Court and Country in American Politics: The Democratic Party and the 1994 Election
PHILIP A. KLINKNER
By any measure, the elections of 1994 were a significant reversal for the Democratic party; losing 52 House seats, 8 Senate seats 1, and majority control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 42 years 2 is no small achievement. In comparison, the average midterm loss of House seats for the president's party in the post-war era is 25.5 seats, but the average for the first midterm in an administration is only 13.3 seats ( Abramson, Aldrich, and Rohde 1995: 288).
Most analysts have attributed these losses to the unpopularity of Bill Clinton and the political gaffes of his administration, but this is too simplistic. In previous midterm elections since World War II, presidents with unfavorable poll ratings and overseeing less prosperous economies have escaped the kind of drubbing suffered by Clinton and the Democrats in 1994. 3 Instead, the weaknesses of the Clinton administration and the results of the 1994 elections are both symptomatic of larger changes in the political and economic environment. In this chapter, I argue that the results of the 1994 elections stemmed from three interrelated factors--the rise of a "Court-versus-Country" dynamic in contemporary American politics, the decline of the Democratic party, and the political and policy failures of the Clinton administration--that combined together in 1994 to hand the Democratic party its worst defeat since the New Deal and to raise serious questions about its future prospects.
As recently as November 1992, the position of the Democratic party appeared to be uncommonly healthy. Clinton's victory ended the party's long absence from the White House, and saw the Democrats win several states in the South and the West that had long eluded them. Furthermore, the Democrats' continued control of Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives, seemed assured.
Still, the results of the 1992 election portended difficulties for the Democrats. Clinton's 43 percent of the popular vote succeeded only in the context of a three-man race and failed to improve on the party's anemic performance in recent presidential