Abby Rapoport’s “Three New Facts About the Tea Party” at The American Prospect reports on the first large-scale political-science survey of Tea Party activists. The survey of more than 11,000 members of Freedom Works, the largest tea party organization, was conducted by the College of William and Mary political scientists. Among the findings:
the Tea Party activists doing work for the Republicans are surprisingly negative about the party they’re helping. While 70 percent of FreedomWorks activists identify as Republican, another 23 percent reject the Republican label entirely and instead, when asked which political party they identify with, choose “other.” Asked if they considered themselves more Republican or more a Tea Party member, more than three-quarters chose Tea Party.
…The survey asked whether they would prefer a candidate with whom they agree on most important issues but who polls far behind the probable Democratic nominee or a candidate with whom they agree “on some of the most important issues” but who’s likely to win. More than three-fourths of respondents preferred the candidate who was more likely to lose but shared their positions.
…In the YouGov survey the study uses, more than two-thirds of Tea Partiers put themselves in the two most conservative categories on economic policy, social policy, and overall policy. Only 23 percent of non-Tea Partiers place themselves in the most conservative categories on all three issues; nearly 40 percent don’t locate themselves in the most conservative categories for any of the three policy areas.
As Rappaport concludes, “Tea Party activists dominate the Republican Party, and they’re no less willing to compromise with the GOP than they are with Democrats…Simply put, the GOP is too reliant on the Tea Party–and based on these survey results, the Tea Party doesn’t care about the GOP’s fate. It cares about moving the political conversation increasingly rightward.”
All of which is good for Democrats, but horrible news for Karl Rove and other Republicans, who hope to get the GOP back on something resembling a moderate conservative track that can actually, you know, win elections
–Presidential claims of responsibility for economic gains rarely win plaudits from voters, yet presidents nearly always get blamed when things get worse.
–The historical odds for midterm gains in Congress by the in-power party are slim at best. Since World War II, the president’s party has lost an average of 26 seats in midterm elections and gained seats only twice — Democrats in 1998 under President Bill Clinton and Republicans in 2002 with George W. Bush in the Oval Office.
–Presidential elections are often referendums on the economy. That applies less often to midterms.
Raum adds that “there has been a feeling of incremental improvement after Obama’s first term in office. That’s the key word, incremental. Presidents have to make the people believe that things are getting better every month.”
Raum concedes the good news Dems are trumpeting: “Right now, surveys and reports show that the recovery is continuing, although more slowly than most, despite continued high unemployment and an environment of modest economic growth and inflation. Home prices are on the rise, manufacturing is slowly improving.” He cites an uptick in consumer spending and economic growth statistics. He says economists credit Obama’s policies with creating about 3 million jobs, while the Administration claims 6 million jobs added.
But Raum believes sitting presidents have to be very cautious about how much they brag about their economic accomplishments:
Democratic strategists James Carville, Stan Greenberg and Erica Seifert concluded from focus-group sessions with both Democratic and Republican audiences that Obama fares far better in speeches when he highlights economic progress without taking credit.
People “are very much on edge financially … because they live it every day. Every speech needs to start from a place that understands this is not theoretical or ideological,” they wrote in a policy memo. Obama must “thread a very careful needle,” they concluded.
Raum also quotes Rutgers political science professor: “Americans would say, ‘Well, that’s our judgment to make, whether you’re doing a good job or not….Facts speak for themselves,” Baker said. “If things are good, you don’t really need to make any extraordinary claims.”
President Obama is certainly smart enough to avoid crossing the line between skilfully defending his record with facts and bragging immodestly. He’s got articulate surrogates who can amplify his accomplishments in a way that allows him to preserve his dignity. he also has a good sense of just how much he can get away with in terms of explaining his challenges without sounding like a whiner. We will never hear him echoing his predecessor’s mantra in the 2004 debate with Sen Kerry “It’s tough…It’s hard work”
Most voters are smart enough to know that presidents can have undeserved good luck or bad luck. The 2012 vote suggests that a healthy majority apparently gets it that President Obama inherited an unholy mess from his predecessor, and increasingly, that he has done fairly well, especially considering that the Republican party has zero interest in doing anything that might help the country if it also means helping Obama.
Historical patterns suggest that the Republicans will take control of the Senate and hold their majority of the House. For that to happen, however, a majority of the voters who show up at the polls in 2014 will have to think continued gridlock is a good thing or believe, against all evidence, that their Republican incumbent is capable of bipartisan cooperation for economic recovery.
What Democrats have going for them in 2014 is the growing realization among most informed voters that President Obama needs a substantial congressional majority to get anything done. Most swing voters will figure out that electing more Republicans means even more gridlock. Getting rid of a few Republicans on the other hand, just might enable the President to kick-start the economy. If Democrats do indeed have a qualitative edge in ground game mechanics and candidate recruitment for 2014, an upset just may be in the making.
The following article, by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of “The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be” is cross-posted from HuffPo:
The inside-the-beltway world of Washington, D.C. rarely deals with truly foundational economic issues. When they do, it is only because they are being forced to by crisis or a political movement forcing something onto center stage. The big fundamental issues make the powers that be uncomfortable simply because they may cause big changes that do damage to the wealthy economic incumbents who don’t want their privileged status upended. This is why D.C. seems so disconnected to people in the real world: While Congress is goofing around with stupid stuff like sequesters, the things that really matter to people go unaddressed.
Occasionally, though, the real issues are forced onto the D.C. scene by some combination of smart, gutsy politicians and political movements whose time has come. It’s too early to tell, but on what I believe are the two most central economic issues of the next generation, I’m hoping D.C. is finally going to be forced to pay attention.
The first of these issues is the steady destruction of the American middle class by the massive expansion of the low wage worker economy. There is a movement on this issue that is coming together to take this issue on, and we are seeing the early signs of it in the New York and Chicago fast food strikes, and the huge nationwide day of action at Wal-Marts around the country last year. There will be more to write about this in the coming weeks, so that will be Part 2 of this story, but you heard it here first: This will be a big deal.
At Politico Ben White and Tarini Parti have an interesting post, “Democrats ask: What debt crisis?” which notes the growing confidence with which Democrats like Sen. Tim Kaine and Chris van Hollen are attacking austerity as an economic policy: “…aided by a pile of recent data suggesting the deficit is already shrinking significantly and current spending cuts are slowing the economy, more Democrats such as Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen are coming around to the point of view that fiscal austerity, in all its forms, is more the problem than the solution…This group got a huge boost this month with the very public demolition of a sacred text of the austerity movement, the 2010 paper by a pair of Harvard professors arguing that once debt exceeds 90 percent of a country’s gross domestic product, it crushes economic growth.”
In “Germany Should End Austerity, Not Ireland,” at Bloomberg Megan Green reports from a centrist perspective on the politics and economcs of relaxing austerity in Europe.
But Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog post, “Reinhart and Rogoff aren’t the problem. The Republican Party is” cuts straight to the chase: “The real debate right now is with a Republican Party that won’t permit any more stimulus, won’t permit any more deficit reduction if it includes tax revenues, and won’t even permit the federal government to make it easier for people to refinance their homes. That’s a position that often gets called “austerity,” and so cloaks itself in the work of more serious deficit hawks, but it’s actually something very different, and much less coherent…”
Hope Yen’s post “Black Voter Turnout Passed White Turnout For The First Time In 2012” at Talking Points Memo notes that “Unlike other minority groups, the rise in voting for the slow-growing black population is due to higher turnout. While blacks make up 12 percent of the share of eligible voters, they represented 13 percent of total 2012 votes cast, according to exit polling. That was a repeat of 2008, when blacks “outperformed” their eligible voter share for the first time on record.” Imagine what the turnout might have been if there was no voter suppression.
The online sales tax issue is driving yet another wedge into the GOP, reports Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times.
At Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Geoffrey Skelley takes a look at state-by-state unemployment rates in the context of the 2012 elections and concludes that “Demographics Overtakes Economy as Prime Presidential Election Indicator.”
Also at The Crystal Ball Kyle Kondik’s “Senate Update: Baucus Leaving Could Be Blessing in Plain Sight” has the latest inside skinny on some key upcoming Senate races.
Historical patterns notwithstanding, Dems are in pretty good shape to wage battle for majority control of the House of Reps, according to DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, quoted by Abby Livingston in Roll Call: “”We are ahead-of-schedule on recruitment, ahead-of-expectations on fundraising, and ahead-of-the-curve on defining the Republican Congress,” Israel wrote of his second cycle leading the DCCC…To retake the majority, Democrats need 17 seats, which is the exact number of Republicans currently sitting in seats that President Obama won in 2012.”
Harold Meyerson’s Washington Post column, “It’s not the left that’s changed, it’s the economy” provides several perceptive insights, including “…Gallup released a poll showing that 72 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, would support a major federally financed infrastructure repair program and a federal program creating 1 million jobs. Nearly 80 years after Franklin Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration, it seems the American people would like the government to re-create it.”
As if any amount of “personal charm” would make Republicans negotiate in good faith.
…Fully 56 percent of those surveyed said they believe they will eventually climb to a higher rung on the economic ladder than they occupy now. But even more said they worry about falling into a lower economic class sometime in the next few years. Reaffirming the results in earlier Heartland Monitor polls, most of those surveyed said the middle class today enjoys less opportunity, job security, and disposable income than earlier generations did. And strikingly small percentages of American adults said they consider it “very realistic” that they can meet such basic financial goals as paying for their children’s college, retiring comfortably, or saving “enough money to … deal with a health emergency or job loss.”
In addition to this bleak prognosis, Brownstein notes that the perception of what defines a decent middle class life has headed south: “Asked to define what it means to be middle class, a solid 54 percent majority of respondents picked “having the ability to keep up with expenses and hold a steady job while not falling behind or taking on too much debt”; a smaller percentage defined it in terms of getting ahead and accumulating savings.”
Looking toward the future, the respondents are less than optimistic:”The share of Americans who say the country is on the right track reached a four-year high of 41 percent in the Heartland Monitor survey conducted just after his victory in November. But that optimism plummeted in the latest survey to less than three in 10. The number of people who expect the economy to improve over the next year also skidded.” He adds that “the results highlight how much economic anxiety and political alienation still shadow daily life, even after the blackest clouds of the Great Recession have lifted.”
The poll includes some interesting data on class self-perception:
Asked to define their class status on a 5-point scale, just 2 percent identified themselves as upper class and 12 percent as upper-middle class. More respondents placed themselves below the middle: 12 percent said they were lower class, and 26 percent called themselves lower-middle class. By far the largest group–46 percent–self-identified as middle class…Whites were twice as likely as minorities to say their children would settle in the lower class or lower-middle class and slightly more likely to predict they would reach the middle class. These somber sentiments, as in the earlier Heartland surveys, differed surprisingly little between whites with and without four-year college degrees.
Despite pessimism about the economy, many respondents retained a healthy optimism about their personal future, as Brownstein explains,
…Overall, 56 percent of those surveyed said they thought it very or somewhat likely they would reach “a higher class at some point” in their lives. Just 42 percent thought it unlikely they would climb. Optimism is even more common among Americans of working age; more than four-fifths of adults under 30, more than two-thirds of those in their 30s, and just over three-fifths of people in their 40s think they will rise, compared to much smaller proportions of seniors and workers soon to retire.
But once again, the racial divide was substantial. Almost three-fourths of minorities said they considered it likely they would rise; whites, though, split exactly in half, with little difference between those with or without a college degree.
Yet, even underlying this basic optimism, “Fully 59 percent of respondents voiced concern “about falling out of [their] current economic class over the next few years,” including 28 percent who were “very” concerned. Only 40 percent said they weren’t concerned about losing ground.” Much of the anxiety centered around fear of losing jobs and/or health insurance and the data shows lots of worry about paying for their children’s a college education and quality of retirement.
Nearly all of the extensive data in the survey affirms Brownwstein’s contention that “most families now believe the most valuable–and elusive–possession in American life isn’t any tangible acquisition, such as a house or a car, but rather economic security.” It’s not enough that Republicans have demonstrated their utter incompetence in helping to foster broadly-shared economic security. Somehow, the Democratic Party has got to persuade a healthy majority that our candidates offer the best hope for creating policies that can support their aspirations.
Walter C. Jones of Morris News Service takes a look at Democratic prospects for picking up the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Saxby Chambliss in “Georgia Democrats differ on strategy to win back state.” Jones says state Democratic party chairman Mike Berlon is trying “to broker an agreement between U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Augusta and Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn and the head of a nonprofit organization.” A unified Democratic Senate campaign should have a decent chance against the divided GA GOP, considering that President Obama received 46.9 percent of the Georgia vote in 2012.
At PoliticusUSA Amy Morton’s “A Progressive Storm Brews in the South: Democrats Eye Georgia’s Open Senate Seat” mines the same vein: “No Democrats hold statewide office in Georgia, and the Georgia House and Senate are both controlled by Republicans. But, a perfect progressive storm may be brewing in the deep South.”
Nate Silver considers: “The Gun Vote and 2014: Will There Be an Electoral Price?.” Silver works the numbers and charts, and concludes that the GOP’s inflexible opposition to gun safety will hurt them mostly by adding to their image as an extremist party. Silver adds, “For Democrats to have much of a chance to win back the House — bucking the historical trend of the president’s party faring poorly in midterm years — the Republican Party will first and foremost have to be perceived as out-of-touch on the economy.”
At The Atlantic David Catanese’s “Why These 2016 Democratic Hopefuls Aren’t Shying Away From Gun Control” discusses the ramifications of strong support for gun safety reforms embraced by three potential Democratic candidates, Governors Cuomo, Hickenlooper and O’Malley. This poll strikes me as weakened by a question that asks about feeling, instead of political intentions. The limited answer choices diminish the value further. Respondents were asked, “What word best describes how you feel about the Senate voting down new gun control legislation that included new background checks on gun purchases?” and they could chose 1 of 4 answers: ‘very happy/relieved’; ‘disappointed/angry’; ‘none/other’; and ‘no opinion.’ But no amount of polling distractions can erase the fact that about 90 percent of the public wants background checks.
Thomas B. Edsall reports at the NYT Opinionator on “The Shadow Lobbyist,” noting a disturbing trend: “Many of the activities most people would call lobbying now fall outside of its legal definition. They have become a large but almost invisible part of special interest influence on public policy.”
The politics of the sequester-driven FAA furlough are getting a little tricky.
NYT columnist Charles M. Blow probes evidence of paranoia on the right, culminating in Glen Beck’s recent unhinged tirade. Blow sees a “constant stream of desperate drivel that has fostered a climate of fear on the far right that makes common-sense consensus nearly impossible.”
“Republican effort to rebrand the party takes a hit” by Lisa Mascaro of the L.A. Times Washington Bureau, reports about Republicans rejecting a bill to help Americans with preexisting health conditions. So much for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s hopes for reviving the ‘compassionate conservatism’ meme.
Not easy to find a credible complement for a president who left the world economy in a mess, but this one will serve the purpose — to affirm the bipartisan custom of presidents supporting each others’ libraries.
The following article, by Democratic strategist Mike Lux, author of The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be, is cross-posted from HuffPo:
When I think of Elizabeth Warren, I think of her as a fiery warrior on behalf of consumers and the 99 percent, fearlessly taking on the biggest and baddest of all the special interests, Wall Street. But she is also the senior senator from the great state Massachusetts, and her first speech on the floor of the Senate was not on any economic issue, but on the terrorism at the Boston Marathon. It was a beautiful speech, well worth taking the time to read or view below. While, on one level, it was the classic kind of post-tragedy speech you would expect from a politician who represents the place the terrible events happened, full of praise for the courage and resolve of her home state’s people, she did something more with the speech which reminded me of why I love her:
She talked about the value of community, about our responsibility for each other. She used one of my all-time favorite quotes, from early Pilgrim John Winthrop. Winthrop is most famous for his “City on a Hill” speech, which has inspired many Americans with its idea of American exceptionalism. But for Winthrop, this new land would only be exceptional, would only be blessed by God, if we looked out for each other, if we were our brothers and sisters’ keepers. In the passage Warren quoted, Winthrop said that our mission was:
to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. … We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together…. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
Winthrop understood that America could only be great if its people created a beloved community where we all cared about each other and were there for each other, and that is the central idea driving Warren’s philosophy as well. As she put it, echoing Winthrop’s most fundamental idea:
To all the families who lost their children; to all those who were injured and wear the scars of tragedy; to all the citizen-heroes, the first responders, the healers, who acted with courage in the midst of chaos; to all those who bore witness at Boylston Street; and to the people of Boston and of Massachusetts: No one can replace what we have lost. No one can relieve the weight of our sorrow.
But here today, and in the days and weeks ahead, wherever we are, we will grieve together, hurt together, and pray together.
And so today, I rise to remember the lives of those we have lost, to support those who survived, and to honor those who served.
Today, we remember Martin Richard, an eight-year-old who, like third graders everywhere, spent time drawing pictures. A little boy who loved to play soccer, hockey, and baseball in his neighborhood in Dorchester. We also pray for his sister and mother to recover from their injuries.
We remember Krystle Campbell, who grew up in Medford and never missed the Marathon. Lively and happy, Krystle was always there for others. When her grandmother was recovering from an operation, Krystle moved in to help care for her, because that’s the kind of young woman she was.
We remember Lu Lingzi, who came to the United States from China to study statistics. She loved Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, and she posted to her friends that morning that she had a wonderful breakfast. Her passing unites the world in our common humanity.
We will miss them.
To those who were injured on fifteenth of April, know that we are here for you.
Every year during the Marathon, we are one family. We cheer for each other, and we carry each other across finish lines. When tragedy strikes, we are also one family. We hurt together, and we help together.
In the weeks and months ahead, your struggles will be our struggles, your pain our pain, your efforts our efforts. We will be together through sorrow and anger, rehabilitation and recovery. We will be together because we are one family.
This is the kind of idea that makes me passionate in my love for this country: that out of many, we became one people, one American family. That in this most diverse of countries, that when tragedy strikes, we come together and help each other. That when bad luck knocks us down, that our fellow Americans lend a hand to help lift us back to our feet. That we run toward the sounds of danger, not away, when our brothers and sisters are in danger. That is a country worth fighting for, worth believing in. That is America at its best.
As the state President Obama lost by the smallest margin in 2012, North Carolina is as good a place as any for closely monitoring the temperature of public opinion on political issues. What makes NC even more interesting, however, is that voters are apparently beginning to oppose wingnut polices in impressive numbers. As Tom Jensen explains in his Public Policy Polling post, “NC voters oppose many GOP proposals“:
The Republicans as a whole are getting poor marks for their leadership over state government though- 38% of voters approve of the job they’re doing to 52% who disapprove. That’s largely a function of the legislature. Republicans legislators have a 34/53 favorability rating, and the General Assembly as a whole has just a 20% approval with 56% of voters disapproving of it.
A whole bevy of bills introduced by Republican legislators recently are proving to be quite unpopular:
-Only 25% of voters support a proposal to forbid parents from claiming college students registered to vote away from home as dependents on their state taxes, compared to 57% who are opposed. This is another one where the Republican legislators supporting the measure are out of touch with actual Republican voters- only 26% support it with 56% opposed, not that different from the numbers among Democrats which are 22% supportive and 61% opposed.
-Just 33% of voters support cutting the early voting period by a week, while 59% are opposed. Republicans do narrowly support this idea (51/42), but Democrats (22/70) and independents (28/62) are heavily opposed to it.
-Only 22% of voters support eliminating the state’s renewable energy standards, while 39% are against that idea. Republican voters (29/25) only narrowly support eliminating the standard while Democrats (13/47) and independents (28/41) are pretty firmly against it.
-Only 28% of voters support a proposal to make it a crime for law enforcement officers to enforce federal gun laws on North Carolina manufactured fire arms, while 42% are opposed. Democrats (33/41), Republicans (24/41), and independents (26/46) all think that one’s a bad idea.
-The only high profile Republican initiative we polled that has much traction with voters is the one to make Christianity the official state religion. 42% support that to 45% who are opposed and while much of that support is because a majority of Republicans favor it (53/33) it actually has 41% support from Democrats too, much more appeal across party lines than any of these other proposals. Despite the decent level of support for Christianity as the state religion, only 16% of voters agree with the state legislator who labeled a prayer to Allah as an act of terrorism last week, although that does go up to 25% among Republicans.
Despite all of the recent coverage about wingnut legislative proposals in NC, the political drift of the state’s voters is generally center-left. As Jensen adds, “…Democrats have a 45-41 lead on the generic legislative ballot…On another front it looks like North Carolina’s swing state status is likely to continue in 2016 if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate for President. She leads Marco Rubio 49/42 and Rand Paul 52/40 in hypothetical match ups in the state.”
What NC Democrats may need more than anything to build on the goodwill edge they have with voters at present is money. NC conservative causes are lavishly funded by the state’s Republican sugar daddy Art Pope and other corporate minions. Dems who live in solidly blue states who want to contribute to strengthening the NC Democratic party can do so right here.
… Recently, we have had three back-to-back wave elections, with 2006 and 2008 in favor of Democrats and 2010 benefiting Republicans. While 2012 cannot really be considered a wave, the election did display certain dynamics that benefited Democrats–at least in national races, although not in gubernatorial ones.
It’s important to remember that wave elections are not the norm–they are actually the exception to the rule…Ronald Reagan unseated President Carter by a 10 percentage-point margin, and Republicans gained 12 seats in the Senate and 34 in the House; this was the first wave election our country had seen since the 1974 Watergate upheaval. The next true wave election after 1980 was in 1994, during the Newt Gingrich-led Republican takeover of the House, which resulted in a 52-seat gain, accompanied by a strong eight-seat gain in the Senate. (Note: Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama switched from the Democratic to the GOP the day after the election, bringing the total Republican gain to nine.) After 1994, there was not another wave for 12 years. Then we saw three consecutive wave elections: 2006, 2008, and the reverse wave in 2010, when Republicans were the beneficiaries and Democrats were the victims.
The safer way to look at congressional elections is to start off assuming that any election will be a normal “all politics is local” situation, while constantly looking closely for signs that it might not be. Keep an eye out for the chance that it turns out to be a wave year, rather than a relatively level battlefield.
However, adds Cook,
… Certain seats gained in a wave election can’t be held in another election where that party isn’t enjoying the strong, beneficial dynamics of the previous election….Often, some of the candidates who win in these cycles aren’t that good–they just had the good fortune of running in a terrific year for their party…These seats are the ones that are often the first to go in an adverse or even normal election year.
But there is some reason for hope for Democrats, Cook believes
Coming out of the 2012 elections, the Republican Party is clearly facing some challenges. Some problems are demographic, specifically the damage to its brand among many minority, female, and younger voters. Others are more ideological: To many voters in the middle, the rhetoric and positioning of the GOP in the past few years has been much more off-putting to these nonideological individuals than that of Democrats. It’s important to note that at other times, the shoe is still on the other foot, and Democrats are the offending party to those middle-of-the-road voters.
Finally, Republicans have fallen behind when it comes to campaign technology. They have gone from a state-of-the-art operation in 2004, with the George W. Bush reelection effort led by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, to now appearing to be, on a multitude of levels, one, two, or three steps behind their Democratic foes. How long it will take the Republicans to catch up remains to be seen, but campaign-technology experts point out that given the rapid pace of technological change, any advantage by one party is only a temporary edge built on sand. It is not that hard for the other party to catch up or leapfrog ahead.
It’s encouraging that an astute political observer like Charlie Cook can imagine a pro-Democratic wave, thanks to the unprecedented obstruction that the Republican party has come to embody. But Cook is right, that a technology advantage can leapfrog from party to party, and the Republicans certainly have the dough to play catch-up. Clearly Dems should not waste a minute in leveraging their ground game edge. Perhaps even more important, Dems must amplify their message that the economic recovery can only proceed on the heels of a resounding defeat for the GOP in 2014.
After sorting through the Alabama results and comparing them to other 2017 special elections, I figured it was time to look ahead, so I did just that at New York.
[T]he [Alabama] results were entirely consistent with the pro-Democratic trend that has persisted throughout 2017’s special and off-year elections. That would have been the case even if Roy Moore had eked out a narrow win. Republicans can, as Donald Trump has done, rationalize this or that 2017 defeat as being an anomaly. But it is impossible to take an honest look at the overall pattern of 2017 contests without hearing the not-so-distant rumbling of a likely 2018 wave for Democrats.
Harry Enten conducted a comprehensive analysis of 2017 special elections — all 70 of them — taking into account the established partisan “lean” of the jurisdiction being contested.
“The Democratic margin has been 12 percentage points better, on average, than the partisan lean in each race. Sometimes this has resulted in a seat flipping from Republican to Democratic (e.g. in the Alabama Senate face-off on Tuesday or Oklahoma’s 37th state Senate District contest last month). Sometimes it has meant the Democrat barely lost a race you wouldn’t think a Democrat would be competitive in (e.g. in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District in June). Sometimes it’s merely been the case that the Democrat won a district by an even wider margin than you’d expect (e.g. in Pennsylvania’s 133 House District last week).
“The point is that Democrats are doing better in all types of districts with all types of candidates. You don’t see this type of consistent outperformance unless there’s an overriding pro-Democratic national factor.”
The best elections to examine in order to figure out whether Democrats can win back the U.S. House in 2018 are the seven congressional special elections of 2017. Republicans won five and Democrats two (a winning percentage that’s not surprising since all but one of these elections were triggered by members of Congress joining the Trump administration). But as Enten notes, the average vote-percentage swing to Democrats from prior established partisan levels was 16 points. In a polarized electorate, that’s a large swing indeed.
In thinking about this pattern, keep in mind that the demographic groups most likely to vote Democratic typically don’t proportionately turn out for non-presidential elections, and particularly for special elections. There is a powerful trend under way.
While any single special congressional election is not necessarily predictive of future election results, in larger batches they are highly correlated to the next election coming down the pike. Enten looks at special elections prior to the last six midterms and finds that on average the partisan swing in the former is within three percentage points of the partisan swing in the latter. That would suggest a double-digit Democratic swing (or something close to it) in 2018.
If that seems extravagant, look at the congressional generic ballot (a simple polling question about which party the respondents would like to control the U.S. House), itself highly correlated with the national House popular vote. According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Democrats currently have an 11-point advantage, the highest they’ve enjoyed since last year’s elections.
The question of exactly how big a margin in the national House popular vote Democrats would need to gain the 24 net seats required for control of the House is a difficult one. Political scientist Alan Abramowitz has just published an analysis of House elections dating back to 1946, which also takes into account the impact of GOP-controlled redistricting after 2010, and concludes that a Democratic win as small as four points could do the trick. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report thinks a seven- or eight-point win would be necessary.
Despite the clear trends, there remain a lot of unknown variables as we head toward the midterms, most notably presidential approval ratings and retirements. But the current occupant of the White House has a highly polarizing approach to politics that almost certainly caps his approval ratings (which have never been above 46 percent in any event). And Republican retirements are definitely outpacing those of Democrats; 26 House Republicans are either calling it a day or running for other offices. There’s no telling where the much-rumored investigations of sexual misconduct by large numbers of congressmen will lead. But as Jonathan Chait points out, there are 219 Republican men in Congress as opposed to just 132 Democratic men, so the odds of net damage to the GOP (and to a GOP-controlled institution) are high.
There is more at stake next year, obviously, than control of the U.S. House. Thirty-six states will hold gubernatorial elections, and all but a few will hold state legislative elections. Partisan performance at the state level could have a crucial effect not just on the public policies of the jurisdictions involved, but on positioning for the next redistricting cycle, which will begin between 2020 and 2022. And even in Washington, Democrats now see an opportunity to win back the U.S. Senate, which would have seemed laughably impossible a year ago.
All in all, we will probably look back a year from now and see 2017 as a harbinger of a strong Democratic performance in the midterms. Its precise strength will determine whether Donald Trump enters the second half of his presidential term merely embattled or fully caged and cornered.