The State of the Union Speech Obama Should Have Given

Obama SOTU-thumb-500x356-3669My fellow Americans, gathered Representatives, Senators and Supreme Court Justices,  Mr. Speaker and Mr. Vice President I come to speak to you from the people’s House.  I speak to you about the state of our country, its struggles and its future endeavors and most importantly acknowledge my failures.

For six years I have blamed my predecessor for this country’s economic ills.  Not a day has gone by I don’t thank him for being my punching bag.  When I became President well over 65% of all working age adults were in the workforce.  Today that number is 63%, the lowest since pre-WWII levels.  The youth unemployment rate for 16-19 year olds sits at 20.2% while 20-24 year old unemployment is at 11.1%.  Under my watch household income has shrunk while I have cozied up to the insurance companies and big banks to ensure I have a ready-made talking point about solving inequality.  Despite the overall unemployment sitting at 6.7%, unemployment in minority communities is at an all-time high while white unemployment has barely nudged down from where it was when I became President.  The unemployment rate for those looking for full-time work is well over double-digits.

On Healthcare I have ensured the US Healthcare system is an utter disaster.  Under my watch over five million people have lost their insurance while the majority of enrollees to Obamacare are Medicaid enrollees.  Though I promised that young people would sign up for Healthcare plans under the exchanges a mere 20% of all exchange enrollees are the young. In fact I fudged the numbers to include those that have only shopped for an insurance plan (not even bought it yet).   I promised the program would run smoothly and efficiently but I guess I over-promised.  Sorry.  I should have guessed that going against public opinion, ignoring the ideas of the other party and mandating dozens of new taxes, laws and Constitutional violations would not go well.  Whoops!

On education I have ensured that many minority children in DC do not have access to a quality education in accredited charter schools.  I closed down the city’s charter school system which many city residents supported. The result being that DC test results have dropped dramatically.  I am also ensuring that children in urban New Orleans do not have the same opportunity as my Attorney General has sued Louisiana for actually wanting to educate its kids.  Nationally, I have repackaged the No Child Left Behind Act under my own name and thrown some grants into the mix for fun.  Today, little has changed except states are now revolting against my top down NCLB replacement, Race to the Top. I believe pre-K education should be offered to every kid in America but I have no idea how to pay for it. Lastly, I have done nothing to address the rising costs of college education or work with schools to find ways to address student debt.

On the deficit and spending I would have created a nightmare scenario for our country if not for the GOP.  After opposing my Stimulus Package in 2009 which added billions to the baseline budget, the Sequester in 2011 and the budget shutdown of 2013 a few months ago, spending levels have been brought back to FY 2008 levels.  All this while I did everything in my power to attack them for hating kids, women and seniors.  Nice job guys!  Under my Presidency the deficit has grown far faster than any other President.  Despite polls showing the public supporting entitlement reform and simplifying the tax code I refuse to support entitlement reform.  Meanwhile, I have allowed the IRS to pass hundreds of new rules and regulations as well as illegally target conservative groups.

On energy I have blocked the Keystone Pipeline to make my union and environmentalist buddies happy.  I wonder why the Canadian Prime Minister is mad?  I have ordered the EPA to wage a war on coal so that energy costs skyrocket.  I have instructed the Department of Energy to hand out subsidies to failed companies like Solyndra and distorted the free market by offering massive tax rebates for those that buy electric cars.  Hmm, I wonder why they are still expensive today?

Now onto the challenges we face today.  Many challenges await us: income inequality, combating terrorism, protecting the middle class and ensuring a strong economy.  Well, all I can say is that you can put your faith in government.  I mean, didn’t you see the Life of Julie documentary that was put out showing how the government can take care of women?  Just trust us, after all we have done such a bang up job on the economy and Healthcare.  Oh, I should mention this though, I plan to use the power of this office to further ignore the views of Americans and bypass Congress (you guys don’t matter anyways if you don’t agree with me).

So in closing I want to say thank you to the American public for not listening to me ramble for 65 minutes, (even I would not want to listen to me talk for that long) reelecting me after I turned my opponent into the second coming of the devil and for giving me another term.  I mean how else can I ensure that the government will meddle in your affairs while my party and I get votes by simply saying the GOP “hates women.”

So my fellow Americans thank you again for listening.  I know I didn’t listen to you in 2009 and 2010, did not last year and will not for the rest of my term but I am cooler than you so all is good.  Here I have laid out a vision for how to make our country great with more government, more spending and policies that damage the economy and deny kids a good education.  I hope you join with me and help me implement this government centered agenda.  Thank you and God bless America!

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The Realities and Politics of Contraception

mike-huckabeeOver the weekend Mike Huckabee created new headaches for his party when at the annual RNC’s Winter Retreat in downtown DC he went on a mini tangent on contraception related to the Democrat’s “War on Women” meme.  More specifically, Democrats and leftist women right’s groups screamed bloody murder over this sound bite, ” And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”

What was left out of this sound bite was Huckabee’s original statement, “”Women I know are outraged that Democrats think that women are nothing more than helpless and hopeless creatures whose only goal in life is to have the government provide for them birth control medication,” he said. “Women I know are smart, educated, intelligent, capable of doing anything that anybody else can do.”  Obviously the first part of the quote sounded much better but considering how the media and Democrats have made the “War on Women” such a central theme of their message don’t expect it to get out.

In an election year where the President has a meager 40% approval rating, Healthcare Reform is a disaster and the economy continues to stutter while the President mumbles about income inequality some Republicans would much rather not inject social issues into the equation.  Yet, while these Republicans exist there seems to be a lot of Mike Huckabee’s in the party.  They may just want to focus on other social issues.  Banning abortion at five months with exceptions (supported by Americans in polls) would be a good start.

Consider that the RNC adopted a resolution urging their candidates to speak out more forcefully on abortion (about time).  More specifically, about the science of abortions at five months and how liberal groups support abortion on demand and taxpayer-funded abortions through Obamacare (in this case through some state Medicaid expansion and the exchanges).  Republicans would be wise to do so considering Democrats will never back off this attack until they realize its impact has been blunted if not minimized fully.

The realities and politics of contraception are quite different than abortion however even if they are the same to Democrats and their base.  For Republicans on contraception the biggest reality the GOP needs to understand is that it is widely accepted and used by women of all incomes, ages, and races.  This puts Republicans in an extremely slippery position of trying to explain why the government should not mandate contraception be offered in EVERY health insurance plan (note: men and grandma do NOT need it) and defending 1st Amendment Rights.

Yet, liberal blogger Sandra Fluke, (yes the same women who said contraception was so expensive it was bankrupting her back in 2012 to an all Democratic panel in Congress) shows how the left is just as blind on the issue as the right, just in different ways.  Without recapping every point in her article Fluke argues yet again how contraception is bankrupting some women to acquire it (in her 2012 testimony she said it could cost over $3,000 during law school, Target sells a month’s supply for $9) and that pesky things like the moral objections of 1st Amendment protected entities such as non-profits and churches do not matter.  But according to the Constitution they do. Oh and lest I forget, she linked it to life saving procedures such as blood transfusions (smack forehead here).

We can debate until we are blue in the face whether contraception is much to expensive (note to Fluke, I have never heard nor read it cost $3,000 over a four-year period and I am a pretty educated guy) but what can be debated and should be by the GOP is her point on moral objections not mattering.  That is dangerous.  If she was not so blinded by ideology and her women’s activist agenda she might realize it.  Alas not.

Enter the politics of contraception.  Democrats want to make it available to everybody and either have insurance companies or taxpayers subsidize it.  Most Republicans (me included) do not have a problem with contraception being provided in Health Insurance plans as long as it is A) not funded by my tax dollars (women or their employers pay for it), B) the customer actually wants it in their plan and C) that the moral objections of non-profit and religious institutions are taken into account.

Indeed, Fluke and many Democrats who support forcing institutions with moral objections to providing it to their employees are more liberal than liberals on the Supreme Court.  Last week the Supreme Court unanimously ordered a stay on the Obama administration enforcing the contraception mandate on a small group of Roman Catholic Nuns known as Little Sisters of the Poor.  They morally object to having to provide their employees contraception.  Another case involving a non-profit is pending.  The Supreme Court did not say they leaned one way or the other but that a tax penalty could not be enforced on the nuns while the case is first heard in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now little things like that might not matter to Sandra Fluke or many Democrats but they do matter to constitutional conservatives, libertarians and millions of deeply religious individuals.  And if Republicans are going to talk about contraception this is a point they need to hit on.  Providing contraception to women should not step on the 1st Amendment.  Last I checked we have a 1st Amendment to protect the rights of the minority (in this case religious institution’s beliefs) from the majority.

There is also the cost aspect to consider.  Providing contraception to their employees for many businesses is an expensive ordeal.  Democrats and women’s groups might scoff at this excuse but until they have to balance a business’s expenses their opinions carry limited weight and are of course clouded by their ideology.  However, it should be noted many businesses are willing to expand their coverage to include this expense although this ignores they have dropped their insurance coverage for many other employees due to other onerous aspects of the ACA.

In essence neither the Republicans or Democrats truly get the politics of contraception.  Many Republicans seem to think all contraception is like the Life of Julie (Julie forever subsidized by the government) while many Democrats seem to think that annoying arguments about the 1st Amendment over the contraception mandate do not matter.

But here are some realities of contraception for both groups.  It is widely used and available (somebody should tell Fluke it is available at Target).  It has benefits for society such as preventing unwanted pregnancies (fewer abortions and social costs on society).  A solid majority of women use it.  But a mandate on contraception is overreaching.  No, women do not have a right to contraception just like men do not have a right to condoms.  This country is diverse in every aspect and there will be entities and groups that object to its use.  Their concerns are protected under the 1st Amendment (that pesky thing).  And mandating everybody have it in their coverage only jacks up the cost of everybody’s insurance when millions of Americans do not need contraception (I guess helping the middle class and seniors is out the window).

So Miss Fluke, Mike Huckabee, Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives please do realize these realities and get it together.  A contraception mandate is unconstitutional and like all free individuals women should be allowed to buy and purchase it at their leisure while the rest of America is not forced to subsidize it.

What Chance Does “Add the Words” Stand in Idaho going forward?

20130326dS_MarriageEqualityRally_DC_05It is all but a given that “Add the Words” supporters will once again be disappointed at the end of this legislative session.  More specifically, it is unlikely any bills written to provide protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation will come out of the legislature.  The fact is this is an election year all but confirms it.

So what chance does “Add the Words” stand going forward beyond this session especially considering a majority of Americans now support marriage equality.  If one is thinking long-term around 10-20 years the odds are good that “Add the Words” will eventually rack up success.  But success anywhere else before this time-frame is unlikely.

Unlike a majority in the country there is no clear-cut evidence Idahoans support gay marriage (I am using gay marriage as a proxy for “Add the Words”).  Moreover, Idaho is a distinctly more Republican state than the nation.  That said, Idaho has clear libertarian, liberal and social conservative tendencies that often clash on a number of policy issues.

Gay marriage would seem to be another issue where these tendencies would clash.  But short of liberal/urban support for “Add the Words” there has been little support from libertarians for the efforts.  Perhaps this could be the case because government would have to step in to enforce non-discriminatory practices as opposed to society self-regulating itself.  Regardless, support outside liberal/urban circles seems limited.

But what else explains this?  Even though Idaho is a GOP controlled state it is also one of the youngest states in the country and not all that youth is consolidated in Lewiston, Boise and Sun Valley (all places that have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation btw).  Many young individuals live in the growing Treasure Valley suburbs as well as a surprising number in Northern and East Idaho.

This may seem somewhat a cynical answer but a large part of it may be simply the public does not care about the issue.  Consider that in the last BSU Public Policy Survey a mere 2% of all Idaho voters said social issues were the most important issues facing Idaho.  Admittedly, this survey is 2 years out of date (2011) but it does hint that the issue is either invisible or unimportant to the vast majority of Idahoans.

Rather, the set of issues Idahoans seem more focused on today are the same issues that usually drive policy in a struggling economy; jobs, income growth and education.  Of late education has become a flash-point in both GOP and Democratic circles (think the Luna Laws).

There are more obvious answers.  Despite the growth of the electoral and legislative power of the younger suburbs rural area legislators still have significant power.  They more than others are likely to oppose “Add the Words.”  Also, age in the legislature is a factor.  In 2012, Idaho boasted one of the oldest legislatures in the nation.  This despite being one of the youngest states in the country.  This age difference can partly be attributed to the long tenures of many rural legislators.

Lastly, many Idahoans religious beliefs simply do not gel with gay marriage.   Many older and rural legislators follow the presumed majority of Idahoans in this regard. Without evidence that the younger generation outside the urban core believes differently it is hard to say they would actively work in the short-term to get “Add the Words” passed in some form.  More likely a patchwork of cities will continue to pass it at the local level.

Idaho’s current social, cultural and political environment is simply not suited to acting on anything related to gay marriage or sexual orientation in the near future.  Over time more Idahans should come to accept gay marriage and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation but until then “Add the Words” supporters will continually be disappointed and only able to garner small successes at the local level.

Say Goodbye to the “old” Blue Dog Caucus

JohnBarrowThe Daily Kos has an interesting take on the conservative “Blue Dog Caucus” in the Democratic party (you can check it out here).  It also got me thinking about the future of the Caucus and its recent past (which has been anything but kind).  Indeed, one has to go back to 2009 to see the Caucus in its heyday.  Since then it has all been downhill.

After Democratic successes in 2006 and 2008 the Caucus was composed of 54 members representing red to purple districts across the country.  Not all of them were truly conservative.  Many of the younger members who represented purplish seats were really moderates or liberals using the Caucus to showcase their fiscal bonafides.  The legislative sessions of 2009 and 2010 were not kind to the Caucus.  The passage of PPACA, the Stimulus, Financial Reform and Cap and Trade hurt Southern members the most.  The sluggish economy devastated members in purple districts.  Even as Democrats gained seats in 2012 (predominately in blue states due to redistricting) the Caucus lost more of its members.

From 2009-2013 the Caucus shrank from 54 to 16 members today (I list them at the end of this article).  It is an irony that many of the members who lost reelection voted AGAINST many of the liberal initiatives their more progressive Caucus members supported.  Consider the numbers below which show just how few Blue Dog members remain that voted against many progressive initiatives.

  • Obamacare: Just four of the original 34 Dem “no” votes (Barrow, Lipinski, Lynch, Peterson).
  • Stimulus Package: Two of the 11 (Cooper, Peterson).
  • Cap and Trade: Seven of the 44 (Barrow, Costa, DeFazio, Foster, Kirkpatrick, Rahall, Visclosky).
  • Financial Reform: Five of 27 (Cuellar, Kirkpatrick, Kaptur, Schrader, Visclosky).
  • Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Two of 15 (Peterson, Rahall).
  • DREAM ACT: Nine of 38 (Barrow, Higgins, Kaptur, Lipinski, Owens, Peterson, Rahall, Schrader, Visclosky).
  • Stupak Amendment: Fourteen of a disappointingly high 64 at the time (Barrow, Bishop (GA), Cooper, Costa, Cuellar, Doyle, Kaptur, Langevin, Lipinski, Lynch, Neal, Peterson, Rahall, Ryan)

Many of the Democrats that made up the Blue Dog Caucus are truly gone.  The brand they represented has disappeared and the voters they once courted are now largely of the non-trusting Democratic types.  In other words these seats are largely out of play for Democrats and that makes any future road to the majority trickier.  If you look at it from the perspective of a liberal you might realize that being represented by a conservative Democrat is a lot, lot better than a conservative Republican.

The Blue Dogs that are likely to replace older, more conservative members are likely to be younger, minorities and women.  They are also likely to be much less conservative meaning in truth the “New Blue Dog” Caucus is likely to be only a centrist to left leaning Caucus, a far cry from the “old” Blue Dog Caucus.  Consider that as of this writing four new members have joined the Caucus; Barber, Bustos, Rahall, and Sinema. Barber and Sinema are both from swing Arizona districts but far from conservative on many issues.  Bustos represents a left leaning Chicago suburb.  Short of Rahall, a longstanding WV Democratic Congressman, these members are likely to move the Caucus leftward going forward.

If you are a progressive you might cheer this shift.  However, if you are a Democratic strategist you are likely ringing your hands the way many GOP counterparts have been doing the last few years because of battles between the establishment and Tea Party.  Much as the GOP is still learning it is hard to win with far right candidates in swing districts and states Democrats running progressives in many old Blue Dog districts (keep in mind this is after redistricting) are not likely to meet with much success.

Of course this situation is not just unique to the Blue Dog Caucus or the Democratic Party.  Rather, since 2006 the GOP has shed many of its more moderate members in the House and Senate through retirements and defeats.  This cycle the GOP is losing moderate Frank Wolf (VA), Tom Latham (IA) and Jon Runyan (NJ) as well as Jim Gerlach (PA) furthering a trend that is likely to push the GOP to the right.  The inevitable result is individual Caucuses within the GOP are becoming ever more conservative.

Whether the Blue Dog Caucus remains a viable entity within the party remains to be seen.  With fewer members and a likely more liberal bent the Caucus is less likely to push for modifications to legislation and establish its own brand.  As a result, the “New” Blue Dog Caucus will replace the “Old” and the old will be just another footnote in American electoral history.

Blue Dog Caucus Membership: 113th Congress: Note both Matheson and McIntyre are retiring this cycle and many old-time Blue Dogs such as Peterson face tough reelection battles.

Rep. Ron Barber (AZ-02)
Rep. John Barrow (GA-12):
Rep. Sanford Bishop (GA-02)

Rep. Cheri Bustos (IL-17)
Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05)
Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16)
Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28)
Rep. Pete Gallego (TX-23)
Rep. Daniel Lipinksi (IL-03)
Rep. Jim Matheson (UT-04):
Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC-07):
Rep. Mike Michaud (ME-02)
Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Rep. Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-46)
Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-05):
Rep. David Scott (GA-13)
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09)
Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-05)

Two Interpretations on the Electoral College in 2016

Electoral-College-Map-2012-Official-FinalOver the weekend I came across two interesting interpretations on the electoral college and 2016.  The first, written by Dan Balz over at WashPo (an excellent reporter I might add) argues that the GOP climb to 270 in 2016 is steep.  The other, written by John Sides (okay, on a Monday), argues that this may not be so much the case.  Rather, Sides sees that the economic and political fundamentals of the race will matter more than Balz’s hypothesis that demographics are making it harder for the GOP to occupy the White House.  So who is right?

In actuality both are to a degree.  Balz’s hypothesis that demographics help the Democrats in 2016 is certainly true.  Especially if the GOP struggles among minorities in 2016 like they did in 2012.  But candidate quality will also matter as Balz states.  Romney and McCain were both terrible candidates to appeal to minorities.  The likely field for the GOP in 2016; Christie, Paul, Rubio, Walker, Jindal, etc. will be much better positioned to appeal to minorities.  Also, in many of the swing states that Balz states are swinging away from the GOP the party still does not need to win a majority of minorities as long as they maintain their massive leads among whites.  A slight increase in minority support in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia for the GOP would put these seats out of play for Democrats for at least another several years.

Sides also makes a strong argument that economic and political factors will play heavily into 2016.  Consider Obamacare.  If the law is still a nightmare by 2016 it will damage Democrats and likely Presidential nominee Hilary Clinton’s candidacy.  If the economy continues to sputter into 2016 it will give the GOP a chance to argue to new and current voters that a different course is required.  Yes, Democrats will argue these are the tired old arguments of Republicans since Reagan but after 8 years of Obamanomics voters might want to try Reaganesque ideas again.

It does need to be said that both these arguments are a 40,000 ft view of the electoral college in 2016.  The only difference is on what will have a greater impact that year.  No swing state, heck no partisan state, is similar.  Just because some swing states are becoming more diverse does not mean they are becoming more uniformly Democratic or vice versa.  Sean Trende has looked at this trend in-depth and finds that in some states Democrats hope to crack such as Texas and Georgia there has been minimal popular vote gains in a decade for as minorities have increasingly turned to the Democrats whites have flocked to the GOP.  Also, in the majority white Midwest states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa that Democrats usually/consistently win these states have become slightly more Republican over time.

In states such as North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado that have either slipped to the Democratic column in 08 or 012 it is not so much that Democrats have made inroads with white voters per say as much as the GOP has alienated minorities.  Consider that while Democrats now win the Denver suburbs, Northern Virginia and the Research Triangle in NC the GOP has increased its margins in increasingly white and rural areas of each state.  Of course Democrats are aided by the fact that the suburbs/urban areas carry more voters but this also hints at the supposition that if the GOP stops alienating minorities the Democratic gains in these states could be halted or at least slowed until 2016.  Enter GOP nominee!

Certainly there is no guarantee this will happen but there is also no guarantee that Democrats will continually increase their margins in swing states that are becoming more diverse.  And if Democrats do it also might portend that they are playing more to their urban base and leaving the opinions and views of suburban and rural voters behind, alienating these voters and making them even more friendly to the GOP.  Indeed, this is the predominate theme of the 2012 election.  Obama won large cities by massive margins and some inner suburbs while Romney and Republicans racked up not big enough margins in rural and smaller suburban counties across the country.

A deeper analysis of each battleground state and their fundamentals can wait until 2016 but no party has a lock on the electoral college in 2016.  If one wants one could extrapolate that states like Michigan and Wisconsin have become even friendlier to the GOP since 2012, likewise Florida and Texas, etc. while Virginia has moved more towards the Democrats.  This analysis by 2016 would very likely be out of date however.

The one thing I do wish that these analyses focused on was candidate quality.  Democrats have Clinton or bust but once again the GOP field will be wide open and for the first time they have candidates that can appeal to voters not just on the issues but also culturally (see Jindal, Walker, Rubio, etc.).  This might make arguments about demographics largely moot in 2016 if the Democratic demographic advantage suddenly shrinks or disappears.  Chris Christie in New Jersey late last year showed how devastating that would be for the Democratic Party.

What to make of the growing bloc of Independents in politics

independent2Gallup recently recorded a a large number of voters identify as Independents politically.  More specifically, according to their January 5-8th survey a whopping 45% identified as Independents while only 24% identified as Republicans and 29% as Democrats.  Only in October of 2013 did more voters identify as Independent, 47% to be exact.  In 2013 a record average of 42% of voters surveyed identified as Independents.  Unsurprisingly, these findings have repercussions for both political parties but it has also led to analysis that America is becoming less loyal to party despite evidence to the contrary.

The evidence to the contrary that Americans are becoming less loyal to party is legion.  Exit polls, the political gridlock in Congress, fewer Independents identifying as such in exit polls compared to self-identification surveys and the consistent voting habits of racial groups all show that Americans remain extremely loyal to party in all but name.  Consider the examples below.

Exit polls: Despite the swing nature of Independents their voting patterns in the last four elections show the underlying trends in Independents voting patterns have remained the same. Independents backed Democrats 57%-39% in 2006 and Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats 53%-46% in 2008.  Yet in 2010 they supported Republicans 56%-39% and Mitt Romney 50%-45% in 2012.  Yet when one digs deeper into an Independents ideology one finds they are not so Independent.  In The Myth of the Independent Voter, Bruce Keith puts forward the theory that Independent voter growth is a myth, rather it can be attributed to several factors but all Independents fall somewhere along a 7 point spectrum (Strong Republican, Weak Republican, Independent Republican, Pure Independent and vice-versa).  In the study Keith found few voters identify as Pure Independents in both ideology and voting habits.  Leaving this analysis alone for  moment recent exit polls bear this out.  In both 2010 and 2012 whites were most likely to identify as Independents and they predominately backed Congressional Republicans in 2010 (62%) and 2012 (59%).  Also unsurprisingly, when one digs through the cross tabs whites were most likely to identify as conservative and they voted almost lockstep Republican (despite identifying as Independent).  Independent Hispanics and Blacks also predominately backed Democrats in both election cycles as well as 06 and 08 while white Independents still backed Republicans.  In short, the largest blocs of Independent voters have not acted so Independent.

Political Gridlock: One would assume if Independents are craving independence from politicians and they are the largest voting bloc in the country they would act to elect like-minded individuals.  Not so much.  Consider these three examples.  In 2010 Independent voters in Massachusetts (who form a majority of registered voters) helped to elect moderate Scott Brown (R) to the Senate.  A mere two years later however these same voters elected a progressive, no compromise, firebrand to the Senate in Elizabeth Warren (D).  In 2010 in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania a strong majority of Independent voters supported Republican firebrands Pat Toomey (PA) and Ron Johnson (WI) to the US Senate (they have since positioned themselves as moderates for 2016).  This same pattern can be identified at the Congressional and state level as well.  Massachusetts with its massive number of Independent voters has a federal delegation of 10 Democratic Congressmen/women and 2 Democratic Senators.  It’s state delegation has over 150 Democrats and slightly over 20 Republicans.  All statewide offices are controlled by Democrats.  Keeping with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania both had all statewide offices controlled by the GOP (until 2013) and both legislatures are solidly in GOP control.  Neighboring Minnesota (to Wisconsin) has the exact opposite partisan control compared to its neighbor.  Now, many critics of this analysis and prior analyses point out that there are mitigating factors; redistricting, partisan consolidation of power, the power of money in politics, etc.  However, even that can only go so far if a majority of near majority of voters wanted truly Independent voices in elected office.  Obviously they do not despite their identification.

Independent Turnout: Gallup has been polling Independent identification trends for well over two decades and something consistent has come out of their surveys and exit polls.  Fewer voters who identify as Independent show up to vote compared to self-identification surveys.  Consider that in 2006 Gallup recorded 35% of voters identified as Independent yet only 26% identified as Independent in exit polls.  In 08, 36% identified as Independents to Gallup while only 29% showed up at the ballot box.  Both 2010 (38% according to Gallup) and 2012 (40%) continued this trend with 29% voting as Independent in 2010 and 2012.  It is not a stretch to extrapolate from this data that as elections near some Independents return to their partisan roots and identify as partisan after they vote.  It is also easy to state that many Pure Independents stay home as ideologically driven candidates come out of party primaries and state conventions.

Racial Voting Patterns: Since the 60’s racial voting patterns have held remarkably steady.  Hispanics and African-Americans have voted Democratic at increasing rates while whites have, short of intermittent cycles, increasingly backed Republicans.  Since the new Millennium this cycle has only accelerated.  Indeed, this racial cleavage can be found in smaller cleavages of rural vs. suburb vs. urban, ideology, etc.  Asians until 1996 were Republican leaning but have since become as Democratic as Hispanics. Short of 2004 and GW Bush’s 44% showing among Hispanics and 10% among African-Americans minorities have increasingly become Democratic.  This as a record number of Hispanics identify as Independent yet they do not vote in such a way nor after the initial response does their registered status match their response.  In 2012 some estimates state Obama won over 70% of the national Hispanic vote.  Meanwhile, of the Independent voting groups that consistently back Republicans at all levels they were all white, (white, married women, white married men, white youth, white Independents).  In other words, despite increasing Independent identification racial voting patterns continue to become increasingly one-sided.

There are other factors that could be chosen than those above.  Rural vs, urban, conservative vs. liberal, education level, upper income vs lower-income etc. all point to the fact that the primary reason more and more voters are choosing to identify as Independent is merely because they have lost faith in America’s governmental institutions.  Certainly, Democrats and Republicans will have to adapt to the new political environment.  While most Independents may not be true Independents they may be more open to a new kind of Democrat or Republican at the Presidential level.  For Republicans this may be their godsend allowing a new Reagan to enter into the fold and remake the electoral map (much as Clinton did for Dems in 92 and 96).

However, to simply see the increase in Independent identification as a loss of power for both political parties would be incredibly simplistic.  Rather, both the GOP and Democrats have been losing power over their voters and members for decades.  Voters have contributed to this by electing firebrands and firing moderates in wave elections and members have contributed to this by flexing their independence from the national, state and Congressional levels of their political party.

The growing numbers of Independents could usher in a new era of American politics.  But, I stress could.  Rather, it seems voters are doing it to to communicate their dissatisfaction and frustration with the status quo.  In the short-term it seems likely we will see dramatic shifts in turnout as many partisan “leaning” and “Pure” Independents do not show up at the ballot box.  Long term, well, I will not deign to prognosticate that far out.

Republicans Still Likely to Easily Hold the House and Perhaps Build on Their Majority

Matheson's retirement makes it more difficult for Dems to retake the House this cycle.
Matheson’s retirement makes it more difficult for Dems to retake the House this cycle.

A spate of recent retirements have altered the battle for the House at the margins but have not changed the basic arithmetic of 2014.  Democrats need 17 seats to gain the majority and no clear path has appeared for them to do so.  This as Republicans have retired in several left or rightward leaning seats.  Most notably the retirements of Rep. Tom Latham (IA-3), Jon Runyan (NJ-3) and Jim Gerlach (PA-6) have buoyed Democratic hopes.  Both Latham’s and Runyan’s districts went narrowly for Obama in 2012 while Gerlach’s suburban Philly district backed Romney with a mere 51%.

Despite these retirements however Democrats have been slammed with their own slate of retirements.  Most damaging for the party were the retirements of Congressman Jim Matheson (UT-4) and Jim McIntyre (NC-7).  Both seats went heavily for Romney in 2012 and are almost guaranteed to swing to the GOP this cycle. Most recently, Congressman Bill Owens in the upper New York based 21st CD announced his retirement after two terms.  The district went narrowly for Obama in 2012 but Republicans have coalesced around a strong nominee and the area has a strong local GOP to help with turnout efforts.

Democrats might be encouraged by what they are seeing in the open 13rd CD in Florida.  Longtime Rep. CW Bill Young’s death opened up the seat.  Democrats have former 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink while Republicans just finished up their primary and selected former Young aide David Jolly. Democrats have a cash advantage and with the general in March it does not give the GOP much time to catch up.  That said, the demographics of the district, becoming more diverse, still favor the GOP as it is older and whiter than most suburban districts.  Both parties plan to use the district to test national messages and trumpet or downplay expectations for 2014.

Yet even if Democrats win FL-13 they will still need 16 seats to regain the majority and this seat would be another competitive seat they need to defend. This gain must be made in the face of likely losses in conservative districts, a public unhappy with Obamacare and a President with 40% approval ratings.  Democrats also have a number of endangered seats with incumbents to defend.  In Arizona, Ann Kirkpatrick and Ron Barber are endangered as strong GOP nominees wait in the wings.  In California, Ami Bera has to defend his suburban San Francisco district with large pockets of rural voters.  Scott Peters in his suburban San Diego district faces an openly gay Republican in his reelection bid and Raul Ruiz’s district is majority Hispanic but high white turnout could offset this advantage.

Elsewhere Republicans are optimistic about their chances in several Illinois districts as well as Maine’s newly open 2nd CD.  In Illinois, the GOP plans to target Bill Enyart and Cheri Bustos who represent urban/suburban districts that include conservative and union territory.  Republicans also plan to make a bid for now Senator Mark Kirk’s old seat, hitting Brad Schneider in the only competitive suburban Chicago district left in the state.  In Maine’s open 2nd district the GOP hopes Mike Michaud’s run for Governor will allow a moderate nominee to emerge and steal the seat.

Admittedly Democrats have plenty of their own opportunities.  Suburban districts as well as several largely rural but unionized districts give them some leverage to play offense.  But this will come in the shadow of a still sputtering economy and an unpopular Health law.  Even progressives in polls have shown dissatisfaction with their party and the President.  Combined with the Senate map this means Democrats may simply be forced to play more defense than offense.

Of course much can change over the course of the next 10 months.  It is unlikely the basic fundamentals that favor the GOP will shift however.  The President’s approval is unlikely to bump up, red state Democrats are likely to run as far way from their party as possible and Democratic base voters are likely to be unmotivated to show up in the midterm.  All this points to Republicans holding the House and perhaps adding to their majority.

Update: Longtime California Congressman Buck McKeon’s retirement in CA-25 offers Democrats another pick-up opportunity though Republicans have better candidates vying to replace McKeon.  The district is split between the San Diego suburbs and exurbs and narrowly went for John McCain and Mitt Romney.  This district may be comparable to PA-6 with a slight Republican tilt that Democrats may find this cycle might be to much to change.