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Democrats would be smart to beware the perils of political trifectas

Michael Barone on

If the final election returns, when they finally come in, match the current polls, Joe Biden's Democrats will win a trifecta: the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress.

Biden currently leads Donald Trump 51% to 44% in the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls and leads by a smaller margin of 49% to 46% in six target states. Current polling shows Democrats leading in races that would give them a 51-49 majority in the Senate, and they seem well positioned to hold their majority in the House.

Of course, those numbers are not etched in stone. Plenty of poll numbers are within the margin of error, and some may turn out to be even further off the final results, as in the 2016 presidential race and in the last three Senate cycles.

Still, it's worth pondering what a Democratic trifecta would mean -- and how unusual it would be. You would think that, in a country where people increasingly vote straight tickets, one-party dominance of the federal government would be common. But the electorate is so closely divided between the two historically ancient parties that we have ended up with divided government more often than not.

Over the last half-century, since the last horrifyingly turbulent presidential election year, 1968, Democrats have held the White House and both houses of Congress for only eight years (during Jimmy Carter's presidency and the first two years of Bill Clinton's and Barack Obama's), and Republicans have held them only six and a half (during most of George W. Bush's presidency and the first two years of Donald Trump's).

So, we've had divided government 72% of the time and one-party control only 28% of the time.

 

Why is undivided government so uncommon? Why doesn't it last very long?

The short answer is that presidents and parties make mistakes and overreach. As a result, predictions of long-term party majorities for either party have proven unfounded.

Republicans have lost control because of mistakes, Democrats because of ideology. The Bush Republicans lost in the 2006 midterms because of perceived failure to prevent chaos in New Orleans and Iraq. Trump Republicans lost their control in 2018 because of upscale suburbanites' distaste for an arguably norm-breaking president. Democrats lost their trifectas in 1994 and 2010 by large margins after pursuing big-government policies that aroused vehement opposition.

Both involved the health care issue. Polls show voters constantly griping about health care costs but also fiercely opposing change in current arrangements. That helps explain why voters opposed Obamacare in 2010 and so long as Obama was president but, once Trump took office, opposed Republicans' proposals to repeal or modify it.

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Copyright 2020 U.S. News and World Report. Distibuted by Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

 

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