There has never been a time US journalistic history when Jonathan Alter of Newsweek and Bob Novak of … Bob Novak … have ever agreed on anything. Until yesterday.
On Meet the Press, Novak said:
"[E]verybody thinks that it's going to be a narrow Republican [or] a Democratic victory in the House, the Senate almost too close to call, maybe a narrow Republican victory. Why is it narrow with those huge gaps in the polls?"
Good question. One which Alter deals with in his Newsweek column this week: "[W]hile the odds now strongly favor the Democrats' [winning] control of the House, caution is still advisable on a blowout … In the worst-case scenario for the GOP, 93 percent of House incumbents will be re-elected. The voters might want to throw the bums out, but not their bum."
What with the Subscription Drive and all, I'm on my best behavior so I did Alter's arithmetic for you. He is saying that the best the Democrats can hope for that 405 of the 435 Member of Congress are re-elected. And he is assuming that 100% of incumbent losses will be Republicans.
But if the polls show that Congress has approval ratings in the mid-teens, shouldn't we be ripe for a Watergate-like election in 1974 when the Democrats picked up 48 seats; or a Gingrich-type election like 1994 when the GOP picked up 52?
Maybe, but several things mitigate against it. First, as Alter writes in his column:
"For all the talk of increased intensity this year, voters are still preoccupied with their own busy lives, not politics. They don't watch much cable news or follow issues closely. If they bother to vote, they'll often do so based on small, serendipitous shards of information. In House races, lightly covered by the press, news is mostly generated by incumbents, who get to send out "franked" mailings to constituents that testify to their greatness at taxpayers' expense."
Second, Congressional Districts are so closely gerrymandered, Alter writes, that "two families living across the street from each other might be placed in different congressional districts-if such an arrangement helps protect" the incumbents.
That, by the way, is from a conversation I had with Mr. Alter at the Newsweek offices a couple of weeks ago. I suggested that in the olden days a Republican and a Democrat might trade townships that tended to vote for the other party.