Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Year of Divided Government Dragons 龍
2012 Political Prognostication
& the House of Representatives

The three headed King Divgoverah 2010 dragon ravages the homeland

We are in the midst of a two week celebration of the Chinese New Year and it is not just any new year celebration. This is the Year of the Dragon - the Water Dragon* - the most auspicious, desirable, and luckiest of the Chinese zodiac menagerie. It is, of course, also an election year. Can we glean any meaning from this collision of ancient Asian astrology and modern American politics?
The last year of the Water Dragon was 1952-53 and, according to Forbes, was lucky for Republicans and Bullish For Stocks:
"The last time the sign of the Water Dragon appeared was in 1952, which, like 2012, was an election year. President Eisenhower was elected in November 1952, and the exact Chinese Zodiac dates from that year were January 27, 1952 through February 13, 1953... Since 1952, there have been four other Dragon years as part of the 12-year cycle. The average for the five years is a gain of 5.8% using the Dow Industrials before 1980 and the S&P 500 in later years."
In the last year of the Water Dragon, Republican Dwight Eisenhower was elected President and Republicans also took control of the Senate with a narrow majority, initiating two years of One Party Republican Rule. If Republicans win the White House and Senate this year, we will again return to One Party Republican Rule.

This month we also note the one year anniversary of our latest episode of divided federal government in the United States. The Dividist does not think it useful to look at presidential elections as simply a choice between individual champions of the two major political parties and vote on that basis. Between R or D presidential nominees, the level of corruption and hypocrisy is always just a question of degree, most useful as an indicator of which special interests will benefit more from the two flavors of corporate statism that will result. Instead, we find it more helpful to look at the likely final configuration of House, Senate, and Presidency, the combined leadership that will result, and then make a decision on how to vote between those combined configurations.

The two most likely 2013 federal government configurations for the leadership in the White House, House of Representatives and Senate are:

1 - Obama (D), Boehner (R), McConnell (R)
2 - Romney (R), Boehner (R), McConnell (R)

Of the two, the Dividist finds the first scenario to be more likely, and preferable. Nothing against Romney - there is just less opportunity for mischief when there is more oversight, more checks on corruption and more legislative restraint imposed on the extremes of either party. Our Constitutional checks and balances seem to work better when our leaders are not all on the same team.

For those independent voters like the Dividist who would prefer to avoid a return to one party rule, voting specifically for divided government is a reasonable voting heuristic. Such a vote requires looking into the future, realistically assessing the likely partisan outcome of the elections, then casting the most probable vote to keep the government divided. Scenario 1 above is our current best guess of what will actually transpire in this election cycle, but scenario 2 is a close second. As a consequence the Dividist will be supporting Obama’s re-election in 2012, for the exact same reason he supported McCain in 2008.

Supporting the re-election of Barack Obama for President in order to maintain a state of divided government is based on the premise that in 2012 Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives and win a majority in the Senate. The Dividist has anticipated this scenario in one form or another since 2008 and reinforced this perspective with prognostication posts in 2009, 2010, and again last year.

As someone once said, it is always a good idea to check your premises. We'll start with House of Representatives. Paul Brandus of West Wing Report took a look at the prospects for keeping the government divided and arrived at the same conclusion in his forecast for divided goverment in 2013:
"History shows that presidents running for re-election tend to boost their party's fortunes in the House by a dozen seats, but given the 2010 wave election that swelled the GOP majority to a 43-seat margin (241-198), that won't be enough."
Moving on - who better to assess the likelihood of Republicans retaining control of the House than the former and current Speakers of House?

Former Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:
"House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is predicting that Democrats will recapture the House in November, a move that could open the possibility of the San Francisco Democrat regaining the speakership and becoming the first politician to return to that office after a defeat since Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn in 1955."
Current Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner:
“I think it will be nearly impossible” for Democrats to win back the House in November, Boehner said. “I think our freshman members are doing a good job preparing themselves for the upcoming election. I would also note that redistricting across the country has helped those freshman members and others in tough seats who will now have better seats."
It should be noted that House Speakers do not have a great track record with predictions of this nature. Lets check elsewhere.

"If these rating changes seem like a muddle, with Democrats and Republicans alike gaining in some places and faltering in others, that’s because the changes are a muddle. And ultimately a muddle is good for the GOP because they already hold the majority...Ultimately, if Republicans win all the seats we currently favor them to win, and Democrats win all the seats they are favored to win plus all 15 toss ups, Republicans would still hold a 233-202 edge in the House."
The Republicans have a 43 seat majority in the House of Representatives. Flipping control of the House with a majority that large is difficult, but happens. It happened in 1994, it happened in 2006 and it happened in 2010. A necessary condition for these kind of wave elections is a sour national mood that swamps the default condition best articulated by Tip O'Neill's famous dictum "All politics is local". It is a well documented phenomena that even when voters hate Congress as a whole, they still like their local congressperson and typically reelect incumbents at over a 90% rate.

Flipping the House of Representatives requires a wave election where independents vote with a large plurality for one party, as opposed to doing what they usually do - cancelling themselves out. In 1994 they voted predominantly for Republicans amid widespread anger against the overreach and corruption of Democratic One Party Rule. In 2006 they voted predominantly for Democrats amid widespread anger against the overreach and corruption of Republican One Party Rule. In 2010 they voted predominantly for Republicans amid widespread anger against the overreach and corruption of Democratic One Party Rule. A pattern is beginning to emerge. The common characteristics of all three of those wave elections that flipped the House were:
  1. Widespread anger at Congress
  2. A partisan focus for that anger (pre-existing single party rule).
In 2012, the anger is there, but there is no partisan focus for that anger. Democrats and Republicans share power. Voter anger is distributed and diffused.

The conditions do not exist for a nationalized wave election sufficient to override the House incumbent advantage. Republicans will retain majority control of the House of Representative.

The House of Representatives outcome is the cornerstone of our divided government prognostications for 2012. For the federal government to remain divided, the Democrats must either retain majority control in the Senate, or Barack Obama must win reelection.

The next post in this series will look at the Senate and the prospects for change in that branch.

* SPECIAL NOTE: While researching this post, the Dividist learned that he was born under the sign of the Water Dragon. This is what the Chinese Zodiac says about those born under the sign of the Water Dragon:
"Force and power are the symbols attributed to the Dragon... those born under the influence of the Dragon are considered the luckiest of all and good fortune simply follows them wherever they go.. Indeed, whether male or female, Dragons are libidinous and score quite a hit with the opposite sex."
This note has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this post. The Dividist just thought it important to take note of these facts for the enlightenment and edification of The Reader.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.

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