Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thoughts on the Midterm Elections

We are past Labor Day, past the primaries, and finally coming into the general election campaign for real. It has been a lousy summer for Democrats largely because the BP oil spill and an economic "stall" of sorts dampened the public enthusiasm and economic recovery that had been building in the Springtime. Voters are unhappy by and large, somewhate fearful, and uncertain about their future. The voter who is not a committed partisan is largely unenthusiastic about Democrats but uncertain and unsure about Republicans. The far-right (Tea Party) is making waves and headlines, but they have not convinced the independent voters, by and large, that the GOP offers a better alternative to solving the country's economic problems.

The GOP has not offered the kind of unified slate and platform that they did in 1994 with the Contract on America. This will hurt their chances for winning the Congress. In fact, the 'enthusiasm gap' between Democrats and Republicans gets all the press, but the more enthusiasm important gap right now is between mainstream Republicans and the Tea Partiers. As one might have expected after 2006 and 2008 shrank the size of the GOP electorate, the far right has nominated some very far right candidates. But this is not a normal strategy to win the Congress back. For that, one would have expected a move to the center. Democrats are moving there as quickly as they can, into the void Republicans are leaving with their primary ballots for Tea Party candidates.

A midterm is expected to be a referendum on the sitting president. Here, it may also be a referendum on the Tea Party. To the extent it is, it will help the Democrats. Today, Alaska's center-right Murkowski announced a right-in campaign against the Tea Partier Miller who narrowly beat her in the primary. This gives the Democrat a possible opening. In Delaware, the lurch rightward may cost the GOP an easy pickup. Florida is seeing the same dynamic. The big story of 2010 is the intra-party GOP fight right now. Betting on enthusiasm for an the party's base rather than a centrist candidate is a tough bet. Democrats are becoming more optimistic as they see this happen.

This is not to say that the Democrats haven't had their own primary battles. They have. But these have not produced a strong leftward shift. The only real losers (see Specter) were Democrats who were substantially to the right of their party or who (see Specter) weren't real Democrats. These battles have probably strengthened the Democrats.

So what do I expect? (1) there will be some better economic news in September and October. While it's too late for a game-changer in terms of economics (this I had expected in the summer), it is fair to say that the public will be more optimistic and more disposed to the current admnistration than it is now. In other words, we won't see the building momentum we saw in 1994. (2) Tea party candidates will cost the GOP some seats they might otherwise have gained. This gives the Democrats a very good chance of retaining the Senate and an even chance of retaining the House. (3) The polls have largely focused on "likely voters" with strong assumptions about heavy GOP enthusiasm and participation. I expect the polls to tighten in favor of the Democrats as these assumptions become more realistic. (4) It's going to be ugly. Democrats have to win by portraying their adversaries as too extreme to be elected, and the Tea Party only knows how to be abrasive and ugly to begin with.


Raised By Republicans said...

The real threat is the low turnout. With non-partisans alienated and Democrats complaining that Obama hasn't waved a magic wand and delivered a liberal paradise in his first two years, I foresee a midterm electorate that will favor even the shrunken Republican party we see today.

LTG is correct that the campaign will be nasty. Nasty campaigns tend to lower turnout still further. The nastier it gets the better things will be for the Republicans.

That said, there are things that look bad for the GOP. The fact that, as LTG points out, independent voters remain skeptical of the Tea Party version of the GOP, makes a 1994 or 2006 type earthquake election unlikely.

Check out this press release from the Iowa Electronic Markets:

According to that story, the expected probability of Republicans taking both houses is down massively in reaction to the Tea Party victories in primaries. The expected probability of Democrats retaining control of both houses is up slightly. And the probability of the Democrats controlling the Senate while losing the House is up by double digits. So "the market" seems to think the Democrats are better off for the Tea Party winning.

The Law Talking Guy said...

RBR - yes low turnout is a threat. I think the current likely-voter models, however, are heavily discounting democratic turnout which can be raised with, among other things, a better economy, a more publicly campaigning Obama, and fear of Tea Party people. In other words, I think current predictions are based on assumptions about very low turnout which will not come true: turnout will be at least a little better than it currnetly seems is likely.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, this will be tougher to call than most people seem to think. There are some well known factors pushing the likely result in different directions (modestly improving economy, nasty campaigns, off year election, ideological extremism of the GOP). The question will be which of these factors will push the strongest.

The Law Talking Guy said...

What I think is unlikely is the kind of broad "wave" that the GOP saw in 1994 with a relatively unified approach. The average voter is just not sold on the GOP and not that upset at the Democrats. He or she isn't fond of "Washington" but isn't sure what to do about it, and is not attracted to Tea Party radicalism.

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