I don’t want to overread two special election results, but I do think that last night’s House GOP victories count as evidence in the ongoing controversy over the extent to which bleak overall conditions will inevitably pull all Democrats everywhere down.
One literal read of public opinion shows that people are unhappy with the current situation and thus unhappy with everyone. President Obama’s approval rating is on the low side, but Congress’ approval rating is abysmal. Maybe bad economic news is bad news for all incumbents. Or maybe bad economic news is bad news for both the incumbent president and for the party running Congress. My working hypothesis is that this is wrong. The majority of super-informed high-information political obsessives that I’m acquainted with have a tendency to put their intelligence and information to work zealously working out bankshot accounts of how the President of the United States is single-handedly responsible for outcomes they don’t like. The average voter is likely to over-attribute events to the President and the President’s party to an even greater extent. So bad economic conditions in 2012 will help the GOP at all levels, even though the House GOP has had a huge influence over the economic conditions in question. It’s not logical, but it is life. I think the results in NY-9 and NV-2 count as evidence in favor of that view.
It of course makes sense for people to work all possible angles in pursuit of electoral victory, but realistically the thing that will help Democrats is finding ways to improve the economic situation and the thing that will help Republicans is finding ways to block those ideas.