October 20, 2012

The morning after!.....The two alternative futures that await following the election

by Charles Schott

On Wednesday morning, November 7, we will most likely awaken to one of two different post-election "morning after" scenarios.

Whether you have a killer hangover or a perfect day will depend on how you voted the day before.

What is remarkable is how diametrically different are these two most likely alternative scenarios...and how they have been clear for quite some time. See

Almost a year ago, this column made the following observation:

(W)hile everyone is looking at 2012 on the micro level, on the MACRO level there are really only two alternative futures:

1. a somewhat better than 50% probability of Obama re-election accompanied by continued gridlock (with R's running either one or both Houses of Congress) for the next FOUR years and

2. a slightly less than 50% probability of total R control (WH and Congress) for the next TWO years (and possibly more).

These remain the most likely outcomes when one is looking between the ten yard lines, except that the momentum of the last few weeks (and the President's bad economic numbers) has moved the odds between these two scenarios toward 50-50. *

The reason for this has to do with the Senate races for 2012 (where the D's are defending 23 out of 33 seats up for re-election) and, to a lesser extent, 2014 (where the D's will be defending 20 out of 33 seats).

It is also consistent with prior historical experience. See

Additionally, no matter what happens this November 6, you can expect interesting questions will be asked in the aftermath.

While there is always the possibility of a caffeinated "cliff-hanger" election (i.e., one where everyone stays up all night and the outcome remains uncertain), that is rarely what happens, even though races do typically tend to narrow in the final week.


Until recently, according to polls, the most likely scenario has been that President Obama wins re-election with a still D controlled Senate and a still R controlled House of Representatives.

This possibility has been fully consistent both with the outlook for the 2012 Senate races and with prior experience.

Since 1900, nine out of thirteen incumbent Presidents previously elected and running for re-election have won a second term. The average senate seat pickup for the winning incumbent's party in those nine cases, however, has been zero. See and

While the margins of party control in both houses would be expected to be somewhat closer if Obama wins than in the current Congress, it remains a prescription for continued gridlock.

It is even possible that the Senate could once again be evenly divided (50 R's and 50 D's) with Vice President Biden casting the decisive vote for D Senate control. This would bring with it the potential for a change in that alignment due to death or resignation at any time.

A D controlled Senate (once again with an R controlled House) would continue the kind of gridlock we have currently; i.e., one where the Senate operates to keep laws the President doesn't want away from his desk (where he would be compelled to either sign or veto them).

After 2014, however, it would be expected that the R's would likely control both the House and Senate, with the prospect that the Obama Administration's last two years would be even more difficult. The Senate R's would then be able to block appointments, schedule votes on bills the President doesn't want and to a significant extent control the Federal budget.

The reason the R's will almost certainly control the Senate in 2014 in this scenario where Obama wins re-election is two-fold. First, as indicated, in 2014 the D's will once again be defending more seats than the R's (20 out of 33). Second, the sixth year of a President's term is historically when the incumbent President's party suffers the worst outcome in off-year elections. The average loss of senate seats for an incumbent President's party after six years is seven. See table below.

The only good news, is that we can expect a period of renewed effort by the Congress and the President for working together in the aftermath of the November 6 if President Obama is re-elected. Elections have consequences and you would expect to see both the President and the Congress saying that they are committed to making divided government work.

It is possible that some significant progress will be made in this period, which may be short-lived, but which could last for up to a year.

Under these circumstances, the R's would likely recognize that some sort of grand bargain on the deficit is required and, given the realities of divided government, President Obama would likely be willing this time reach some agreement acceptable to the R's in Congress.

President Obama's big win would then be the additional four years in office that will allow Obamacare to become established as the fourth entitlement to which voters would become effectively addicted...thereby significantly expanding the untouchable third rail of politics and federal spending.

By the end of 2013, however, you can count on 2014 mid-term election politics to kick in and little being accomplished thereafter.

As this column recently observed:

Nothing indicates that the President would be inclined to learn anything from any election that he wins, even if (as now seems likely) his Congressional support erodes even further.

There is, in fact, a real concern that he will do a worse job through further use of executive orders that are beyond his legal authority, failure to enforce the laws that have been enacted and the continued appointment of czars who are put in charge of various areas but who have not been confirmed through the normal Congressional processes.

It is a prescription not just for continued gridlock....but for making matters worse!


President Obama has even foreshadowed how he would expect to be more confrontational in a second term:

“I think that I’ve learned some lessons over the last four years and the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside,” Obama said, appearing to admit his inability to fully deliver on one of the driving themes of his 2008 campaign. “You can only change it from the outside. That’s how I got elected. And that’s how the big accomplishments like health care got done.”
This is consistent with how a community organizer thinks about how to bring about change. Big confrontations from little acorns grow.... **


In another recent article (see, this column pointed out:

If Governor Romney wins the White House, he will likely bring with him the ability to govern (i.e., the probability of a House and Senate having R majorities). See This, combined with Romney's bias toward getting things done, will likely lead to a very productive first and second year in office.

This scenario will likely accompany a Romney victory again because of the nature of the 2012 senate elections where the D's are defending both a three vote margin in the Senate and 23 of 33 seats that are up for election. In this scenario, Romney only needs a net change of three votes in the Senate for the R's to take control.

Prior historical experience indicates that since 1900, when a challenger does well enough to defeat a previously elected incumbent president, the challenger's party would be expected to pick up seven to eight senate seats (the average is 7.5). On two occasions (1932 and 1980) they have won as many as twelve. On only one occasion (1992) has this change been a small number (the D's picked up only one seat when Bill Clinton defeated President George H. W. Bush).

Looking currently at the senate races that appear competitive, if Romney were to win, it currently looks like the R's would be at the low end of this range, although a higher number is possible if this proves to be a wave election.

Again, if the R pickup is only three seats, the newly elected Vice President, in his Constitutional role as President of the Senate, will still have the ability to vote to break a tie vote in favor of the R's.

While a key factor will be how many Senate seats the R's might pick up with a Romney victory, a simple Senate majority accomplishes much of what Romney needs to in order to get things done: control of the Congressional agenda (what gets voted on); the Committee process (including appointments); and the ability to investigate.

It would launch the process of "repeal and replace" for Obamacare and begin to work toward a new consensus on how to re-start economic growth, reduce the deficit and restore the U. S. credit rating. ***

A great deal will depend on how many Senate seats the R's pick up if Romney wins (i.e., how big a margin of control they achieve in the Senate).

In a minimum showing, the R's would have only a net pick-up of three to four seats, taking them to 50 or 51 votes.

Additional senate seats mean fewer votes would be needed from D senators to end a filibuster.

Further, the incentive to compromise by several of those 20 D senators up for re-election in 2014 (e.g., Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana) and reach agreement on significant agenda items would be great.

The fact is, if Romney wins, there is the potential for breaking the gridlock in Washington and a "first 100 days" scenario, where a great deal gets accomplished.

Again, elections have consequences and it would be the D's who would see a reason to want to work collaboratively with the new President during that period.

In that scenario, it will be up to Romney to attempt genuine consultations with interested members of the opposition.

It's a fairly stark and unusual set of alternative that might make a difference to independents and other currently undecided voters.

Clearly one of these pictures is prettier than the other in terms of addressing the challenges currently facing this country.


There are some "outside the ten yard line" scenarios that could happen, but they are more about 2012 Senate math and seem a bit like threading a needle.

Romney wins but D's keep the Senate. At this point, the most likely of these unlikely outcomes would be for Romney narrowly to win the White House but fall short in the Senate (i.e., an R net pickup of only one or two Senate seats) leaving the Democrats in control for at least the next two years. In that scenario the new Vice President's ability to break a tie in the Senate would not be enough. It is significant because this scenario would imply a continuation of gridlock at some level under Romney.

Obama re-elected but R's take the Senate. Similarly, it is possible that President Obama will narrowly win re-election but lose four or more Senate seats. This would result in a different kind of gridlock than what we have currently; i.e., one where the Senate in many cases would no longer serve to keeps laws the President doesn't want away from his desk (where he would be compelled to either sign or veto them). It would be an even more negative governing environment than what we have currently.

These two variations imply a high level of "ticket splitting" between the Presidential and Senate races that has, at least to this point, seemed unlikely, but that some are beginning to write about. See ****


It is also worth noting that in either scenario, the losing party will likely engage in significant post election blame-casting and recrimination.

If Obama wins re-election, the R's will fault Romney and his campaign and argue about the "if onlys" (i.e., the paths not taken).

If Romney wins, the D's will likely begin to re-fight the 2008 primary battles between Hillary Clinton (whose supporters will say it's now her time) and President Obama (who by losing will be eligible to run again for another term).

There is rarely agreement found in such matters....only bloodletting.


The other area of interest will be the degree to which the outcome implies a return to (or departure from) the "red state-blue state" divide of the 2000 and 2004 elections.

It is easy to forget how unusual the 2000 and 2004 elections were in their similarity. No earlier US presidential election had ever shown so little change in the electoral outcome by state.

It is worth remembering that as of 9 am (EST) on the morning after the 2004 election, not one state had changed it's outcome from 2000. It was only as the final votes were counted that Iowa, New Hampshire and New Mexico flipped (Iowa and New Mexico, which had narrowly gone for Gore in 2000, went for Bush in 2004 and New Hampshire, which had gone for Bush in 2000, ended up going for Kerry in 2004).

2008 broke the "red state-blue state" dichotomy in a way that is quite familiar. States like FL, IN, NC, OH and VA showed the ability to be competitive to the other party.

Right now, however, if you look at what are currently considered to be the eight key potential swing states (CO, FL, IA, NH, NV, OH, VA and WI) two of the states that "flipped" between 2000 and 2004 (IA and NH) are once again in play. It is the result in the remaining five states (which, with the exception of Wisconsin, went for Bush) that will reveal whether and to what extent the "red state-blue state" dichotomy has re-asserted itself.

Stay tuned.....things should continue to fluctuate as we head toward election day.


* There is, of course, at least a 10% chance of an election outcome that is outside the playing field found between the 10 yard lines (so the probabilities are really trending more toward 45%-45%). The unlikely outcomes would include President Obama winning re-election but with an R Senate as well as House, as well as Romney winning the White House, but the Senate staying under narrow D control. Each of these have implications for what governing in 2013 would look like. See the "Variations on the Scenarios" section of this article for additional detail.

** See also reporting President Obama's overhead confidential message to Russian President Medvedyev that he (Obama) expects to have more "flexibility" to do things after he is re-elected.

*** It is worth remembering that the R's had control of both houses of Congress between 2003 and 2007 (as well as the White House) and by January 2007 economic growth had been steady, unemployment was at 4.6% and the U.S. had experienced a record 52 straight months of job creation. The financial meltdown occurred in 2008, 15 months after the D's took charge in both the House and Senate. See

**** Because the full House of Representatives is up for re-election every two years it is always theoretically possible for there to be an unexpected change in control there, but that is considered extremely unlikely at this point.

Charles Schott served in the last three Republican administrations and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the George W. Bush Administration. Earlier articles appear at He can be reached at



Election years: 1936 (D+7); 2004 (R+4); 1956 (R+0); 1984 (R-1); 1944 (D-1); 1996 (D-2); 1972 (R-2); 1916 (D-2); 1940 (D-3)

Total: 9/13 of elections involving previously elected incumbents (69%)
Mean: 0.0
Median: -1.0

Source: Wikipedia


Election years: 1992 (D+1); 1912 (D+5); 1980 (R+12); 1932 (D+12)

Total: 4/13 of elections involving previously elected incumbents (30%)
Mean: +7.5
Median: +8.5 (between +5 and +12)

Source: Wikipedia


10 or > - Eisenhower - 1958 (D+16);
9 - FDR (third term) - 1942 (R+9)
8 - Reagan - 1986 (D+8);
7 - Wilson - 1918 (R+7)
6 - George W. Bush - 2006 (D+6); FDR (second term) - 1938 (R+6);
5 -
3 -
2 -
1 -
0 - Clinton - 1998 (R+0)
-1 -
-2 -
-3 -
-4 -
-10 -

Mean: 7.4
Median: 7.0

Source: Wikpedia


Charles Schott served in the last three Republican administrations and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the George W. Bush Administration. Earlier articles appear at He can be reached at


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