No Time Like The Present: Why Historical Midterm Voting Patterns Could Mean A November Upset (September 23, 2014)


We’ve heard the reasons that Democrats are supposed to be doomed this November. President Obama’s approval ratings are at an all-time low and candidates from his party have opted to run away from the POTUS’ record (although as I argued a couple weeks ago, this is a cowardly mistake). Pro-Republican district gerrymandering has made few House races competitive. And of course, liberals tend to avoid the polls during midterms – to their own detriment.

This latter pattern led the President to observe of his base earlier this year, “We know how to win national elections…But all too often it’s during these midterms where we end up getting ourselves into trouble, because I guess we don’t think it’s sexy enough.” Aspirational attractiveness aside, every election is critically important and the most obvious solution is for Democrats to swarm the polls less than two months from now.

Midterms tend to be viewed, both individually and in the eyes of media pundits, as a referendum on the sitting President. But other writers and thinkers offer a deeper psychological assessment of these elections. Earlier this week in a piece entitled, “Obama Isn’t Finished Yet,” New York Times Op-Ed Contributor James Mann, writes:

“We might call this a kind of collective projection. We claim that a president is tired or looks tired, when what we really mean is that we are tired of him…By his sixth year in office, any president is ridiculously overexposed. We’ve seen him and heard him far too many times.

During his early years, a president naturally enjoys the hopes of his supporters; they suppress any disappointments they feel in the interests of winning the White House again. While in a second term, even his strongest supporters feel freer to express their disenchantment.”

As someone who has struggled with a practical Obama who has at times failed to live up to the “hope and change” hype of 2008 (and realistically, how could he not?), this argument makes a huge amount of sense. And if liberals are able to recognize and call out Presidential fatigue, we should also be able to mobilize against our self-defeating tendency to let it swallow all other compelling interests during the midterms. After all there’s nothing “sexier” in my own leftist circles than circumventing expected convention.

But I would also offer that there’s another reason why Democratic prospects in November might be rosier they appear. And that reason is the inept messaging and strategy of the Republican Party, which has followed the same losing general election primer since 2008 (2010 midterm success aside):

  1. Pander to the base during primary season, with a series of ideological purity tests that purge anyone remotely palatable to a demographic cross-section.
  2. Once a nomination has been secured, try to move the candidate back to the center, even if they’ve spent months being “severely conservative” (I’m looking at you Romney).
  3. Blame the media for this hoax failing to fool anybody.
  4. Repeat.

Midterms elections can be a sigh of relief for GOP strategists forced to march up and off the usual cliff. With no Presidential contest to engage, this defeatist plan of action is executed on micro levels (Senate elections being the largest field) where ideological hegemony affords it a greater rate of success.

But this one could be different. The middle class knows it’s getting a raw deal. We know that corporations are experiencing nearly all the economic gains while Congress sits on its hands. Actually, it would be better if House leadership were just plain old inactive. Instead, we get Speaker John Boehner characterized by Reuters as expressing “his dissatisfaction with a chronically high jobless rate and complained of a ‘very sick idea’ that the unemployed would ‘rather just sit around.’

Women are tired of pay inequity (especially given their status as the breadwinners in 40 percent of American households), the culturally accepted misogyny and the consistent invasions into our reproductive decisions. I know that when the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that Hobby’s Lobby’s corporate religious objections to certain forms of contraception trumped a woman’s individual right to access them, it was a turning point for many of us.

And if there’re any remaining immigrant groups who fail to understand the Republican party’s open hostility to anything that looks like humanity (let alone progress), I’d be quite amazed.

A variety of media outlets already bespeak a lack of Democratic gain in the House as a foregone conclusion, with chances of retaining a Senate majority only slightly less remote. But that prediction discounts the most important variable: us. Eric Cantor anyone? Let’s give the heads something to talk about.


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