Election Cycle Predictions: 2014 Edition

Eleven months out from election day, here are a few predictions about the 2014 political cycle.

Forecasts have become a bit of a tradition.   Although I am no presidential whisperer like Nate Silver, my legislative record is surprisingly decent.

  • Senate accuracy: 88.5% on average
    • 89.2% accuracy; 33/37 of the Senate in 2010
    • 87.8% accuracy; 29/33 of the Senate in 2012
  • House accuracy within 2 seats, on average
    • 2010: +/- 0
    • 2012: +4 Republicans

Detailed analysis and mixed news from Republicans are after the jump.

The Republicans will make modest gains, but the Democrats will retain control over the Senate.

Preliminary 2014 Forecast:

  • House of Representatives remains relatively unchanged, with the Republicans gaining 2-4 seats.
  • Republicans gain 3 Senate seats, but do not retake control of the Senate

Most districts in the United States House of Representatives are gerrymandered, meaning that they provide strong advantages to one party or the other.  Quite a few contested districts turned blue during the 2012.  Some of these seats can credit Barack Obama’s popularity helping Democrats win.  In 2014, these candidates will face reelection without a popular national candidate – likely leading to losses.

Similarly, the 2014 Senate races were last contested in 2008 – Barack Obama’s high-watermark as a candidate.  The coattail effect was strongest then, leaving Democrats a windfall for six years.  That clock strikes midnight in 2014, forcing Democrats to play defense in several purple states.  As long as Republicans field tolerable candidates, they should make significant gains in the Senate.  With the TEA Party and other ideologues on the loose, this is unlikely.  As a result, the Senate moves slightly right.

The key issue for the election cycle will work against Democrats.

As it currently stands, Obamacare will be the focal point of the 2014 election cycle.  Barring an economic meltdown or another major crisis, the Affordable Care Act will likely be the issue for voters.

If Republicans can make 2014 a referendum on Obamacare and its rollout (like they did in 2010), then they will win.  This advice may seem to support a TEA Party stance; instead, the critique must come from a competence perspective.

ACA is a very complex legislative logroll, rendering it into a flawed piece of legislation.  As a result, ACA has several (strange) provisions, thrown together to win votes.  Basic trades made the law possible: for example, the individual mandate (tax for not carrying insurance) offsets the end of preexisting condition rejections.  The “Cornhusker Kickback” and other quid pro quos radiated politics as usual instead of hope and change.  In 2010, disgust from the legislative process helped Republicans win big.

In 2013, the ACA’s rollout was an unmitigated disaster.  Healthcare.gov was clunky at best, and unusable at worst. Obama’s promise that “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it, period.” turned out to be false.  This easily foreseeable development somehow shocked millions.  If Republicans can cobble together a message of incompetence (while staying away from calling the president a “liar”), they should win big in 2014.  Unfortunately, there will be a big problem standing in the GOP’s way: TEA.

The split in the Republican Party will grow between “establishment” and TEA Party Republicans.

The Republican Party seems unwilling to learn key lessons from  the last three election cycles.  TEA Party advocates argue that the party is not conservative enough, pointing out Romney and McCain’s relative moderation.  This is analysis is completely inaccurate.  Republicans appear on the verge of relearning lessons from the 1960s.

The 1960s provides an excellent example.  Kennedy (and Johnson) pursued a left-leaning agenda.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act headlined the Democratic government’s achievements, providing Republicans an opportunity to break the “Solid South”.  Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination, his home state, and a handful of reliably conservative states in the Southeast.  Johnson destroyed “Mr. Conservative” at the polls, achieving the second largest landslide since the Civil War.

The election planted the seeds for a rolling realignment; African Americans began the migration to the Democratic Party, while the Solid South slowly shifted to the Republican Party.  Unfortunately for Republicans, this realignment left the GOP in the minority.  Republicans must run the table for all close state anddislodge a Democratically leaning state to win the Presidency.  Although gains in state governments (especially in redistricting years) have helped solidify a majority in the House, Republicans brought 1.4 million less voters to the Congressional polls in 2012.

The Republican Party had a legitimate shot to defeat Barack Obama and retake the Senate in 2012.  Instead, late election distractions like TEA Party Senate candidate Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” discussion undermined Republican chances in purple states. Romney’s already weak candidacy could not overcome these distractions, especially the wake of Barack Obama’s first billion dollar campaign.

Republicans lost focus, purported offensive messages, and got outspent.

Nixon’s 1968 campaign shows the path to success in the modern day.  Nixon exploiting the emerging position by running as a centrist in 1968 and again in 1972.  Nixon’s platform included anti-war messages, “the cycle of poverty”, and praise for labor unions.   Nixon’s agenda ranged from diplomacy with communist (translates to contemporary Republicans as “Islamofascist”) leaders, establishing the EPA, and expanding federal subsidies to education.  Nixon paid lip-service to the social right, but was never a darling to the anti-tax crowd or Christian conservatives.

A Nixon-style candidate could theoretically win in 2016.  Unfortunately, these types of candidates are most likely to face TEA Party challenges (and defeats) in primaries.  Establishment Republicans need to protect their growing crop of 2016 and 2020 candidates from these folks, else they’ll be left with a cast of Goldwaters.

One side’s urge to win will directly conflict with the other side’s to pursue a conservative agenda.  Who wins will determine 2016, 2020, and 2024.

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