Since Michael Barone literally wrote the book on American politics, he's worth paying attention to when it comes to discussing election trends. In his latest post over at The American, Barone makes a key insight -- for the first time in two decades House of Representatives might be a good lens for looking at the popular vote:

Since the middle 1990s, the popular vote for the House of Representatives has become a good proxy for the standing of the nation’s two major parties. This was not the case for many years, in large part because Democratic House candidates in the South stood for different issues than their party’s national nominees and tended to run far ahead of Democratic presidential candidates. But during Bill Clinton’s presidency and afterward, Democratic presidential candidates became more successful nationally than they had been in most of the 1970s and 1980s, even as Republicans started running much better than they had in House districts in the South.

In 1992, for the first time since Reconstruction, the Republican percentage of the House vote in the South, defined as the 11 Confederate states plus West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, was (slightly) higher than in the North; in 1994, Republicans carried the House popular vote in the South, as they have ever since, in years when they carried the House popular vote in the North only twice (in 1994 and 2002).

The bottom line is that this is not a good trend for Obama:

Obviously, the three most recent examples portend an unhappy 2012 for President Obama and the Democrats, while the 1994-1996 example is a precedent for an incumbent Democratic president overcoming a “thumping” (George W. Bush’s term) in the off-year and winning reelection by a nontrivial margin. What I think these numbers suggest is that, absent a considerable redefinition by the incumbent president, he or his party’s nominee is likely to run just about as well (or poorly) in the next presidential election as his party’s House candidates did in the most recent off-year elections. The off-year vote represents a settled opinion on how the president and his party have performed in nearly two years in office, and unless the president takes a significantly different course toward governing, as Bill Clinton arguably did in 1995-1996, then that settled verdict remains more or less in place. Or so the numbers suggest.

Go ahead and read the whole thing -- Barone marshals a good deal of data to explain what this all means.

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