Learning from 1994 (Part II)

This week we’re taking an in-depth, multi-part look at the 1994 election, as a means of divining what the 2010 election may hold for us in the House. To do so, we’re looking at some of the myths that seem to have taken hold regarding 1994; yesterday, for instance, we addressed the idea that 1994 was full of unpredictable, arbitrary wipeouts — which it wasn’t (our House Vulnerability Index did a spot-on job of predicting likelihood of losing compared with other Democrats).

Today, we’re looking at a couple more myths. They’re all interrelated — open seats and freshman status weigh heavily on the House Vulnerability Index — but it lets us slice and dice the data some new ways:

Myth 2) The losses in the 1994 election were disproportionately in the South, as historically Democratic districts that had started going Republican at the presidential level finally flipped downballot too.

No, not true. There’s plenty of reason to think this was the case (as I did until I started doing this research), as the 1992 round of redistricting rejiggered a number of districts in a way that was potentially harmful to moderate white Democrats elected by a coalition of African-Americans and working-class whites. With the creation of odd-shaped VRA-districts in a number of states, starting in 1992, moderate Democrats found themselves with the choice of either primaries against African-Americans in VRA districts, or against Republicans in much more conservative suburban/rural districts.

However, it turns out most of the impact from this occurred immediately in 1992, not 1994. For instance, the two Birmingham-area districts, which supported moderate Dems Claude Harris and Ben Erdreich, got turned into the mostly-white 6th and mostly-black 7th, which thus in 1992 turned into liberal Dem Earl Hilliard and conservative GOPer Spencer Bachus. Similarly, in 1992, long-time Democratic Rep. Walter Jones Sr. retired when he found himself in a now black-majority NC-01; his son, Walter Jones Jr., lost the Dem primary to Eva Clayton. In fact, this gave rise to perhaps the only Dem loss in 1994 that seems directly related to the VRA gerrymander: Rep. Martin Lancaster survived the 1992 election reasonably well despite having lost many of NC-03’s African-American voters to next-door NC-01, but in 1994 faced off against the younger Jones, now a Republican (and whose dad had represented many of NC-03’s voters prior to the redistricting), and lost.

It’s possible that Stephen Neal in NC-05, who got a nastier district in 1992 after having the black parts of Winston-Salem moved into the newly-formed NC-12 and then won by only 7% in 1992, may have felt compelled to hit the exits in 1994 primarily because he didn’t relish the task of trying to hold the district. At R+4 at the time, though, that wasn’t a particularly bad district. Norm Sisisky’s VA-04 also seems to have gotten worse post-1992 because of the gerrymandering of VA-03, but he still survived 1994 unscathed and held that district until his 2001 death. (If you can think of any other examples, please discuss in the comments. For instance, the creation of GA-11 or FL-03 may have had some consequences I’m not thinking of.)

The South (as defined by the US Census with one exception — I’m treating Maryland and Delaware as Northeast) did lose more Democratic seats than any other region of the country, that much is true. But that’s mostly because there were more Democratic seats in the South than any other region of the country; in terms of the overall win/loss percentage, the Democrats actually fared slightly better in the South than in the Midwest or West. In addition, much of what happened in the South was because of open seats; there were certainly more open seats in the South, while the South’s freshmen and veterans tended to fare better than those in the Midwest and West. There may be something of a chicken and egg effect here — old-timer Reps. in the South may have sensed trouble a-brewin’ and gotten out of the way, meaning that the inevitable losses took the form of open seats instead of defeated veterans — but, as we saw yesterday, open seats are the hardest to defend and the mass retirements (15 in the South) seemed to compound the disaster.

The one region where the Democrats performed notably better than the norm was the Northeast (their casualty rate in defensive races was only 11%, compared with 22% overall). That’s largely because there are so many safely-blue districts in the major cities of the Northeast; there were fewer suburban or rural seats there, which were the types that the GOP picked up in 1994. (The Dems faring comparatively well in 1994 in the Northeast helped pave the wave for their near-total dominance there now, as they gradually picked up suburban districts that leaned blue at the presidential level over the following decade.)

South Mid-
West North-
86 61 55 54 256
All Seats
67 45 40 48 200
All Seats
19 16 15 6 56
22% 26% 27% 11% 22%
All Open
15 8 4 4 31
Open Seats
11 6 3 2 22
Open Seat
Casualty Rate
73% 75% 75% 50% 71%
22 14 17 13 66
3 4 7 2 16
Casualty Rate
13% 29% 41% 15% 24%
49 39 34 37 159
5 6 5 2 18
Casualty Rate
10% 15% 15% 5% 11%

This table also brings us to another myth which we’ll talk about today:

Myth 3) Veterans fell victim to the slaughter just as much as newcomers.

No, not at all. (This myth — which may have arisen just because of the sheer shock of losing Foley and Rostenkowski — we sort of discussed yesterday, in the context of how the losses that were suffered in 1994 were largely predictable. That’s because the House Vulnerability Index that I’ve developed places the highest level of vulnerability on open seats, and then tends to rate frosh as next-most-vulnerable, generally because they usually win their initial election by narrower margins than do veterans. But we’ll talk about it some more today.)

As you can see, the safest place to be in 1994 was among the ranks of veterans (and you’d be extra-safe as a veteran in the Northeast). The GOP picked up the large majority of open seats, and cut a decent-sized swath through the freshmen, but 89% of the veterans lived to fight again. In fact, as you’ll notice from the lists above, the numbers of the freshmen who lost in actually competitive seats (based on Cook Partisan Voting Index) nearly rivals the rate at which open seats fell, if you factor in the large number of freshmen in newly-created 1992 VRA seats that weren’t going to go Republican under any circumstances. Compare the survival rate among freshmen in the South (where most were in new VRA seats) with the survival rate among freshmen in the West (where there was little creation of VRA seats, compounded by the Dems’ particularly egregious — and, to me, rather inexplicable — collapse in Washington state).

If you look at the list of winners and losers in each region in the lists that are over the fold, you can see the point in the PVIs where you shift from D+s to R+s as being the point where open seats and freshmen started falling. In the interest of space, I didn’t list all veterans who survived, but, by contrast, there were many who did so even while in seriously GOP-leaning turf. Was that because they hedged their bets by voting against big-ticket Democratic agenda items like the Clinton budget and the assault weapon ban, which were presumably unpopular in their conservative districts? Well, that’s something we’ll talk about in the coming days.

Here’s the list of who goes where. Open seats, for our purposes, includes races where the incumbent was knocked off in a primary. (And I’m not listing veterans who won, in the interest of space.)

South open seats won: TX-18 (D+22, ex-Washington), TX-10 (D+8, ex-Pickle), KY-03 (D+3, ex-Mazzoli), TX-25 (D+3, ex-Andrews)

South open seats lost: OK-02 (D+3, ex-Synar), TN-04 (R+2, ex-Cooper), NC-05 (R+4, ex-Neal), TN-03 (R+5, ex-Lloyd), OK-04 (R+7, ex-McCurdy), NC-02 (R+7, ex-Valentine), MS-01 (R+7, ex-Whitten), GA-08 (R+8, ex-Rowland), SC-03 (R+13, ex-Derrick), FL-15 (R+14, ex-Bacchus), FL-01 (R+20, ex-Hutto)

South freshmen won: FL-17 (D+25, Meek), AL-07 (D+21, Hilliard), LA-04 (D+19, Fields), TX-30 (D+19, Johnson), NC-12 (D+18, Watt), VA-03 (D+18, Scott), GA-11 (D+17, McKinney), FL-23 (D+16, Hastings), NC-01 (D+15, Clayton), SC-06 (D+14, Clyburn), GA-02 (D+12, Bishop), TX-28 (D+11, Tejeda), TX-29 (D+11, Green), FL-03 (D+10, Brown), MS-02 (D+9, Thompson), AR-01 (D+7, Lambert), FL-20 (D+3, Deutsch), FL-05 (R+1, Thurman), GA-09 (R+14, Deal)

South freshmen lost: KY-01 (D+0, Barlow), VA-11 (R+5, Byrne), GA-10 (R+10, Johnson)

South veterans lost: TX-09 (D+5, Brooks), NC-04 (D+1, Price), TX-13 (R+5, Sarpalius), NC-03 (R+8, Lancaster), GA-07 (R+11, Darden)

Midwest open seats won: MO-05 (D+13, ex-Wheat), MI-13 (D+4, ex-Ford)

Midwest open seats lost: OH-18 (D+2, ex-Applegate), MN-01 (D+1, ex-Penny), IL-11 (R+1, ex-Sangmeister), MI-08 (R+1, ex-Carr), KS-02 (R+2, ex-Slattery), IN-02 (R+8, ex-Sharp)

Midwest freshmen won: IL-01 (D+34, Rush), IL-02 (D+32, Reynolds), IL-04 (D+19, Gutierrez), WI-05 (D+13, Barrett), MI-05 (D+5, Barcia), MO-06 (D+3, Danner), MI-01 (D+0, Stupak), MN-02 (R+0, Minge), OH-13 (R+1, Brown), ND-AL (R+7, Pomeroy)

Midwest freshmen lost: WI-01 (D+3, Barca), OH-19 (R+0, Fingerhut), OH-01 (R+2, Mann), OH-06 (R+4, Strickland)

Midwest veterans lost: IL-05 (D+5, Rostenkowski), IA-04 (D+4, Smith), IN-08 (R+2, McCloskey), KS-04 (R+6, Glickman), NE-02 (R+8, Hoagland), IN-04 (R+13, Long)

West open seats won: CA-16 (D+12, ex-Edwards)

West open seats lost: OR-05 (D+2, ex-Kopetski), WA-02 (D+2, ex-Swift), AZ-01 (R+9, ex-Coppersmith)

West freshmen won: CA-37 (D+29, Tucker), CA-30 (D+18, Becerra), CA-33 (D+18, Roybal-Allard), CA-06 (D+15, Woolsey), CA-14 (D+11, Eshoo), CA-17 (D+11, Farr), AZ-02 (D+11, Pastor), CA-50 (D+7, Filner), OR-01 (D+4, Furse), CA-36 (R+3, Harman)

West freshmen lost: CA-01 (D+7, Hamburg), WA-09 (D+3, Kreidler), WA-01 (D+2, Cantwell), CA-49 (D+1, Schenk), AZ-06 (R+4, English), WA-04 (R+7, Inslee), UT-02 (R+8, Shepherd)

West veterans lost: WA-03 (D+4, Unsoeld), NV-01 (D+1, Bilbray), WA-05 (D+1, Foley), CA-19 (R+4, Lehman), ID-01 (R+9, LaRocco)

Northeast open seats won: PA-02 (D+26, ex-Blackwell), PA-20 (D+11, ex-Murphy)

Northeast open seats lost: ME-01 (R+0, ex-Andrews), NJ-02 (R+4, ex-Hughes)

Northeast freshmen won: NY-08 (D+28, Nadler), MD-04 (D+24, Wynn), NY-12 (D+22, Velazquez), NY-14 (D+20, Maloney), MA-01 (D+10, Olver), PA-04 (D+10, Klink), NJ-13 (D+7, Menendez), MA-05 (D+2, Meehan), NY-26 (D+2, Hinchey), PA-15 (R+1, McHale), PA-06 (R+7, Holden)

Northeast freshmen lost: NJ-08 (R+1, Klein), PA-13 (R+4, Margolies-Mezvinsky)

Northeast veterans lost: NH-02 (R+5, Swett), NY-01 (R+6, Hochbrueckner)

25 thoughts on “Learning from 1994 (Part II)”

  1. I get the impression that most of the districts had very small PVIs.

    The only D survivors that year in WA state were

    Jim McDermott (WA-Seattle – PVI D+might as well be triple digits)

    Norm Dicks (WA-The Boeing Guy)

    IMO, the lesson of WA state is a caution for those who’ve redistricted NY with small pro-D PVIs in a lot of districts. In a wave year, it could lead to a loss of a lot of seats.

  2. How are you defining veteran?  A Congresscritter in their second term or more?

    Looooooving this year, great job!  This table was great to look at!

  3. I actually think Myth #2 about the South is the #1 myth I hear repeated about 1994.  I wrote a diary touching on that a while back.  If there is a wave this year, I expect the losses to be fairly evenly distributed geographically.  If anything, I expect the focal point to be the Rust Belt – which not coincidentally is also where a lot of our recent gains have been.

  4. Not quite. Jones Sr. retired in 1992. His Son, Walter Jones Jr., lost the 1992 Democratic primary in NC-01 to Eva Clayton, and then was elected as a Republican in NC-03 in 1994.

    Jones Sr. died in office on 9/15/92.

  5. The losses in the 1994 election were  disproportionately in the South, as historically Democratic districts that had started going Republican at the presidential level finally flipped downballot too.

  6. Just wondering, did you calculate the PVIs yourself using both the 1988 and 1992 presidential results by district? I remember reading that the Cook PVI was not created until after the 1996 elections, and I thought that the CQ Politics in America and Almanac of American Politics only showed results for the most recent election (in this case it would have been 1992). This is a fantastic article by the way, you really put a lot of work into it. I’m wondering if you could please most more PVIs or at least the PVIs for TX-19, TX-05, TX-24, and OK-06, those are on my mind at the moment. Thanks!

  7. I have nothing but unadultered luuurvve for this series. The data is hawt. I’d say more about how great this data makes me feel, but this is a proper family site so I won’t.

    In conclusion, well done, sir, this level of analysis is exactly why I visit SSP daily.

  8. might come from a different place: after the swearing ins in January 1995, the long term incumbent conservative Democrats from the South who were the drama queens and outcome-controlling votes in Congress before the 1994 elections became unimportant.  

    A second place that impression comes from could be the Senate elections and defections and retirements if you bundle all the 1994 and 1996 takeovers and switches together.

  9. but I think we are kind of missing the forest for the trees on myth 2.

    Love to see the figures recalculated without majority-minority seats.

    1994 was a true wave election with the GOP picking up 470-some state legislative seats and 12 governorships in addition to the 54 House and 8 Senate seats. Come 1995, for the first time in 50 years the GOP held a majority of state legislatures.

    I don’t have figures at hand and no interest in looking them up, but I do recall the GOP flipping a few Southern states at the state legislative level for the first time since Reconstruction and moving within reach in a few more. Kind of hard to say there was not one hell of a lot of movement.

    In this sense, it seems a reach to discount as myth that there was not a sizable shift of affiliation and first loyalties among Southern voters down-ticket.

    The GOP made some gains in the region since 1968 after the Phillips Southern Strategy and incremental progress during the Reagan blowouts, but they really were not a threat to seize control until the post-90 Census redistricting (don’t forget the GOP gained 9 House seats in the 92 cycle} and the 1994 blowouts. Prior to 1994 they had no real Southern farm system; post-1994 they did.

    And 1994 would have been one hell of a lot worse if Democrats had not controlled most of the legislatures and governor’s mansions in the post-90 Census rejiggering. The Atwater-CBC deal for creating a bunch of minority-majority seats did create quite a few potentially more competitive seats (once they opened up anyway), but they left the Dem seats from which they moved AA voters to create the new districts designed to deliver 55 percent.

    We lost open seats by the bushel and where we won our margins were sharply reduced.

    And the diminishing margins of victory for surviving Democrats were not merely a factor in federal elections. We started losing or barely scraping past in state and local general elections which had formerly been mere formalities after the real fight was settled in Democratic primaries.

    1994 created a true two-party system throughout the South.

    Which brings us to another tree from the 94 forest we should also recall.

    In 94 we had an unusually high number of incumbent retirements, surely coincidental to that being the last cycle they could keep their campaign funds. Prior to 1994, campaign funds all fell into the gray area where exploratory phase money falls now.

    You’ll recall the Case of the Vanishing Marginal theory which took root pretty firmly in crunchers’ minds in the wake of the failure of GOP Nixon/Reagan Presidential numbers to translate to significant and durable Congressional gains. The CW was an incumbent had at least a .95 probability of reelection, including the live boys and dead girls factor. The magic number of 55 percent became the measure of an House member unassailable for the next cycle. Folks viewed the Dem majority as more or less permanent and insulated from wave elections, unlike the Senate.

    So, looking at the old CW where a 5 percent loss rate was viewed as on the high end of the possible, losing at 22, 26 and 27 percent rates shocked the hell out of the survivors (not to mention the Dems who lost). Even the 11 in the Northeast is more the double the norm predicted under the Vanishing Marginal theory.

    On top of that, look at the number of Dems who retained their seats in 1994 who fell below 55 percent. Post-94, we had a lot of folks running scared. It wasn’t just the seats we lost; it was a lot of the survivors lost faith in their own narratives and started tacking with the wind.

    But, in the end, I agree with what I think is your main point: drawing parallels between cycles is a risky business and an intellectual reach. Every cycle has its own narrative.

    And we don’t have as many open seats to hold against the tide this cycle.

    Still, when a wave gets going, the old metrics really don’t matter. The game moves as you play and old paradigms no longer apply.

    It’s like econometric models based on static analysis. They don’t work if the underlying assumptions turn out to be wrong. One assumes one input will vary within a certain range then it leaps beyond it. The whole model turns out to be a floating steamer.

    Besides, they miss the most important element in any campaign: the candidate. Qualitative can trump quantitative. Elections are still the herd choosing its leaders.

    The GOP looks set to make some very sizable gains but they are going to leave some seats on the table because they failed to recruit good candidates to take back some of the marginals we swiped in 2006 and 2008.

  10. but the post-1990 redistricting played a huge role, in my opinion. Smith lost Story County (including Ames/Iowa State University), to which he had brought untold zillions as a member of the Appropriations Committee. He also lost Jasper County (Newton, site of major Maytag plant), with a high number of union members.

    Smith’s new district included a bunch of conservative rural counties in SW Iowa he’d never represented before. It didn’t matter in 1992 because the GOP didn’t make a big play for the seat, but with an energetic candidate in 1994, Smith couldn’t ride out the wave. Even then he only lost 52-48. If he had still had either Jasper or Story Counties in his district he would have been fine.

  11. A few comments about the North Carolina districts and the VRA:

    While it was a factor, I would not attribute Martin Lancaster’s loss to the creation of a black-majority NC-01 causing him to lose black voters, as NC-03 before redistricting in 1992 was 72% white and 26% black. After redistricting, the district was 76% white and 22% black, not a major change. Some other factors in Lancaster’s defeat that I think were more important were that Lancaster was now in unfamiliar territory that was still new to him (like the Outer Banks), as well as the fact that people may have associated Walter B. Jones Jr. with his father, former Democratic Rep. Walter B. Jones Sr. despite the difference in party affiliation. Also, a photo was circulated shortly before the election of Lancaster jogging with Bill Clinton, who was not very popular in the area.

    Also, the 5th district switching hands in 1994 was not really a result of losing black voters, it was really more because of growing Republican strength in that part of the state and a strong candidate in Richard Burr. Before redistricting, the district was 83% white and 16% black, after redistricting it was 84% white and 15% black, not a big difference.

    One NC district that you did not discuss where the VRA did make a difference in 1994 was the 2nd district, represented by Democrat Tim Valentine from 1983 to 1995. Prior to the creation of the black majority NC-01 and NC-12 in 1992, the 2nd was 58% white and 40% black, the highest black percentage of any district in the state. NC-02 lost many black areas in the 1992 redistricting to the 1st district, and black voters in Durham County (also probably the most liberal county in the whole state) to the 12th district. The black percentage dropped from 40% to 22% and the white percentage rose from 58% to 77%. No other district lost as many white voters as a result of redistricting as the 2nd district did. And in 1994 Valentine retired and was replaced by Republican Dave Funderburk (who was defeated by Bob Etheridge in 1996).

    You can see a map of all the districts and how crazy they looked here: http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/GI

    This is a great series by the way, and I have really enjoyed it a lot.

Comments are closed.