Things are starting to look bleak for the Democrats in this year’s midterm elections. A Pew Research Center/USA Today poll found that voters favor the Republicans in 47%-43%. That may seem small but it is enough to vastly increase the Republican majority in the House and give them back the Senate, not to mention the number of governorships and state legislatures the Republicans could gain. Do not forget that at this point in 2010 voters were evenly divided between the two parties 44-44. Also do not forget that in 1994 the Democrats were leading 47-45.

Cartoon versions of the Republican Elephant and the Democratic Donkey

Don’t assume the Democrats will win.

So the numbers could become even worse for the Democrats. The chances of the polling numbers improving this year are fairly dismal. While the unemployment rate continues to drop Americans still do not feel that the economy is improving fast enough. Slow shallow recoveries are not enough to make voters credit the party in power. Recently, there has been a lot of good news about Obamacare enrollment to counter the rocky start.  That, however, has not helped Democrats.

Secondly, the party in the White House usually does badly in midterm elections, even when the economy is good. It does especially badly during the second midterm in which it controls the White House. This phenomenon is called the “six year itch.” Voters for the  party outside of the White House become more motivated to vote on election day.

The only way for Democrats to turn around things is for them to mobilize their base. It is rare for the party in the White House to do so during midterm elections. Probably the closest it ever came to happening during a midterm election was in 1998. Many people attribute the Democrats making small House gains and breaking even in the Senate to the Republican impeachment investigations over Monica Lewinsky that were occurring at the time. Angry Democrats turned out and voted. Additionally, Republicans had expended much of their energy in 1994.

So some Democrats are taking comfort in the 1998 election results.  They are thinking that the Benghazi investigations will hurt the Republicans in the way the Lewinsky investigations hurt them in 1998.  Additionally, these Democrats may be thinking that the 2010 midterm elections have sucked the energy out of Republican voters, similar to the way the 1994 midterm elections had done.

Do not rest assured. Remember that in 1994 the Republicans had insisted on having Whitewater investigations that were essentially a witch hunt, similar to the Benghazi investigations. That did not stop the Republicans from winning control of Congress that year. There was nothing behind Whitewater and so the Republicans could not move forward with impeachment inquiries, as much as they had wanted to do so. Benghazi will almost certainly fan out the same way. So unless impeachment votes against Obama are imminent in November the Democrats will not gain from the Benghazi investigations. We also cannot count on Republican voters not being energized similar to 1998.

Essentially, Obama is going to have to find an issue to mobilize Democrats. He talked about student loans and same-sex marriage in 2012. Can he talk about those issues all over again when he hasn’t done anything? If I were Obama I would stop trying to cooperate with the Republicans on matters such as dismantling Social Security. This pandering to conservatives simply puts off the Democratic base, which is why the Republicans did so well in 2010. Obama needs to propose something new and progressive, which he so far has not done. Calling for reducing student interest rates to the same rate that banks received, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants would be a start. That would mobilize the youth vote. Then join Sen. Bernie Sanders into calling for an increase in Social Security without privatizing it. Sadly, I do not see that happening.

Bibliography:

Hirschhorn, Dan. “Democrats Face Worst Midterm Climate in 20 Years, Poll Says,” May 5, 2014, http://time.com/87792/2014-midterm-elections-poll/

“Poll: For the Midterms, a Tilt to the GOP,” http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/05/05/usa-today-pew-poll-midterm-landscape-tilts-to-gop/8520429/

http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/1998/

Image by Donkey Hotey released under a Creative Commons license.