Andrew is skeptical about “balancing” arguments in explaining why Chambliss won the Georgia Senate runoff election so easily, favoring a low-turnout explanation. Nolan looks at data and finds, as suspected, that parties not in the White House tend to win such special elections.
I’m not sure why Andrew finds it difficult to believe in balancing, at least on the margin. After all, we’re not too surprised when partisan tides or “coattails” happen, as we’ve just seen in 2006 and 2008. Even long serving incumbents get the boot if they’re the unfavored party. But the key is that people don’t really understand the aggregate consequences of the partisan tide. That is, the complete results of their independent decisionmaking at the ballot box aren’t available until after the election is over.
Once that happens, the uncertainty is over. People can clearly see who’s in power. And if the people are moderate, which they are, when they look at the newly unified government which is highly polarized to their left or right, balancing should look a lot more enticing.
In other words, what I’m arguing is that, if we believe partisan tides happen, we should also believe in balancing. In fact, the low-turnout argument boosts the balancing story, as we’d expect the people who do turn out to be more politically knowledgeable and to better understand the consequences of their choice.
One more thing. In other single-member-district democracies, if I’m not mistaken, special elections (more typically called by-elections) are often seen as a strong signal to the governing party, especially in the negative direction. I think local and regional elections do the same thing for parliamentary democracies.