Why the GOP needs to be wor­ried

The Community Connection - - OPINION - By G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young Terry Madonna is pro­fes­sor of pub­lic af­fairs at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege. Michael Young is a speaker, poll­ster, and was pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics and pub­lic af­fairs at Penn State Univer­sity.

“What, me worry”!

This iconic motto, fa­mously at­trib­uted to Mad Mag­a­zine’s equally iconic Al­fred E. Neu­man, might well serve na­tional Repub­li­can strate­gists ap­proach­ing the end of sum­mer and the im­pend­ing 2018 midterms.

The party has much to worry about. Loss of a sin­gle cham­ber could crip­ple the Trump agenda; loss of both Houses will ef­fec­tively end the Trump pres­i­dency.

The GOP’s prob­lem is that it doesn’t con­front a sin­gle prob­lem, but a daunt­ing mul­ti­plic­ity of them. Each of the prob­lems is in­di­vid­u­ally trou­bling and col­lec­tively all threaten con­tin­ued Repub­li­can rule in Washington.

Al­to­gether there are at least five com­pelling forces that the GOP must neu­tral­ize or over­come if they are to con­tinue to hold con­trol over the fed­eral gov­ern­ment:

• His­tory of Midterms: Democrats need to win just 23 seats to take con­trol of the lower cham­ber and po­lit­i­cal his­tory sug­gests they will do it. The party hold­ing the White House al­most al­ways loses House seats in a midterm elec­tion. Since the Civil War, the pres­i­dent’s party has been con­sis­tently on the los­ing end of midterm elec­tions with the losses in the House of­ten ex­ceed­ing 30 seats. The only ex­cep­tion oc­curred in 2002 af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Ge­orge W. Bush’s Repub­li­can Party gained eight House seats and two Sen­ate seats.

• Ref­er­en­dum on Trump: All elec­tions are a ref­er­en­dum on the in­cum­bent, and midterms are a ref­er­en­dum on the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent. Typ­i­cally, if a pres­i­dent’s job per­for­mance is be­low 50% pos­i­tive, House losses will oc­cur — and they will be sub­stan­tial. Omi­nously, Pres­i­dent Trump’s job per­for­mance rat­ings have been flash­ing red for some time. His cur­rent pos­i­tives stand at 43.4 per­cent on the RCP av­er­age. If Trump’s ap­proval rat­ings do not im­prove, Repub­li­cans in com­pet­i­tive races will con­tinue to be vul­ner­a­ble.

• En­thu­si­asm among Democrats: Vot­ing turnout in midterms tends to be rel­a­tively low, around 40% of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers. Con­se­quently, midterm out­comes are heav­ily in­flu­enced by the de­gree of en­thu­si­asm that ex­ists among vot­ers. This year Democrats are en­joy­ing an “en­thu­si­asm gap” over Repub­li­cans. In the con­gres­sional special elec­tions that have oc­curred in 2018, the Democrats have over per­formed by 12 to 16 points.

• In­flu­ence of Women Vot­ers: 2018 will make the so-called “Year of the Women” (1992) pale by com­par­i­son. The largest num­ber of fe­male can­di­dates is seek­ing of­fice than in any pre­vi­ous elec­tion cy­cle. So far, 185 women have been nom­i­nated for the House, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Women and Pol­i­tics at Rut­gers Univer­sity. The large ma­jor­ity of these fe­male can­di­dates are Democrats, 143 of them. Women are also con­tribut­ing money to cam­paigns in un­usu­ally high num­bers. While the paucity of fe­males in state leg­is­la­tures and Congress are mo­ti­vat­ing some of the high in­ter­est, strong op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Trump among Demo­cratic women clearly ex­plains much of fe­male mo­bi­liza­tion.

• A shift­ing Midterm Coali­tion — Midterm vot­ers dif­fer from pres­i­den­tial elec­tion vot­ers in many ways. A “propen­sity to vote” is one of them with midterm vot­ers much more likely to vote at all. De­mo­graph­ics trend­ing to higher in­comes and more ed­u­ca­tion is an­other key dif­fer­ence. Midterm vot­ers tend to be more af­flu­ent and bet­ter ed­u­cated. In 2018, these dif­fer­ences are likely to ben­e­fit Democrats since Trump’s 2016 sup­port­ers came dis­pro­por­tion­ately from among white work­ing-class vot­ers with­out a col­lege de­gree — pre­cisely the group less likely to show up at the polls on Novem­ber 6th. More­over, in 2018, col­lege ed­u­cated vot­ers have been show­ing up in large num­bers in special elec­tions and among Demo­cratic pri­mary vot­ers. This wor­ri­some pat­tern for Repub­li­cans means the Trump coali­tion from 2016 is likely to be con­sid­er­ably smaller in 2018.

These five fac­tors, so in­im­i­cal to GOP hopes, do not guar­an­tee a Demo­cratic wave in 2018. True, some of these are near un­al­ter­able fea­tures of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. The his­tory of midterms and their ref­er­en­dum na­ture are ex­am­ples. But other fac­tors are more mal­leable by Repub­li­cans, par­tic­u­larly clos­ing the “en­thu­si­asm gap,” a broader ap­peal to women, and en­sur­ing they are not out­spent.

2016 taught ev­ery­one that “the only poll that counts is on elec­tion day.” That’s some­thing Repub­li­cans should re­mem­ber and Democrats should not for­get.

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