In the aftermath of a disappointing showing in the 1998 midterm elections, Republican party leaders and strategists have been debating what went wrong on November 3, and what the party needs to do differently in the future. Two competing explanations for the election results appear to be emerging from this debate (Berke 1998).
According to one explanation, favored by party moderates, Republicans lost ground in 1998 because moderate and independent swing voters were alienated by the party's conservative image and by the partisan tone of the presidential impeachment inquiry. The lesson to be learned from the 1998 elections, according to the proponents of this theory, is that the GOP needs to move toward the center and seek compromises with moderate Democrats.
In sharp contrast, some conservatives attribute Republican losses in the midterm elections to their party's failure to energize its partisan and ideological base. In order to be successful, these conservatives argue, the GOP needs to mobilize a larger proportion of its base by taking clear positions on issues and aggressively pursuing a conservative agenda.
One way to test the validity of these competing theories is to examine data from the 1998 voter exit polls. These polls were conducted in every state holding a Senate or gubernatorial election except Alaska and Hawaii (CNN 1998).