The Republican Takeover in Context

  • John E. Owens

Abstract

An electoral earthquake hit the American political landscape in 1994. For the first time since 1954, the Republican Party won control of the House of Representatives, and at the same time gained control of the Senate for the first time since 1986. Not for 40 years, then, had Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, and only for the third time since the beginning of the twentieth century had the Republicans won control of Congress with a Democrat incumbent in the White House.1 When the Republicans won their majorities in 1994, they ended the longest uninterrupted period of single-party rule in the entire history of Congress. Just one member — 88-year-old Sidney Yates, a Democrat from Illinois — had ever served in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Republicans gained 52 seats from Democrats in the House, including those of 34 Democratic incumbents. Democratic losses in the House were the heaviest for either party in any mid-term election since Harry Truman’s Democratic Party lost 55 seats in the 1946 elections. Between 1946 and 1994, the next highest losses were in 1982 following the worst recession since the 1930s, and then they were only half those of 1994. For the first time since 1952, the Democrats’ percentage of the vote fell below 50 per cent. Among the Democratic casualties were House Speaker Tom Foley (D.WA), who became the first Speaker to lose his seat since 1862, former Ways and Means chair Dan Rostenkowski (D.IL), and Judiciary chair Jack Brooks (D.TX).

Keywords

Assure Sponge Dick Proval 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    The other occasions were the 66th (1919–20) and 80th Congresses (1947–8). Republicans controlled both houses in the 83rd Congress, but a Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, occupied the White House. This was also the case during most of the period before 1932.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Walter Dean Burnham, ‘Realignment Lives: The 1994 earthquake and its implications’, in Colin Campbell and Bert A. Rockman, eds., The Clinton Presidency. First Appraisals (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1995), p. 369.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Burnham, ‘Realignment Lives’, p. 367.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Samuel C. Patterson and Gregory A. Caldiera, ‘Standing up for Congress: Variations in Public Esteem Since the 1960s’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 15/1 (February 1990), pp. 28–30;Google Scholar
  5. 4a.
    and John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, Congress as Public Enemy. Public Attitudes Toward American Political Institutions (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 31–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 5.
    CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, various dates.Google Scholar
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    Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, Congress as Public Enemy, p. 32.Google Scholar
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    Nelson W. Polsby, ‘Congress-Bashing for Beginners’, Public Interest, 100 (1990), pp. 15–23; and Nelson W. Polsby, ‘Congress-Bashing through the Ages’, Roll Call, 10 September 1990, pp. 27 and 32.Google Scholar
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    Samuel C. Patterson and Michael K. Barr, ‘Congress Bashing in the 1992 Congressional Election’, in Herbert F. Weisberg, ed., Democracy’s Feast. Elections in America (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1995), pp. 268–78.Google Scholar
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    CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, various dates. By February 1995, net disapproval of Congress had fallen to just 14 points, and throughout the entire Congress remained lower than in the 1992–4 period.Google Scholar
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    John B. Bader, Taking the Initiative. Leadership Agendas in Congress and the ‘Contract With America’ (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1996), pp. 185–8.Google Scholar
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    James Gimpel, Fulfilling the Contract. The First 100 Days (Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1996), chapter 2.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Bader, Taking the Initiative, p. 182.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Bader, Taking the Initiative, p. 184.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Elizabeth Drew, Showdown. The Struggle Between the Gingrich Congress and the Clinton White House (New York and London: Simon and Schuster, 1966), p. 26.Google Scholar
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    Charles O. Jones, The Presidency in a Separated System (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1994), p. 291; and Michael Foley and John E. Owens, Congress and the Presidency: Institutional Politics in a Separated System (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press/St. Martin’s Press, 1996), chapter 9.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Barbara Sinclair, Legislators, Leaders, and Lawmaking (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); David W. Rohde, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); and Bader, Taking the Initiative, chapter 1.Google Scholar
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    David S. Cloud, ‘Gingrich Clears the Path for Republican Advance’, Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 19 November 1994, p. 3322.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John E. Owens 1998

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  • John E. Owens

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