The Corner

Looking Back at the 1996 Elections

In the debates over defunding and government shutdowns, people have been mentioning the results of the House elections in 1996, the first ones held after the shutdowns of 1995-96. They haven’t all used the same numbers, though. Earlier this week on NRO, Michael Tanner wrote that House Republicans lost only two seats after the shutdown. That’s lower than I recalled. So I pulled out the edition of The Almanac of American Politics published after the elections and turned to Michael Barone’s introductory essay. “Republicans went into the 1996 election with 235 House seats, more than the 230 they won in 1994 because of party switches and special election victories; they came out with 227 . . .” So if my history-major math holds up, that’s a net loss of eight seats for the Republicans — more than some of today’s commentaries are saying, but still pretty low considering the Republicans had won a wave election in 1994. Barone also notes that Americans had voted for Republican congressional candidates over Democratic ones by 52 to 45 percent in 1994; in 1996 the edge shrank to 49–48.5 percent.

The 1996 elections were the first of three in a row in which Republicans lost seats. Since then they have won seats in three years: The post-9/11 elections of 2002 and 2004, and the first Obama midterm of 2010.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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