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Better Political Forecasting, Please

Political handicapper Stu Rothenberg is not making any sense:

With a nearly 80-seat House majority, 60 seats in the Senate for more than eight months, a GOP brand so damaged that the party looked completely incompetent and a charismatic African-American president taking over from a failed two-term Republican president, you’d have thought that Democrats were set up for a pretty decent two years.

But only one year after the passage of the economic stimulus that was advertised as the first step to revitalizing the American economy and getting Americans back to work, the outlook for November is increasingly troubling for Democrats.

First of all, the bigger your Congressional majority, the more likely you are to lose seats. The House, in particular, elects every seat in every election. Suppose voters decide to elect 218 Democrats and 217 Republicans. If the Democrats are starting from an 80-seat majority, that's a bloodbath. If they're starting from an equally-large deficit, that's a massive victory.

Of course, you can't analyze things from a blank slate, because incumbency matters. But political history tells us that, in the first midterm after a presidential election, the incumbent party tends to lose a lot of seats. History also shows that, during bad economic conditions, the incumbent party also tends to lose seats. So Rothenberg's implication that Democrats should have expected to do well in the 2010 elections -- which is the premise he uses to build his argument that Democrats screwed up by moving too far left -- is totally false. The only thing that could have produced such an expectation would have been a Republican victory in 2008.

I'm certain Rothenberg understands that a midterm election and sky-high unemployment, combined with huge majorities in Congress, create the overwhelming probability that the incumbent party will lose seats. He just seems to be grasping for some fact in which to grouns his otherwise groundless assertions that the Democrats' legislative strategy has produced political disaster.