Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Shutdown and the 2014 Election

I've gone dark on the blog for a long while but I'm back. It turns out politics continued to happen.

I saw a Quinnipiac poll this morning that gave Democrats a 9-point lead on the generic ballot for the 2014 election. Before Democrats get too giddy about this, let me throw (A LOT of) water on the idea that Democrats are somehow likely at this point to win a House majority in 2014.

The short version is ... no, they're not.

The longer version is this:

1) We're more than a year away from the election. Sure, voters are angry and they're going to be increasingly angry as this moves on. And sure, more voters blame Republicans and this will continue to be the case as long as the shutdown and the debt crisis (see "coming attractions") roll on. But a year is a LONG time in politics. The most likely long-term effect of the current crisis is that it reinforces views that most voters already have about Washington and the views that most Democrats already have of Republicans. That doesn't lead to significant shifts in the 2014 election landscape. Unless this drags on for a very long time and there is much more pain on the street-level than I think there is going to be, the long-term impact of this particular crisis is likely to be minimal. If it drags on for a long time or if we default on the debt in a significant way ... that could start to be a different story.

2) A 9-point lead in the generic ballot sounds like a lot. Perhaps it is. But that's probably about what the Democrats would need to see in polling in order to win a slim majority in the House in 2014. Because of the way voters are distributed (this is mostly not because of gerrymandering so don't blame that) and because of turnout patterns in midterm elections, Democrats need a significant lead in general polling in order to actually win the House back.

3) Beware of funky polling questions. There is no doubt Republicans are getting more of the blame from the public here. But the Quinnipiac poll asked voters "Do you support or oppose Congress shutting down major activities of the federal government as a way to stop the health care law from being put into place?" There are many headlines touting the fact that 72% of voters say they oppose this tactic. But that's a bit of a leading question. The same poll asked (just a few questions earlier) "Who do you blame for gridlock in Washington, Democrats, Republicans, or both equally?" 58% of voters said "both equally." Among those who picked one side or the other, more blamed Republicans than Democrats but the vast majority see this as a problem of the political system being broken, not as a Republican problem. In fact, there are more registered Democrats in the poll than there are people who blame Republicans more.

The bottom line is that Republicans can get hurt in the 2014 elections by this crisis ... but not by what's happened to this point. It will take the current crisis dragging on a lot longer and it would take some reinforcing events over the next year (especially next year) to make it stick. We're still a long way from a Democratic takeover of the House.

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