The Senate in 2015: What to Expect?

Yes, the media is all abuzz about the new Republican-dominated Congress that begins on January 6, 2015. Pundits still talk about Democrats losing 9 seats in the 2014 election results (my previous blog on Senate predictions was a bit off). How did this happen?

By winning 9 seats in 2014, Republicans start 2015 with a majority of 54 (out of 100) seats in the U.S. Senate.
By winning 9 seats in 2014, Republicans start 2015 with a majority of 54 (out of 100) seats in the U.S. Senate.

The Blame Obama Option 

For Republicans, blaming Obama seems to be the answer for everything. However, it should be noted that the only new Democratic Senator in the 2014 cycle, Gary Peters from Michigan, was the only Democratic candidate to embrace President Obama and invite him to campaign. Peters won in Michigan with 1.7 million votes, beating his Republican opponent by 410,000 votes—this in a state that reelected a Republican governor in 2014. Most Senate Democrats and candidates distanced themselves from the President, even though many were elected in the Obama-engineered Democratic wave of 2008. Lack of unity with the President and low voter turnout resulted in Republicans winning a Senate majority on Election Day by an average margin of some 72,000 votes per state–ranging from a winning margin of 6,000 votes in Alaska to 144,000 in Arkansas.

Senatorsobama

Was the GOP Wave Caused by Obamacare or by Senate Numbers?

GOP attacks on “job-killing Obamacare” will be used early and often in 2015, pointing to the will of the American people in voting Democrats out of the Senate in 2014. Of course, Republicans will fail to mention their loss of 6 Senate seats in 2006 and another 8 seats in 2008, when the will of the American people was unfavorable to Republicans. In reality, the Democratic wave of 2008 brought about the Republican wave of 2014. Change in party control of the Senate is part of a cycle as designed in the U.S. Constitution that requires a third of the Senate to be up for election every 2 years. I should add that Republicans gained 6 seats in their 2010 wave, and many will be vulnerable in 2016, because Republicans will be defending 24 seats versus 10 for Democrats. In 2014, Democrats defended 21 seats to the GOP’s 15.

ObamaScare

 

 

 

 

 

Democrats expected to lose some Senate seats, because the party in the White House usually loses Congressional seats in midterm elections. But especially low voter turnout (see graph below) likely hurt Democrats even more. Why the lower than average voter turnout for the 2014 midterms? Because Democrats were divided, failing to support President Obama and many Democratic policies. Republicans have always portrayed Obama and the Affordable Care Act as unpopular, and many Democrats took the bait by distancing themselves from the President. This confused message from Democratic candidates created a dispirited Democratic base, which contributed to low voter turnout.

GraphPres&Senate2014Presidential vote totals compared to 2014 Senate votes where Republicans won a Democratic seat.

Many Republicans believe they have a voter mandate to confront Obama, even though 2014 saw historically low voter participation. Senator McConnell, the new Senate Majority Leader, will need to balance cooperation with confrontation. Cooperation with the White House is needed to show that Republicans can govern and not just be the “Party of No.” However, confrontation will likely be the natural order of things, with Republicans passing legislation that they know will be vetoed by the President.

The new Senate, with a 54-member Republican majority, convenes on January 6 in what Republicans are calling the “new American Congress.” It should be noted that no party “controls” the Senate unless it has a 60-member majority. Democrats can now reciprocate with tactics used by Senate Republicans since 2009. Undoubtedly, some Democrats gleefully look forward to “holds” or “filibusters” on Republican legislation.

Again, all this is just part of the natural Senate cycle.

 

David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, NVCC-Alexandria

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.

The Fate of the U.S. Senate

The so-called Republican wave should swamp the Senate on Election Day, according to most pundits, including Virginia’s Larry Sabato. The Republican’s seem to be winning the sound-bite war, declaring that their purported war on women is “tiresome,” raising the minimum wage would “kill jobs,” and repealing Obamacare is “job one.”

I am not sure declaring women’s issues irrelevant, sacrificing minimum wage earners, and taking away health care will win the Senate. In this election cycle the GOP seems much like the self-congratulating braggart, who is being set up for a fall. Of course, polls show that Republicans are favored to take the Senate, but this reminds me of the Scottish referendum in September, where polls indicated that 52% wanted independence, but the actual vote revealed that only 45% wanted to break free from the United Kingdom. A poll can be wrong, slanted, or political propaganda, depending on who is paying for it.

Why Are So Many Senate Races So Close?

Money! The media like close elections because they sell political ads. The campaigns make elections look close, so money keeps coming in for their candidates. So with polls that are potentially erroneous and races that are engineered for excitement, how can we anticipate results? Well, there are some basic trends in Senate elections:

  1. Incumbents usually win—91% were reelected in 2012; 84% in 2010
  2. More Republican than Democratic incumbents have lost in recent election cycles—14 Republican and 4 Democratic incumbents have lost reelection since 2004.
  3. Lopsided Senates tend to see the biggest change in seats. For example, before the 2010 elections Democrats held 57 seats versus 41 for Republicans—and Democrats lost 6 seats. Currently Democrats have 53 seats versus 45 for Republicans, and GOP chances of getting 6 seats are less likely.

Keeping in mind that most incumbents win reelection and that Democratic incumbents tend to lose less on average, I made the following map of predicted election results for November 4, 2014:

The Senate Map After Election Day

The Senate Map After Election Day

The Map After Election Day!

Looking at the map, it looks like Republicans will gain (+R) 6 seats, picking up seats currently held by Democrats in Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana—although the results of the Louisiana race may have to wait until December 6, if none of the candidates get over 50% of the vote.

Democratic incumbents in Arkansas and Louisiana are expected to lose reelection. Republican Senator Pat Roberts seemed to take voters for granted until it was too late, and Independent Greg Orman should win the Senate seat in Kansas (+Ind).

Finally, Democrat Michelle Nunn looks to take a Senate seat from Republicans in Georgia (+D), but a runoff election scheduled for January 6 could leave control of the Senate in limbo until January 6.

The speed of election results is anyone’s guess, and if Democrat Mark Udall wins in Colorado, then Republicans will likely file a voter fraud suit because of the new mail in voting system. Assuming runoff elections in Georgia and Louisiana, Democrats should have 47 seats—or 49 if one includes the two Independents from Maine and Vermont. Republicans, with 48 seats, will need to win Louisiana and Georgia to get to 50 seats, then convince Greg Orman (Kansas) to caucus with them (and not the Democrats) to get to 51. The three Independents in the Senate will have real power at a time when most voters are unhappy with the two major political parties.

Senate control may not be known until the Georgia election on January 6. The fate of the Senate may take weeks to determine.

 

David B. Miller, Assistant Professor, Geography, NVCC-Alexandria

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the view of the NOVA Institute for Public Service or Northern Virginia Community College as a whole. All materials may be reprinted with permission, for more information please contact the IPS Coordinator.