With the 2014 elections gone into the annals of history the pundits and analysts are already predicting what will happen in 2016. The GOP will control the House, the Senate is up for grabs with several Republican incumbents fighting in blue states and the 2016 Presidential race is wide open. But the one thing analysts cannot predict with any certainty is the result of the 2016 Presidential race.
The reasons are numerous. For starters the recent spate of wave elections that has hit the US (06, 08, 010, 14) suggests a highly volatile electorate. Democrats came out in force in 06 and 08 to express opposition to then President George Bush. In 2010, conservatives and Independents registered wide disapproval of the President Obama’s agenda. Despite being reelected in 2012 the President’s agenda again alienated Independents and united the GOP establishment against the Tea Party. Working class whites finally broke strongly from the President and minority turnout dropped. The result is GOP control of Congress.
Yet, despite eight years of Democratic governance there is precedence for the incumbent party to hold the White House for more than two terms. Piggybacking off strong support of the Reagan agenda, HW Bush benefited. Democrats, locked out of the White House nominated a pathetic candidate for the third time in a row. The savvy political follower will note President Reagan left office with an average second term approval rating of over 55%. President Obama has been underwater in his approval since mid 2013. So there are some differences between the two but nevertheless the precedent is clear.
Other variables play into 2016. Hillary is clearly the front-runner but no standout on the GOP side maintains a similar advantage. Indeed, many potential GOP candidates and their strengths overlap suggesting a knock-down drag out fight for the GOP nomination. But this could be a strength as much as a weakness. Primaries toughen up candidates and would get them primed for a campaign against the Clinton jauganant. Meanwhile, Clinton’s weakness is in her gaffes of the tongue. Statements like “We were dead broke when we left the White House” does not engender among the base the same feelings they felt for Obama.
Demographic and economic variables also complicate the 2016 complexion. Despite robust economic growth few Americans are feeling jolly. Wages remain stagnant and while gas prices have dropped stagnant wage growth far outweighs the extra dollars being kept in American pockets. College continues to go up in price leading to higher student loans and non-college educated whites are feeling increasingly left behind.
Demographics are also playing increasingly into electoral results. Black turnout in 2012 eclipsed white turnout and both races votes have increasingly gone to one party over the other. Hispanics and the young have shown some volatility of late (2012 and 2014) but both continue to go at least 60-40 in the Democratic column. The Asian vote is looking increasingly up for grabs if the 2014 Congressional exit poll is to be believed. But all these things may matter little if turnout drops among one side far more than the other.
Numerous unforeseen 2016 variables put the 2016 race in play. Opposition to Obama and his successor appear locked in place while so does his support among the minority community. Will Obama’s approval continue to increase and boost his successor or will they fall more and prove a ring around the Democratic nominee’s neck? Further, will turnout among whites increase from 2012 or will it drop and what about minority turnout? Up or down?
The electoral college poses one final puzzle for Presidential predictions. President Obama was reelected in 2012 largely because the Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio fell into his camp. Short of Ohio and Iowa, these Midwestern states have not backed GOP Presidential candidate since 1988. Worse, Minnesota has not backed a Republican since 1972 and Wisconsin 1988. Strong efforts from the Romney camp to turn any of these states red failed and badly.
But, this “Blue Firewall” as Democrats call it was broken in 2014. Republicans kept Governorships in Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio and won an open Senate seat in Iowa by a wide margin. The party also gained a seat in Iowa and held all their Congressional districts in every state. With whites, particularly Midwestern whites, turning increasingly to the GOP the party may finally have a chance to these states red at the Presidential level. Democrats have a slight chance to turn Georgia and North Carolina blue but Obama’s record has alienated any Democrat from Southern whites. Other states such as Virginia which saw a closer than expected Senate race and Colorado (GOP gain) will also play a crucial role in the race. But if any Midwestern states go red it is likely a sign the GOP has expanded its appeal beyond the 2012 map.