Should we be worried about the Democrats’ chances in the 2014 elections? Charlie Cook thinks we should. He has been looking at the polling from NBC News/Wall Street Journal. And he is right that it isn’t a slam dunk for the Democrats regardless. But I think he’s overstating the problems.
Most of his article presents relatively good news to the Democrats. In generic polling, Democrats have a 45-42 advantage over Republicans. But these generic polls tend to overstate the Democratic advantage by 2 percentage points. Thus, right now, it looks like the Democrats have a 1 percentage point advantage in 2014. This is not great. In 2012, the advantage was 47-42. According to Cook’s 2-point rule, that gave the Democrats a 3 percentage point advantage, which is about right (the Democrats did better than that in the White House and Senate, but worse in the House). In 2010, the disadvantage was 43-45, or a 4 percentage point advantage for the Republicans. So the Democrats are looking a lot better for 2014 than they looked for 2010.
In addition to this, remember that the 2010 election was a great defeat for the Democrats in part because they held so many marginal seats. The Republicans have won those seats back. So the idea that the Democrats could lose another 63 seats is ridiculous. But as I wrote in The Next Three Election Cycles, the 2014 election is likely to be a wash for both parties. This is assuming that the Republicans don’t do anything really stupid. But barring that, I assume that Republicans will make minor gains in the House and Senate. That might mean they take control of the Senate. But we aren’t likely to see huge changes.
Cook’s concern about the Democrats comes from the polling of independent voters. There has been a decided shift among this group of voters toward the Republicans. Right now, they are divided 25-43. This is dramatically different from 2012 when it was 35-34 and even worse than 2010 when it was 26-40. I don’t really trust the category of “independent voter.” In general, it is just a bunch of people who are Republicans or Democrats who refuse to admit it. And the fact that there is this huge swing from off to on to off year elections makes me think that this is mostly just a question of extremely conservative “independents” who always vote and moderate “independents” who only vote for the president.
There’s another issue: since 2005, there has been a steady increase in “independent” voters and decrease in Republican voters. In 2005, there were 33% of voters claiming to be independent and 33% claiming to be Republican. In 2012, 40% claimed to be independent and 27% claimed to be Republican. So part of the change is just the fact that more and more Republicans are claiming to be independents. What’s more, I think most of these people have changed because they think the Republican Party is too liberal. So these are the most conservative (Tea Party, most likely) Republicans.
Charlie Cook is not really partisan and so I’m sure he is just presenting the data as he sees it. But like most such people, I suspect he has a bias toward the supposed center of the political spectrum. And that is what all of the concern is about the “independent” voters. Of course, as I’ve noted: these supposed independent voters aren’t all that independent and regardless aren’t centrists. Should the Democratic Party start pandering to this group? After all, it did very well with this group less than a year ago. Has anything happened in that time that would make a reasonable person turn against Obama and the the Democratic Party? I don’t think so. This isn’t a group that the Democrats are going to convince regardless. And the “independent” vote is already factored into the total vote. The last thing the Democrats need to do is move to the right yet again.