Jonathan Chait

Is the Election A Referendum?

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It's obviously the case that the 2010 election is mostly going to be about voters holding Democrats accountable for the status quo, rather than coolly comparing the two parties. Still, you can't blame Democrats for trying. And it's beyond absurd for the Weekly Standard's Jay Cost to label Democratic efforts to get voters to compare the two parties as "demagoguery."

But, as I said, I think Cost is basically right, as an analytic matter, about the election being a referendum rather than a comparison:

For the swing voters who determine elections, it's clear by now that the midterm is going to be about the deeply unpopular policies of President Obama.

Attacking the Tea Partiers is not going to distract them because the Tea Partiers have had nothing to do with those policies. This cycle, the GOP has the better argument, and it is not going to take the bait.

Of course, after the elections, Republicans will claim that the result is a validation of their policy agenda, which they will claim has a mandate from the public. I will eagerly await columns in the Weekly Standard pointing out that this isn't true, and that voters were merely giving a thumbs down to the incumbent party without paying much attention to the alternative.

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