Julian E. Zelizer: Time to Give Political Analysis a Rest





[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Arsenal of Democracy" and a book on former President Jimmy Carter, and is editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration to be published this fall by Princeton University Press.]

After last week's primaries, the national media tried yet again to figure out what the results mean for the national political landscape. Writing for Politico, John Harris reported that the primaries had brought good news for President Obama and Democrats.

Republicans, he wrote, "were left with several new reasons to wonder whether all the favorable national trends showing in the polls are enough to overcome local candidates who are inspiring little confidence about their readiness for the general election 12 weeks from now."

Although House Speaker Tip O'Neill once noted, "all politics is local," you wouldn't guess that from the election coverage that we have been living through over the past year and a half....

Even midterm elections are historically difficult to analyze in terms of what motivated voters. To be sure, there have been some midterm elections where the contests revolved around national debates, such as in 1966 when Republicans made gains in response to President Johnson's difficulties in Vietnam and the rioting in urban America....

But O'Neill's point still holds. Most social scientists have refrained from making too much of midterm elections -- other than how the outcome shapes the composition of Congress -- because of multiple factors at play. Plus, turnout for the midterms is notoriously low....


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