Elections produce two things -- new elected officials and bogus conventional wisdom. Once they gain widespread circulation, erroneous beliefs about elections are difficult to reverse and can be nearly as important as who won or lost.
Here are seven myths rapidly gaining acceptance among conservatives, liberals or both:
--Republican losses were in keeping with typical setbacks for a party holding the White House in the sixth year of a presidency. Conservatives reassure themselves that the "six-year itch" has cost the party in power roughly 30 seats on average since World War II, so this year's losses aren't remarkable. But as liberal blogger Kevin Drum points out, most of the big "itches" came prior to the past 20 years when gerrymandering got more sophisticated. Reagan lost only five seats in his sixth year, and Clinton gained five (although he had already suffered a wipeout in 1994). For Democrats to win 29 seats despite all the advantages of incumbency enjoyed by the GOP is a big deal.
--The conservative base, discouraged by the GOP's doctrinal impurity, didn't show up at the polls. This is the bedtime story conservatives are telling themselves to show that whatever ails the party will be cured simply by becoming more conservative. In 2004, however, conservatives were 34 percent of the electorate and liberals 21 percent. In 2006, the numbers were almost indistinguishable -- conservatives were 32 percent of the electorate and liberals 20 percent. The GOP didn't lose the election with its base, but with independents, who broke against them 57 percent to 39 percent.
--Republicans lost because they weren't fiscally conservative enough. Another conservative illusion. A thought experiment: Which cuts in government would have, in and of themselves, increased the party's popularity? Expanding the widely unpopular gap in coverage in the Medicare prescription-drug bill -- the so-called doughnut hole -- to produce entitlement savings? Cutting student loans? Even "earmarked" spending for special projects back home tends -- sadly -- to be popular with local constituencies. The GOP was better about squeezing discretionary spending during the past two years than it had been during Bush's first term. Politically, it gained little from it.
--The GOP was too socially conservative for voters. This chestnut is trotted out every time Republicans lose an election. This time it is even less plausible than usual. Seven out of eight constitutional amendments banning gay marriage passed this year, often outperforming Republican candidates. That Democrats went out of their way not to antagonize social-conservative voters this year was one of the keys to their success.
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