Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Democrats' Midterm Chances: Better Than You Think or Just Plain Bad?

Looking at the "fundamentals" of the upcoming midterm, how do things look for the Democrats? David Byler at the Post makes the standard points about the GOP advantages: history and redistricting:
The Republicans’ first advantage: The other party holds the White House. If Biden follows the path of other recent presidents, he’ll spend political capital, navigate crises — and lose supporters in the process....
On rare occasions, the president’s party can gain House seats after only two years: George W. Bush saw an outpouring of support after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But, in the average midterm election, the president’s party loses 27 House seats. In 2022, Democrats are likely to have a five-seat edge in the lower chamber — meaning that Republicans are already within striking distance of a majority.
The GOP’s second advantage: It draws the lines.
In most states, the state legislature is in charge of redrawing congressional districts every decade. So in 2020, when the GOP gained full control of the legislature in 30 states, they won line-drawing power. According to FiveThirtyEight’s count, Republicans will control the redrawing in 187 districts in 2021, bipartisan and independent commissions 167, and Democrats only 75.
The GOP will gain seats just by redrawing these districts.....Put simply, the GOP doesn’t have to gain any political ground to win the House. It could take back the majority just by drawing district lines anew....
[H]istory — and, for now, the redistricting clout — is on Republicans’ side. In three of the past four midterm elections, the president’s party has lost control of the House. We no longer live in the mid-20th century, when Democrats built stable, enduring House majorities. The United States is bitterly and closely divided. If voters shift right, even temporarily, Democrats could lose the House — leaving Republicans, most likely, with a wobbly, unstable majority of their own."
But wait! Maybe there's still hope. Alan Abramowitz is out with a Congressional election model that suggests a path for the Democrats. Abramowitz' model is based on just two variables: the generic Congressional ballot and seat exposure. In brief, given the Democrats' relatively modest seat exposure, Abramowitz' model indicates that if Democrats can go into the 2022 election with a high single digit lead on the generic Congressional ballot, they should retain control of both houses of Congress. (But Abramowitz admits his model can take no account of redistricting effects.)
Finally Harry Enten makes the case that the Democrats have a secret weapon: Biden's strong approval ratings:
"Presidential approval ratings aren’t all that matter during midterm elections – but they do matter. There have been six presidents who have lost House majorities during a midterm in the polling era. All but Dwight Eisenhower (a war hero who always seemed to do worse politically than his approval rating indicated) had an approval rating below 50%.
Put another way, the presidents whose parties lost the House in midterm elections were almost all more unpopular than Biden is right now.
Now, that may not save Democrats next fall because all but the most popular presidents have lost seats in midterms, even if their party didn’t lose House control. The Democrats have almost no room to spare as they won a slim majority in the 2020 elections.
The potential saving grace for Democrats is the relationship between midterm voting patterns and approval of the president has only increased over time. Since 2006, the president’s party has won at least 86% of those voters who approve of the job the president is doing. They have never lost more than 90% of voters who disapprove of the president’s job during the same period.
The bottom line is that if you approve of the president, you’re very likely to vote for his party, and if you disapprove, you’re very likely to vote for the opposition in this polarized era....
Biden has...an approval rating that is steadiest for any president since World War II through this point in his term. He didn’t experience a big honeymoon in his approval rating after his inauguration, and he hasn’t seen a decline either. Biden’s current approval rating looks awfully similar to the 52% who held a favorable view of him in the 2020 exit polls.
If Biden doesn’t lose ground going forward, the 2022 midterms may prove to be an ahistorical event."
So there you have it. The Democrats may have a path but it'll take a lot of smart campaigning and good policy results to make it happen.

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