There’s been a lot of extremely relevant talk of late about why the Democrats lost so badly in 1994. Was it because they failed to pass Hillarycare, or because they tried? Over at The Weekly Standard, Andy Wickersham and I thoroughly analyze the numbers and conclude that the reason is the latter: It’s because they tried.
When seeking reelection, the more conservative Democrats usually fare far worse than other Democrats, for the simple reason that they generally run against legitimate Republican opposition in states or districts that can, and do, swing either way. In stark contrast, over the last 20 years, the most liberal third of Democratic congressional incumbents have — amazingly — run more often in just six states than in the other 44 combined: the six states that the Democrats have won by at least 10 percent in each of the past five presidential elections.
Running in far tougher races from coast to coast, the more conservative Democrats have suffered many more defeats — not only than the party’s most liberal wing, but also than its typical members.
But all was different in 1994. As we write,
In the other nine elections over the past 20 years . . . [the more] conservative Democrats have lost 67 percent more often than their party’s typical members. In 1994, that turned around completely: That year, typical Democrats lost 56 percent more often than their more conservative colleagues.
In other words: Voters did punish Democrats for trying to pass Hillarycare, but they didn’t punish them evenly — and they certainly didn’t punish them for failing to pass it. Instead, voters went comparatively easy on the more conservative Democrats who opposed it.
With a recent CNN poll showing Americans opposing Obamacare by 25 percent (61–36 percent), the echoes of Hillarycare and the election of ‘94 are becoming increasingly audible. Democrats think — or hope — that they can avoid repeating that result by ramming through an atrocious and unpopular bill. But if Americans had been upset with the Democrats for failing to pass Hillarycare in 1994, they would not have been noticeably more kind to the party’s more conservative members — the ones who had ultimately been responsible for Hillarycare’s defeat. In 1994, voters spared those who had sought to stop the madness, and the same will likely be true in 2010. Only, this time, the voters will have actual congressional votes to consult. They won’t have to guess whether their member supported Obamacare or not.