"Permanent Minority" No More: House Republicans in 1994
JOHN J. JR. PITNEY WILLIAM F. JR. CONNELLY
Earthquake, tidal wave, tsunami . . . realignment? In winning 230 House seats in 1994, Republicans bested their 1992 total by 54 seats--and left pundits groping for the most vivid word to describe the outcome. Before suggesting that the GOP triumph was either permanent or inevitable, however, awestruck observers should have recalled that Republicans scored an even larger gain in 1946, only to lose it in the Truman comeback of 1948.
Erring in the other direction, presidential pollster Stanley Greenberg downplayed the outcome when he said, "Republicans took just over half the votes cast . . . and the Republican majorities in Congress are narrow" ( Democratic Leadership Council 1994: 5). In the same vein, a Confederate spin doctor might have dismissed the Battle of Gettysburg as a razor-thin Union victory in a small Pennsylvania town.
Though 1994 did not guarantee future GOP dominance, it did make history. In House elections, Republicans won nearly 9 million more votes than they did in the 1990 midterm elections, while the Democrats won 769,000 fewer than in 1990 and 3 million fewer than in 1982. The combination of a growing vote for the winners and a shrinking vote for the losers was unmatched since the Democratic ascent during the Depression ( Cook 1995: 1076). The GOP's 1994 showing undercut the argument that the electorate was merely turning its back on the in-party. If that were the case, disgruntled voters could have stayed home--as they did in the Watergate election of 1974, when the GOP vote dropped by more than 3 million from its 1970 level while the Democratic vote rose by less than 1 million (calculated from Ellis 1989: 6). In 1994, people voted for Republicans, not just against Democrats.
More important, the Republican takeover ended 40 years of Democratic control of the House, the longest span of one-party rule that Congress had ever seen. Until the 1994 campaign, such a result seemed unreachable. Except for the most optimistic Republicans, the political community regarded the House GOP as a "permanent minority." In discussions with the authors, even the visionary Newt Gingrich called winning the House "the hardest problem in American politics" and said that 80 percent lay beyond the House GOP's control. In our 1994 study