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.


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.







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.