The Blue Side: Midterm Predictions and Their Implications for the Obama Administration

By Noah Tananbaum, Staff Writer

The Democrats will lose their majority in the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections. Conventional wisdom has made the case for some time now that the Republicans will gain a majority and, in recent weeks, these predictions favoring a Republican victory have intensified. As history has shown us, time is often a politician’s worst enemy. In my view, the concept of the “6-year itch” is a very real phenomenon. In virtually all of the modern two-term presidencies, the opposition party has gainedliberal Congressional seats. The parallels between 2014 and 2006 are striking. As was the case with Republicans in 2006, many of the current Democratic incumbents come from swing states, their President remains unpopular with the country, and elected officials are doing everything they can to distance themselves from the President. This pattern seems to hold even if the President is popular. 1986 was a perfect example. President Reagan was immensely popular at the time and the GOP still lost seats in Congress. Ironically, the only recent midterm in a President’s sixth year where major gains were not made by the opposition was 1998, the year the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.

It is also worth pointing out that the demographics generally do not support the Democrats in midterm years. Two of the major demographic forces that Democrats consistently rely on in presidential elections are young people and minorities. In presidential years, there is always a much higher turnout among voters as a whole but particularly among minority voters and young voters. In midterm election years, these cohorts show a sharp decrease in voter turnout. The voters who steadily show up are the older, whiter, and wealthier voters; these demographic groups usually vote Republican. Historical precedent tells us that, unless something irregular occurs in this election, this will not be a good year for the Democrats.

Regardless of midterm outcomes, Obama’s position will not change drastically. Public approval has consistently dropped for Obama ever since he gained reelection and it’s hard to envision circumstances that would impel a turn of events for him. Even with a majority in the Senate, Obama’s major domestic achievements (the bailout and the Affordable Care Act) were signed into law before the Republicans gained a majority in the House in 2010. The past several years have ushered in a climate of divisiveness and polarization in Washington. Arguably, a GOP takeover of the Senate in the current climate will not significantly affect the balance of power in Washington. An unwillingness to work across the aisle has dominated national politics since Obama took office and this is not a pattern that will change, regardless of the outcome of the midterms. One of the changes that will most likely take place if the Republicans gain a majority in the Senate is an increase in Obama’s use of veto power. Although the Republicans will have majorities in both chambers of Congress, the Democrats will still be able to easily muster a third of their party to prevent the Republicans from blocking Obama’s veto attempts.

Ezra Klein recently wrote that “elections are about stakes.” The stakes were high in 2006 when Democrats finally regained power and intended to defund the Iraq War and derail President Bush’s agenda. The stakes were high in 2010 when the Republicans took the House and threatened to block Obama at every turn. The stakes are not high now. All the evidence points to a continuation of the gridlock and ineptitude that has embroiled American politics for the last several years.

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