Today is October 2nd, and if you’re interested in the 2010 elections, today is really the time to start paying attention. Three scenarios exist, and any one of them is possible:
1. Major Republican gains, such as a take over of the house and a near take over of the Senate. This is the current pundit favorite, as a mix of bad poll numbers for Democratic candidates, an economy on the skids, and the usual troubles for a first term President in the off year elections combine to create a potential perfect storm for the Democrats. While Republicans overstate support for their causes (just as Democrats did in 2008) the pendulum has swung, and 2010 will be a year for the Republicans like 2008 was for the Democrats. Some see voters breaking GOP late, creating a wave election that could easily sweep the GOP into power in both the House and Senate.
2. Big GOP gains, but short of a House and Senate take over. This view suggests Republican support has peaked and the Democrats have appeared under-enthused distant from the election, especially as the “tea party” and economic woes have dominated the news. But as the campaigns get in focus, incumbents will remind voters why they voted for them, negatives on “new” candidates will grow, and the current expectations of a GOP “wave” will fade. Given the expectations the GOP now has, even a great off year would feel like a failure if they don’t gain control of at least the House.
3. A Democratic resurgence as a backlash against the tea party and fear of GOP policies. A final view says that the US public still blames the GOP for the economy and as the election nears and more coverage is given to tea party candidate and extreme rhetoric from some Republican candidates, Democrats will regain enthusiasm and the “late wave” will swing a lot of “leans Republican” races over to the Democratic column. The Democrats will still lose seats, but nowhere near enough to endanger the House, and may only two or three on the Senate side. Even if they gain 25 seats such a result will be a devastating loss for a fired up GOP, and give the Democrats another chance to hope the economy is better in 2012.
Two websites are worth reading. One is the conservative website Real Clear Politics list of latest election polls. The key is to look for trends, not cherry pick one time results. As I write this (the site is updated constantly) the latest “generic” poll has the Democrats up 5% over the GOP. However, almost all recent polls have as big or even bigger lead for the Republicans. Is this poll (from Newsweek) an outlier, or is it the sign of a trend? Particular races as well may show trends. If the GOP lead is solid, these polls should not drift into the “blue” column much in coming weeks. If we are to get a GOP wave, the GOP should solidify their leads and towards the end build on them.
Another is Nate Silver’s New York Times website “538: Politics Done Right.” He has a political science approach, using quantitative methods to try to gauge the election and make predictions. He is very forthright about his methodology, and those with a Poli-Sci bent (and understanding of statistical methods and modeling) can dig through and see what his assumptions are. If you don’t want to go that far, watch his predicitions. Right now (as I write this), he predicts a 67% chance of the GOP taking the House, expecting a 46 seat gain for the GOP. For the Senate he predicts the Democrats will lose seven, holding on to the majority with 52 seats. Here again, look for trends.
His assumptions may be off, and if so his predictions could be way off base. He has an 87% chance of a Le Page win in the Maine Governor’s race, even though the most recent poll shows a dead heat. There are similar quibbles one can make in races affecting both parties. So far, his model has been stable and has shown the GOP holding on to and sometimes strengthening its position. Now that it’s October, it’ll be worth watching with more interest.
And, of course, there are other issues at play. There is an intense battle within the Republican party for the heart and soul of that party. The tea party movement fancies itself as representing a massive change in direction, believing it is a movement that will gain strength and alter American politics. Most establishment Republicans see it as a short term rally built on the poor economy and disappointment with Obama’s inability to bring real change. If the GOP looks too extreme, independents will flee back to the Democrats, especially as demographics increase Hispanic voters angry with tea party views on immigration. If the Republicans do not gain the House, look for the “tea party” to fizzle and pragmatic Republicans to re-establish party control. If the Republicans ride a wave into majorities in one or both houses, they risk an internal battle that could benefit the Democrats greatly in 2012. After all, as much as the Democrats seem on the ropes now, the Republicans looked just as bad two years ago.
To those who would accuse me of watching the horse race instead of writing about the important issues at play, well, I blog about important issues sometimes too. But following electoral dynamics is fun, especially in a year as potentially volatile and fascinating this one.