I spent most of last week discussing with my Government students at Centre College what, if anything, was unique, exceptional, or noteworthy about the 2010 midterm elections. Here is a summary of our conversations and observations:
- Voter turnout: about 40%. This is the same as it always is. NOT UNIQUE.
- 87% of House incumbents reelected and 84% of Senate incumbents reelected. This is slightly lower than the historical average, but not drastically so. NOT REALLY UNIQUE.
- The president’s party lost seats in a midterm election. NOT AT ALL UNIQUE.
- The president’s party lost 60+ seats in the first midterm election. VERY UNIQUE. (It’s usually closer to 15, on average, for the first midterm of a president’s two-term administration).
- The results of the election largely attributable to a slow economic recovery and high unemployment rate. NOT UNIQUE.
- While most sociodemographic groups shifted toward the Republicans this election as compared to 2008, it usually was not by more than 5-10%. And there were no significant ideological realignments in the American public (i.e. most younger people, racial minorities, lower income, urban, and liberals voted Democrat). NOT UNIQUE.
By all accounts, then, this was largely a predictable, ho-hum election from a historical perspective, with the exception of the magnitude of seat losses for the president’s party, which was much higher than expected.