Conservative Swing or Protest: Experts Assess Angry '94 Polls
Long-term effects unclear, but some predict extreme polarization
WASHINGTON — FAR from Republican and Democratic spin doctors in Washington, nonpartisan observers agree on the scope of the unprecedented pummeling voters unleashed on Democrats Tuesday, but disagree on its long-term impact.
Some say the GOP blowout is President Clinton's political death knell, while others say the GOP may find the high expectations that come with winning majorities in the House, Senate, and nation's governorships very tough to meet.
Some thoughts on the election and what both parties must now do to stay out of volatile voters' cross hairs in 1996:
Larry Sabato, government professor, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.
We could probably review 47 reasons, but let's summarize it in two words - Bill Clinton. This election turned into a nationwide referendum on him.
This is the best Republican year since 1952. It's national in scope, he's in trouble in the East, the South, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific.
Bill Clinton has got two choices. He can play Harry Truman and run against the ``do-nothing Republican Congress'' or form a coalition government and try to work with them.
I think we're facing two very nasty difficult years ahead and no one is going to look good at the end of it. It'll be gridlock to the fifth power.
Sam Popkin, political science professor, University of California at San Diego
It was the strongest day the [Republicans] are going to have in the next decade. Now they're going to have to show what they stand for.
This is a monumental turn around.... It's amazing. This goes well beyond the president, this is a blow-out of the Democratic Party. This is about the failure of a Democratic Party in control of government to deliver anything.
Bill Clinton's best chance at is to lie low ... ride out the anger, and maintain a centrist alternative to what could become a very extremist Republican Party. I think the force of the numbers turns this into a passionately southern Republican Party.
The size of this victory is going to make it very difficult for the Republicans to nominate a moderate in 1996. They have to moderate [their image] or Bill Clinton could be the last moderate left. I think his chances of reelection are much higher than his chances of getting anything done.
Earl Black, political science professor, Rice University, Houston
This is the long-awaited Southern sea change. The South is realigning its congressional politics the way it has moved in presidential politics.
This is a long-term change. This is going to have a big impact on young politicians. You're going to a see a lot of them moving out of the Democratic Party. I think [the Republicans] are in tune with the dominant political culture of the South, which is slightly more conservative than the rest of nation.
Bill Clinton has helped move this along. In 1992 he ran as a new Democrat and that had an appeal in the South. I think once he became president he really moved in another direction.
In Arkansas he balances his budgets and in Washington he proposes massive health-care plans, and that confuses a lot of people. I think the character issue has also hurt him and that tends to be more important for Southern voters.
The new Southern Republicans by and large are going to be the most conservative members of the House. After this, there will be less moderate Southern Democrats, leaving only the liberal Democrats, so we're probably going to have a more polarized House. It'll be an interesting two years.
Tom Cronin, president and political scientist, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
Usually an election like this is very bad news for the party that lost. For example, the Democrats won like this in 1958 and John Kennedy went on to win 1960; the same was true in 1974, which ushered in Jimmy Carter in 1976.
It'll be interesting to see if Clinton can adriotly move to the center and form some kind of coalition government. Right now you'd have to say that if the Republicans can develop an attractive program, they're going to be very tough to beat in 1996.
[If House Speaker Tom Foley loses] it's because of the anger toward Congress. He's been there 30 years. He was a symbol of Congress and he wasn't able to project what he would do differently in the next two years. I don't think anyone predicted anything of this magnitude. It's a tremendous victory for Republicans.