With the government shutdown over and a deal in place to keep the country from hitting the debt ceiling until 2014 both political parties are left with the fallout from the debate. Republicans rightly assumed they would suffer the most in polls while Democrats assume this will translate into electoral results this November and next. But will it?
Since the shutdown began in early October polls have shown the GOP getting a majority of the blame by about 10% or more. Generic ballot polls taken during and after the shutdown have shown Democratic prospects improving. Indeed, a PPP survey commissioned by Moveon.org showed Democrats in a position to retake the House. I wrote a post on how there are issues with the survey. Independent surveys since the shutdown on individual races have been scant. PPP, a prolific partisan pollster has shown Mitch McConnell suffering in Kentucky and Mike Rounds Senate bid in South Dakota being less of a lock than before. But evidence of a national shift has yet to materialize.
It could be contended that this shift will take time to materialize. Certainly possible, however if the public moves against a party it tends to do so uniformly. Consider the GOP waves of 1994 and 2010 and the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008. In 1994, it took less than a month for the bottom to fall out among Democrats and by the time pollsters noticed it was too late for the party. In 2010, the public uniformly moved away from Democrats and the President consistently since June of 09 and never came back. In 2006, by January President Bush was polling under 40% and Republicans were trailing by double-digits in the generic ballot. And in 2008 the public consistently stayed down on the GOP and moved further against the party when the financial collapse happened.
This electoral cycle could certainly be different. However, the lack of strong evidence right after the shutdown is an indicator the environment remains politically neutral. Other factors appear likely to also enter into the electoral equation by next year.
First and foremost, Obamacare. During the budget shutdown the public consistently opposed shutting down the government to defund the law. But at the same time while polls showed movement towards supporting the law a majority still opposed or wanted the law repealed/modified. The roll out of the law has been less than smooth. The web portal to purchase insurance that opened on October 1st has been down for almost two weeks. While the federal government cited the shutdown as a reason not to reveal enrollment numbers several states did. The results were lacking, California and New York, two of the biggest states pushing their exchanges showed that less than 100,000 people had signed up before the web portal was shut down. Gallup found in September that 72% of the uninsured were not familiar with the exchanges while in October the number was 71%. Anecdotally, in my home state of Idaho, the state exchange will likely go up in price next year when new fees are needed to keep the exchange running. It is not a stretch to say the same thing is likely to happen in other states as well.
How the Obama administration has handled the roll out has been abysmal. The White House is sticking behind the law in all its flaws, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and WH Press Secretary Jay Carney continue to argue the law is fine and just needs time to work. Speaking of Sebelius, who can forget this gem on the Daily Show. Initial Republican attempts to stop the law failed and now it is fully operation but its weaknesses are showing. Voters will likely factor this into their votes next year.
Another factor that will play into 2014 will be the President’s job approval. In prior posts I have written about how Presidential approval impacts Congressional elections. The number of Senate Democrats running in red states where the President is extremely disliked means they will have to significantly outperform his job approval. Congressional Democrats running in swing or right-leaning Congressional districts will also have to fight the albatross of being affiliated with the President. One wonders if arguing Congress is broken and the district’s incumbent has contributed to this is enough to win.
Finally, there is the elephant in the room, the economy. According to Gallup, consumer confidence peaked to -2 in May but now stands at a dismal -37. While the government shutdown and debt ceiling battle contributed to this other variables likely have as well. Retail stores and consumer giants have pared down their expectations for the holiday season. Several major companies have laid off thousands of workers. Meanwhile, uncertainty about the debt ceiling and Obamacare continue to paralyze businesses actions.
It is plausible that this blame will be evenly distributed. However, past elections have shown us this is not the case. Consider 2008 and 2010. In 2008, Democrats capitalized on a weak economy and the stock market collapse. Republican claims Democrats contributed to the mess fell on voters deaf ears. In 2010, despite an economic crisis born in a Republican President’s second term Democrats suffered. The overall environment for 2014 remains neutral but the number of variables pushing it rightward seem to indicate the government shutdown will have little impact in 2014. More likely, it will only impact the electoral results of 2014 at the margins like it did in 1996 for Republicans. Then Republicans lost two Senate seats, lost the White House and gained a few House seats. The number of endangered Senate seats for Democrats argues Republicans will not lose a net number of seats in the upper chamber and only see their majority in the House reduced by single-digits (if at all).
Before I conclude a quick note on the 2013 races coming up. It may be tempting for analysts to predict the shutdown impacted the Virginia gubernatorial race but the fundamentals of that race have been baked into the cake for a while. Republicans and Democrats both nominated unlikable nominees, a stalwart social conservative and a cronyism, big business Democrat. Terry McAuliffe (D) has led the race since June and the numbers have not shifted from giving him a 5-10 pt before the shutdown to after. So, to say the shutdown impacted this race would likely depend on the results as the GOP nominee, Ken Cuccinelli, was always somewhat of an underdog in the race. As for New Jersey, considering Christie’s lead and where it is coming from the shutdown has not impacted him at all.