Monday, August 16, 2010

2010: An Historic GOP Wave?

There is general agreement that the GOP is likely to make significant gains in the coming midterm elections. All questions now focus on just how many seats the Republicans will gain in the House and Senate. In some respects that is a moot point. With only 41 seats in the U.S. Senate, Republicans have been able to block or force significant alterations to many Democratic initiatives. Health reform was only possible by way of the reconciliation process - after 60 Democrats voted for an initial bill prior to the loss of their supermajority. By most accounts Republicans will gain at least 4 and perhaps 7 seats in the Senate. With 45 or 48 seats Republicans will be able to block any and all legislation they so choose.

In the House, most analysts see Republican gains of 30-35 seats, just shy of the 39 needed to regain control. A recent release by Gallup reported that the average seat gain for the minority during a midterm when the president's approval is below 50% is 36 seats. Simply put, Republicans are within striking distance of reclaiming the House. Democrats will not be able to govern with a scant 4 seat majority in the House.

Translation: The midterm election is likely to mark the end of President Obama's current agenda - even if the Democrats retain control of Congress.

That said, I continue to think that the 2010 midterm is taking the shape of a growing GOP wave - one that will likely result in far more than 35 seats gained in the House and likely 8 or 9 seats gained in the Senate.

Why am I so convinced of this?  Consider this chart from averaging the so-called generic ballot question. Republicans currently hold a 6.1 percentage point lead. Democrats lost their lead as the health care battle was starting last year and have never recovered. Recent efforts to undermine faith in the GOP, to link them to the Tea Party, and to tie them to George W. Bush have clearly failed.

History is the other reason that I see the likelihood of significant GOP gains. Consider the most recent Gallup tracking poll tally for the generic ballot:

It shows Republicans leading by a 50% to 43% margin over Democrats - the trend since March shows that the parties have been near parity, with a slight advantage for Republicans. More recently, the trend has clearly favored the GOP.

Now, consider the next chart - it shows the generic ballot question from 1950 through 2006. Notice anything interesting? Since 1950, Republicans have only led the generic ballot twice - in 1994 prior to the so-called Republican Revolution and in 2002 just before George W. Bush became the first president since FDR to see his party gain seats during the first midterm of his first term.

In neither case - 1994 nor 2002 - did the GOP top 50% in the generic ballot. Rather they were the choice of a plurality. In fact, until this week the GOP had never reached 50% in Gallup's generic ballot question. At only four points since 1950 had the GOP even achieved parity with Democrats - yet they have been on a level playing field since March and are now pulling away.

We are in uncharted territory. Since the 1950s the American electorate has always had a generic preference for Democrats. That era has ended. If the generic ballot is accurately capturing public sentiment - and there is no reason to doubt that it is - the GOP is poised to score a tremendous and impressive electoral comeback in November. One that seemed all but impossible just 18 months ago.