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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Breaking the Mid Term Jinx

Conceding that historical patterns favor the party out of the White House in mid term elections, especially second mid-term elections, EricF’s Daily Kos post “Can Democrats win in 2014?” notes the three exceptional years 1934, 1998, and 2002 in which the President’s party did well, and offers this hope:

Of course, with 1998 and 2002 being consecutive, maybe they merely clustered, but maybe the “midterms suck for the president’s party” rule no longer applies. I’m using the unusual circumstances theory nonetheless. I promise to reconsider after a few more midterms, if the rule seems to no longer be rule, but we’re going with the unusual year for now, and it’s where I see some hope. 2014 looks like an unusual year.
Of course, we’re still a year away, and this is being written during the manufactured crises of the simultaneous shutdown of the federal government with the debt ceiling about to force a default if it isn’t raised. A year is a long time and possibly none of this will apply next year. We do however have polls showing the Republicans are self-inflicting damage beyond Democratic hopes. The Republicans are taking much more of the blame for actions which turned out to be unpopular (too bad no one tried to warn the Republicans, aside from everyone not lost in a tea party haze), and Sam Wang analyzed the most recent polls and determined that if the election were held now, Democrats would flip about 30 House seats.
30 seats may not sound like a lot, but to put it in perspective, 17 would give the Democrats the House. In the three elections where the president’s party won, in utter defiance of the midterm rule, they won seats in the single digits. When you expect to lose a bunch, you’re quite happy with a tiny gain. So that indicates the size of the potential wave, but also the low likelihood of pulling off such a win in an election coming a year after the crisis. If the crisis or something like it goes on until close enough to election day however, then maybe we are talking about the fourth weird midterm, even if a blue wave seems like asking an awful lot.

EricF speculates that “…the self-destructive impulses of the modern Republican Party will continue to govern them. They might learn from this shutdown/debt ceiling disaster, but there’s nothing in their recent history to suggest they will.” He adds:

*The polls tell us it’s not just our hope or impression, but the Republicans have inflicted a shocking degree of damage on themselves;
*The Republicans show no signs if learning to control their self-destructive impulses, even if they don’t do anything this stupid again before election day 2014;
*President Obama seems to have learned from the midterm debacle of 2010 and the debt ceiling debacle of 2011 that he can’t reason with Republicans, and he can’t stay outside the midterm campaign;
*If they’re the same people who worked on his presidential campaigns, then the president has the best people working on 2014;
*The Republicans have done nothing to reach out to the Democratic-leaning demographic groups (DLDGs) groups they’ve been alienating, which I suppose could be filed under their self-destructive impulses, but which means we still have the DLDGs if only we can solve the problem of drop-off voters;
*Presumably the Republicans are trying to catch up in data and ground game, but even as fast as electoral politics moves, accomplishing this so quickly is unlikely, especially if Democrats haven’t sat on their analytic laurels;
*Suppression of DLDG voting is hardly intended to help Democrats, but we’ve gotten better at fighting it, and there’s the theory that the blowback actually increased DLDG turnout in 2012, so maybe it will again;

In short, the Republicans have never put themselves in a worse position a year ahead of midterm elections. The mid term jinx does depend to some extent on ‘business as usual,’ and the extremists in their party have blown that foundation to smithereens. In such an environment, Democratic leverage can become more formidable.

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