Pearce's New Initiative: Listen First Project

@ListenFirstProj Tweets

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

2010: The Year of the Elephant

In American electoral politics, the great pendulum that is the balance of power between the two major parties inevitably swings from side to side as voters grow weary of ineffectual or excessively ideological rule by the party in power. As we approach the 2010 Midterm Elections, the pendulum, having moved far left in 2006 and 2008, is poised to make a dramatic swing back towards the right. Over the past two elections, Democrats picked up 54 seats in the House of Representatives and 14 seats in the Senate. In 2006, Democrats swept to majorities in both houses of Congress. In 2008, the party stretched its majorities in Congress and elected Barack Obama to the White House.

Only one year ago, Barack Obama was on top of the world and riding a wave of hope into the second decade of the 21st Century. Analysts predicted Democrats would add seats to their supermajority in the Senate, and, while the historic norm of the President's party losing House seats in his first midterm election was expected, no one dreamt that the party's 77-seat majority could be in danger. That was then; this is now.

In the months sinse, three Senate Democrats have announced retirements, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana, joining 16 in the House, including one more today, which hands Republicans another solid pickup opportunity. These retirements, with the exception of Dodd, only exacerbate what is already becoming a potentially disastrous cycle for Democrats, and many think the exit number will go higher.

The generic congressional ballot has swung 13 points towards Republicans, from a eight point Dem advantage in 2008 to a five point lead for the GOP. Democrats also fell below the majority support enjoyed since 2005 and saw their affiliation shrink in 39 states. The net favorability of the two parties has converged as Democrats have watched an 18 point positive become a 10 point negative. A full 40% of Americans now describe themselves as conservative, the highest number in years and twice the liberal ID of 20%. There has unquestionably been a significant political climate change across the country, yet Democrats in power haven't seemed to notice.

In his first year, the President's approval has rapidly fallen from 68 to below 50, a record decline. He's suffered an approval index dive of 41 points. Obama's approval in December was the lowest ever recorded 11 months into a president's term. His standing is even worse on major issues with Republicans now trusted more than Democrats to solve many of the nations most salient problems. Much of this drop is due to broken promises, the substance of his policies and what some see as a bait-and-switch operation. Even in the White House press room, the laughter has ended.

The swing has been most dramatic among the ever-critical Independent bloc of voters. This group supported Obama 64-16 in January 2009 but now disapprove of his performance 51-38. They approve of his performance on only one issue, international affairs. Democrats are understandably alarmed as Independents desert the party, due in no small part to the protracted fight for Democrat's health care reform. Independents now give Republicans a 16 point advantage on the generic ballot. What's more, there is a significant intensity gap with Republicans far more interested in November's midterm elections than Democrats. In midterm elections, where turnout is key, this intensity gap could portend the kind of wave Republicans hope for.

At the ballot box, Republicans have swept three state-wide elections. November saw Republicans take over the governor's mansions in Virginia and New Jersey. In January, a cataclysmic shock went across the political world as Republican Scott Brown won the Kennedy Senate seat in Massachusetts. That defeat cost Democrats their supermajority in the Senate, a result applauded by most Americans. Independent voters in these elections resoundingly supported the Republicans, 66-33 in Virginia, 60-30 in New Jersey and 65-34 in Massachusetts, after supporting Obama in 2008.

As the election calendar turns towards the midterms, most analysts are predicting Republican gains of around 25 seats or higher in the House and as many as 7 or 8 in the Senate, leading many to speculate that we could be seeing the landslide of 1994 all over again. Indeed, Stan Greenberg, a top Democratic pollster, acknowledges that his polls are eliciting a feeling of panic as it's beginning to look like that epic election cycle. Indeed, the polling looks remarkably similar. To regain control of Congress, Republicans must flip 40 seats in the House and 10 in the Senate. Senate control is not yet in play. However, top political handicapper Charlie Cook has gone so far as to say it is "very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don't lose the House." He added that you could triple the Republican Party's problems and they'd be better than those currently facing Dems. He blames the White House for "fundamental, total miscalculations from the very, very beginning" about the direction to take the country.

Even in our political system, in which change is the only constant, the seismic shift in the political landscape we've witnessed over the last year is remarkable. Cook notes, Democrats dominated Congress for four decades until the Republican Revolution of 1994. Then Republicans held the House for 12 years before being ousted in 2006. That seems like a lifetime compared to the current outlook for Democrats. Says Cook...

The trajectory of this election looks horrific for Democrats. In this kind of environment, days that go by without some "game-changing" development benefiting the GOP in a state or district are the exception, not the rule...

Whether or not Democrats hold onto their House majority by a sliver -- say, five or six seats -- and hold their Senate losses to five seats or so, the fact is that after just four years in power, congressional Democrats are in trouble.
There seems to be a new impatience among the electorate as voters sour on DC and the politicians, for the time being Democrats, who run it. Members of Congress earn the worst honesty and ethics score of any profession tested by Gallup. Voters see very little "we" in the political process and are sending a strong message to Washington that they've had enough of the perpetual dysfunction that grips the city. Eighty-six percent of Americans believe government is broken and 71% give Congress poor ratings. Some blame the President, pointing out that the US is far from ungovernable, while others blame Republicans. We are seeing a new populism, some call it a peasant revolt. In this environment, all incumbents should beware of the widespread sentiment, but Democrats, as the party holding all levers of power, will bear the brunt of voter backlash, just as they did in Massachusetts.

Fortunately for the majority, congressional popularity has little correlation with midterm election results. Unfortunately for Democrats, presidential popularity is of great import. Despite Obama's attempts to reassure fellow Democrats that the "big difference" between 2010 and 1994 is "you've got me," history tells us that the President will only drag his party down in November. No president has ever gained in approval between the beginning of a midterm year and the November elections. While Obama says the "buzz saw"of opposition won't stop him, it may well end the political careers of his friends, leading some to keep their distance.

While the outlook is quite rosy for Republicans, Cook reminds the GOP that, as I wrote in my last post, the voter discontent and outright anger now aimed at Democrats and elevating Republicans can easily turn on the GOP, particularly if we take control of the House and fail to move the country in a positive direction. If, however, Republicans are faithful stewards of voters' trust, we stand to make many more gains in the years to come. In 2012 and 2014, Democrats must defend a combined 43 Senate seats as Republicans defend only 22. The recent electoral imbalance which helped Democrats achieve a short-lived supermajority will afford Republicans an advantage in the next two cycles. This makes the odds of Republicans regaining the Senate majority in the not-to-distant future very good.

As for the elections in our immediate future, Michael Barone, author of "the bible of American politics," sums it all up saying,

What we have here are the makings of an epic party disaster. Whether it comes to pass is still uncertain. But it certainly could.
Will November, nine short (long?) months away, bring an epic disaster for the Democratic Party and see previously laughable Republican dreams realized or will these next months prove as tumultuous and unpredictable as the last, allowing Democrats to mitigate their own impending demise? While the GOP has all the momentum, alarms are sounding much earlier in the cycle than they did in 1994, which gives Democrats time to try a course correction. The smartest analysts in the business see little hope for such a turnaround, but remember, change is the only constant when talking about the individual political sentiments of 200 million unique voters and a political world in which new developments happen not by the week but by the minute. Here's to Republicans capitalizing on Democrat's failures, not just for the sake of renewed power but for the sake of the American people and a more prosperous future. Republicans must stand ready to govern, to bring the real change and progress we so deeply desire.

PG Poll: Put on your political prognosticator hat. Do you thing Republicans will regain control of the House of Representatives this November? How about the Senate by 2012? Vote on the left side of the page and leave your comments below!

No comments: