Minority Mandate

So aside from the turnout issues I emphasized (as usual) earlier today, and aside from the remarkably pro-Republican character of the Class II Senate races, there’s something else to keep in mind before even thinking of the midterms as creating a “mandate:” the Senate seats in question represent a relatively limited portion of the population, as noted by WaPo’s Patrick Egan:

The initial assignment of senators to classes (undertaken by the Senate shortly after it first convened in 1789) appears to have been carried out with an eye toward balancing the young nation’s population, regions and political views among the three classes. But that has changed over time. As [a] great post by the University of Virginia’s Geoffrey Skelley shows, states with Class 2 seats now make up a much smaller share of the national population (52 percent) than do those with Class 1 or Class 3 seats (at 75 and 73 percent, respectively).

So far and away the smallest Senate class is going to be tested by a typically-reduced midterm electorate in states that skew heavily towards one party (again, Democrats are defending seats in six states that went for Romney–with the larger and more pro-Democratic presidential election–by 14 or more points).

Achieving narrow control of the Senate in those circumstances is a win that produces prayers of thanks for exceptional luck (with a tug of the forelock to funders), not a mandate.

Look at the national House popular vote for a better indication of public opinion, but remember that there, too, we’re talking about a reduced and skewed midterm electorate dealing with a shrunken and gerrymandered set of choices.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.