Midterm Election Projections

Both parties electoral fortunes reached highs and lows October 2013. During the government shutdown it was obvious to many commentators that Democrats would steamroll Republicans. Two weeks later after the rough roll out of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans were on the verge of a landslide victory. Now it appears no party gained significant ground in 2013. Recent projections from John Sides, Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, and Alan Abramowitz predict that any swing in electoral fortune will probably be relatively tame, but could favor the GOP (the model set up by John Sides of the Monkey Cage predicts that House Democrats will win 196 seats, for a loss of 5 seats.)

Charlie Cook reminds us that any single issue from 2013 will most likely not make or break either party next November: “there is a natural human tendency to believe that any major development, no matter how long before an election, will be the last important influence on said election.”

The reality is that new pressing issues will continue to trump the former ones in terms of political salience as the gap between now and election day closes. Until we get closer to that date, there are a few things to watch.

First, Democratic fortunes will likely follow economic growth, or lack thereof. Historically the president’s party has lost seats in every midterm election since World War II with the exception of 1998, the year Clinton presided over a very strong economy. Though the economy is growing, unless it significantly picks up momentum their chance of gaining House seats is slim. However, the more the economy grows the fewer seats they are likely to lose.

Second, the performance of the Affordable Care Act will likely be a significant campaign issue. For the past three years Republicans’ message has focused on the ACA. It would take a catastrophic political event for them to change their tune over the next year. With weak enrollment numbers, their message could hit home. If the ACA continues to struggle well into 2014, Republicans are in a perfect position to capitalize on that misfortune. On the other hand, if enrollment picks up as the March deadline approaches, Democrats could cut at least neutralize some of the backlash.