Thursday, September 02, 2010

Electoral catastrophe for the Democrats in November?

Prospects don't look encouraging. Most analysts and pundits seem to share a consensus that a Democratic rout in the midterm elections, not just a major setback, appears increasingly likely. Just for example, here's the latest prognosis from Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia:
2010 was always going to be a Republican year, in the midterm tradition. It has simply been a question of degree. Several scenarios were possible, depending in large measure on whether, or how quickly, the deeply troubled American economy recovered from the Great Recession. Had Democratic hopes on economic revitalization materialized, it is easy to see how the party could have used its superior financial resources, combined with the tendency of Republicans in some districts and states to nominate ideological fringe candidates, to keep losses to the low 30s in the House and a handful in the Senate.

But conditions have deteriorated badly for Democrats over the summer. The economy appears rotten, with little chance of a substantial comeback by November 2nd. Unemployment is very high, income growth sluggish, and public confidence quite low. The Democrats’ self-proclaimed “Recovery Summer” has become a term of derision, and to most voters—fair or not—it seems that President Obama has over-promised and under-delivered.

Obama’s job approval ratings have drifted down well below 50% in most surveys. The generic ballot that asks likely voters whether they will cast ballots for Democrats or Republicans this year has moved increasingly in the GOP direction. While far less important, other controversies such as the mosque debate and immigration policy have made the climate worse for Democrats. Republican voters are raring to vote, their energy fueled by anti-Obama passion and concern over debt, spending, taxes, health care, and the size of government. Democrats are much less enthusiastic by almost every measure, and the Democratic base’s turnout will lag. Plus, Democrats have won over 50 House seats in 2006 and 2008, many of them in Republican territory, so their exposure to any sort of GOP wave is high.

Given what we can see at this moment, Republicans have a good chance to win the House by picking up as many as 47 seats, net. This is a “net” number since the GOP will probably lose several of its own congressional districts in Delaware, Hawaii, and Louisiana. [....] If anything, we have been conservative in estimating the probable GOP House gains, if the election were being held today.

In the Senate, we now believe the GOP will do a bit better than our long-time prediction of +7 seats. Republicans have an outside shot at winning full control (+10), but are more likely to end up with +8 (or maybe +9, at which point it will be interesting to see how senators such as Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and others react). GOP leaders themselves did not believe such a result was truly possible just a few months ago. If the Republican wave on November 2 is as large as some polls are suggesting it may be, then the surprise on election night could be a full GOP takeover. [....]
And that's just Congress.
The statehouses will provide the third leg of the Republicans’ 2010 victory. We have long suggested the GOP would gain a net +6 governorships. We now believe they will win +8. This boon to the GOP for redistricting will be enhanced by a gain of perhaps 300 to 500 seats in the state legislatures, and the addition of Republican control in 8 to 12 legislative chambers around the country. [....]
Summing up:
While a recent Gallup poll had the GOP leading the generic ballot by a massive 10 percent, on average Republicans are ahead by about 5 percentage points—still quite high by historic standards.

Overall, though, a strong bet is that 2010 will generate a substantial pendulum swing from the Democrats to the Republicans. It is not that Republicans are popular—most polls show the party even less liked than the Democrats. Many observers find it amazing that the less-liked party is on the verge of triumphing over the better-liked party. Nevertheless, in the time-honored American way, voters will be inclined to punish the party in-power by checking and balancing it with more members from the opposition party.
And if that doesn't sound discouraging enough, there's more.

=> Nate Silver of has not yet released his specific predictions for the November elections. But the following remarks, from the opening paragraphs of one of his latest posts, are sufficient to convey the general tone of his assessments these days:
We talked this morning about the Democrats’ poor electoral position — already shaky, it is probably now deteriorating further — but we haven’t talked as much about why they are in this predicament. [....] The reasons for the Democrats’ decline are, as we say in the business, overdetermined. [....]
Given the accelerating radicalization and policy nihilism of the Republicans in recent years, plus the amount of damage the Congressional Republicans have been able to do even when the Democrats had substantial majorities in both Houses, the prospects look extremely alarming—I mean for the country, not just for the Democrats.

Stay tuned,
Jeff Weintraub