December 5th, 2013
On Friday, Dec. 6, the University of Virginia Center for Politics will host the 15th annual American Democracy Conference. The conference, which will be held at Alumni Hall on the Grounds of the University of Virginia, will feature panels of leading journalists and political experts focused on the 2013 Virginia election outcome, the upcoming 2014 federal midterm elections and the future of the American electorate.
The event, which will begin at 9 a.m., is free and open to the public with advance registration, and the press is invited to attend. For more information or to register, please visit http://www.centerforpolitics.org/adc.html.
View a livestream of the conference below:
The panels are:
Panel I: Post-Gubernatorial Discussion
9:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.:
Moderator: Jeff Schapiro, Richmond Times-Dispatch political reporter and columnist
- Kellyanne Conway, Republican strategist and pollster
- Thomas Guterbock, U.Va. Center for Survey Research director
- James Hohmann, Politico national political reporter
- Ellen Qualls, senior adviser to Terry McAuliffe’s (D) gubernatorial campaign
- Geoffrey Skelley, Sabato’s Crystal Ball associate editor
Panel II: 2014 Midterms
11:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
Moderator: Larry J. Sabato, U.Va. Center for Politics director
- Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard executive editor
- Christina Bellantoni, PBS NewsHour political editor
- Carl Cannon, RealClearPolitics Washington bureau chief
- Brit Hume, Fox News senior political analyst
- Dahlia Lithwick, Slate senior editor
- Michael Toner, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission
Panel III: Future of the American Electorate
12:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Moderator: Kyle Kondik, Sabato’s Crystal Ball managing editor
- Alan Abramowitz, Sabato’s Crystal Ball senior columnist and Emory University professor
- Josh Barro, Business Insider politics editor
- Rhodes Cook, Sabato’s Crystal Ball senior columnist and author of The Rhodes Cook Letter
- Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics senior election analyst
- Joe Trippi, Democratic strategist
Late filing deadlines give Republicans a chance to find better candidates in places where they’re lacking
December 5th, 2013,
The last month has been, on the surface, great for the Republican Party’s electoral fortunes in 2014. President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, has been a mess, and it remains persistently unpopular in polling. Obama’s approval rating has been on a steady decline for months, and the recent events have driven it increasingly downward. During the government shutdown, the Democratic lead in the House generic ballot — a simple poll measuring whether voters would support the Democratic or Republican candidate in their local House race — spiked to the high single digits in polling averages. Now Republicans hold a small lead in this key metric. Conditions such as these on Election Day 2014 would suggest at least a small Republican addition to their House majority and quite possibly a Senate takeover.
This is the macro view of the 2014 election, which matters a lot; in the event of a wave, smaller-bore factors — like the candidates running and the campaigns themselves — can be overwhelmed. But the candidates and campaigns remain important: Just look at the Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks of the world.
On the candidate front, the Republicans still have a lot of work to do, and they largely have not turned their positive polling into the recruitment of new candidates or the expansion of the congressional playing field.
When Democrats were riding high around the time of the government shutdown, a number of positive developments broke their way beyond the fickle polls. A handful of House Republicans, including Reps. Jon Runyan (R, NJ-3) and Tim Griffin (R, AR-2), retired, making their open House seats more competitive for Democratic challengers. Democrats announced another handful of challengers in Republican-leaning districts — candidates who are underdogs to win, but who will probably at least make their GOP opponents work. In mid-September and early October, Democrats scored two decent challengers in open Senate seats: Natalie Tennant in West Virginia and John Walsh in Montana (John Bohlinger, another Democrat, later entered the Big Sky Country contest, to the consternation of national Democrats).
If Obama is circling the drain next November, none of these developments may matter. Republicans could hold their open seats, and all the Democratic recruits that looked so shiny and great when touted in press releases could lose by double digits. But the key thing for Democrats is that the retirements they arguably forced, and the candidates they recruited, remain, even as their good polling has disappeared.
Now let’s look at the Republicans. What do they have to show for the last month, beyond their polling high? Not as much as the Democrats got during their moment in the sun.
True, Rep. Steve Daines (R, MT-AL) announced his long-rumored Senate bid in early November, although he perhaps just delayed his official entry to avoid timing it with the shutdown fight. However, not a single House Democrat has announced his or her retirement (although some are vacating their seats to run for other offices). That includes the nine Democrats who sit in districts that Mitt Romney won in 2012. Rep. Ron Barber (D, AZ-2), who won a very tough reelection in 2012 after his special election victory in Gabby Giffords’ old seat, recently announced he would run again in 2014. Other red-district Democrats, like Rep. Collin Peterson (D, MN-7), could eventually bow out, but they haven’t yet. Republicans would have an easier time winning these seats if they were open.
In the Senate, most analysts have rightly focused intently on the seven Democratic-held Senate seats in states that Romney won: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. Republicans have a shot to win every single one of them. But what about other Democratic-held seats, like those in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Oregon? Yes, Obama won all these states, but not overwhelmingly — his best performance was 54.2% in Oregon.
In all of these Obama states, there is at least one quality Republican — and in some cases several — who chose not to run; meanwhile, Democrats have much-ballyhooed candidates in a state that was roughly as Republican as Oregon was Democratic in 2012 (Georgia, 53.2% Romney) and in another state that was much more Republican on the presidential level (Kentucky, 60.5% Romney).
It feels like the Senate playing field is largely set; in an era of perpetual campaigning, heaven forbid that a candidate chooses to enter less than a year before the election. But it doesn’t have to be true. In reality, Republicans — and Democrats — still have plenty of time to enter races in most places. Whether any do could tell us a lot about how both parties actually feel about their chances next year — certainly better than any press release bluster could, anyway.
Filing deadlines still largely months away
Quietly, the first mini-milestone on the road to the 2014 midterms passed earlier this week. Monday was the last day for Democratic and Republican candidates to file to run in Illinois primaries. Yes, the Land of Lincoln forces candidates to decide whether to run more than 11 months before Election Day.
Illinois is closely followed by Texas, where the filing deadline is next Monday (Dec. 9).
However, the filing deadlines in most states are months away, in part because the nation’s primary season stretches from March all the way through September. Check out Chart 1, which includes the filing deadlines for the primaries in all 50 states, as well as the dates for the primaries and, where applicable, primary runoffs.
Chart 1: Filing deadlines for 2014 primaries
Source: Daily Kos Elections; for certain caveats about these various deadlines, we recommend clicking on the link.
Now, remember the six states noted above where Republicans should have at least a chance to win, but might not because their best candidates remain on the sideline? Well, the nearest filing deadline for any of those seats is March 11 in Oregon — more than three months away. Let’s quickly assess the state of play in all six states:
Oregon (March 11 filing deadline): Given that Republicans couldn’t win the governorship here in an optimal year — 2010 — and that Sen. Ron Wyden (D) coasted to reelection by nearly 20 points that same year, it’s understandable why Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) is in good shape for reelection. But if the national winds were really blowing the Republicans’ way, it’s not unimaginable that a Republican could beat Merkley, who beat Sen. Gordon Smith (R) by less than four points in 2008’s pristine Democratic climate. Granted, Rep. Greg Walden (R, OR-2) already has a big job — chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee — but perhaps he’d do his party a greater service by running here. Maybe one of the actual candidates in the field, like physician Monica Wehby (R), will emerge, but it’s a longshot. Crystal Ball rating: Likely Democratic
Iowa (March 14 filing deadline): There’s a big catch that probably kept out a lot of bigger name Republicans: If no one gets more than 35% of the vote in the primary, the Republican Senate nominee will be chosen by a convention. Still, Rep. Tom Latham (R, IA-3) — who comfortably won over another incumbent in an Obama district last year — would be a much better general election candidate against presumptive Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce Braley than any of the cast of thousands currently vying for the nomination. Crystal Ball rating: Leans Democratic
Colorado (March 31 filing deadline): Polling here shows both Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Sen. Mark Udall (D) with soft support, and Udall is not doing all that well in trial heats with weak candidates, such as 2010 Senate loser Ken Buck (R). What if well-regarded Rep. Cory Gardner (R, CO-4) reconsidered his decision to pass on the race? We’d certainly reevaluate our current Crystal Ball rating of Likely Democratic.
Michigan (April 22 filing deadline): Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) has cornered the nomination here as she prepares to face Rep. Gary Peters (D, MI-14) for the seat of the retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D). But national Republicans never seemed all that enthusiastic about her candidacy and they pushed Reps. Mike Rogers and Dave Camp to enter, both of whom declined. But there’s plenty of time here — more than four months — for either to reverse course. Crystal Ball rating: Leans Democratic
Minnesota (June 3 filing deadline): After the narrowest of wins in 2008, the failure of Republicans to attract a top-tier challenger to Sen. Al Franken (D) remains a mystery. It’s possible that one of the many nondescript Republicans running, such as businessman Mike McFadden, will emerge, but Republicans would feel better about investing in Minnesota if Rep. Erik Paulsen (R, MN-3) reconsidered. Again, he has months to do so. He’s also sitting on $1.5 million in cash on hand; fundraising for him, or the other potential candidates mentioned here, would not be a problem even with a “late” entrance. We’re in a world of SuperPACs, so individual fundraising is not necessarily as important as it once was. Furthermore, Republican funders would be dying to give their money to someone like Paulsen, or many of the others on this list. They are exactly the kinds of candidates the establishment wants elected, as opposed to Tea Partiers. Crystal Ball rating: Likely Democratic
New Hampshire (June 13 filing deadline): Finally, there’s the Granite State, where there’s actually some buzz around the possibility of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) switching states and challenging Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D). (Brown set Twitter ablaze the other day when he removed “MA,” for Massachusetts, from his Twitter name.) Coincidentally, New Hampshire is a state where a candidate who wasn’t going to run actually did change his mind and hopped in, but that candidate is ex-Sen. Bob Smith (R), who lost a primary to former Sen. John Sununu (R) in 2002 and has tons of enemies. He’s not likely to excite Republicans. Crystal Ball rating: Likely Democratic
Watch the real weathervanes
In politics, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows — you just need a politician. That’s why the Democrats’ successes in October, combined with some Republican House retirements, were telling: Democrats apparently were making a compelling sale to their candidates that they had a path to victory, and at least a few Republicans were fed up enough to throw in the towel. The polls and the environment were moving politicians both to the entrance and to the exit. Republicans, despite the Democrats’ current troubles, haven’t forced the same kind of movement.
They still might. Will Democrats in the House, and maybe even the Senate, retire in the face of what they perceive to be a Republican wave? And will Republicans step up in some of the states described above to ride that wave?
As demonstrated by the filing deadlines, there’s plenty of time for them to do so.
Note that many of the Republicans who took passes on running for the Senate in blue/purple states are members of the House. They might be paralyzed by fear of the Tea Party, which has a real antipathy toward many sitting members of Congress.
This is another area where the Tea Party is problematic for Republicans: Its presence is quite possibly putting so much fear into quality GOP candidates that they are simply afraid to run for higher office.
Dispelling that fear is the job of national Republican leaders. It’s fair to say that they are having difficulty making the sale, but — again — there’s more time left on the clock than they might think.
Last cycle, Republicans looked like they were in a good position to win the Senate — until the end of February 2012, when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) retired. After that point, almost every major Senate development broke against them. What does this cycle hold — what surprises are coming? As should be clear from just the primary filing deadlines, let alone the eventual winners of those primaries, there’s plenty of time to go, and plenty of time for members of both parties to create their own surprises.
Obama’s approval rating slide and what happened to his predecessors
December 5th, 2013,
For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama finds his aggregate approval rating hovering right at 40%. In some polls, he has already fallen below it: According to Gallup, the president’s approval dropped to 39% three times in November. Currently, RealClearPolitics’ aggregation of approval polls finds the president’s approval right at 40.1% while HuffPost Pollster shows 41.5%. Both show a consistent downward trend over the last few months.
While Gallup’s three-day tracking had the president’s approval at 41% on Wednesday, it has been lower. In August 2011, Obama’s approval rating in Gallup dropped to 38%, remaining around 40% until late October. This previous encounter with the “dirty thirties” buoyed Republican hopes that Obama could be beaten in the 2012 presidential election. But as events proved (for the umpteenth time), a year in politics is a long time.
Looking back at Gallup’s approval polls since World War II, Obama’s predecessors have a varied history in their tangles with sub-40% approval ratings, with some recovering, some stagnating and others falling further into the disapproval abyss. And as the 2014 midterm elections approach, it is worth noting that only two presidents in the Gallup era have had approval ratings below 40% at the time of a federal midterm: George W. Bush in 2006 and Harry Truman in both 1946 and 1950. The electoral trouble their poor numbers inflicted on their parties is detailed in Table 1.
Table 1: Presidential party performance in midterms when president has sub-40% approval rating
Note: Approval ratings listed are result from last Gallup poll prior to midterm election.
Sources: Gallup and Vital Statistics on American Politics 2011-2012.
While the limited sample size makes it pointless to average these three election results, it’s striking that in both 1950 and 2006 the president’s party lost six seats in the U.S. Senate, precisely the net gain Republicans must achieve in 2014 to take control of the upper chamber. If Obama’s approval rating continues to plunge further, it will bode poorly for Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) chances of retaining the Senate majority leader post in the 114th Congress.
Below is a brief history of modern presidents’ ups and downs once their approval fell below 40%.
The history of sub-40% approval ratings
Like Obama, Harry Truman slid below 40% prior to his reelection bid, landing at 33% less than two months before the 1946 midterms. Truman rebounded, winning the 1948 election; at the time of his inauguration in January 1949, his approval was close to 70%. That was fleeting, and his approval dropped below 40% permanently in December 1950, falling to 24% in the period of time after he removed General Douglas MacArthur from command in Korea in April 1951. In February 1952, Truman’s approval reached its nadir, 22%, and upon leaving office, his approval sat at 32%.
It took another 15 years before a president’s approval rating fell below 40%. Neither Dwight Eisenhower (partially, at least, because of his military hero status) or John F. Kennedy (because of his abbreviated time in office) came close to the black mark. But the troubles at home and in Vietnam pushed Lyndon Johnson under 40% in August 1967. After a brief recovery, Johnson’s approval fell to 36% in March 1968 in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive. Once he announced that he would not accept the Democratic nomination in 1968, LBJ’s approval jumped back up to 50% in April 1968. Still, his approval rating fell to a low of 35% in August 1968.
Before the Watergate scandal took hold, Richard Nixon never saw an approval rating lower than 48%. But after winning a massive landslide in the 1972 election, Nixon’s presidency unraveled with further revelations regarding Watergate. In 1973, Nixon’s approval rating fell below 40%, and by the time he resigned from office on Aug. 9, 1974, it was at 24%, nearly equal to Truman’s all-time low of 22%.
Gerald Ford, Nixon’s unelected successor, entered office with a 71% approval rating. But his honeymoon proved to be very short, beginning with his pardon of Nixon after just one month in office. However, Ford’s approval rating didn’t fall below 40% until January 1975, remaining in sub-40% territory for the next few months due in large part to a struggling economy. But Ford’s rating improved sharply to 52% by the end of June 1975, perhaps on account of his military action in the Mayaguez Incident. After that, Ford’s approval generally remained in the 40s, with a 39% approval blip in December 1975.
During Jimmy Carter’s time in office, the U.S. experienced assorted economic, energy and international crises. Carter’s approval rating first slid below 40% in the summer of 1978 but recovered to top 50% by the end of the year. It then fell to 28% in the summer of 1979 during the energy crisis of that year, prompting Carter’s (in)famous “malaise” speech (though he never used that word). Carter’s approval remained in the low 30s until early November 1979, when the hostage crisis in Iran boosted Carter’s approval rating back above 50% as a result of the “rally ‘round the flag” effect. However, as the hostage crisis wore on, Carter’s approval fell back below 40% for good in May 1980.
Ronald Reagan only saw a brief sub-40% period in early 1983, falling to 35% in late January thanks largely to the country’s economic struggles. But the economy recovered, lifting Reagan all the way to a 59% landslide reelection in 1984. Showing that timing can be everything in politics, Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, saw his approval rating drop just as his reelection year rolled around. He had been in solid shape until then, but not once in 1992 did Bush touch 50%. The last Gallup job approval survey taken before the 1992 election, in mid-October, had him at just 34% — and he received 37.5% on Election Day.
Bill Clinton’s timing was much better. Clinton recorded ratings in the 30s just twice, in June 1993 and September 1994. These low early ratings helped to oust dozens of fellow Democrats in the 1994 midterms. But revived by GOP-inspired government shutdowns, Clinton’s rating never fell below 50% again after February 1996, even during the trials of the Lewinsky scandal.
Partially because of 9/11, George W. Bush had the most bipolar presidency since the dawn of presidential approval polling. In his first term, the younger Bush spent a mere four months below 50%, never lower than 46%. Conversely, discounting a few points in the first half of 2005, Bush was never above 50% for the entirety of the second term. After May 2007, he never got above 37% approval, falling at times into the 20s.
Besides Eisenhower and Kennedy, every other post-World War II president has experienced a period of sub-40% approval ratings. But as the record shows, the lengths and depths of those slides have varied immensely. Some, like Reagan and Clinton, saw their public perceptions recover markedly after temporarily dropping into the 30th percentile in approval. However, other presidents, like Truman and George W. Bush, never bounced back. They left office discredited in the court of public opinion, although that court’s rulings are never final and are quite changeable over time. Sure enough, Truman’s reputation has greatly improved in the six decades since he exited the White House, and Bush’s ratings have begun to warm somewhat.
As for Obama, he was the fourth president to win reelection despite falling into the 30s in the Gallup poll during his first term, joining Truman, Reagan and Clinton on that list. But unlike the latter two, Obama has again found himself in the 30s, with potentially serious consequences for his party in the U.S. Senate and House as the 2014 midterms approach.