in 1982?
In the end, there are too many “moving parts” to offer a confident prediction about an election that is more than a year away. But I wouldn’t bet that history will repeat itself next year with much exactitude. It rarely does.