Democratic Defeat: Median Voter Model, Not Retrospective Voting
By Bryan Caplan
Yesterday I presented two explanations for the Democrats’ loss of the House:
1. Retrospective voting model. They’re being punished for two years of bad economic performance.
2. The median voter model. They’re being punished for being well to the left of public opinion.
The intrade data handily resolve the dispute in favor of #2. In January of 2009, the Democrats still had an 80% chance to hold Congress. By that point, it was already clear that the recession was deeper than expected – and that recovery would take years. The Democrats’ chances fell less than 15 percentage points over the next year; their odds of victory in January 2010 were 2:1.
Only in January did the odds of winning the House begin their near-linear fall to zero. During this period, the economy did about as well as expected. The big surprise: The Democrats made the surprising choice to pass Obamacare despite public opinion. Perhaps they expected status quo bias to save them, but as the year continued, it became clear that the public’s preferences weren’t quite that malleable.
In the end, I’m afraid, Obamacare will become as American as apple pie. But it will take 5-10 years. The electoral backlash will fade out eventually but the legacy of Obamacare will never enhance the Democrats’ overall popularity. If the Democrats weren’t utterly wrong about health policy, I’d praise their sacrifice for principle. As matters stand, though, I hope Democratic politicians take away the bitter lesson that “No good deed goes unpunished.”