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A Democratic Wave?

Charlie Cook is predicting that there’s a strong “Democratic wave” brewing. Jay Cost finds his analysis less than convincing. There’s a good chance that the Democrats will retake the House as the Republicans are simply fighting on too many fronts to have a truly strong chance. However, I wouldn’t count on there being a major “Democratic wave” either. As Cost notes, Cook is predicting a realigning election, which just doesn’t seem that likely:

Don’t get me wrong. I see where he is going with his race rankings. His latest generic ballot has the Democrats up a quarter century among the most likely voters. And he thinks that this voter disaffection is just going to overrun the Republican Party. He sees this as 1994 in reverse. But an examination of the races he views as competitive just does not square with 1994. It squares more with something like 1860, 1896 or 1932 – the last three “realignment” years.

What Cost is saying is that Cook is predicting that a very significant number of solidly Republican districts will flip this year — which has never happened except in the context of a realigning election. And there has never been a realigning election which has started in the House. Realigning elections happen in roughly 32-year cycles in American politics, shifting the partisan landscape around in fundamental ways. That just doesn’t seem likely in this case.

Despite all the Democratic triumphalism, the electoral landscape isn’t swinging very strongly. Neither party is particularly popular, and there’s no grand mandate for Democratic policies at play here. The Democrats are having their greatest amount of success in areas where they’re running conservative candidates — which is great if you’re a partisan cheerleader, but it hardly advances the Democrat’s ideological agenda. If the Democrats really smelled a realignment, they’d be far less ideologically constrained than they have been. The numbers don’t seem to show a realignment, and neither does the rhetoric.

Cook could be right in predicting a Democratic wave — but then we should be seeing races diverging, rather than tightening. So far, we’re just not seeing that kind of movement. Many key races are within the margin of error, or we’re seeing slight GOP gains. The Democrats have yet to close the deal, and what the polling doesn’t show is the efficiency and accuracy of the GOP turnout machine, which is already showing dividends in absentee voting. If anything, all this talk about how a Democratic win is practically inevitable may depress Democratic turnout in an electoral season when the Democrats need to get all their partisans to the polls.

Cost seems to have the better analysis here — the Republicans are undoubtedly down, but they’re not out, and talk of some massive Democratic “wave” seems to be all wet.

3 responses to “A Democratic Wave?”

  1. Mark says:

    It’s unlikely that Cook is right. The only way that his prophesy can come to fruition is if massive numbers of the GOP base stays home, which I can’t see happening. Cost’s assessment most likely is closer to correct, but even with my very conservative evaluation of House races, I still came up with the Democrats gaining 20 seats. This evaluation includes only a couple of potential upsets (FL-13, OH-01), but overlooked a few seats that most analysts on both sides are more bullish about than me (NC-11, CT-05). It would really take a disaster for the Dems to not win back the House, but I’d be very surprised if they won more than 25 seats. The much-hyped tsunamis in the northeast and Ohio River Valley will probably not be as overwhelming as sold, discounting Cook’s projected realignment.

  2. Seth says:

    House will have somewhere between 222 and 227 Democrats. Senate will have somewhere between 49 and 51 Democrats.

  3. Joaquin says:

    While I thing the GOP will turn-out, I fully expect a Pelosi led House come November 8.
    Fasten your seatbelt folks because we are in for a much deserved ride.