The Bandwagon Effect

America loves a winner, at least temporarily, it seems. Gallup reports that party self-identication shifted towards the GOP by five points from the weeks prior to the weeks after the midterm elections, with Republicans now leading Democrats by a 42/41 margin.

This “bandwagon effect” isn’t unusual after a big and much-hyped midterm gains, reported–unlike presidential election results–strictly in terms of party. The five-point post-election shift this year is small potatoes compared to a 16-point lurch towards the GOP after the 1994 elections, and is also smaller than the 9-point shift in 2002 and the 8-point Democratic gain in 2006.

But it all tends to deflate pretty quickly like helium-filled balloons at an Election Night rally. The huge 1994 gains in Republican self-identification were gone by the following March, and that was the outlier: in 2002 things had returned to the pre-election status quo ante by the beginning of the next year, and in 2006 the Democratic gains dissipated in just a month. The first high-profile Republican screwup, on which GOP leaders are working hard this very day, should do the trick.

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.