Why Republicans will gain at least 9 seats in the Senate and reduce the number of Democrats in the House to below 190 seats, their lowest level since 1930.
The RCP average has Dems and Repubs deadlocked at 45 seats each, with ten more too close to call. Unfortunately for Dems, seven of those seats are in red states and three are in purple. Not one seat is being fought on favorable terrain where the President’s popularity might keep the Democratic senate nominee above water.
Speaking of which, President Obama is underwater himself. Not just underwater, but an anchor. At this point in the 2010 election cycle, President Obama was more unpopular than popular, but by only four points: approximately 49-45. Today the RCP average has the margin at 13 points, with only 41% of voters approving of the president’s job.
Worse than that, while the President himself is unpopular, his policies themselves are even more unpopular. A recent ABC/WSJ poll found disapproval for his presidency to be 51%. But the disapproval levels for his policies lagged even that: 54% against his handling of the economy, 56% against his international affairs, 56% against his implementation of health care, and 59% against his immigration policies. Worse still, now that terrorism is becoming a concern with more Americans, the greatest number of Americans ever support Republicans over Democrats on this issue by a 55 to 32 margin. Compared with 2010, Dems have fallen 10 points and Repubs have gained 4 on an issue they already led and that wasn’t a top concern four years ago. Republicans, who began the year thinking that they could again use Obamacare as a cudgel against Democrats, have discovered that they have a whole arsenal of clubs from which to choose to beat their opponents. On virtually every issue Democratic positions are overwhelmingly unpopular.
Still worse for Democrats is that re-districting since 2010 has worsened their position. Racial gerrymandering is the main culprit. Most of the 41 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be returned to Washington in January with huge margins of victory. Democrats have built these districts’ lines to ensure a large amount of black representation in Congress. Many such seats are more than 80% Democratic. In a 50-50 nation where one-tenth of the House seats are hugely Democratic, that leaves many fewer Democrats to sprinkle around the rest of the country. For years, Republicans have had a Brer Rabbit attitude toward Democratically-led racial gerrymandering, as it gives them a disproportionate edge in the rest of the country. So in House seats that aren’t CBC house seats, President Obama is on average even more unpopular than he already is nationally.
On this date four years ago the RCP average had the GOP favored in 207 seats and the Democrats in 193. All 35 tossups broke for the GOP. The House in big elections tends to break big for the winning side. This year, the GOP is favored to win 230 seats—27 more than they were favored to win at this time in 2010. Democrats are favored in only 188, 5 fewer than in 2010. Of the 17 tossups, 13 are currently Democratic-held. Just as in the Senate, Democrats are fighting a reeling defense everywhere in the House. Worse for Democrats is that between September 11, 2010 and the 2010 election, the map widened in the GOP’s favor. They saw their lead slip such that on election day, the RCP average had them ahead in only 171 seats. On average, every seat moved over one notch; seats that had been leaning Democratic became tossups, forcing Democrats to defend even more turf. If a similar movement occurs again, expect Democrats to see another dozen or so seats slip away where they are currently favored to win.
And here’s why that might happen. Democrats spent the summer of 2010 fluctuating between 41 and 44 percent support on the generic congressional ballot question. This summer they are in exactly the same place. In 2010 the GOP began its rise out of the same region right around the 4th of July. But until then they were neck-and-neck with the Dems. This year the GOP looks to have begun its climb about six weeks later and now finds itself five points ahead of where it was just three weeks ago and with the highest level of support it has enjoyed all year. If this is indicative of undecideds breaking against the Dems, it will reflect in races where Democratic incumbents currently look safe.
I’ve lived through three landslide midterm elections in my adult life and all of them looked like this. But neither 1994, 2006, nor 2010 looked this bad for the party in the White House until much later in the race. Plus, in 2006 Republicans had a firewall of eight untouchable seats. No matter what happened they would keep Arizona, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. This year Democrats have three fewer seats that are firmly out of reach of the GOP. Even the President’s home state of Illinois is not safe. While unlikely, a veto-proof GOP majority in the senate and as few as 175 Democrats in the House, is not out of range.
Why the GOP will miss its opportunity (again).
Republicans are not the Stupid Party™ for nothing. In 2010 and 2012 they made the mistake of nominating wackos and witches in swing states and even blue ones where they had credible alternatives who were almost guaranteed to win. This time the GOP applied an opposite, but equally stupid approach. In three states so Republican that a red dog could win, they renominated their RINO incumbents who were the only Republicans in those states who could possibly lose. Kansas, a state so Republican that FDR won there only twice, typified the stupidity, but Kentucky and Mississippi weren’t far behind. The national GOP, tone deaf as always, didn’t appreciate that the only thing less popular in Kansas than a Kansas Democrat was a Washington Republican. By propping up the dinosaur Roberts, they have ensured the loss of a seat they couldn’t lose.
Almost as bad as Republican leaders are Republican voters. In 2010 complacency cost them seats they were going to win. Going into election day, Republicans led in Colorado and Nevada and were tied in Washington. They lost all three seats. In fact, the Republican candidate failed to beat the final RCP average in every single tossup state. The Obama turnout machine turned out while Republicans stayed home thinking that they already had the win.
And in 2010 Democrats gave Republicans an incentive they don’t have now: Nancy Pelosi. Sure, she is still around. But she no longer leads the House. Almost as unpopular as she was at her nadir, is the GOP’s John Boehner. “A pox upon both your houses” is the voters’ mood.
That thinking is evident in the generic congressional question, where this year, Republicans have never been able to break away from the Dems. If “none of the above” were a choice, it would probably win. Without a hated nemesis and with lackluster leadership of their own, a landslide victory—or even control of the Senate—is not going to happen.
UPDATE: Jay Cost notes a similar trend to what I stated in the first part of this post
All in all, this is precisely the sort of poll you do not want to see if you are a Democrat. With less than two months until the 2014 midterm, Republicans are polling stronger in the NBC/WSJ poll than at any point since … two months before the 2010 midterm.