2014 Election: Reading The 2014 US Congressional Election Tea Leaves

Analysis

 @JosephLazzaro
on August 27 2013 4:07 PM
  • Boehner Obama July 2011 2
    House Speak John Boehner (left) with President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reuters
  • Boehner Reid 17 Pelosi Nov 2012 FC post meeting 2
    If the election was held today, the Democratic Party would lose seats in the House and Senate. (l-r) House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken. Reuters
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The U.S. and international landscapes are filled with activity, but in the U.S., it’s never too early to ‘read the tea leaves’ regarding the next election – in this case the 2014 off-year Congressional election.

Hence, with the aforementioned in mind, let’s put on the old political science hat for a moment and see where the party breakdown stands.

U.S. Voting Behavior

First, a little background. Historically, the party in charge of the White House loses about 10-14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, with a condition that may surprise a reader or two: the 10- to 14-seat House loss isn’t an evaluation of the party in charge of the White House/executive branch.

The reason? During a presidential election, a swarm of independent voters rush-in and vote for president. Independents, however, aren’t as dedicated to voting as party identifiers are (Democrats and Republicans), hence when the off-year congressional election occurs two years later, many Independents “sit the election out” – i.e. don’t vote, and many of these independents voted for the president. The result is a lower vote total for the president’s party in the off-year Congressional election – and the aforementioned 10- to 14-seat loss in the House - regardless of how the administration performed in the two years after the presidential election.

In other words, for independents, the presidential election is “the big party”  - the other elections are small potatoes and aren’t worth bothering with.

Hence, regardless of performance, the party in charge of the White House – in this case the Democrats – is in the hole about 10-14 seats come off-year Congressional election time.

Issues: They Affect Elections

That said, performance in office does matter – the American people want problems solved – and if they aren’t, historically they will blame the party in power in the White House (again, in this case the Democrats). Further, it doesn’t matter if the party in power did not cause the problem. The American people say: ‘There’s a problem, you’re in charge; now fit it.’

U.S. voters also hold the U.S. Congress accountable, but again, historically the survey research indicates voters hold the president’s party more accountable.

In other words, if a problem(s) is not being solved, the president’s party will lose even more than 10-14 seats in the House.  There are many examples of the above. Two recent elections in the modern / postmodern era illustrate the impact an issue(s) can have.

In the 2006 off-year Congressional election, U.S. voters blamed primarily President George W. Bush for the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans / southeast U.S. The result: the Republican Party lost 31 seats in the election, and control of the House, to the Democratic Party. (Pre-election: Democrats 202 seats, Republicans 231 seats. Post-election: Democrats 233 seats, Republicans 198 seats.) In 2006, the Republican Party also lost 6 seats in the Senate, including control of the upper chamber.

In the 2010 off-year Congressional election, U.S. voters blamed primarily President Barack Obama for an underperforming U.S. economy and for a poorly-timed if not a policy overreach by passing the U.S.’s universal health insurance plan (the Affordable Care Act), commonly known as Obamacare. The result: the Democratic Party lost 64 seats in the election, and control of the House, to the Republican Party. (Pre-election: Democrats 256 seats, Republicans 178 seats. Post-election: Democrats 193 seats, Republicans 242 seats.) In 2010, the Democratic Party also lost 6 seats in the Senate, however the Dems did manage to retain control of the upper chamber.

Performance Matters; And The 2014 Outlook?

Hence, as one can see from the 2006 and 2010 off-year Congressional elections, issues – and the party in power in the White House’s performance on them – do matter, and they do affect election.

With the above as a backdrop, where does the 2014 off-year Congressional election stand? (Currently, Republicans control the House, 234-201; Democrats control the Senate, 54-45-1.)

Well, there’s bad news and good news for the Democratic Party – the party in charge of the White House.

Start with the given 10- to 14-seat House loss for the Democrats, add a sluggish U.S. economy, including a protracted period of high unemployment (above 7 percent), and 2014 may result in a more than 15-seat loss in the House, and a 2- to 3-seat loss in the Senate.

The good news for the Democrats? First, the election is not today: it’s 15 months from now, in November 2014. Significance? The issue landscape can change and there’s still time for Democrats to solve existing problems. Second, Congressional Republicans have shown a remarkable ability to squander electoral advantages.

Whether it’s extremist views on immigration reform, voting rights, or abortion – or a seeming willingness to force a U.S. government shutdown or even a catastrophic U.S. government default on its debt if Obamacare is not defunded, the Republican Party is running the risk of angering U.S. voters - and squandering its likely 2014 election gains.

It's 'Advantage-GOP'

In sum, if the U.S. economy’s health remains the same, it’s advantage-Republicans, including substantial House and Senate seat gains.

On the other hand, if Congressional Republican behavior results in a protracted U.S. government shutdown or a needless and damaging U.S. government default, the party will gain few, if any, seats in November 2014.

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