Skip to main content

Will 2014 election solve anything?

By John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, Special to CNN
October 7, 2013 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed.
HIDE CAPTION
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Authors: Some midterm elections are like tidal waves that remix the Washington scene
  • Democrats had their wave in 2006, Republicans in 2010, they say
  • But radical change in Washington from 2014 election may not happen, they say
  • Authors: Government shutdown isn't likely to change the outcome

Editor's note: John Sides of George Washington University, and Lynn Vavreck of UCLA are political scientists and the authors of the new book "The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Election".

(CNN) -- A midterm election sometimes arrives like a tidal wave, sweeping one party's incumbents out of office and bringing in a new majority. For Democrats, their wave came in 2006. For Republicans, theirs came in 2010.

As the next midterm election approaches, however, there are few signs of a tsunami. 2014 seems likely to reproduce divided government and, with it, even more of the partisan polarization that has become endemic in American politics. Thus, the next election seems unlikely to change the dynamics that have produced the partial government shutdown.

Loyalty to a political party is not just a feature of Congress. It is, and has always been, a pre-eminent force in American elections. Nine in 10 Americans identify with or lean toward a party, and most vote loyally for that party. In our book, "The Gamble," we document the powerful role partisanship played in the 2012 election.

John Sides
John Sides
Lynn Vavreck
Lynn Vavreck

In partnership with YouGov, we interviewed 45,000 Americans online in December 2011 and then interviewed most of them again after the election. Of those voters who described themselves as Republicans or Democrats that December, more than 90% voted for their party's candidate.

Voters who were undecided in December also tended to vote in line with their underlying partisan loyalties. The same party loyalty has increasingly carried over into congressional elections as well. This is one reason why split-ticket voting has dropped so precipitously in the last 40 years.

Some maintain that the 2012 election inaugurated an "Obama realignment" or "Liberal America." As we argue in "The Gamble," it was always unlikely that the election signaled Democratic or liberal ascendance. In reality, Obama won despite a sharp conservative turn in public opinion and despite being perceived as ideologically further from the average voter than Romney was. The election mainly signaled just how narrowly divided the country is.

Heading into 2014, a set of cross-currents seems likely to maintain this partisan balance. Republicans have more seats to defend in the House, and history shows that the larger a party's majority, the more seats the party is likely to lose. On top of that, the dismal marks that Americans give to Congress tend to hurt the majority party in the House most.

But the Democrats face their own challenges. Two key fundamentals in both presidential and midterm elections are the economy and presidential approval. At the moment, the economy is growing only slowly, and approval of Obama has dropped 8 points since January. Both factors could end up hurting congressional Democrats. Moreover, in the Senate the Democrats must try to hold seats in Republican-leaning states like Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, New Hampshire and Louisiana.

When you put these factors together, Republicans are currently forecast to gain a small number of seats in both chambers, although this could be enough to give them a narrow majority in the Senate.

Is the shutdown likely to change this dynamic and strengthen Obama's hand against Republicans? Probably not. Although the last big shutdown battle in 1995-96 did no favors for Newt Gingrich and House Republicans, it did not necessarily help Clinton in the eyes of voters—contrary to the conventional wisdom today. Clinton's approval was no higher immediately after the two shutdowns than before, and it is unclear whether the increase in his approval later in 1996 stemmed from the shutdown itself.

Moreover, this time Americans seem willing to spread the blame for the shutdown. They are only slightly less likely to say they will blame Obama and the Democrats than blame Republicans. Indeed, during the last big debt ceiling fight with the GOP—in summer 2011—Obama's approval rating dropped 5 points.

None of this is to say that the shutdown can't damage Republicans, too. If the conservative faction of the party continues to drive policy, the dwindling, but vital, number of Republican moderates may find themselves electorally vulnerable. Political science research shows that being more ideologically extreme or partisan than their district can hurt members of Congress at the ballot box. John Boehner has to find a way to protect moderates—some of whom are clearly chafing--and placate conservatives at the same time.

Ultimately, the 2014 election seems likely to give us more of the slow grind of divided government. This will continue to hamstring both parties and frustrate Americans ready for an end to gridlock.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
As a woman whose parents had cancer, I have quite a few things to say about dying with dignity.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
David Gergen says he'll have a special eye on a few particular races in Tuesday's midterms that may tell us about our long-term future.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
What's behind the uptick in clown sightings? And why the fascination with them? It could be about the economy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1301 GMT (2101 HKT)
Midterm elections don't usually have the same excitement as presidential elections. That should change, writes Sally Kohn.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
ADVERTISEMENT