Wednesday, May 19, 2010Last night was the first good electoral night the Democrats have had for a long time. The victories of Sestak, Conway, and Critz, and the forcing of a runoff in the Arkansas Senate race, gives some hope that 2010 won't be the reprise of 1994 that has been keeping so many Democratic strategists up at nights. The Democrats are now better positioned to win three Senate races (although I could KILL Richard Blumenthal) and have demonstrated that they can win open seats in swing districts in the current political environment.
BUT...one could still interpret things as dangerous for the D's. The fact is that it's far easier to concentrate resources in special elections and primaries than in the hundreds of contests that will take place simultaneously in November. Fundamentals tend to determine the results of national elections, and the reality is that the most important fundamental is change in real disposable income. It's not unemployment (since unemployed people generally vote at lower rates and, as they're generally lower income to start with, tend to vote for Democrats anyway). It's not deficits (nobody has ever lost a race because on that issue). There isn't any inflation to speak of. And GDP growth doesn't tell you very much because it doesn't control for economic distribution. The first three percent of GDP growth is generally skimmed off by the top 10% of the population - you need to get above that for real income gains. And the fact is that RDI isn't growing much at the moment. Another good metric is the "right track/wrong track" number, which is also still in negative territory.
To totally geek out for a second, the electoral forecasting model I find to be the most reliable, Alan Abramowitz's, uses presidential approval, the generic ballot test, number of seats held, and a control for midterms. Assuming that Obama has a +5 approval rating and the ballot test is tied, Alan's model predicts that the Democrats will lose 37 seats in the House - just about the number that the Republicans would need to flip the chamber.
So no, I'm not going to get too excited yet. If Obama's approval rating and the Democratic ballot advantage increases, then maybe I will. But not yet.