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Why We're Already Talking About the 2016 Race

It's hard to remember a presidential contest receiving this much attention so long before the election cycle even began. We have the burbling question of whether Hillary Clinton will run, not to mention a look at the former secretary of State and her closest circle of advisers and supporters in a New York Times Magazine cover story; we've seen the drama around New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge scandal dominate the news for a couple of weeks; speculation abounds about whether Jeb Bush might make a bid; and Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio have all attracted considerable attention over the past year. It's an unprecedented focus on a race that has been going on for a while already and won't even really heat up for another year.

Part of this comes from Republicans. Badly disappointed by 2012, when they blew a very winnable presidential race and lost—rather than gained—three Senate seats, coming up far short of a hoped-for Senate majority, Republicans have already moved on. For Democrats, who are increasingly pessimistic about winning a House majority this decade and are alarmed about the status of their Senate majority ...

Throw the Other Bums Out

Americans really disapprove of Congress. By several different metrics, they disapprove more than ever. But new data from Gallup show that more people still want to keep their own member of Congress in office, demonstrating just how difficult it might be to have a true cross-party, anti-incumbent wave election.

Approval of Congress is down to 13 percent in January, near its lowest point ever. And although a record-low 17 percent of voters say "most members of Congress deserve reeelection," 46 percent still believe their own member of Congress deserves another term in Washington.

That is the lowest level Gallup has found in 22 years of asking that question. But "record low" does not mean "disastrous." If this is what a bad environment looks like, lawmakers have it awfully good.

It is still 8 points clear of the 38 percent of voters who say their member doesn't deserve another two years.

Meanwhile, the "reelect your member" number syncs with the ups and downs of people's willingness to reelect most numbers—but at 17 percent, that figure can't go much lower. (Neither can congressional approval, another measure that moves up and down at a similar pace.) Unless that relationship ...

The Parties Have Already Devised Their Midterm Messages

The gavel has been struck on what has been widely judged to be the least productive session of Congress in history, and now a new one with few, if any, expectations of improvement has commenced. It used to be that this first week of a session was filled with expectations—some unrealistically high, others more plausible—but the general theme was of hope, not the dread or despair prevalent today. The only widespread agreement is about how bad things have gotten.

Legislative battles that once came to some conclusion—with one side prevailing over the other or, more often, some sort of compromise—have given way to fights over messaging. Each side is constantly trying to best position itself and to frame the next election in the minds of voters in the most advantageous way. The idea of actually accomplishing something is not entirely dead, but it generally belongs to the eternal optimists and the wishful thinkers.

Republicans are obviously trying to cast the midterm election as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act, hardly a surprise given the broadly negative views that a plurality of Americans hold toward it and its disastrous launch. But besides the obvious strategic risk ...

Can Democrats Recover From the Obamacare Catastrophe?

Most graphs of polling data show shifts that are very gradual. (Tracking real-time changes in poll results often is about as exciting as watching paint dry.) Recently, however, the HuffPost Pollster website produced a graph of national polling on Congress that showed one of the most dramatic shifts I've ever seen in 40 years of involvement in politics. It charts responses to the question of whether voters would like Republicans or Democrats to control the House.

The year began with Democrats 8 points ahead of Republicans on the generic congressional ballot test, 46 percent to 38 percent. The GOP had come out of the 2012 elections licking its wounds, having lost a presidential election that, just a year earlier, appeared highly winnable. As the year progressed, the Democratic advantage gradually but consistently declined, paralleling a similar erosion of President Obama's job-approval rating since his reelection. The drop in Democrats' numbers leveled off in June, to a statistically insignificant 1 percentage point lead over Republicans. It is important to remember that there is a historic tendency for this poll question to skew by a couple of points in favor of Democrats, making that meager edge almost certainly an illusion ...

Anti-Incumbent Fever Won't Oust Many Incumbents

If you think about it, all the ingredients necessary for a political explosion are in place: Congress's unfavorable ratings are at record-high levels, and, according to Gallup, its favorable ratings are down to 9 percent (who knew members had so many friends and family?). A large segment of the electorate is furious with Republicans over the shutdown, and a second group is boiling over about Obamacare (or as the White House once again calls it, the Affordable Care Act), with some of that group angry at the substance of the law and some at the launch debacle. Gallup's weekly presidential job-approval ratings for Nov. 11-17 had President Obama's approval at just 41 percent. And to add a cherry on top, an obscure House member (Florida Republican Trey Radel) has pleaded guilty to cocaine possession. You would think that all of this would add up to a highly combustible political situation.

The big problem with this notion is that, for a variety of reasons, the bomb is unlikely to explode. Few members of Congress will face any remotely credible opposition next year, in either the primary or the general election. This has a lot to do with the ...