GOP pollster Neil Newhouse is warning Republicans not to count on the “six year itch”, which is the tendency of the incumbent President’s party to suffer major losses during the midterm of his second year in office, or six years into his term.
That’s good advice. While midterm elections are usually bad for the incumbent party, especially six year midterms, one doesn’t have to go very far back to find exceptions. In 1998, Republicans overreached with the Bill Clinton impeachment and actually suffered a net loss of seats, contrary to expectations and leading to the ouster of Newt Gingrich. One could argue that 1998 had special circumstances, but all election years have special circumstances.
There’s another pattern, however, that most pundits haven’t picked up on. That is the tendency of Presidents who suffered major midterm losses in their first term to suffer more modest losses in the second. Those Presidents whose party does relatively well in the first midterm, comparitively, will suffer more heavy losses in the second midterm. Voters, for some reason, just have to get things out of their system.
It’s true that the midterm electorate will probably be whiter, older, and more conservative than the 2012 electorate. But pinning hopes on a ‘wave’ won’t cut it, and Republicans are wrong to anticipate one. Typically, waves only happen during periods of one-party control of government. Voters get angry and punish the party in power.
We also enter the 2014 election with a unique political climate. Republicans have the chance to take back the Senate, but there is little room for improvement in the House, though our own Representative Mike McIntyre might be vulnerable.
What should be troubling to Republicans is that their party’s brand is in the toilet. Republicans took back the House in 2010 in spite of their unpopularity because the Democrats were even more unpopular and voters needed to vent their rage against Democratic incumbents. Americans don’t trust Republicans with anything right now. They gave them the House but that’s because they dislike big-government liberal policies more than gridlock. But if Obama uses the bully pulpit effectively, and Republicans continue to be toxic, then voters may decide otherwise. There is some hope that Obama or the Democrats might overreach and prove to be their undoing. But with a Republican Congress vowing to block everything, that’s hard to do.
So, for GOP strategists setting their sights on Kay Hagan: Don’t make the mistake of assuming a Republican year just because of the vaunted “six year itch”. It’s more likely than not that there won’t be one, especially with Republicans as unpopular as they are right now. And even in a Republican wave year, Hagan’s defeat won’t be guaranteed. Just ask Ken Buck. Or Sharron Angle.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.