The Fix Boss writes in his weekly column about how the 2014 election is looking more and more like the 2006 election -- for a whole host of reasons.
Here's the crux:
At the start of the 2006 election season, Republicans controlled 55 seats, buoyed by two consecutive elections — 2002 and 2004 — that had moved seats their way. But their vulnerabilities were significant. Despite defending only 15 seats (to the Democrats’ 17), the GOP had incumbents in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — two states that President George W. Bush had lost convincingly two years earlier — as well as sitting senators in places such as Missouri and Montana who, through a combination of the competitiveness of their states and their own foibles, were in deep trouble. As the cycle wore on, Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) turned his race ultra-competitive by referring to a Democratic tracker as a “macaca.”
The main factor was the deep unpopularity of Bush, who sat at 37 percent nationally. That distaste for the head of the Republican Party made Democratic messaging easy: Don’t like President Bush? Send him a message by voting against the person who has voted with him [fill-in-the-blank-but-it’s-a-lot percentage] of the time. Bush stayed largely hidden on the campaign trail, but it didn’t matter.
This is the key point. We like to talk about how the 2010 election was a rebuke of Obama and the 2006 election was a rebuke of President Bush. And 2014 is looking more and more like both of them.
But where 2014 starts to look more like 2006 is when you dig a little deeper and find that it's not just a motivated opposition; it's also about the president's depressed base of support.
Per Gallup polling, in the past three midterms -- 2006, 2010 and 2014 -- a very similar proportion of the opposition party said their vote was in opposition to the president: 57 percent, 57 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Not much difference.
Where 2006 and 2014 are a little different, though, is in the president's base. In 2010, 45 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters said their votes would be in support of the president; in both 2006 and today, that number was below 40 percent for the president's party (39 percent in 2006 and 38 percent in 2014).
So essentially, according to Gallup's numbers, the reason 2014 is looking more like 2006 is not because of the motivated opposition, but because of an unmotivated base of support. Obama at least had a little more of that in 2010; he doesn't have it as much today.
And that's arguably even more troubling for Democrats in 2014 than it was for Republicans in 2006, because Democrats' voter base is much more prone to drop off in midterm elections.
So which was worse for the president's party, 2006 or 2010?
Here's where things get a little confusing. Although Democrats gained six Senate seats and 31 House seats in 2006, Republicans gained six Senate seats and 63 House seats in 2010. So 2010 was better for the opposition party, right?
Well, not quite. The reason the GOP gained so much ground in 2010 was because it began in a really bad spot -- with just 179 of the 435 seats in the House and 41 seats in the Senate. It had a lot more room to grow.
Democrats in 2006 were in a significantly better position from the start (202 House seats and 44 Senate seats), and thus their gains were more hard-won. It was at least as good a year for the opposition party as 2010 was, and probably a better one, despite the seat-gain numbers.
Republicans, of course, won't gain 63 or even 31 House seats on Nov. 4, unless something shocking happens. They just simply have too many seats (i.e. a majority) to start out with.
But that doesn't mean that 2014 won't be just as good for the opposition party. In fact, it's looking quite comparable -- at least as far as the election being about the president.