In 1992, the election that preceded the one in November 1994, the non-Democratic vote for president nationwide was 57 percent (Bush + Perot), and Republicans actually picked up 9 seats in the House. It is true that the 1994 elections came as a huge surprise, but that was in part due to an odd misreading of the election results in 1992 by pundits and pollsters and Bill Clinton, who staked his first two years on a massive government health-care plan rather than taking account of the fact that 19 percent of Americans had just voted for a lunatic single-issue candidate who spent a year yelling and screaming about the size of the deficit. Those Perot voters took a look at Clinton and simply integrated themselves into the GOP electorate.
The story of America since 2006 is radically different. In the two elections preceding this one, Democrats outperformed Republicans nationally by a margin of 53-46 both in the 2006 midterm and the 2008 Obama triumph. The results in 2010, if they go as it appears they will, are unlike those in 1992 because there was nothing in 2008 that anticipated them.
An 8-to-15 point Republican margin in 2010, which seems increasingly possible, will represent a partisan and ideological turnaround of 15 to 24 percent. That is without precedent in the modern era.
Hence the comparisons to 1894. The lesson for Democrats is obvious: the voters, having been given a taste of unvarnished liberal governance, remembered (or in some cases learned for the first time) why it’s a disaster. The lesson for Republicans, of course, is a dicier one; on the one hand it is clear that the GOP will be given an opportunity at redemption it hasn’t entirely earned, and will thus be on a short leash as far as doing more than being not-Obama; on the other hand, the Perot-ish Tea Party movement will (rightly) demand that newly elected Republicans start undoing not only the big-government excesses of Obama, Pelosi and Reid but also the big-government excesses of Bush, Lott and DeLay, and doing so into the teeth of certain vetoes.