Sabato: Republicans really could win it all this year
I’ve often noted that the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato is among the most accurate and serious political analysts in the United States with a stellar track record in predicting what’s about to happen. So when, in his new incarnation as The Politico Magazine’s twice-monthly columnist, he concludes that the “three three factors seem to be pointing toward Republican gains in both houses in the 2014 midterms” it isn’t the same as if it was coming from a blogger, ideological talk show host — or from Dick Morris. It’s about as close to a real crystal ball as you can get.
Here are some excerpts:
Another midterm election beckons, and over the next 10 months we’ll see headlines about a thousand supposedly critical developments—the “game changers” and the “tipping points.” But we all know there aren’t a thousand powerful drivers of the vote. I’d argue that three factors are paramount: the president, the economy and the election playing field. And, at least preliminarily, those three factors seem to be pointing toward Republican gains in both houses in the 2014 midterms.
Three factors he lists:
1. The president. His job approval numbers are perhaps the best indicator of the public’s overall political orientation at any given time, a kind of summary statistic that takes everything at the national level into account. In a large majority of cases, the president’s party does poorly in midterms, especially the second midterm of a two-term administration. It’s a rare president who doesn’t make enough mistakes by his sixth year to generate a disproportionate turnout among his opponents—thus producing a political correction at the polls. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower in 1958, Lyndon Johnson in 1966, Richard Nixon/Gerald Ford in 1974, Ronald Reagan in 1986 and George W. Bush in 2006 all experienced significant corrections in their sixth-year elections.
He notes there have been exceptions to this rule, but don’t bet your house on this year being an exception.
But Obama’s popularity has sagged badly in his fifth year. While some unforeseen event in 2014 might add some points to his job approval average, the odds are against a full restoration; it’s just as likely Obama’s polling average, currently in the low 40s, will decline further—though Obama may have a relatively high floor because of consistent backing from minority voters and other elements of the Democratic base.
As 2014 begins, the environment for the Democrats in this election year is not good. The botched, chaotic rollout of the Affordable Care Act is the obvious cause, but it is broader than that: the typical sixth-year unease that produces a “send-them-a-message” election. Fortunately for Democrats, the GOP-initiated shutdown of the federal government in October has tempered the public’s desire for a shift to the Republican side, too. “None of the above” might win a few races in November if voters had the choice.
The other factor in this is that Democrats tend to be gung-ho for their party when it seems to be “winning,” but if it looks like the party may go down to defeat or they have not gotten all that was promised, some Democrats stay home because a)they feel it won’t do any good to vote b)they want to teach their party a less for not delivering on what was promised or not being exactly where they want it to be ideologically (which is how Republicans in the long term gained control of the Supreme Court).
2. The economy, but mainly if it’s bad. Eisenhower’s 57 percent approval rating couldn’t prevent Republicans from losing 47 House seats and 13 Senate seats in 1958 because of a shaky economy. GDP growth had contracted by an astounding 10.4 percent in the first quarter of that year, though it rebounded later in the year. More recently, there was the 2006 election; while most analysts thought the Democratic takeover of Congress that year was mainly about Bush’s war in Iraq, the economy wasn’t performing on all cylinders. GDP growth in the second and third quarters of 2006 was an anemic 1.6 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively. The economy, still reeling from the 2008 economic near-collapse, was also the root cause of the Democrats’ 2010 debacle.
But in politics the converse does not always prove the rule; in fact, a good economy doesn’t seem to help the president’s party much in many midterm elections, with 1950, 1966 and 1986 being strong examples
3. The electoral playing field. How many vulnerable seats are there in the House for the president’s party? This is mainly a result of prior elections. A presidential victory with coattails (think 1936, 1948, 1964 and 2008) results in a party winning lots of vulnerable seats that can be swept away when the tides change in subsequent midterms. The Democrats lost their weaker members in 2010 and failed to add many seats in 2012; these disappointments protect them from drastic House losses this coming November.
The Senate is a different story. There is no such thing as a typical Senate election…..
….Generally speaking, this year’s Senate slate strongly favors the Republicans.
Go to the link above to read his analysis in full.
All taken together, not good news for the Democrats. Could Democrats throw a Hail Mary? At this point, Democrats seem more likely to throw an election than throw a Hail Mary. And in the past they seemingly have.
FOOTNOTE: Sabato wrote one of the best, most definitive books on John F. Kennedy, his administration and his assassination. Read the review HERE. This took is highly recommended.