1992: Divided Government Again

January 05, 1992

In 1992, for the first time in 20 years, the nation's voters will deal with an incumbent president (we presume) and a newly-redistricted House of Representatives.

Redistricting laws, and court interpretations of them, have changed significantly since 1972. Congress has said racial considerations must be taken into account in redistricting. This means a number of new districts now represented by whites will probably elect black or Hispanic representatives.

The Supreme Court has ruled that partisan gerrymandering is unacceptable. Since most states have Democratic-controlled legislatures, and since population change has shifted several seats from Democratic-leaning states in the Northeast and Midwest to Republican-oriented states in the West and South, this means that Republicans should gain seats in the House of Representatives.

But in 1972, Richard Nixon won in an enormous landslide and his Republicans gained only 12 seats in the House. The Republicans have to gain twice that many in 1992 just to get back to the level they enjoyed after that election.

Senate races in 1992 were once thought to be an advantage-Republicans game, with or without a presidential landslide. More Democratic-held seats (20) are up for re-election and thus at risk than Republican seats (14). Senate control changed six years ago and six years before that. It looked like a rhythm, but Democratic control now seems secure. Republicans would have to win every projected close race to gain a majority.

So divided government will live on, in and after 1992.

President Bush cannot expect to duplicate President Nixon's 61-percent, 49-state victory of 1972. However, he is leading in the polls, modestly to comfortably against his six Democratic opponents, overwhelmingly against his two right-wing Republican challengers. If the current wisdom endures, the 1992 presidential race will be a relatively middle-of-the-road contest, George Bush against Bill Clinton, with the right wing of the Republican Party and the left wing of the Democratic Party less influential than either has been in a presidential contest since 1976.

The third branch of the federal government, the judiciary, will be interesting to watch in 1992, especially at the top. This spring and early summer, the first true Reagan-Bush Supreme Court will begin handing down decisions. Five members of the present court -- a majority -- were chosen by Presidents Reagan and Bush. Among those decisions may even be the reversal or severe weakening of Roe vs. Wade, the abortion rights opinion. A case capable of that result awaits deciding.

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