There’s no evidence that this year’s midterm balloting will be a “wave election” like the Democratic upswing in 2006 or the Republican sweep in 2010.
That’s according to Charlie Cook, who previewed the election in remarks at American University in Washington. (We watched the event courtesy of C-Span’s video archive.)
“Neither side looks to be sort of naturally advantaged by sort of the macro political environment,” Cook said.
Voters “don’t like either side here, and so I don’t see them handing out compliments or willy-nilly handing out victories to either side, because they’re not really happy with either one,” he said in the Jan. 2 appearance.
The Republican Party has a poor public image and struggles with voters who are young, non-white and female. Women, a majority of the electorate, were more pro-Democratic than men were pro-Republican in the 2012 election, according to a national exit poll.
“Can Republicans in 2014 repair their damage with minority voters, young voters, women votes, moderate voters?” Cook said. “And that’s to me a critical, critical, critical question.”
Democrats are contending with unfavorable historical trends. The White House’s party almost always loses ground in Congress in midterm election years, when voter turnout is lower and the political opposition is more eager to punish the administration than its supporters are to reward it.
An unpopular war in Iraq hurt Republicans in 2006, when Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate. In 2010, Republicans won back the House by defeating Democrats who were much more politically vulnerable at the midpoint of President Barack Obama’s first term than they were in 2006 or pro-Democratic 2008.
Obama’s approval rating has slipped in the past year and was 43 percent in the week ended Dec. 29, according to Gallup. The president’s standing is “on the track towards where you have bad second term midterm elections,” Cook said.
Democrats are the defending party in 21 of the 35 Senate races, including seven in states that Obama lost in 2012.
Republicans almost certainly will pick up Senate seats, though the chances Republicans make the six-seat gain needed to overturn the Democrats’ 55-45 majority are “considerably less than 50-50,” Cook said. Republicans were hurt by fractious Senate primaries in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Republicans are favored to maintain their House majority, which currently stands at 232-201, in a year when there are “very, very, very few competitive districts,” Cook said.
An inefficient clustering of Democratic voters in big metropolitan areas, Republican advantages in the redistricting process before the 2012 election, and a rise of straight-ticket voting militate against Democrats making big gains in the Nov. 4 election. The 2012 election produced just 26 districts that voted for a House member of one party and the presidential nominee of the opposite party, according to Political Capital’s calculations.
“There’s just not a lot of elasticity left in the House anymore,” Cook said.
Watch Cook’s full remarks here.