NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Democrats in the Minority

June 18, 2003

Republican control of Congress was the result of 30 years of effort. But without Democratic missteps, it would not have worked, says Bruce Bartlett.

  • The first break came in 1964, when Republican Barry Goldwater carried most of the South even as he lost in a landslide.
  • In the 1970s, inflation and the rising taxes made voters more receptive to the Republican message of tax cuts and smaller government.
  • At the same time, the liberal wing of the Democrats, flush from a big victory in the 1974 elections, destroyed the seniority system in Congress, pushing many conservative Southerners out of key chairmanships.
  • Republicans were finally able to break the gerrymandering of congressional districts by forcing legislatures to create minority districts, which tended to create safe Democratic seats in the cities, surrounded by Republican seats in the suburbs.

Concurrently, Republicans benefited from a decades-long effort to elect Republicans in state legislatures. After each decennial census, Democratic gerrymandering eroded, giving Republicans a fair shot, says Bartlett.

The final piece of the Republican renaissance came when Republicans stopped giving a pass to conservative Democrats. Instead of allowing them to run unopposed, the party started to put up strong, well-financed candidates against them. This, plus abuse from the liberals who controlled the Democratic Party, led almost all conservative Democrats either to retire or become Republicans, says Bartlett.

By 1994, the pieces all came together and Republicans took control of Congress. Now they benefit from safe Southern seats, get 60 percent of business campaign contributions, and gain as well from the recently passed campaign finance legislation which raised limits on individual contributors (which Republicans have more of), while restricting soft dollars, which Democrats had depended on.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, "Democrats in the Minority," National Center for Policy Analysis, June 18, 2003.


Browse more articles on Government Issues