Election 2014: Food for Thought

Will the GOP make big gains in the House and Senate this year? It seems to be the conventional wisdom that big gains will be made. But I don’t think it’s going to be quite the cakewalk that many commentators — and too many Republicans — are expecting. Consider the following graph, which I’ll translate and discuss below:

Obama's daily approval ratings_26 May 2014
Derived from Rasmussen Reports, Daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

First, what do the three lines mean?

The blue line represents the number of likely voters approving Obama’s performance divided by number of likely voters disapproving Obama’s performance. A ratio of 1.00 indicates parity — equal sentiment for and against Obama. A ratio below 1.00 means that likely voters, on balance, disapprove of Obama’s performance.

The black line represents the number of voters strongly approving divided by the number of voters strongly disapproving Obama’s performance. The post-reelection bandwagon aside, Obama has been on the wrong side of this crucial ratio since June 29, 2009.

The red line represents the intensity of disapproval. It’s the ratio of strong disapproval to overall disapproval.

In the election of 2010, when the GOP gained 64 House seats and 6 Senate seats, the trends were strongly anti-Obama. His overall approval/disapproval ratio had hovered around 0.9 for months; his strong approval/disapproval ratio had hovered around 0.6 for months; and the intensity of disapproval had been rising for months.

In 2012, when the GOP lost 8 House seats and 2 Senate seats, Obama’s stock had been on the rise for 3 months. It’s true that the strong disapproval/overall disapprove ratio was rising, but I attribute that to a smaller denominator, that is, a shrinking pool of likely voters who disapproved.

Which brings us to 2014. What’s happening now? Obama’s overall approval/disapproval ratio is higher than it was before the 2010 election, which could be a bad sign for the GOP. But — praise be — Obama’s strong approval/disapproval ratio seems to be a bit lower than it was in the runup to the 2010 election. If that ratio climbs, the GOP will have a fight on its hands, unless the “enthusiasm gap” keeps a lot of Democrats home on November 4.

So, in my view, 2014 isn’t guaranteed to be another 2010. And another 2010 is what’s needed if the GOP is to control both the House and Senate. Sure, the GOP can’t come close to a veto-proof majority in the Senate (and probably not in the House, either). But with control of the Senate, the GOP could stymie Obama’s court nominees. And with control of both houses, the GOP would face less pressure to comprise on defense spending, entitlement spending, and immigration — to name three salient issues. A weakened Obama would have less leverage in any showdown over those and other issues.

But to control Congress, the GOP has to hold the House and make big gains in the Senate. And for that to happen, the GOP must win the battle of enthusiasm; that is, it must take full advantage of disenchantment with Obama and his failed policies: the disaster that is Obamacare, the failure to deal with the looming disaster in entitlement spending, the naive reliance on diplomacy to secure national interests, and the high-handed pursuit of a radical social, economic, and environmental agenda.