NYT: Plenty of Wiggle Room for Both Parties in Midterms

Thursday, 04 Sep 2014 09:06 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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Republicans have a clear advantage in the November midterms, but it’s too soon to count the Democrats out, according to Nate Cohn, The New York Times’ polling analyst who writes The Upshot blog.

While Cohn’s Senate model puts the GOP at a 66 percent advantage of winning a majority, the party by no means has it in the bag. The election’s outcome remains in question, with plenty of time for either side to make or break its chances, according to Cohn.

"Is 2014 a fairly neutral year in which Republicans hold an edge because races are mainly being fought in Republican-held states, or is it also a bad year for Democrats, who might face a 'wave' election like the ones that brought Democrats to power in 2006 and swept them away in 2010?" he writes. "The answer hinges in part on whether the GOP's unpopularity is enough to mitigate the expected backlash against President Obama."

What makes this year’s election challenging to predict are two polls — the presidential approval ratings and the generic ballot — which historically are interchangeable, but this year are not.

The first is self-explanatory and the second asks voters which party they would prefer to control Congress.

Cohn cites the Huffington Post’s Pollster tracker, which puts President Barack Obama’s approval ratings in the low 40s. But the generic poll shows Democrats ahead by 2 points with registered voters, resulting in a polling conundrum.

But Labor Day is when election frenzy takes hold, so there’s ample time for the polls to line up with one another, according to Cohn.

"It is possible that one of the two metrics will triumph over the other, that 2014 will prove to be another Republican landslide, as in 2010, or that it will be an outright strong showing for Democrats, as in 2012," he said. "It is also possible that the two metrics will come into alignment by Election Day, perhaps if Mr. Obama rallies Democrats to his side, or if voters who disapprove of Mr. Obama ultimately decide they prefer Republicans to control Congress."

Thus far, there has not been a trend either way, he said, perhaps indicating that it could mean there won’t be a Republican landslide or a Democratic victory but instead a "Republican-tilting year in which the GOP benefits from a large number of competitive races in red and purple states" and could still net the GOP enough seats to regain control of the Senate.

"If you need any proof that the Republicans can win without a wave, just check the current polls," Cohn writes. "Even today, the Republicans are still extremely competitive in the states they need to win the Senate, like Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, and Alaska."

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