Two Polls Give (Limited) Hope For A Democratic Upset In November

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There are two recent poll findings which you might think should help the Democrats in November but most likely will not. Gallup found that the Democratic Party had a favorable rating of 44 percent while the Republicans have a with 34 percent favorable rating.

Unfortunately this type of lead has not necessarily translated into election victories in the past. It also doesn’t help the Democrats that, while leading the Republicans, they are still under 50 percent.

Republicans also have an advantage in House elections due to gerrymandering, and due to the concentration of Democrats in urban areas, leading to a larger margin of victory in a smaller number of districts. Democrats are defending several Senate seats in red states where they would not enjoy this lead over Republicans.

Brendan Nyhan looked at a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll which showed that more people agree with the Democrats on the issues:

More Americans say they trust Democrats than Republicans on the “main problems the nation faces over the next few years” as well as a number of key policy issues, including the economy, health care and immigration. Members of the public also typically indicate that Democrats are closer to their opinion than Republicans on specific issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and raising the minimum wage.

This apparent political advantage is less important than it might seem, however. For instance, Democrats had greater advantages on several major issues at comparable points in the 1994 and 2010 electoral cycles, which both resulted in Republican landslides…

Why haven’t these issue advantages translated into electoral success? First, the midterm electorate is not representative of the American public. The public’s preferences for Democrats on the issues may diminish or disappear once you look at registered voters or those who claim they are “absolutely certain” to vote, as Jaime Fuller of The Washington Post has noted. The Democrats’ edge on the issues is likely to dissipate further among the older, whiter group of Americans most likely to vote in November.

In addition, the importance of the issues in congressional elections is typically overstated. Structural factors like presidential approval, the state of the economy, the type of election (midterm or presidential year) and the composition of the seats that are up for election tend to matter more.

Most likely, based upon fundamentals in a midterm election the Republicans should do better than the Democrats. However, if the Democrats are seeking to significantly beat historical expectations, they sure have a better chance at the upset if they are the party which a majority support than if they did not have this support. How they do will depend a lot on whether the Democrats can get more of their supporters out to vote than is typical in midterm election years.

While the Democrats face a difficult task in holding onto Senate seats in the red states, there is an advantage to incumbency which should allow some to win. This might be enough to allow the Democrats to maintain control of the Senate until 2016 when the fundamentals are in their favor, including having an election year electorate and it is the Republicans who will be defending Senate seats in several blue states.

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