Matthew Yglesias has been working the counterfactual beat lately (as he points out, counterfactuals are essential to a sound theory of causation). (Previously on this blog.)

Which inspired me to htmlize and post one of my favorite counterfactual tables, table 9 from Stewart and Weingast’s article on “Stacking the Senate”.1 What if, Stewart and Weingast ask, instead of making state admissions the subject of party politics, the western states had been admitted by some politically neutral rule—say, when they exceeded the population of the average congressional district? They make assumptions about partisan tilt based on real-life territorial politics, and get the below table.

The table shows actual and counterfactual partisan majorities in the House, Senate, and Presidency. I’ve highlighted changes in red. What sticks out most to me is the counterfactual Democratic majority in the Senate in the 51st Congress, 1889-91—this is the so-called billion-dollar Congress that passed the legislation—including the McKinley Tariff, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, and the Dependent Pensions Act—which brought the nation to the brink of financial ruin and forced Grover Cleveland to seek a bailout from J. P. Morgan (see, in the old days, Wall Street bailed out the government; now … never mind). What if there had been a Democratic Senate then? Would the Democratic Party have gone so Populist in 1896? Would there have been a People’s Party to speak of?

Of course, things really go off the rails with President Tilden, there, so who knows if that question even matters in this alternate universe.

Actual and Counterfactual Control of the
House, Senate, and President, 37th to 55th Congresses (1860-1896 elections)
Actual Counterfactual
Years House Senate Pres House Senate Pres
1861-63 R R R R R R
1863-65 R R R R R R
1865-67 R R R R R R
1867-69 R R R R R R
1869-71 R R R R R R
1871-73 R R R R R R
1873-75 R R R R R R
1875-77 D R R D R R
1877-79 D R R D D D
1879-81 D D R D D D
1881-83 R R R R D R
1883-85 D R R D D R
1885-87 D R D D R D
1887-89 D R D D D D
1889-91 R R R R D R
1891-93 D R R D D R
1893-95 D D D D D D
1895-97 R R D R D D
1897-99 R R R R R R

1Charles R. Stewart, III, and Barry R. Weingast, “Stacking the Senate, Changing the Nation: Republican Rotten Boroughs, Statehood Politics, and American Political Development.” Studies in American Political Development 6 (Fall 1992): 223-71.

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