Doubting a down-ballot wave

In 1964, Pres­id­ent John­son beat Barry Gold­wa­ter by 22 points, 61 to 39 per­cent, car­ry­ing 44 states, ac­cord­ing to Vi­tal Stat­ist­ics on Con­gress, but while Demo­crats did pick up 37 seats in the House, their gain in the Sen­ate was a single seat. In 1972, when Pres­id­ent Nix­on was pound­ing George McGov­ern by 23 points, 61 to 38 per­cent, and car­ry­ing 49 states, Re­pub­lic­ans gained only 12 House seats and ac­tu­ally had a net loss of two seats in the Sen­ate. For Pres­id­ent Re­agan’s “lonely land­slide” in 1984—when he beat Wal­ter Mondale by 18 points, 59 to 41 per­cent, and car­ried 49 states—his party gained only 14 House seats and again lost two Sen­ate seats. The counter to those ex­amples is that people are do­ing more straight-tick­et vot­ing and less tick­et-split­ting now than in those days.

Two factors make me sus­pect that even if Clin­ton wins by a much lar­ger mar­gin than, say, Obama’s win over Rom­ney four years ago, I don’t think the down-bal­lot im­plic­a­tions would be that huge. In the House, there are few­er com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts than at any point in our life­times; between nat­ur­al pop­u­la­tion sort­ing and ger­ry­man­der­ing, there just isn’t much elasti­city in the House these days. In the Sen­ate, the GOP ma­jor­ity is ab­so­lutely on the line; my guess it will end up 50-50, give or take a seat or two, but giv­en voters’ doubts about Clin­ton, the “don’t give Hil­lary Clin­ton a blank check” ar­gu­ment may well be a polit­ic­ally po­tent one, and a lot of hold-their-noses Hil­lary voters may well look for a check and bal­ance down-bal­lot.

The primary fear for Re­pub­lic­an strategists is that non-Trum­pet­eer Re­pub­lic­ans might just opt to stay home, mak­ing oth­er GOP can­did­ates col­lat­er­al dam­age. My hunch, though, is that voter turnout might well be fairly nor­mal in this elec­tion. Sure, some may stay home, un­enthused over Clin­ton and/or Trump, but I think there will be a lot of people turn­ing out simply to vote against one or the oth­er.

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