The Washington Post

The challenges Democrats face in 2014 (in 2 graphs)


(Michael Hicks/via Flickr)

This is a guest post by Ben Highton, one of the political scientists behind our midterm forecasts.

The chances that the Republicans will maintain control of the House are a near certainty.  Republicans also have a fair chance of winning a Senate majority, too.  Part of the problem for Democrats is that it’s a midterm election year and the party that controls the White House typically loses seats.   On top of that, national conditions do not look very promising if Democrats are to buck the usual tide against the president’s party.  At this point, national conditions look, at best, average for a midterm election, and in the case of presidential approval, not very good at all.

Presidential approval is strongly correlated with midterm congressional election outcomes.  Gallup has polled Americans on presidential approval during every midterm election cycle since 1954.  Across the 16 midterm election cycles from 1954 through 2012 the average level of presidential approval during the first quarter (January to March) of the election year is about 58 percent.  Over the available Gallup presidential approval polls for the first quarter of this year, Obama’s approval is significantly below the average, about 42 percent, worse than every other year except 2006 and 1974.


Graph by Ben Highton

 

Another national level factor is the state of the economy.  There are many possible indicators that could be used.  Our forecasting model relies on GDP.  Another common indicator is growth in personal income.  (Both indicators are adjusted for inflation.)  The most recent quarterly data on these two economic performance measures are from the fourth quarter of 2013.  We compute their rates of change by comparing the levels in the fourth quarter to the levels in the second quarter.  For GDP, the two quarter growth rate is 1.6 percent, placing the current election seventh out of the 16 midterm cycles during the same period.  For personal income, the two-quarter increase is 0.5 percent, for a ranking of 11th out of 16.  In neither case, do things look especially good for the Democrats.


Graph by Ben Highton

While Democrats should lose seats under almost any set of plausible national conditions, the size of this loss will be influenced by how presidential approval and economic conditions evolve in the coming months.  Right now, national conditions, especially the low level of presidential approval, are looking good for Republicans and bad for Democrats.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, with 12 points over Ben Carson.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 18%
Quoted
We'll have half a million voters in South Carolina. I can shake a lot of hands, but I can't shake that many.
Sen. Marco Rubio, speaking to a group of reporters about his strategy to regain support after a poor performance in the last debate
Fact Checker
Sanders’s claim that Clinton objected to meeting with ‘our enemies’
Sanders said that Clinton was critical of Obama in 2008 for suggesting meeting with Iran. In fact, Clinton and Obama differed over whether to set preconditions, not about meeting with enemies. Once in office, Obama followed the course suggested by Clinton, abandoning an earlier position as unrealistic.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read

politics

monkey-cage

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.