Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 7, 2016

Democrats’ Prospects in 2014 Are Worth an Honest Debate

Over the years, I’ve complained about the tone of our political discussions, including some of what supposedly passes for political analysis. Too much of it is merely political advocacy cloaked in pseudo-analysis, and it drives me nuts.

Maybe that’s why I’m pleased to recommend a piece recently posted on Daily Kos, a liberal website that happily produces serious analysis and useful data, even while it often — too often for my taste — reflects a strong ideological bent.

Steve Singiser’s “The real, but unknowable, path to a Democratic House majority,” posted on March 31, is a thoughtful reaction to my March 19 Roll Call column, “Democrats Need to Expand House Playing Field.” I take it as an invitation to start a conversation, not an argument.

I looked at individual districts and concluded that Democrats still have a long way to go before they can realistically talk about having a chance to flip control of the House.

Singiser begins his reaction this way: “It’s pretty rare that one can read an article, agree with just about every individual detail in the article, and yet disagree with the article completely.” And disagree he does, in a measured, detailed way, arguing that “microanalyses” invariably miss political waves and changes in voter sentiment.

So here is my reaction to Singiser’s criticism: I completely agree with you, Steve.

District-by-district analysis two or three months into a two-year election cycle is incredibly speculative.

Obviously, there are lots of factors that will help determine whether Democrats eventually have any shot at winning back the House next year. And I certainly emphasized that in my column. But that shouldn’t prevent a conclusion now — a very initial and tentative conclusion, I should emphasize — about the Democrats’ prospects for 2014.

Of course my analysis and conclusions will change if there’s a sign of a Democratic wave developing or if dramatic events occur that redefine the political landscape.

I’d point out that my mid-March piece followed a Feb. 25 column, “Can Obama Put the House in Play in 2014,” in which I considered broader political questions, including the history of midterm elections, the likely makeup of the midterm electorate and the relatively small number of swing districts. All of those factors combined to argue against a Democratic midterm gain of anything close to 17 seats.

The February and March columns were meant to be complementary because they looked at historical trends and broader themes, as well as individual districts.

Singiser and I seem to agree that Democratic recruitment is crucial. If the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruits more and stronger candidates in competitive and potentially competitive districts, Democrats could improve their chances of making significant gains, possibly even putting the House in play.

I say it “could” improve their chances because other factors — a drop in the president’s popularity or weak Democratic turnout, for example — could also offset some Democratic recruiting successes.

At the end of his piece, Singiser asks, “Can the Democrats win the majority in 19 months?” His answer — “Of course, they can” — suggests to me that he and I see the question differently.

If the question is whether it’s theoretically possible for Democrats to net 17 seats in the 2014 midterms, I certainly understand Singiser’s answer. Who knows where politics will be 19 months from now?

But if the question is whether there is any evidence right now that Democrats can retake the House next year (especially considering historical trends and the number of swing districts), the answer has to be no. This conclusion is based on the evidence now, and if the evidence changes, so could my conclusion.

Perhaps the best answer to the question, from my point of view, is one that some will find unsatisfactory: I don’t know.

Ask me again in a year, and then a few months after that, and then again in October 2014. I’ll have better answers then, after I do more reporting and have a better understanding of the cycle.

  • Honest Abe

    Very well written, sir.

  • Tab L. Uno

    As the economy strengthens and Obamacare begins to provide the benefits to millions of people as promised, Afghanistan withdrawal proceeds a pace, and controversies of immigration and gun control fade, and the federal budget cutbacks becomes more and more smoothed out, and global climate change continues to hurt millions of people there is a solid possibility that the demographic swing towards the Democrats continue as the Republican continue to tear themselves apart that Democrats can increase their Democratic hold on the Senate closing in on a filibuster proof 60 votes majority, even if they don’t succeed and perhaps even take control of the U.S. House. The real question is how are the Republicans going to stop the bleeding?

    • David_Knight

      Or if the economhy is still weak, people see no benefit to Obamacare, Afghanistan looks like a quagmire and unresolved 6 years into the Obama Administration (even if troops withdraw) and the deficit continues to grow at an unsustainable pace — as Democratic union activists battle environmentalists over things like the Keystone Pipeline, then the Democrats could lose 20 more seats.

      In other words, Tab, you live in a Pollyanish world where Democrats have no problems whatsoever. By the way, your entire “analysis” is best described in Rothenberg’s first paragraph.

    • JohnGano

      You are totally blind.

      1. Even Democrat lovers such as Joe Klein think Obamacare could turn into a mess and it is only going to get worse over the next few years.
      2. We are three years into the recovery and well… where is the recovery? The job market is worse today than 4 years ago (population is growing faster than jobs) and GDP is crawling along. And is there any reason to expect these trends to change?
      3. Gun control will ensure that TONS of Republicans vote in 2014 AND it might push some of the 3rd party libertarian types to vote GOP as well.
      4. Immigration… too early to tell what if any impact this has on voting
      5. Afghanistan, who cares?? (at least when it comes to voting) And do you really expect Democrats to rush out and vote for Obama because he got us out of Afghanistan?
      6. Climate change?? Really?? Did you miss all the stories about how we haven’t seen ANY changes in the past 15 years? And these stories are written by people who believe in climate change.
      7. Population trends… well you have one thing in your favor.

  • sleeve

    To ask a hypothetical question on a scenario 18 months or more away; and then base your conclusions exclusively on data now, makes your entire discussion ridiculous. How can you not use forecasting methods if you are trying to answer a question 18 months into the future, so you just did to us “what drives you crazy”.

  • Mojojojo

    Love the spirit of the article, but you’re reserving judgment because a wave could happen, but waves aren’t exogenous… Why is predicting everything but whether 2014 will be a wave off-limits? Seems like a dodge…

  • judgeglenda

    i certainly hope the people understand what the GOP is doing and vote democradic when they get a chance. i think obama is doing every thing to get the country going again

  • judgeglenda

    i wish obama would pull our troops out of all the forien countries now and quit giving them money we could use.

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