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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Towards A More Upbeat Mid-Term Scenario

For Dems seeking an alternative to the pervasive doom-and gloom mid-term speculation, John Harwood takes an even-handed look iat the upcomming election in his Sunday New York Times edition of ‘The Caucus.’ First Harwood feeds the ‘Dems are doomed’ meme, noting,

As if Republicans did not have enough cause for optimism this year, the pollster Neil Newhouse offers this lesson from history: Since John F. Kennedy occupied the White House, presidents with approval ratings below 50 percent have seen their parties lose an average of 41 House seats in midterm elections.
This year, a gain that large would return the House to Republican control. President Obama’s most recent Gallup Poll rating: 45 percent.

Harwood goes on to add that none of the previous nine Presidents experienced an increase in their approval ratings between January and October in their first midterm election years. But Bush II actually broke the first mid-term jinx in 2002, helped by the World Trade Center bombings, which elevated ‘national security’ to the leading priority of swing voters.
What I like about Harwood’s article is that he gives a fair hearing to the view that, while history is important for predicting political outcomes, it isn’t everything. Harwood cites a litany of busted political rules, including the political realignment of the South, the presidency is for whites only and the Republican “lock” on California. Harwood quotes Alan Abramowitz, who has contributed to TDS, to good effect: “As soon as a political scientist comes up with a sweeping generality about American politics, it will immediately be falsified.” Political rules were made to be broken, and 2010 should be no exception.
Indeed, President Obama’s improbable rise from an obscure state senator/law professor to the most powerful elective office on earth in less than five years ought to give political prognosticators pause in uttering cocksure predictions about electoral outcomes. Perhaps more to the point, Obama’s rise to power was based on a very creative and well-executed outside-the-box strategy, as much as his personal gifts.
This view won’t change the betting on the GOP at Intrade or Vegas, but it does allow a little room for a more encouraging outcome than is currently being parroted by pundits. Further, as Harwood notes,

Though the unemployment rate remains stuck around 10 percent, the economy in March enjoyed its strongest job growth in three years. The stock market has been booming. Democratic candidates hope that continued good news between now and November will begin alleviating the sour mood of voters.
…Ray C. Fair, an economist at Yale and a student of the relationship between economic conditions and political outcomes, argued that history shows voters take account of third-quarter performance, too. His model of 2010 economic performance projects that Democrats will draw 51.63 percent of the two-party vote for the House…That translates to roughly 224 seats — enough for Democrats to retain control of the House.

So the Republicans ought to hold the high-fives for a while, particularly if the economy takes a better-than-expected uptick between now and November.

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