One of the things I dread about every Election Night is the tendency of pundits and spinners to over-interpret the results. It could very easily happen this year, because this has every appearance of being a sui generis election, and one with virtually no predictive value for the next cycle. I went through some of the reasons this is the case at TPMCafe today:
If Democrats hang onto the Senate, it could be a sign that the election was not as “nationalized” as expected, or inversely, that a national GOTV effort succeeded in helping them overcome the usual “midterm falloff” problem. And if Republicans win Senate control, it will show their ability to take advantage of a very favorable landscape and adjust to unexpected challenges like viable independent candidacies in Kansas and South Dakota, or underwhelming campaigns like those of Thom Tillis and David Perdue.
But is any of this an omen for what will happen in the next cycle, as big elements of the punditocracy will undoubtedly try to make it? Not so likely. 2016 will feature a different electorate (younger and more diverse) and a very different landscape. In the Senate, that landscape will go from being extremely pro-Republican this year (21 Democratic seats up, 8 in states carried by Romney, and 15 GOP seats up, just one in a state carried by Obama) to being extremely pro-Democratic in 2016 (24 GOP seats up, 7 in states carried by Obama, and just 10 Democratic seats up, none in states carried by Romney). Only three of this year’s Senate battlegrounds (North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa) are expected to be presidential battlegrounds (if a fourth, Georgia, becomes one, that will be very good news for Democrats).
Moreover, the issue landscape and candidate dynamics in 2016 are likely to be different. If the U.S. economy continues its slow but steady improvement, by 2016 the “economic issues” will likely focus on the quality rather than the quantity of jobs. While it’s possible the sort of plague-of-frogs international environment the U.S. is dealing with now will continue or even intensify, that’s hardly probable. And of course, whereas 2014 is an indirect and partial “referendum” on Barack Obama’s performance as president, 2016 will be more of a “two futures” campaign dominated by presidential nominees. The likely (though hardly certain) Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, is probably not going to be viewed as any sort of protege of or surrogate for Obama, thanks to her own vast public profile.
So this election matters, but not because it’s necessarily going to tell us much of anything about 2016. Fortunately, that cycle begins on November 5, so maybe some gabbers will forget to tell us the outcome has already been determined.