Based on a complete, unofficial tally of the nationwide vote for the House of Representatives, the number of ballots cast in the 2010 congressional elections is likely to be only a few million more than the 80 million who participated in the last midterm election four years ago.
Yet the partisan distribution of the vote changed dramatically between the two elections. The Republican vote surged in 2010, the Democratic vote declined as GOP portions of the electorate basically turned out in more sizable numbers than Democratic constituencies did.
Four years ago, the House vote decisively favored the Democrats, 42.3 million to 35.9 million for the Republicans. The tally this year is almost exactly the opposite. It currently stands at 41.4 million votes for the Republicans to 35.8 million for the Democrats. Put another way, the GOP at present is up by more than 5 million votes from â06, while the Democrats are down by more than 6 million.
The result: a pro-Democratic electorate in 2006 turned into a pro-Republican one this time.
But it was not as big a landslide for the Republicans in 2010 as it appeared that it might be on election eve. Some national surveys showed Republicans with a double-digit lead among likely voters in the generic congressional ballot. Yet the actual GOP margin of 7 percentage points not only fell short of that but was not as large as that registered by congressional Democrats in the previous two elections when they won a majority of House seats. In 2008, Democrats had an edge of 11 points in the nationwide House vote; in 2006, it was 8 points.
Yet while Republicans have captured a net of 63 House seats (and counting) this fall, they still left a lot of attainable seats on the table. According to a recent compilation by The Cook Political Report, Democrats managed to hold 23 House seats in 2010 with less than 52% of the vote and won another 22 seats with less than 55%.
For Republicans, it may have been a missed opportunity that will not come around again anytime soon. Certainly, the turnout in 2012 will be quite different â larger, more youthful and rainbow-hued, and quite possibly, less Republican.