Sunday, July 14, 2013

Let's Hear From The Majority

The big talk in the Senate now is about Majority Leader Harry Reid's plans to go ahead with the "nuclear option," which would get around the filibuster rule--which, in essence, procedurally requires the Senate to have 60 votes to move forward--and replace it with a simple majority. (They usually need 67 votes to change the rules but Reid will get around that as well with a procedural trick.)

We've been here before, of course, when the Republicans had the majority last decade and the Democrats made speeches saying any change in the filibuster rule would be sticking a shiv in Lady Liberty.

Of course, we knew they were opportunistically lying then, so it's hard to get too mad about their hypocrisy today.  But no matter what you think of the filibuster, the question is--is it a smart political play? What is the chance of the Republicans taking back the Senate and the White House in a few years, making the Dems regret their decision almost immediately?

Megan McArdle, surprisingly, puts the odds at 70%.  Now first, things can change so quickly in politics that it's hard to have confidence in any numbers for something as far away as 2016.  But still, 70% sounds absurdly optimistic (if you support the Republicans).

First, the White House.  Megan says, looking at recent history, after eight years of any Presidency, the people are ready for a change.  I think this logic is spurious.  It's mostly a coincidence we've had so many "eight and out" cases lately. Hey, I can remember in 1992 when people said it was next to impossible for the President to last two full term, since except for Reagan no one had done it in decades--since then, of course, nothing but two-termers and pundits reminding us of the power of incumbency.

Before WWII, in fact, it wasn't uncommon for parties to have considerably longer holds on the White House.  And note, since then, when the new party comes in--Kennedy in 1960, Nixon in 1968, Clinton in 1992, Bush in 2000, it's generally not with overwhelming numbers.  Who wins the White House is often a matter of the economics of the time (mixed with whatever foreign policy problems are happening) and which candidates are going at it.

More important, the question is will the Obama coalition hold (presumably for Hillary).  This may signal a demographic change--it's arguable Reagan couldn't win with the makeup of voters today.  On top of that, Obama created an amazing get-out-the-vote machine that helped him win an election which, given the economic numbers, he probably should have lost. (Here's another useless pattern, Megan--no president until Obama ever won a second term with a smaller vote.)  Will this continue?  Will the Dems be able to target the persuadable as well as they did for Obama (while the Repubs fail in this task)?  Especially, will African-Americans continue to vote at historically high levels?  (I'm not even getting into demographic changes that could happen with an immigration bill, since that's somewhat down the road).  If the Dems can continue to outperform the Republicans in this manner, there's no reason to think they'll lose the White House any time soon.

Then there's the Senate.  I don't see the Republicans taking it back by 2016.  Mostly because of the rotten job they did in 2012.  That was their big chance. Due to being in the right place at the right time, combined with a number of Republicans imploding, the Democrats were able to gain a lot of seats in 2006 and get a huge majority in 2008.  The pendulum swung back in 2010, but even then, partly due to tactical errors, the Republicans were on the low side of expectations.  So in 2012, the Republicans were within striking distance, and it looked like they'd get an easy net of at least 2 seats. Instead, due to both Obama's ground game and more tactical errors, the GOP actually lost 2 seats.  So right now, if the Republicans were playing the game well, they might even have the Senate majority, instead of looking at a solid Democrat lead.

So what's going to happen in 2014?  The Republicans have an excellent chance of picking up some seats, but enough to take back the majority?  They'd certainly have to do better than they did in the past two elections, strategy-wise.  And it's not that easy to take down incumbents.  Look at someone like Al Franken.  He essentially got in on a fluke, but now is an established Senator with name recognition and a reputation--it would have been a lot easier to keep him out to begin with than unseat him.

So the odds are not great they'll take back the Senate in 2014.  And 2016?  That's when they'll have to defend the highly successful year of 2010, and may have to worry more about holding on to seats than gaining new ones.

So a 70% chance of taking the White House and the Senate in 2016?  Not too likely.  As pointless as these numbers are right now, I'd say they have a less than 50% chance of taking either.  Overall, the odds of taking both I'd put at around 25%. (The math may seem a bit odd, but I figure if they're doing well in one branch they'll have a better chance of doing well in the other.)

PS  Nate Silver has spoken.  It's obviously way too early to have any confidence, but he feels 2014 is shaping up as a big take-back in the Senate for Republicans.  Remember this is the class of 2008, where Democrats took net 8 seats from the GOP, so it's doubtful any Republican has to fear losing this time around (short of a scandal).

According to the numbers, with three Dems retiring in heavily red states, the Repubs start with a likely pick up in those seats.  Then there are three Dem senators in tossups and another three with leads but not wide ones.  No one knows what turnout will be like, but there's an excellent chance the GOP will pick up four seats, a decent chance it will pick up five, and a plausible chance it'll pick up six--the amount it'll need to take back the Senate. (But Al Franken is fairly safe.)

You can see how different things would have been if the Republicans had picked up two or three seats as expected in 2012--the Democrats might not even be contemplating the nuclear option.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trends schmends. Each of these elections was driven by localized circumstances ( I mean issues that arose in the year of the election and were very important and don't seem so earth-shattering now) and probably will continue to be.

Also- interesting use of "tactical error"- I guess it is a tactical error to essentially reveal too much about an unpopular underlying governing philosophy. I think - except for maybe the big hope and change year in 2008, that the big election outcomes were due to one side really losing an election vbs. the other winning. Also the Republicans currently seemed more doomed due to their devotion to the electoral dead-end of ideological purity- their big hope right now is hope the dems fall into the same trap.

6:08 AM, July 14, 2013  
Blogger LAGuy said...

It's not about unpopular underlying philosophies, not mostly. Both sides have popular and unpopular ideas, that rise and fall with the public, and both sides fool themselves into believing we've got the good ideas and the only reason we lose is because people don't understand them. (Though there may be some justice in Republicans believing that their errors will be magnified a bit more than the Democrats'.)

The tactical errors I'm talking about are many--some due to "purity" tests (which have also worked well in some cases, actually), but often enough about picking unvetted candidate, or just someone saying the wrong word, or reading polls poorly, or not dealing properly with third party candidates, or not spending national money well, or not keeping candidates in line, or not properly getting out the votes, or not properly dealing with scandal, or not answering claims against them they thought (sometimes correctly) were obvious nonsense, etc.

The Republicans at present are fighting a more obvious battle within their party than the Democrats (even if the Dem coalition is actually quite fragmented)--and the Democrats seem to have more die hard voters (though perhaps that can change). Still, while the Republcans aren't fools, they've been outplayed in the past few years, especially in the last election, which suggests to me they're not taking back the Senate. The real question, as I note, is when Obama leaves, does his level of undying support leave as well? (Is it already leaving now that he can't run again?)

10:28 AM, July 14, 2013  

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