House Popular Vote, Fundraising Totals

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Jan 26, 2009 at 13:37

The Green Papers has the final popular vote and fundraising totals for all 2008 U.S. House general election campaigns. The numbers are illuminating for at least two reasons (more in the extended entry):
Chris Bowers :: House Popular Vote, Fundraising Totals
  1. House Democrats win by 10.53%: The final popular vote percentages were 53.08%--42.55%, giving Democrats a 10.53% victory. This is the largest popular vote percentage victory for either party in either a Presidential or Congressional election since 1984 (the next largest victory was Bill Clinton with 8.51% in 1996). It is the first double-digit victory for any party in a national election in 24 years. That, truly, is a historical butt-whooping.

    House Democrats also "outperformed" Obama by 3.28%, given his national victory of 7.25%. However, it is not exactly an apples to apples comparison, since there were 423 Democratic House candidates, versus 394 Republican candidates (Obama and McCain, by contrast, were on the ballot in all 435 congressional districts, plus the District of Columbia). Third-parties picked up some of the slack in the unopposed campaigns, but not in all campaigns and not to the same degree. Also, in Florida, unopposed House campaigns don't even have popular vote totals. So, overall, it is not a perfect comparison.

    Still, it is safe to say that House Democrats performed roughly the same as Obama. This also happened in 1992, 2000 and 2004 elections where Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry also performed roughly as well as their downticket counterparts in the House. That each of the last four Democrats to become our Presidential nominee performed roughly as well as their counterparts in the House begs the question: were any of them really strong or weak candidates, or were they all simply captive to the political environments of their time? Perhaps we give Clinton and Obama too much credit, and Gore and Kerry too little credit, given that all four performed about the same as Democrats did in the House in the 1992, 2000, 2004 and 2008 elections.

    This is sort of like turning the nature vs. nurture argument to federal electoral politics, and might be fundamentally unanswerable.  However, it should at least provide a healthy dose of skepticism to counter the urge to consider Bill Clinton and Barack Obama's electoral campaigns total successes, and Al Gore and John Kerry's total failures. When each candidate was running seems to matter just as much as who those candidates, and what their strategies, were.

    (Note to self: Since this is my sixth or seventh article in this vein, maybe I need to start a Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry society akin to the Richard the 3rd society in England. I feel as though our nominees who lose get an undeserved bad rap.)

  2. House General Election Candidates Raise $859 million for 2007-2008: U.S. House candidates who won their primary and competed in the general election collectively raised $859.1 million in 2007-2008.

    It is a fairly common cliché to be disgusted by the abominable amount of money in politics. However, given that we just handed over $700 billion to Wall Street in only four months, and the same amount to Iraq in six years, isn't it a far greater abomination that we allow corporate PACs and big donors to maintain influence over members of Congress when it would actually be relatively cheap to just turn to public financing?

    A simple, inexpensive and pro-grassroots system could easily be devised. Candidates for Cogress, whether incumbents or challengers, have to raise $5 from, say, 2,000 people in their home state. Once they do so, they get $2 million for their campaign and automatic ballot access. Then, PACs and large donors no longer have any influence, and members of Congress don't have to spend so much time on the phone asking for money. However, hitting the streets and talking to your constituents would become more important than ever.

Cool numbers. However, still not quite cool enough to cause me to actually miss the election.  Governing is much better. :)

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Yes, Kerry And Gore DID Suck (0.00 / 0)
Comparing House to Presidential totals doesn't really provide a metric for saying anything about the presidential campaigns in themselves (which are best compared to one another).

After all, a better presidential campaign would probably help House candidates do better as well, whereas it's pretty hard to see how House candidates could significantly impact the top of the ticket.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Maybe (0.00 / 0)
But actually I think there are ways that House candidates could help up-ticket candidates. For one thing, they could start identifying themselves as Democrats, something which they tend not to do. This could lead to more striaght-party voting, for instance.

But I still don't think that any of our presidential nominees over the last twenty years have performed all that differently than generic Democrats would have done. Gore ran when Democrats and Republicans had high approval ratings. Kerry ran when the country was evenly divided. Clinton ran in 1992 against an incumbent with low apporval ratings. Obama ran in 2008 against a party with very low favorable ratiings. In all four cases, they basically came in where the political environment was at the time, rather than far above or below it.

[ Parent ]
Two Things (4.00 / 1)
(1) It would certainly help to have House candidates identify as Dems.  Maybe if the next 2 years play out well, we'll start to see that.  But absent a coherent House strategy I don't see this happening, nor do I see how it or anything else could significantly impact the top of the ticking.

(2) I agree that generally political campaigns don't make that much difference.  This is why political scientists have been able to develop predictive models--although they vary somewhat from one another.  But those models all were badly off in 2000, and I think it's clear why:  the press hostility to Clinton, which they transfered to Gore, and which the Daily Howler chronicled in real time.  Still, despite that severe bias, the Clinton years had been good for most Americans, Bush's father had been a 1-term President, and historical factors did favor Gore.  The His populist tenor of his convention speech produced a good bounce, and while we know that all bounces tend to fade, Gore made no effort to build on this momentum, but instead tacked back to "safe mode."  In an election where 1,000 more votes in Florida could have put it out of reach of all the Bush shenanigans, I'd have to say he failed.  (Another take on this, from George Lakoff, focuses on the incoherence of Gore's understanding of his own foreign policy position, seen in a debate which he should have clearly won.)

Similarly, 2004 was bound to be a relatively close election, but could have gone either way.  It was "Kerry's to lose," Zogby said in the Spring, and for all the flakiness his polls sometimes exhibit, Zogby was absolutely right.  Kerry lead early on, and let the Swiftboaters steal it away from him in August.  The same "play it safe" mode dominated the convention--not just the aftermath--and this prevented him from building on and solidifying the lead he had in July.

While I would argue that Obama, too, underperformed by playing it safe, he did so in a range where he was headed for victory, anyway, and thus it can't be criticized in the same way as "bad campaigning", merely noted as an enduring feature of Democratic presidential campaigns that we have yet to get rid of.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
The question isn't if they sucked. (4.00 / 2)
The question is if they sucked more than Obama and Clinton.

[ Parent ]
historical narratives (4.00 / 2)
But no one would say they sucked if they had won. The narratives that form around campaigns and which influence our historical memory are all strongly determined by the outcome of the elections.

Consider, for instance, Gore's pick of Joe Lieberman as his running mate. Everyone seems to think it was an uninspired choice. But if some lady in Palm Beach hadn't chosen to use the butterfly design for her county's ballots, Gore would have become President, and nearly everyone would say that the choice of Lieberman was what allowed it to happen, by helping him with Florida's Jewish vote.

Another example from that campaign: the Democrats actually had a much better GOTV effort than Republicans in 2000. That's what allowed Gore to win the popular vote by half a million votes, despite being slightly behind in most polls right at the end. This allocation of resources would have seemed like a brilliant outmaneuver of the Bush campaign - again, if not for butterfly ballots, Bush v. Gore, etc.

[ Parent ]
You Have A Point (0.00 / 0)
Winning covers a multitude of sins.

"Mission Accomplished" and all that.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Well, there *is* a fact of the matter (0.00 / 0)
as to whether Lieberman helped or hurt Gore in some area x, and the best way we have of getting at that is with targeted survey data.  So it's not simply competing explanations with no fact of the matter as to which is right.  It's when we don't get the numbers (surveys aren't done or aren't done well; the media doesn't take the time to look at them because repeating the conventional narrative is much less work) that we wind up unsure as to what actually happened.

[ Parent ]
I agree that the $700 billion number (4.00 / 1)
given to incompetent banks to provide larger bonuses for their executives' golfing buddies may well make other things that used to look really expensive look much cheaper.  I wonder how this will play out in the longer run.

A note on one campaign:  Russ Warner nearly matched David Dreier financially, yet got killed on election day.  This is due to the fact that his campaign simply wasn't run well.  I think that those in the blogosphere need to start thinking beyond simply giving money to thinking about how we can help those who have sufficient funds run a better campaign.  I'm not sure how to do this, but I think it needs to be done.

Presidential nominee makes the time (0.00 / 0)
I think you're looking at the comparison between presidential and house numbers the wrong way.  It's more likely that fewer people turned out to vote for Democrats for the House in 2004 because Kerry was not a good candidate, and the complement of that happened in 2008.

I wouldn't worry (4.00 / 1)
The Richard III apologists respond to the ridiculous Shakespeare caricature by creating an equally ridiculous mirror image, where Richard is a thoroughly modern humanitarian (and occasionally also benevolent imperialist) rather than the typical competent but fairly amoral warlord that the reliable sources all present him as.

Stick to rational analysis and such a comparison need never plague you.

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