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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Gans: Dems May Pull Off Upset in 2014

Curtis Gans, director of the non-partisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate has an article entitled “Why 2014 Could Be a Very Democratic Election” up at HuffPo. That’s very bad news for Republicans, who up till now have been enjoying pundit predictions of November doom for Democrats. Gans, a respected political analyst, who has studied turnout and voting patterns for more than three decades, writes:

The record will show that the Democratic Party sustained no net losses in the U.S. Senate and gained five seats in the House in the 1998 mid-term during President Clinton’s second term and after Monica Lewinsky and impeachment dominated the news for the majority of the year. The record will also show that January polls tend to be irrelevant to November results or President Muskie would have been elected in 1972 and Hillary Clinton would have been the Democratic nominee and probable president in 2008. Foibles from a year earlier will only be remembered around election time if nothing has changed to render them obsolete. All of these are noise.
What could be either signal or noise in the Republican election scenario are two factors: 1) The mid-term electorate is substantially smaller (by as much as 20 percentage points) than the presidential year electorate, and it tends to include fewer young voters and minorities; and 2) There are twice as many Democratic Senate seats up for election in this cycle as there are Republican and, according to the Cook Political Report, there are only 77 House districts that were won by a 55-45 margin or less in 2012, only 33 by 52-48 or less — and those nearly evenly divided between Democratic and Republican winners.
Elections are not decided by how many turn out, but rather who turns out, and it is not at all clear at this juncture whether the deep divisions within the Republican Party will reduce GOP turnout by a greater amount than the likely lower turnout of some key Democratic constituencies.

Regarding prospects for a “blue wave” election, Gans writes:

Despite current conventional wisdom, such an election is not only possible but probable but only if three signals occur: If September polls, the polls taken when people are paying attention to the upcoming election, show a substantial improvement in Obama’s approval rating and an equally substantial increase in public support of the Affordable Care Act, and if the economy does not relapse into recession.

Gans then discusses a major problems for Republicans, including their being blamed for the “do-nothing congress,” demographic change and, internal divisions. If Obama and the Democrats have a little good luck, on the other hand, and the economy improves, the prospects for an upset improve considerably. It looks highly unlikely, however, that the Republicans will finally decide to address the issues of concern to the middle class, such as unemployment and reducing economic inequality. As Gans concludes,

But public opinion on a person or an issue is usually formed on a compared-to-what basis. And in that context, it hard to believe that a party whose leader in the Senate would see in 2011 his single most important goal as “to make Obama a one-term president,” and whose leader in the House would say, “We should not be judged on how many laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal,” would be given a 2014 mandate to continue on its present path.

All in all, Gans makes a good case that Dems have some reasons to hope for an upset.

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