Monday, August 23, 2010

Top 5: Reasons Democrats Will (Most Likely) Lose Control of the US House of Representatives This November

Last December, I predicted that Republicans would gain about 25 seats this November. I would like to revise that prediction. I now believe that Republicans will gain enough seats to take control of the House (at least 40). Here is why.  

1. The Withdrawn Coattail Effect

Candidates of the same party as the winning presidential candidate get a boost in the number of votes they get. This is known as the "coattail effect". It happens because winning presidential candidates usually mobilize additional voters to the polls that normally would not vote. When these voters enter the ballot booth to vote for their preferred candidate, they will usually vote for that candidate's party for the rest of the ballot. The "withdrawn coattail effect" happens in midterm elections. Without the candidate that excited them on the ballot, these additional mobilized voters do not turn out to vote in the midterm. This is one reason the party of the president typically loses seats in midterm elections. Many of the voters who were energized in 2008 to vote for Obama will not turn out in 2010 to vote for Democrats.

2. Independent Voters are Swinging Republican

One reason Democrats did so well in the 2006 and 2008 elections was that independent voters (voters with no party affiliation) lost confidence in Republicans and voted Democrat in high numbers. Now, independent voters have lost confidence in Democrats and will be favoring Republicans in high numbers. Scott Brown was able to win the special election in Massachusetts to replace Ted Kennedy because of independents voting for him in high numbers, for instance. In a generic ballot (where respondents are asked if they would prefer a Republican or a Democrat without naming a specific candidate), independents preferred the Republican 52% to 21%, in an August 16, 2010 Rasmussen poll.

3. Republican Voter Turnout Will Be High

Republicans will be more energized to show up at the polls this November. Mobilizing voters for what they are against is often easier than mobilizing voters for what they are for. Republicans are upset with the health care reform bill, high levels of government spending, and tax increases (contained in the health care bill and due to arrive next year with the expiring Bush tax cuts). Republican leaders have not put forth a clear agenda as they did in 1994 with the Contract With America, but in the current political climate that does not matter. Republicans have plenty of reasons to show up on election day.

4. Democratic Voter Turnout Will Be Low

Democrats have not maintained the high levels of energy and enthusiasm that led them to turn out to vote in high numbers in 2006 and 2008. Ironically, while Republicans charge that democratic leaders have been too liberal, Democrats generally feel that their leaders have moved too far to the right. This is especially true in foreign policy matters. Many Democrats had hoped a democratic administration would mean a drawing down of combat forces. The number of combat troops in Afghanistan, however, have dramatically increased. (Something Obama promised he would do during the 2008 campaign, by the way.) But even on domestic policy, some Democrats feel that the health care reform and stimulus bills did not go far enough, and they are disappointed that Congress has not passed cap-and-trade or immigration reform. With less enthusiasm for the direction of their own party, fewer Democrats will show up on election day.

5. Troubles at the RNC Don't Matter

The Republican National Committee (RNC) has had a lot of difficulties recently, from the misuse of funds to the many verbal gaffes of its chairman, Michael Steele. These troubles do not really matter, though, because political parties in the US are not structured hierarchically. Steele is not "the leader" of the Republican party and the RNC's influence on candidates and state parties ranges from limited to none. If donors do not wish to give to the RNC, they can give to the National Republican Congressional Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, any of the state parties, any number of independent groups, or the candidates themselves. Indeed, in the US, we have candidate-centered campaigns, where candidates can build their own campaign organizations that rely little on party support. So, all the difficulties of the RNC will do little to prevent Republicans from performing well this November.

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Top 5: Reasons McCain (Probably) Can't Win

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