It’s painfully obvious the American people don’t want ObamaCare and equally obvious that the Democrats, especially President Obama, don’t particularly care.
The Democrats feel inoculated against voter dissatisfaction because they’ve bought into their own wishful narrative: that voters punished them in 1994 because they failed to pass HillaryCare, not because they tried. Thus, the thinking goes, the way to get voters to forgive them for ObamaCare is to pass it.
They better hope they’re right, because there are an abundance of Democrats occupying red-state seats in Congress who appear to be living on borrowed time.
But the surprise announcements by Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota that they won’t seek reelection suggest that even Democrats are starting to doubt their own rosy claims about 1994 with good reason.
To examine what really happened in 1994, we separated the congressional Democrats into ideological thirds (more conservative, typical, and most liberal), using American Conservative Union (ACU) ratings. We then analyzed how each group fared in seeking reelection over the last 20 years.
In most years, the more conservative Democrats who generally run in the most competitive districts fared the worst. The more conservative Democrats lost 56% more often than typical (middle third) Democrats except in 1994. That year, the typical Democrats lost 67% more often than their more conservative Democratic colleagues.
So, voters clearly went comparatively easy on the Democrats who with pressure from Republicans didn’t support HillaryCare and led to its defeat. And that was even without a congressional floor vote on HillaryCare.
This time, voters will be even better informed. If history is any guide, they’ll likely spare those who vote against the final version of ObamaCare, while reserving their wrath for its supporters.
And as voters look to take out their frustrations on ObamaCare supporters, they’ll find a surprisingly large number of representatives who beg the question of how they ever got elected to Congress in the first place given how little their views have in common with their constituents’ views.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, up for reelection in 2012, represents a state that has backed the Republican candidate by double-digit margins in 10 straight presidential elections, a feat matched only by Utah and Idaho and not matched in reverse by any state on the Left.
Yet, on a scale of 0 to 100 (with 100 being most conservative), Nelson’s lifetime ACU rating is on the liberal side of the divide: 47. Following his initial vote in favor of ObamaCare, a Rasmussen poll now shows Nelson down 31 percentage points.
Sen. Kent Conrad (up for reelection in 2012) hails from North Dakota, where Republicans have won by an average of 20 points in the last 10 presidential elections higher even than the 16-point average by which Massachusetts has gone Democratic.
But Conrad isn’t remotely moderate, with a lifetime ACU rating of 20. In 2008, he actually managed to achieve a rating of 0.
Between Conrad, the retiring Dorgan and the state’s lone House member, Earl Pomeroy, North Dakota’s congressional delegation has so far matched the Massachusetts delegation’s feat of supporting ObamaCare unanimously.
But North Dakota is hardly the only state whose representatives don’t represent their constituents’ views. Indiana’s Evan Bayh (2010), Montana’s Jon Tester (2012), and Virginia’s Jim Webb (2012) all hail from states that have voted Republican in nine of the last 10 presidential elections. Bayh’s lifetime ACU rating is just 21, Tester’s 16, and Webb’s 12. Each is closer to Barbara Boxer (3) than to Arlen Specter (44).
Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln, Florida’s Bill Nelson, Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, and of course Nevada’s Harry Reid, have all initially voted for ObamaCare and are all up for reelection by 2012, and they have an average lifetime ACU rating of 20.
In the House, voters in Indiana and Arizona have backed Republicans by an average of 15% or more the last 10 presidential elections. Yet a majority of each of these red-state’s House delegations has voted for ObamaCare.
And Congress isn’t the only place in Washington to find someone whose views greatly differ from those of the voters. A man with a lifetime ACU rating of 10 well shy of Harry Reid’s tally of 19 lives just down the street, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Yet evidence from 1994 suggests that, regardless of their votes to date, there’s a way out for Democrats: Vote against the final version of ObamaCare. Or, they can follow the lead of Dodd and Dorgan and prove there truly is something worse than a politician who only cares about getting reelected.
Anderson, director of the Benjamin Rush Society, is senior fellow in health care studies at the Pacific Research Institute. Wickersham is a writer and consultant.