Making Sense of the Numbers

By now, you’ve likely seen plenty of television news election maps showing a sea of red sweeping across the country. Power in the U.S. House of Representatives has not only shifted from Democrats to the Republicans, but the GOP will have its largest House majority since 1946. As of this writing, Republican House gains have crossed the 60-seat threshold with a number of other races still without declared winners. In the Senate, Republicans have picked up at least six Democratic seats (ND, AR, IN, PA, WI, and IL) with Colorado and Washington still hanging in the balance.
A couple of statistics from last night stand out as we examine why the Republican tidal wave took place and what it means for the 112th Congress. The first is that, according to exit polls, senior citizens made up 22 percent of the voting populace last night, compared to just 16 percent in 2008, and they voted Republican in large numbers. This tells us that attacks on health reform, particularly those focused on Medicare reductions, likely had an impact on older voters.
The other statistic doesn’t bode well for bipartisan cooperation in the next Congress. Of 54 conservative Democrats who are in the Blue Dog coalition, 28 of them were defeated last night. Although voters were apprehensive about federal spending and government growth, it was the moderate-to-conservative Democrats in districts won by John McCain in 2008 who largely paid the price. Seeing diminishing numbers of moderates in both parties will make progress on critical legislation more challenging.