Friday, December 22, 2017

Democratic Wave Watch: How High the Crest?

It looks increasingly implausible that the GOP will be able to avoid large--possibly very large--losses in the 2018 election. Consider the following:

Item: The generic Congressional ballot continues to pull away from the Republicans. Most gaudily, the latest CNN poll gave the Democrats an 18 point (!) advantage on whether voters favor Democrats or Republicans for Congress in 2018. This is probably a bit of an outlier... but not that much of one. Harry Enter of 538 notes:
A new CNN survey released this week showed Democrats leading Republicans by an astounding 56 percent to 38 percent on the generic congressional ballot. That’s an 18 percentage point lead among registered voters — a record-breaking result. No other survey taken in November or December in the year before a midterm has found the majority party in the House down by that much since at least the 1938 cycle (as far back as I have data).

And while the CNN poll is a bit of an outlier, the Democratic advantage in the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot aggregate is up to about 12 points, 49.6 percent to 37.4 percent. That average, like the CNN poll, also shows Republicans in worse shape right now than any other majority party at this point in the midterm cycle since at least the 1938 election.
OK then! This, as Bush senior might put it, is some deep doo-doo for the GOP. And it's looking increasingly likely that this generic Congressional disadvantage is going to turn into real world hurt for the party. Nate Cohn points out that:

  • The generic ballot is surprisingly stable and will probably not change that much between now and election day.
  • The generic ballot is a pretty good predictor of the popular vote for the House.
  • It's not realistic for the GOP to lose the popular vote by as much as they now appear likely to and retain their control of the House.
Item: Republican losses are likely to extend all the way down the ballot. The Democrats have gotten pummeled in state legislative elections for several cycles and that has had dire consequences for the party's strength, not least in terms of control over redistricting. That's probably about to change.

Reid Wilson, in an excellent piece for The Hill, traces the history of state legislative losses by the president's party in midterm elections. Even in an average year, these losses are around 360 seats in a first midterm after a president is elected. And this is not, to say the least, an average year, so the losses are likely to be quite a bit larger. Wilson notes:

After years of strong gains in states across the country, Republicans now fear they stand to lose hundreds of state legislative seats in next year’s midterm elections if there is a significant voter backlash against President Trump.
 Any losses would come at the worst time: Just ahead of the redistricting process that begins with the 2020 census…..
“People use midterm elections to stick it to the executive,” said Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego who studies state legislative politics. “Trump is the touchstone of American politics. You can’t vote against him in 2018, but you can vote against his party.”
Republicans took note of last month’s [state legislative] elections in Virginia, where Democrats performed far better than either side expected, spurred by a wave of suburban support.
Item: No, the tax bill will not save the GOP.  The just-signed tax bill, which is historically unpopular, is highly unlikely to reverse the current dreadful political climate for the GOP. John Judis does about a good job as one can of arguing that--if the GOP is lucky and plays things right--it might not worsen their situation much and perhaps even be a small plus. But he still doesn't see the bill as rescuing them from their current situation. 

But mark me down for believing the bill will not only not save the GOP, it is likely to be net negative for them. Political scientist Christopher Federico explains:
[A key] factor behind the lack of public support for the tax overhaul [is] the public’s perception that some people are more likely to cash in than others. Though the bill will offer most taxpayers some relief in the near term, analysts believe that the benefits to corporations and relatively wealthy taxpayers will be much greater—especially over the long haul. Importantly, the public seems to see this: Recent polling suggests that most people see the bill as a boon to the wealthy above all.
Still, even if the rich are likely to benefit the most from the new tax cuts, shouldn’t the promise of some tax relief generate at least some enthusiasm for the bill in the broader public? As it turns out, many years of research in both psychology and political science suggest not. For the most part, studies indicate that self-interest in the pocketbook sense matters a lot less than we assume: Citizens are not moved to political action by perceived shifts in how they are doing as isolated individuals. They can, however, be roused to political anger when they think others will end up doing better in comparison to people like them—that is, when they experience what social scientists refer to as “relative deprivation.” Thus, even the promise of a few more dollars in one’s wallet might be dissatisfying if other folks end up with thousands more.
Relative deprivation can produce an especially strong reaction when a policy seems to make one’s own group worse off compared with some other group of people. This group element seems to be present in people’s thinking about the GOP tax bill. Since most people tell pollsters that the wealthy and large corporations will benefit disproportionately from the tax rewrite, it’s quite likely that many citizens have concluded that this round of tax relief will benefit “them” (the wealthy and large corporations) more than “us” (average Americans).
Psychologists also find that relative deprivation can be especially powerful when it appears to violate some standard of fairness. So, if a citizen thinks that tax reform will benefit the wealthy more than the average person and that the wealthy already fail to pay their fair share, her anger might be stronger.
Hmm. Sound like any tax bill you know? 


  1. I thought there was a bunch of reasearch supporting the idea that Americans don't mind other Americans getting rich...we admire it and wish we could move up from our economic group to a higher one and get some of the associated goodies. I wonder how that research interacts with relative deprivation research.

  2. Yes, that's true that Americans do not object to wealth per se and would in fact like to acquire wealth themselves (many believe unrealistically that they will somehow manage to do that). But they deeply resent what they see as unfair inequality and unearned privileges. Not only do they dislike that they see such unfairness that benefits the current wealthy as an impediment to their own upward mobility.