One of the panelists (Mayhew) has provided us with a table showing each time since the 1930s when the party not holding the White House won a gain of more than 2% of the popular vote in a midterm election. This week saw the largest increase in popular vote ever: 9.6% and about 63 seats, the second largest seat gain. 1938 FDR saw a 7.7% Republican gain and 80 seats during sitdown strikes. There were ten other smaller episodes in (ranked by size) 1946 Truman, 1966 Johnson, 1994 Clinton, 1974 Ford, 2006 Bush 43, 1942 FDR, 1982 Reagan, 1958 Eisenhower, 1970 Nixon, and 1950 Truman.
Mayhew (Yale) -- Democrats lucked out in that the senate candidates were largely Republican. They would have lost a lot more seats otherwise. Why has this happened? 1) Dems had won by such a large margin last time, so there was a lot to lose. They had gained 6.8%, but lost 9.6% so they lost half again as much. 2) Bad economy. 3) Policy blowback. 4) Public offput by Washington in general.
Galston (Brookings) -- Dems have tried to frame the election as a choice, but it was a referendum. This was driven by economics, but not exclusively. There was policy blowback. The only legislative "accomplishment" that enjoyed majority support last week was financial regulatory reform; everything else held majorities or supermajorities in opposition. Republicans hold their highest share of state legislatures since 1928. If you're going to lose big, don't lose big in a year ending in 0, and particularly not in states that are gaining or losing House seats. The change of boundaries will affect the next decade's elections powerfully. Dems can lose the South, but cannot lose Midwest. Dem weakness in Midwest was the biggest issue. Tea Party probably helped Republicans in House, but not in Senate. This is a more conservative country than it was in 2000.
Skocpol (Harvard) -- Anyone who thinks Tea Party is "just" against government is wrong. They are not against their entitlement programs. Their concern is government spending and taxes for benefits that go to younger people and immigrants whom they view as not as responsible. Obama knows how to push their buttons. The seat loss was ~20 seats more than we would have expected simply based on mean reversion. The Midwest is doing the worst, so that's why so much has happened there. This economy a blow to American psyche and hope leading to anger and despair. There will be a LOT of political theater in the next two years. Even though the Tea Party was a mixed bag this election, it is a loose coalition sending in money and moderates are under notice.
Q (from George Mason): We have heard very little about spending and deficits. We need more research on what policies don't work and can be cut.
A: Galston, I published a 10 year budget last month with lots of things to cut.
Q (Fisk, journalist): Do we have a disfunctional political system? (Discusses 24 hour news cycle etc as reasons)
A: Skocpal - So many of the Tea Partyers only get their news from Fox and Beck. They don't want compromise, making doing politics less likely.
A: Galston - The "center" as defined by the ovarlap between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican has disappeared. In 90s, the electorate was watching closely when they shut the government down and the party who guessed their reaction wrong had to come to the table. If the new House is not willing to shut the government down, Obama may be in a very strong position.
Galston - The Tea Party might be a renewal of the Goldwater movement and we could be seeing a new movement through the political landscape.
Mayhew - Or it could be a renewal of the Perot movement.