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Why 2014 will be difficult for the Democrats

by: Left Coast Libertarian

Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 01:39:52 AM EST

Mid-terms are bad for a President. There are several reasons for this. First, the public almost always has buyer's remorse. It's so easy for a President to disappoint them and so hard for him to get enough right to make people happy. Second, when a candidate wins the Presidency he usually has coattails, even in re-election. In order to get elected he needed more of his voters to turn out. Lastly, the opposition has an advantage in that they are motivated against the President. Since he's not on the ballot his supporters are less motivated.  
Left Coast Libertarian :: Why 2014 will be difficult for the Democrats
In 17 mid-terms since 1944 the President's party's share of the House vote has dropped from the previous election 16 times. That's with Republican and Democratic Presidents. When something happens 94% of the time, it's a good sign it'll happen again.

I know people think 1998 was a good Democratic year and it was from the standpoint of Democrats gaining seats. What people don't realize is that the Democratic party's share of vote dropped from 1996 to 1998 from 50.2% to 49.5%. Gaining seats was a combination of good luck from retirements and 1994 winners who didn't lose in 1996.

So, in 1998 you have a Democratic President and a Republican party that did the unthinkable. Impeaching the President is one the few things a party can do to elevate the House above the President in people's minds. Despite this blunder, Republicans still got a higher percentage than 1996. Of course it shows that Democrats could drop in the vote and gain seats. I don't doubt that, but that's more of race-by-race analysis that I'll get into later.

The only time a President's party didn't drop in a mid-term was 2002, a year where George Bush's approval rating was 65% due to 9-11. So it might take an event like that for Democrats to win more votes. President Obama's approval rating is around 51%, a far cry from Bush's 65%. If Obama gets up to 65%, I'll revise my judgment.

Not only will conditions be less favorable to Democrats, but the electorate will be less favorable. Mid-terms have less voters. No matter what you, no matter how good the GOTV effort has been, this has been immutable. Every mid-term since 1986 has had between 71% and 76% of the votes in the previous general election. There's no reason to think that'll change.

While you'll get some new voters, most of the voters who vote in 2014 will be a sub-set of the 2012 electorate. The question is who will or won't show up. Minorities haven't shown up. Below are the percentage of Whites in the last four Presidential elections and the subsequent mid-terms.

2000: 81%
2002: 82%

2004: 78%
2006: 79%

2008: 75%
2010: 78%

2012: 72%

There were 5.7 million less White voters in 2012. If all of them had voted, the Whites would've been 73%. The 2014 percentage of White voters will likely be somewhere around 73-75%. Democrats only managed to win 50.6% of the two party vote with minorities making up 28% of the electorate. Since Democrats clean up with minorities, but struggle with White voters more White voters is bad news. There were even less minorities in 2006, a good year for Democrats.

The Democratic coalition has become increasingly reliant on the 18-29 segment. They used to index no more than 110 against their actual vote but they indexed at 124 and 119 in 2010 and 2012. The problem is that this group has made up 12% of the electorate in the last three mid-terms, while being 16-19% in general elections.

So why did Democrats do well in 2006? They weren't as reliant on minority or young voters as they are today. They also did very well with swing voters, who were united against the President. Unfortunately, uniting against the President in 2014 won't be good for the Democrats.

Subjectively I can think of a bunch of reasons 2014 will be good for Democrats. The Republicans can blow it or become complacent. The problem with that is that the opposition party has surely done those things before and it hasn't resulted in a positive move for the President's party. There's a double whammy going on here, the Presidential party doing poorly in mid-terms as well as the Democratic coalition taking them off.

Objectively, I see the Democratic share of the vote declining by 1-3% in 2014 to 47.6%-49.6%. Circumstances will certainly change between now and the election to impact that prediction.  

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Other thing to note
In 1986 and 1998, both Presidents Reagan and Clinton were hovering in the low 60%'s in Approval.

Despite that, the GOP lost seats in 1986, and Clinton had just modest gains in the House and held even defending 18 Senate seats in 1998.

Our only other recent examples of 6 year elections are that of Johnson, Nixon and W. Bush. All three were fairly unpopular by that point, and in all three elections, the opposition party did very well.

Interestingly, in 1986 the GOP held the Senate, and and the Democrats held the House. GOP lost 8 seats in the Senate, and 5 in the House, possibly indicating that the insurgent Democrats had fewer targets on the GOP in the House, and thus did less well. Similarly, Clinton didn't gain in the Senate, while making gains in the House, considering more of his party's seats were up for election that year than for the GOP. It seems to me, that considering Obama's Democrats are in the minority in House, he's unlikely to fare too poorly there. The Senate could be another matter.

Additionally, with his approval hovering around 50%, far lower than the very popular Clinton and Reagan who had slightly positive to negative results in the 6-year, I can't imagine he's going to have a good night in November 2014 (ie. picking up the House and holding the Senate). Of course, his numbers could change, and the GOP could continue to down spiral, so anything could happen...

Baker '14
R, MA-3

Reagan and Clinton
I didn't know Reagan and Clinton were riding that high in approval. That makes the Reagan drop from 47.4% to 44.9% in the House even less dependent on approval rating. Reagan lost senate seats because he had 22 up to 12 from the Democrats. They won so many in the Reagan landslide in 1980.

On the other hand, Clinton had 16 up to the GOP's 18. So he was okay.

I think big losses are unlikely in 2014 but the Democrats will show a vote share drop and will almost definitely lose seats as a result. I don't see the net loss being more than 4-8.

R, CA-37; hometown: PA-2

[ Parent ]
You can look at Reagan's midterm in another way
and say that every President has about one bad midterm. Reagan's was split. In his first midterm (1982) Republicans lost a good deal of seats in the house but actually gained a seat in the senate! In second midterm it was senate that suffered a huge loss of 8 seats and the house that had only small losses.

You could say the Dems already maxed out a good deal of their seats in 1982 and that there less targets available for 1986.

The Senate on the otherhand the GOP was on the defense. It had more freshman and more overall to defend. Thus the GOP was at a structural disadvantage. Democrats still had some residual strength in the south and thus were able to reverse many of the 1980 senate races.

The GOP right now has the advantage as they have fewer seats to defend and more targets in the senate and they have favorable maps for the house. The House especially relatively few targets for both parties so I can't really either party gaining many seats in 2014 as most of the seats are locked up in safe territory. But as you say its still too soon to get the best picture of how the races will turn out.

[ Parent ]
60% of the white vote
If the GOP gets 60% of the white vote again, for a 3rd time, I'd look at which districts swing on that factor alone.

A couple of the California districts certainly do. Perhaps NH-1.

28, R, PA-07.

I'm not sure if the swing will be much in suburban New York, but I think that Maloney will be worth going after. Minority turnout in Poughkeepsie and Newburgh should be lower than it was in 2012. That won't make a difference by itself, but it will help.

22, Male, Conservative Republican, TN-08 (home), VA-01 (college)

[ Parent ]
my take
On the House side; Obama already had the sixth year itch in 2010; and even with the slight rebound in 12, there's not a lot of seats left to take; so while I think Republicans will gain seats in the House and they have a possibility of getting a larger majority than in 2010, your not going to see a 30+ net seat gain for Republicans.

On the Senate side though; Democrats have a lot of seats up including a bunch of seats Romney carried and in addition these seats were last up in 2008, a Democratic wave year. So the 6th year itch of losing seven+ senate seats could occur.
(This does assume though that the Republican candidates for senate stop shoving their foot in the mouth and that they run scared when not unopposed.)

43 Male Republican, Maryland Heights, MO Pattonville School District, Maryland Heights Fire District (MO-2). Previously lived in both Memphis and Nashville.

The Democrats will gain governorships in 2010
Incumbent governors rarely lose but I highly doubt we run the table.

28, R, PA-07.

Right now
I see Arkansas, Maine, Florida and Pennsylvania flipping.  Maybe Michigan as well.

Christie 2016  

[ Parent ]
The situation in Maine depends on Mr. Cutler. His presence really tilts the state of the race in an odd direction. 3-way races are hard to predict.

I agree with the others though

I am a Tom Rukavina Democrat.

[ Parent ]
Rhode Island will flip too
If you count Chafee to the Dems as a flip.

[ Parent ]
I don't really consider that a flip
Just as I didn't see Lieberman to Murphy as a flip.

I am a Tom Rukavina Democrat.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, we have a lot to defend
Expecting close races in AZ, FL, ME, MI, OH, PA, and WI

But the Democrats are going to have a time defending:
AR- Obviously
CT- Foley's running again, and Malloy while better than he was a year ago, is still not popular
IL- I don't see Madigan running, which is a problem for the Democrats
MA- Scott Brown will likely run here, and he has a lot more charisma than Grossman
RI- Yes, it's likely Chafee will either get bounced by a Democrat or become one himself, but the GOP will have a top tier candidate in Doherty/Avedisian/Fung

Then, I imagine either NH or CO will feature a race, and then there's an open seat in MD.

If we lose Governors in 2014, it won't be too heavy

Baker '14
R, MA-3

[ Parent ]
Agree on all counts
Except for WI being close. Maybe the margin will be close but I don't think Walker is in any real danger of losing after beating the recall.

MD will only be competitive with Ben Carson or Alan Kittleman.

R - MD-7

[ Parent ]
I don't think Kasich is that close either

28, R, PA-07.

[ Parent ]
I hope you are both right about OH and WI
But neither of them have sky-high approvals (yes more positive than negative now), and they are going to attract solid Democratic challengers one way or another.

Baker '14
R, MA-3

[ Parent ]
For your long-shot Dems, OR and HI are better bets to be competitive than NH and CO, as Abercrombie and Kitzhaber are more polarizing than Hickenlooper and Hassan.

R - MD-7

[ Parent ]
The State GOP in NH
Isn't going to want Hassan and Shaheen to coast to victory, lest 2014 will look a lot like 2006. I imagine they are going to put up a challenge to either one of them or both. Might be a reason Sununu is getting floated out there again.

Baker '14
R, MA-3

[ Parent ]
Sununu should run for NH-01
It's the most winnable race in the state and he could probably lock it down.

[ Parent ]
Which one?
I would like to see John for Senate and Chris for NH-1.

R - MD-7

[ Parent ]
If only Kelly Ayotte had a sibling....

Baker '14
R, MA-3

[ Parent ]
John for NH-01
I don't think Shaheen is beatable and a second loss to her could end his career. Running against CSP is the best way to get him back in office.

[ Parent ]
A former senator running for a house seat?
I doubt anyone's ego could take that. If he was really eager to get back in politics he could have ran in 2010 before Ayotte got in, or in 2012 for governor.

He only lost by 6 points in 2008, a wave cycle against a known entity in Shaheen (so, he didn't have the typical advantages of incumbency). Shaheen isn't extremely popular, although she is doing pretty well. Sununu would make it a Leans Democratic race, which is probably the best we can do, unless some outsider blows everyone's socks off.

30/Male/Married/Father of One/Republican/CA-3

Marco Rubio For President!

[ Parent ]
Rod Grams did it
Although it was sort of an accident he was elected to the Senate in the first place (getting voted out after 1 term, and the outcome was never really in doubt even early on), and he got crushed in his run for house later.

I am a Tom Rukavina Democrat.

[ Parent ]
Claude Pepper is the most famous example
Sanford is running for the House after being Governor, which Mike Castle also did.

Sununu is a unique case. He's in a small, swingy state and has already been in and out of the Senate at the age of 48, which is younger than the averaged House freshman. He's blocked by two popular Senators for the time now. If he can get into NH-01 and hold it, he could conceivably have a long House career, or wait there until Shaheen or Ayotte moves on.

[ Parent ]
I'm not saying it hasn't happened before
I'm just saying it is unusual. If I were Sununu I would prefer to be a senator or a governor at this stage of his life, rather than being a congressman with no seniority.  

30/Male/Married/Father of One/Republican/CA-3

Marco Rubio For President!

[ Parent ]
Larry Pressler in South Dakota in 2002
A former powerful Senator (Chair of the Commerce Committee) ran for the House--and lost the primary (albeit to the incumbent Governor.)

[ Parent ]
must be the only Senator vs. Governor House primary
Right Shamlet?

Age 22, CA-18 (home), CA-13 (college)

Law and Order Communitarian, Civic Nationalist, Democrat, Francophile.

I'll become a conservative when America becomes a meritocracy

[ Parent ]
I have a feeling
That we're about to hear about an election in a small western state in the 30's. Although it could very well be the only Senator vs. Governor race for the House.

[ Parent ]
AFAIK 2002 was the only time. The closest I could think of was a Senator (Berkeley Bunker) vs. Lt. Governor (Maurice Sullivan) primary in 1944-Nevada.

R - MD-7

[ Parent ]
I had no idea he endorsed and campaigned for Obama this past cycle.  The things you learn once you begin to search.

34/M/D/NY-01 DKE:Socks The Cat

[ Parent ]
I don't think anyone cared!

[ Parent ]
Believe me
If I didn't know he endorsed, then no one did care lol.

34/M/D/NY-01 DKE:Socks The Cat

[ Parent ]
Look to Shea Porter's predecessor for precedent
After Shea-Porter ousted him in '06, Jeb Bradley made a comeback bid for a state senate seat three years later. Today, he is the majority leader. (Sidenote: Democrats are just one vote shy of a majority in the NH state senate. We must campaign assiduously to deny them complete control)

True, Bradley's demotion isn't entirely analagous to Sununu's potential one. However, it's worth noting. As a leader in the state senate, Bradley is at the apogee of his political career. His head-scratching decision to go from Washington to Concord gave him more influence than he ever had as a US Congressman.

Seeing that Sununu would presumably be closer with House Republican leadership than any of his freshman colleagues, he'd be awarded good committee spots. The fact that he decided to challenge Shea-Porter in a competitive district only makes that prospect more likely. I doubt Sununu will take the plunge. Nevertheless, he should give it serious thought, as Shea-Porter looks like a goner next to Shaheen and Hassan

Ryan/Kasich 2016

[ Parent ]
He would also come in with 3 years of seniority
Remember that he served 6 years in the House before he moved up to the Senate. So he'd have seniority over the entire classes of 2012 and 2014.

[ Parent ]
I'd rather have Chris for NH-1
He's a known entity, and a solid candidate in his own right even without the name. And doesn't have the retread feel of John E.

R - MD-7

[ Parent ]
I suspect the GOP will make modest gains in 2014
Probably picking up about three Senate seats and either breaking even or flipping a couple in the House. Unfortunately, I believe this progress will be largely eroded come 2016. Not to the point where the Ds have a snowball's chance in hell of taking the House, but probably bringing the Senate back to roughly a 55-45 affair. I'm convinced Rs will hold the House for the entire decade, sans a Hillary blowout in 2016.

25, MA-07, Rockefeller Republican. Jeb 2016. Visit me at

if a Republican wins the WHite House in 2016, the Dems have at least a 40% chance of taking back the House in 2018.

Life for the next President is going to suck.

Christie 2016  

[ Parent ]
2014 won't chage things much
I don't think 2014 will change things much politically.  Here's my analysis:

In the Senate I think Repubs will pick up around 2 seats. Best bets for Repubs are W.Va and SD and although Dems have an edge in NC and La, these seats will be competitive. Despite vacancies in NJ and Ia I think these seats will stay Dem.  If Collins doesn't run again the Repubs will lose Me.  They will also probably lose Ga. if Broun is the Repub nominee.  

Right now there are 30 Repub Govs, 19 Dem and 1 Independent, so numerically speaking, Dems have more opportunities. Repub seats that could switch include Me, Fla, Oh, Ariz, Mich and Pa. Repubs have a good chance in Ark and could take Mass if Brown runs. So I see Dems picking up around 2 or 3 seats.

I really don't see that many competitive seats in the House. In 2012 only 7 Repubs won by less than 10,000 votes(Mich,Ill,NY,Ind,Minn,Neb and Colo) and likewise for 12 Dems (Mass,Conn,NY,NC,Fla,Tx,Ill,Ut,2 Cal,and 2 Ariz). So I see Repubs picking up about 4 to 6 seats.  

If the economy really tanks again in 2014 this outlook would change.  

Yup: Older, whiter voter
George Will has been saying for more than a decade that non-Presidential elections are older and whiter.

I guess he was right.

An anti-public union, market-loving moderate.

So we should expect
An electorate between 73-75% white then?  Still an improvement over 2010 and even 2006 no?  I guess the question will be does the white vote hold up for the GOP and does the minority vote hold up for the Democrats.

34/M/D/NY-01 DKE:Socks The Cat

Good Questions
An electorate between 73-75% white then? Yes, although it's possible it'll be more White since no mid-term has been less than 78% White.

Still an improvement over 2010 and even 2006 no?  For the Democrats it will be. In 2006 Democrats got 48% of the White vote. Absent a Republican President that people hate I don't think we'll see that again.

I guess the question will be does the white vote hold up for the GOP and does the minority vote hold up for the Democrats? In 2010 the GOP got 62% of the White vote. Romney got 60% of the White vote in 2012 and congressional Republicans did 1.4% better than him overall. So they likely exceeded that.

I'd guess we'd see close to 60% of the White vote for congressional Republicans, although the question I have to ask is what Democrats have done to convince White non-progressives that they don't hate them. Fortunately for Republicans, Democrats are using the same strategies they've been using.

The GOP got 39% of the Latino vote and 9% of the Black vote in 2010. I'd guess that the share in 2014 will be in the low 30's for Latinos. I doubt we'll see much of a drop off for Blacks. Romney got 6%. So 7-8% won't impact the election much.

Democrats should do better than 2010 with each ethnic group and the electorate should be less White.  

R, CA-37; hometown: PA-2

[ Parent ]
Unopposed races
are why I discount the entire House popular vote argument between 1996 and 1998.  The states have different ways of dealing with unopposed races, some states count the votes cast for the unopposed candidate, others do not.
Further, there appears to be a lot more unopposed Republicans in 1998 than 1996, and if these votes were counted for the GOP candidate, it hurts the Dems more than an unopposed Dem hurts the GOP.  (Dems would have gotten 25-30% in these unopposed races, while the GOP may get 10-15% in an inner city minority district with low turnout.)   It is very possible that taking this into account the Dems may have done better in 1998 in the House popular vote.

I agree with the rest of your post though.

Christie 2016  

1996 v. 1998
I checked this. There were 7 unopposed Republicans in 1996 and 40 in 1998. There were 9 unopposed Democrats in 1996 and 31 in 1998. There were also seats where no totals were reported. There were 5 such Republican seats in 1996 and 14 in 1998. There were 1 such Democratic seat in 1996 and 5 in 1998. You make the assumption that the unopposed Democratic  seats were minority-majority but only some were. People like Howard Berman and Nick Rahall were unopposed.

It's difficult to estimate how many votes were missed, but by my calculations the Democratic share in 1998 would've been about 0.1% below 1996. So it still would've been lower, albeit virtually the same.

So I stand by that the President's party does drop in mid-terms.  

R, CA-37; hometown: PA-2

[ Parent ]
missing white voters
My opinion is that the decline in the percentage of the electorate that is non-Hispanic white is a key factor that needs to be looked at for future elections. Now that the final numbers are in, it appears total voter turnout declined about 2.2 million from 2008 to 2012. In addition, for the percentage of voter turnout to be the same percentage compared to total population in 2012 vs 2008 there should have been actually between 5 and 6 million additional voters (since the population grew by over 10 million in that time period). We also know that the percent of voters under 30 grew by 1% in 2012 compared to 2008 and minority vote participation also increased, so it appears these missing voters are non-Hispanic whites over 30.  While it is important for Repubs to reach out to minorities and young voters in 2014, there also needs to be an effort to find out who these missing non-Hispanic white voters are and why they are not voting. If the Repubs can find a way to appeal to these voters and get them to turn out, they will do better in future elections.  

"Missing" white voters
might not be Republicans or conservatives. Many of them were Dems/indies who dislike Obama but hated Romney and the GOP.  I knew three such people (and helped convince them to sit it out).

The number one priority should be to appeal to non-whites who are otherwise pretty conservative (outside of civil rights and immigration).  Many of them simply do not consider the GOP a viable option, because of stereotypes about the party.  
If the conservative movement is to continue, it must win over conservative minorities who currently vote Dem.  

Christie 2016  

[ Parent ]
10 million missing white voters
If the population grew by 10 million, then the 18+ population grew by at least 9 million. Of those, probably around 6.5 million were White. Of those, around 4.7 million should've been expected to vote. The White vote dropped by 5.6 million, so we're talking about 10 million missing White voters.

Who were those 10 million? We know that some of them were from New York and New Jersey. Even though those are blue states we have reason to believe that a decent share were Republican leaning due to lower turn-out in Republican leaning counties.

One of the problems with just looking at turn-out compared to 2008 is that it doesn't account for population shifts. I haven't looked at that.

R, CA-37; hometown: PA-2

[ Parent ]
Why do they dislike the GOP
One commentator mentioned that he has friends who disliked Obama but also disliked the GOP.  I wouldn't be surprised if there are a number of voters like this; the key question is why do they dislike the GOP and can the Repubs change their image with many of these voters. An article in the magazine section of the Feb. 17 NY Times by Robert Draper (which was mainly about how the Dems have more "tech savvy" than Repubs) looked at some focus groups of "ambivalent" Dems.  Many were more centrist than liberal, but voted without great enthusiasm for Obama. Yet although they might agree with the Repubs in a number of areas, the Repubs have such a bad overall "brand image" they all reject supporting Repubs. The Repubs were seen as interested only in the rich, too supportive of foreign interventions, narrow minded and too extreme on social conservative issues.  One woman said she was anti-abortion but voted for Obama because she felt Repubs were too extreme on the abortion issue (calling Mr. Akin, Walsh and Murdock).  I would think many of those who didn't vote have similar attitudes.  This doesn't mean Repubs have to become "Democrats Lite" but they do have to work to make sure they can connect with these voters and not let extreme right wingers become the face of the GOP.  Frankly, the Dems couldn't come up with better candidates from their point of view, than some of the recent extreme Repub candidates for office.  The Dems have been successful to a degree in saying "Look, this is the face of the Republican Party."  

I'm not sure what there is to do.
It's Gramsci-style cultural hegemony that the Dems have got more or less. Total control of the media discourse. Not sure what can be done about that.

Liberal Cosmopolitan, NH-2 (College), CA-15 (Hometown)

[ Parent ]
Don't buy that
The left had much more control of the media discourse in the 1980s when Reagan and Bush won three landslides.  Today you have Fox News, talk radio, and the internet.

Christie 2016  

[ Parent ]
This is worth a diary IMO

Christie 2016  

[ Parent ]

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