Political Scientists: November Is Still A Slam-Dunk For The GOP

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Amid the quibbling between Nate Silver and Sam Wang, academic political scientists have stepped in to release their own election forecast for November — and it doesn’t look great for Democrats.

A new symposium of the 2014 midterm elections in PS: Political Science and Politics forecasts that GOP could gain a median of 5 or 6 Senate seats and about 14 in the House. Unlike other popular models, this doesn’t just measure polling or how unpopular President Barack Obama is. Rather, there are a host of other indicators suggesting that the outlook does slightly favor Republicans in the House and the Senate.

Polling forecasters and poll junkies have emphasized 2014 polling to come up with this analysis. Meanwhile, these political scientists, whose work in analyzing and gaging election outcomes have been deeply incorporated into the foundation some of the most popular forecasting models today, point to a real home field advantage for Republicans.

“What these scholars are arguing is that the fundamentals of this election basically favor the Republican Party tremendously,” Appalachian State University political science professor Philip J. Ardoin, co-editor of PS: Political Science and Politics, told TPM. “We saw that big Republican success in 2010 —those Democrats who got into office in 2008 on the support of Obama’s coattails, well all those senators right on Obama’s coattails will now be facing election without him this November.”

The goal with the forecast models in these surveys, Ardoin said, aimed to focus on fundamentals beyond the noise of day-to-day polling.

If history is any guide, Democrats don’t have a great chance of gaining many seats in the House, writes the University of Buffalo’s James E. Campbell in the introduction. That’s because since the Civil War the party of the sitting President of the United States has picked up House seats only three times during midterm elections, and never have they gained more than 10 seats. Similarly, historically, there’s plenty of reason to expect that Republicans will pick up seats in the Senate as well. Since electing senators through popular vote began in 1912, the party out of power has picked up a net seat of six seats or even more 12 out of the 25 midterm elections, writes Campbell.

History may suggest that whoever controls the White House is more likely to lose seats in midterms but how many seats varies, according to Emory University’s Alan I. Abramowitz. A surprisingly big factor is actually how many seats the party in power is defending. In the House, that means fairly limited numbers given that Democrats are defending only 201 seats and unlike in 2010, a small chunk of the seats House Democrats control lean Republican, which means pickup opportunities in the House are limited. The important takeaway from that is House Republicans aren’t likely to gain a huge amount of seats in 2014 and thus will still need Democratic help to pass legislation on issues that the party is divided on.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Democrats could lose control of the chamber but, Abramowitz writes, it’s not because of Obamacare or public dissatisfaction with the party or even lackluster aspects of the economy. Instead, a big reason is simply that Democrats were so successful at winning Senate seats in 2008, including ones that usually are controlled by Republicans. But Abramowitz pours cold water on anyone getting too excited about a Republican wave: a 114th Congress with a GOP majority in the Senate would be a small majority. And a slim majority is likely to help reinforce the chances hyper-partisan conflict that have characterized the chamber.

A final forecast in the symposium by Benjamin Highton of the University of California, Davis, John Sides at The George Washington University, and Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California factors in if it’s either a midterm or presidential year, the average approval rating of the President, the change in nonannualized gross domestic product in the first half of the election year, as well as if the contested seats have a Democratic, Republican or no incumbent at all.

For the Senate, their model also factors in how much of the vote the Democrat got for the seat and if the senator running for a seat was appointed as well as party affiliation. Like with the other forecasts in the symposium, Highton, Sides, and McGhee project that Republican control of the House is almost assured but the immediate future of the Senate is less clear. The political scientists write that their “current estimate is for the Republicans and Democrats to each control 50 seats with a 95% prediction interval of 48 to 52 seats.”

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