America’s upcoming midterms

In some ways, it is not surprising that American policy-makers are intensely focused on short-term popularity. Every two years, the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate are up for re-election. Anxiety about getting turfed about by annoyed voters naturally makes politicians hesitant to support anything where the pain is near-term and the benefits far off.

Looking forward to this November’s midterm elections, most people expect the Democrats to get a thumping. Just how big a thumping is, of course, a matter of discussion. During the past few months, many people have raised the possibility that the Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives. Now, some are wondering if they might lose the Senate as well. That possibility is certainly less likely, since only a third of the Senate is elected at a time. For the Republicans to gain control, they would basically need to win every competitive seat while not losing any that are considered safe for them.

Turnouts are always lower for midterm elections than for those that also include presidential voting. Indeed, mechanisms for getting supporters to actually vote are a key part of electoral tactics. That can include things like incorporating referenda on issues that fire up your base, whether they are on banning gay marriage or trying to simplify unionization. Another is to instill fear in your supporters that their opponents are about to triumph. Indeed, one reason why members of the Obama administration have been hinting about the possibility of Republican victories in November is to try to frighten Democratic supporters to the polls.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

9 thoughts on “America’s upcoming midterms”

  1. Hinting at a loss to scare supporters may partly be a tactic, but the danger seems pretty real.

  2. That is certainly the conventional wisdom at this point.

    On some level, it is definitely smart for the Obama administration to highlight these concerns. In addition to scaring supporters into being more likely to vote, it will make small losses in the next election into a victory, compared with public expectations. It is always better to do badly when people expect you to do terribly than to do badly when they expect you to do fairly well.

  3. “WHY, asks a Democrat leading a training session for fellow activists, doesn’t “Yes we can” work as a slogan any more? “Because we haven’t,” a jaded participant responds. Progressives, as bedrock Democrats like to call themselves, are despondent. The election euphoria of 2008, when their party secured heavy majorities in both chambers of Congress and Barack Obama won the presidency with ease, has deflated so rapidly that analysts are now diagnosing on the left an affliction they ascribed to the Republicans back then: an “enthusiasm gap”.

    The present gap is really more of a chasm. Gallup, a pollster, reckons that a mere 28% of Democrats are “very enthusiastic” about voting, compared to 44% of Republicans. By the same token the Pew Research Centre found in June that only 37% of liberal Democrats were “more enthusiastic than usual” about going to the polls, compared with 59% of conservative Republicans. And according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll the same month, the categories of voters whose interest in elections has dimmed the most since the last one are liberals and those who voted for Mr Obama (see chart). “You can’t deny the level of disappointment,” says Raul Grijalva, a Democratic representative from Arizona and head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

    Worse, Mr Obama’s administration has not made much progress at all towards several cherished leftish goals. The president claims to support replacing secret ballots with public recruitment drives to make it easier for workplaces to unionise (an idea known as “card check”), but the proposal has stalled in Congress. Mr Obama’s oft-professed goal of capping America’s emissions of greenhouse gases has come to naught, as has his talk of comprehensive immigration reform.

    Perhaps most galling to many Democratic activists, the party’s leaders often seem more concerned about pandering to their critics on the right than looking after their devoted supporters. How else, many ask, could you explain the government’s unseemly haste to dismiss Shirley Sherrod, a civil servant falsely accused of racism by a right-wing blogger? Why else would it take so long for legislation to allow gay soldiers to serve openly in the army to limp through Congress?”

  4. August 25, 2010, 12:45 pm
    New Forecast Shows Democrats Losing 6 to 7 Senate Seats

    The Democratic majority is in increasing jeopardy in the Senate, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight forecasting model. The Democrats now have an approximately 20 percent chance of losing 10 or more seats in the Senate, according to the model, which would cost them control of the chamber unless Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, who is running for the Senate as an independent, both wins his race and decides to caucus with them.

    In addition, there is an 11 percent chance that Democrats will lose a total of nine seats, which would leave them with 50 votes, making them vulnerable to a defection to the Republican Party by a centrist like Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut or Ben Nelson of Nebraska. On average, over the model’s 100,000 simulation runs, the Democrats are projected to lose a net of six and a half Senate seats, which would leave them with 52 or 53 senators. (Even though the G.O.P. primary in Alaska remains too close to call, that outcome is unlikely to alter the model.)

    The forecasts are based on a program designed to evaluate current polling and demographic data, and to compare these present-day conditions to outcomes in United States Senate races over the past six election cycles. For instance, in recent cycles, a Senate candidate with a 7-point lead in the polls 10 weeks before the election won about 80 percent of the time, and a candidate with a 12-point lead won about 95 percent of the time. Although the model, which correctly predicted the outcome of all 35 Senate elections in 2008, is not quite this cut-and-dried, it is this recent track record that forms the backbone of its projections.

  5. “The key thrust of Obama’s argument is that Republicans have no new ideas, and that from the start of his presidency they have reflexively opposed him. “If I said the sky was blue, they’d say no,” Obama told the crowd. “If I said fish live in the sea, they’d say no.” So far, this argument doesn’t seem to be working. Though Republicans have been coy about their future plans and no less obstructionist, polls show voters moving to them on the issues anyway. In a CNN/Opinion Research poll, 46 percent of Americans said that Republicans in Congress would do a better job handling economic issues, while 43 percent said that Democrats would. A year ago, Democrats held a 52 percent to 39 percent advantage. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll, Republicans now “run about evenly with Democrats on the question of which party they trust to handle the nation’s biggest problems.” Some 40 percent of registered voters say they have more confidence in Democrats, and 38 percent say they have more trust in Republicans. Three months ago, Democrats had a 12-point advantage.

    At the end of his Labor Day speech, the president promised that he was going to travel the country until Election Day, making his case. But it’s not clear exactly how much effort he’ll put forward. A White House official said that unlike Bill Clinton in 1994, Obama would not be visiting three or four cities a day in the final month before the election. Given Obama’s unpopularity in lots of contested districts too much exposure could be a bad thing. Whatever his final level of exertion he’s got to do enough at least so that after November his allies aren’t the ones talking about him like a dog.”

  6. September 8, 2010, 6:29 pm
    The Republicans’ 50-State, 428-District Strategy

    Under the leadership of Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009, the Democrats executed a move that came to be known as the 50-state strategy.

    The strategy was simply to run viable candidates in as many states and Congressional districts as possible, waiting for good opportunities to arise. Certainly, the Democrats were still going to devote more resources to traditional swing regions like central Ohio, or the Interstate 75 corridor in Florida, than they might to other areas. But, Mr. Dean’s strategy implied, distributing $250,000 to make an aspiring Democratic congressman viable in Republican-leaning areas like northeast Mississippi or western Idaho might produce a superior return on investment compared with spending the same money on a candidate in a swing district where several million dollars had already been invested and where it might make little impact at the margins.

    The fingerprints of Mr. Dean’s strategy are clear. Democrats went from contesting 399 of the nation’s 435 House races in 2004 (leaving themselves without a candidate in 36 Congressional districts) to 425 in 2006 (just 10 shy of the maximum). And when they retook Congress in 2006, they did so in part by winning districts as diverse as the Second Congressional District in Kansas, the 22nd Congressional District in Texas and the 11th Congressional District in North Carolina, all of which are Republican-leaning. In 2008, the Democrats added seats in other unlikely Congressional districts, like Idaho’s First and Alabama’s Second.

  7. The moral of such stories, and the conclusion of a mountain of research, is that although money can sway the odd race here and there, it is generally subject to the law of diminishing returns. Once a candidate has spent enough to become known, the value of each extra dollar falls. A study by Americans for Campaign Reform in 2008 put that minimum at $700,000 for a crack at a seat in the House of Representatives.

    This leads some to argue that instead of seeking to cap campaign contributions and spending, reformers should aim to help candidates across the magic threshold. A bill languishing in Congress, the Fair Elections Now Act, would offer public matching funds. Yet even that may be unnecessary. Gary Jacobson of the University of California in San Diego says the wielders of campaign funds have become expert at spotting competitive candidates and giving them the money they need to make a fight of it.

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