by Jonah Hamilton
For many of us here at Pitzer, the 2014 midterm elections were disappointing. But in a time when the Dow is at an all-time high, gas prices are low, and the economy continues to add jobs, what exactly went wrong for the Democrats?
First, to recap what happened on Tuesday, November 4. That day, there were 36 senate races, and of those, the Democrats won 12, while the Republicans won 23, for a Republican net gain of eight senate seats (Kudos to those of you who caught that 23 + 12 doesn’t equal 36. The explanation? The senate race in Louisiana is headed to a run-off scheduled for December of this year).
In the House of Representatives, each and every one of the 435 seats were up for election. The Democrats won 186 seats, while the republicans picked up 244, for a net gain of 12 seats (as of the 11/20/14, there are still five races that remain undecided.) Even if the Republicans lose all of the five undecided races (which is very unlikely), they will still have the greatest House majority since 1946.
The Republican’s victories, however, were not just confined to Capitol hill.The Republicans also had significant victories in the state legislative elections, and the gubernatorial elections. The republicans had a net gain of two governorships, while the Democrats had a net loss of three gubernatorial seats. The Republicans also dominated in the state legislative elections, taking control of the most state legislatures republicans have had since 1929, while leaving the Democrats in control of the fewest state legislatures since 1861.
Frankly, the 2014 mid-term elections could be described as a rout. However, it seems that this victory is more of an abnormality, rather than indicative of the future of American politics. While Republicans did well in the elections, there are other facts to come out of the midterms that do not bode well for Republicans in the future- namely the 2016 presidential election.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind in regards to the 2014 midterms is the fact that they featured the worst voter turnout in 72 years. Partly, this is a result of voter suppression laws that specifically target inner-city citizens, who tend to vote Democratic. But more importantly, it is essential to remember that the Republicans’ victories only occurred when no one cared. It’s like being voted to student council on a day where only 36.3% of students are present.
Midterms are also consistently favorable for Republicans, because the citizens that vote that day are older and whiter than the folks who vote during presidential elections. Democratic voters are infamous for their lack of participation in midterm elections, and this consistently hurts them. Voter turnout will likely be much better for Democrats in 2016.
Midterm elections are generally very rough for the President’s party. Political scientist Eric McGhee calls this phenomenon “the midterm penalty.” In the last hundred years, only on three occasions has the President’s party gained seats in the House: in 1934 during the Great Depression, in 1998 during the Clinton impeachment scandal, and in 2002 following the 9/11 terror attacks. The midterm effect can be explained by the fact that it is easier to motivate angry, disaffected folks (the Republicans, in this case) to action, as opposed to motivating more satisfied people (the Democrats) to action. However, Obama is not popular right now, and as a result, Democrats disappointed in him may have hesitated to support his party in the midterms. Understanding why it was hard for Democrats to defend the House, combined with the fact that 13 of the senate seats they had to defend were in traditionally Republican or hotly-contested states, makes it easier to understand why they suffered such defeat in the midterms.
There are other interesting facts about the midterms, including the fact that all personhood amendments failed, and every minimum wage increase was successful— both positive things in the minds of most Democrats.
There is also the fact that an October poll conducted by Pew Research center shows that 47% of the general public says their opinion of the Democratic party is favorable, with 46% saying their opinion is unfavorable, whereas 54% of the general public says their views of the Republicans are unfavorable, with only 38% saying their opinion of the Republicans is favorable.
While this is a significant short-term victory for Republicans, it certainly does not indicate a “Republican surge” nationwide. Overall, Republicans won a midterm with atrocious turnout, of which the main participant was an older, whiter demographic than what we will see in 2016. Combined with the fact that it’s historically been hard to gain House seats belonging to members of the President’s party, and the fact that the Democrats were defending seats in traditionally conservative states, it should not be a surprise that Republicans did so well. They were thrown an easy pitch, and they got a solid hit, this time at least. The demographics of this country are changing however, and old white men don’t live forever.