By Annabel Lau
Republicans have won big in this year’s midterm elections, but it’s not as surprising as many pundits contest, according to political science professor Daniel Bowen. Bowen delivered a timely lecture, “The 2014 Midterm Elections: What Happened, Why, and Where Do We Go From Here?” on Tuesday, Nov. 11, as the final installment of the Political Science Department’s semester-long politics forum.
“It’s very likely that the GOP will control more seats in the House in any time since Hoover was president,” Bowen said. “What this means is the Republicans control more House seats than nearly any time in American politics.”
In addition, the Republicans have won many seats in the Senate as well as state legislatures.
“The states are where the action is,” Bowen said. “The GOP picked up 11 legislative chambers, and what this means is that they have unified control of 23 state governments when you add in the states that were able to flip the governor’s office.”
This might pose a challenge for Democrats in state governments, Bowen said.
“Democratic-controlled states dropped down to seven,” Bowen said. “Now the Democrats don’t have the ability to really push policy. They’ll have a few states where they can, but in many of the large states where they would be traditionally looking for policy innovation … they’re not going to be able to do that.”
The GOP now controls approximately 4,100 of the nearly 7,400 state legislative seats — “the greatest number of seats that Republicans have controlled in a state legislature since 1920,” according to Bowen.
But despite the major Republican gains this year, the results are neither surprising nor concerning, Bowen said, who identifies as a moderate.
“These historic numbers (aren’t really surprising) because Republicans had just an amazing year,” Bowen said. “It’s really about consolidating gains over the last couple of years. They did really well in 2010. They didn’t lose that much in 2012.”
He also attributes the election results to two well-known theories in political science: referendum voting and “surge and decline.”
Explaining the theory of referendum voting, Bowen said that “if times are good and people like the president, then his or her party will do better in midterm elections.”
“The president’s party in Congress sees a surge during election years, because the president, in order to run a national campaign, needs to get this big, broad coalition together that has high mobilization efforts,” Bowen said. “(The president has) an advantage in the presidential year and then (has) a disadvantage in the following midterm election.”
Despite the GOP’s big wins this year, Bowen doesn’t believe there will be major changes to federal policy.
“Republicans aren’t going to be able to pass any substantive policy to the Senate without a large number of Democrats helping them,” Bowen said.
And regardless of what is portrayed by the media, Bowen is not shocked by the results.
“I think this is a boring midterm election where the president’s party loses seats,” Bowen said. “They lose seats because of the reasons why the presidential party always loses seats in the midterm election. They don’t have the mobilization effect of the president on the ballot and the strength of the economy and the presidential approval, (which) weighs down those congressional Democrats, in this case.”
Junior international studies major Nick Macri appreciated Bowen’s balanced explanation of the election results.
“You hear a lot of things in the news about how it was a landslide and (about) low voter turnout,” Macri said. “You hear a lot of stereotypes and media panic. Usually there’s not a lot of basis to it, so it’s cool to see what really happened.”
Although the Republican victory was no surprise to senior international studies major Theja Varre, she still questioned the implications of the election results.
“Even though (Bowen) said that the results from this past election aren’t surprising, there’s something unnerving about the fact that the last time something like this happened was around the Great Depression,” Varre said.
Still, Bowen thinks it was a victory that was waiting to happen, so the results should come as no surprise.