August 11 (Bloomberg) – As hundreds of U.S. lawmakers fan out to their home districts this month, there is a genuine political conundrum.
Approval ratings for Congress are at an all-time low, rivaling those of junkyard dogs. Republicans are seen as the main villains; the party’s standing with the public keeps falling.
So what’s the outlook today for next year’s congressional elections? Republicans will hold the U.S. House, conceivably even adding to their 233-to-200 majority. They seem certain to pick up U.S. Senate seats, with an outside chance to gain the half-dozen needed for control.
There are many explanations: the voter profile of the off-year electorate, the way House districts are drawn, the fact that most of the competitive 2014 Senate races don’t favor Democrats, the deteriorating enthusiasm for President Barack Obama.
Events could change those prospects. Republicans may overplay their hand by shutting down the government in a budget dispute this autumn or by undermining the U.S.’s good faith and credit in refusing to raise the debt ceiling. They overreached in 1998 with the planned impeachment of President Bill Clinton and ending up losing seats.
Republican pollster David Winston foresees a good Republican year but warns it is far from assured: “There is an opportunity, not an outcome,” he says. “Voters aren’t looking for an opposition party; they are looking for an alternative.”
To date, on issues such as Obama’s health care measure — which House Republicans have voted to repeal or defund 40 times — they are short on alternatives. Still, Winston and others agree with the assessment of Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman that the Republicans have a “built-in midterm turnout advantage.”
Compare, as Wasserman does, the compositions of the electorate in 2010, a banner year for Republicans, and in 2012, when Obama and Democrats did well. Last year, almost 1 in 5 voters were younger than 30; two years earlier, this age cohort made up only 12 percent of the electorate. The reverse is true of those older than 65: One in 6 presidential-year voters were senior citizens; in 2010, it was 21 percent.
That makes a huge difference because more than half of young voters vote Democratic these days, and, with a few exceptions, similar percentages of senior citizens prefer Republicans. Older voters, Wasserman notes, “are less transient, have grown deeper roots in their local communities and pay much more attention to nonpresidential years.”