What Tuesday's Election Results Mean for the Bigger Political Picture: Nada

News & Politics

Partisans spin, and obviously political reporters have an interest in fabricating compelling "national story-lines" during dull off-year elections. So with this first supposed "test" of the Obama administration, the tea-leaf reading -- navel-gazing is probably a better metaphor -- is in high gear this morning. Is the right on the rebound? Has the GOP gotten its groove back? Was it all a referendum on the new president's policies? Oh dear, what is going on?

Below, Addie does a nice job following all the bouncing balls of yesterday's races, and I agree with her conclusion that the results signal that the Right is "organizing up a storm."

But I don't live in Jersey, Virginia or some rural NY district on the Canadian border, and I'm not interested in marrying some dude in Maine. So I find no meaning in these races, and there are plenty of good reasons why you shouldn't either (unless, of course, you're from Virginia or want to marry a person of the same sex in Maine -- in NY-23, Owens, a conservative Dem, will vote more or less like the mainline Republican Scozzafava would have had she been elected (he does support health reform, however), and New Jersey politics are so perennially screwed up that George Washington couldn't have governed the state effectively).

Let's look at some of the buzz floating around ...

The "red tide" of falling governorships is a referendum on Obama!

Nonsense. Here's the deal: University of Minnesota political scientist Eric Ostermeier went back and crunched some numbers from previous gubernatorial races in those states. He found that going back to 1989, New Jersey and Virginia have voted the same way in every election, and in every case, it was for the party that didn't control the White House. And over those past two decades, those votes have in no way correlated with various presidents' approval ratings.


Democrats swept the 1989, 2001, and 2005 elections in these two states - and were able to do so both when Republican Presidents were popular (George H.W. Bush at 57 percent approval on Election Day in 1989; George W. Bush at 84 percent in 2001) as well as unpopular (Bush at 42 percent approval in 2005).

Republicans, meanwhile, swept the 1993 and 1997 gubernatorial contests in the two states while Bill Clinton was in office - at both unpopular (in 1993, at 48 percent) and popular (in 1997, at 57 percent) periods of his presidency.

According to exit polls, 57 percent of New Jersey voters held a favorable opinion of Obama even as the electorate sent Christie to the Governor's mansion (and it was a less-than-apocalyptic 48 percent in VA). Let's also not forget that Corzine had been unpopular for a long time. Here's a report from April of 2008 -- just a few months into the Democratic presidential primaries -- headlined, "Study Says Corzine Popularity is Sinking", which found that only 38 percent of New Jersey voters approved of the job he was doing at that time.

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