Pollster: Shutdown Does Not Mean GOP Smash-Up in 2014

Tuesday, 15 Oct 2013 09:05 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The popular wisdom is that Republicans will be in trouble in the 2014 midterm elections because polls show them taking more heat for the government shutdown than Democrats.

But at least one liberal political analyst is warning his colleagues not to count on Republicans being clobbered next year when the entire House and a third of the Senate is up for reelection.

John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University who specializes in public opinion, cautioned in The Washington Post on Monday that the electoral ramifications of the government closure are far from clear.

Sides points to President Barack Obama's unpopularity and voters' anxiety over the underperforming economy as a drag on the allure of all Democratic candidates.
"It may not matter that the public disapproves of Republicans more than Obama," Sides writes.

What may matter more is that the low approval of Republicans is actually driven largely by the ideological split between tea party and establishment members of the GOP. Republican voters are more critical of the their own than Democrats. That being the case, the Republican shutdown disadvantage does not necessarily accrue to the benefit of Democrats. Republicans who disapprove of their party's handling of the budget crisis probably won't vote for a Democrat, Sides writes.

Then there is the fact that November 2014 is politically speaking a long way off away. Sides points out that plenty of political stories hyped as game-changing by the news media are forgotten when the news cycle drumbeat moves on. Election polls capture the moment and opinion can shift, he says.

Sides writes that history indicates midterm elections don't really advantage either party much. On the one hand, the already unpopular GOP has more seats to defend in the House, and historically the larger a party's majority the more seats it is likely to lose. On the other hand, the Democrats go into the elections with an unpopular president and an economy growing only slowly.

"Both factors could end up hurting congressional Democrats," he says.

Much has been written about how the 1995-96 shutdown helped re-elect Bill Clinton in 1996. Sides thinks the evidence is far from convincing on that score since Republicans held the Congress.

While the GOP has been pummeled politically by the shutdown, Sides concludes, the "prevailing commentary has been too quick to suggest that the GOP will suffer major consequences" in 2014 and beyond.

Related stories:

House GOP Aiming for Diversity in 2014 Races

Nate Silver: GOP Closer to Taking Senate Control in 2014

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