So here’s what I think about the election: The forecasts—based on complicated models—found in the APSA’s PS by real social scientists—with the exception of the one by the astute James Campbell—are, as usual, too timid in terms of picking up the impending surge. My own social scientific view is that this election is little more than the mirror image of the 2008 election.
The country, in truth, is very evenly divided politically, but personal and performance factors can tip the result in one direction or another. Obama’s appealing personal campaign, McCain’s lack of same, and anxious disgust with Bush’s and the Republicans’ perceived incompetence accounted for both the enthusiasm gap and what was basically 53-54% vote for the Democrats in 2008. This time the president seems a lot less appealing (and is of course not on the ballot), the incompetence perception has shifted to him and the Democrats, and most anxiety is directed toward big government, the deficit, and a lack of health-care transparency. The enthusiasm gap has reversed, of course.
So I predict—with lots of data to back me up—that this time the Republicans will basically get 53-54% of the vote. That will mean (and here I’m indebted primarily to Larry Sabato’s district-by-district analysis—although I’m a little more cautious than Larry in predicting CHANGE) a pick up of 52 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate. Something like this outcome, as far as I can tell, has been in place for well over a month, and no large movement in either direction has been going on. The Republicans who expect more should be chastened by the less than overwhelming data coming from the polling of the early voters. It may well be the case that, on election night, all will be waiting anxiously for the Senate results from Washington and California. If the Republicans, contrary to my prediction, get both seats, then they will get control.
Readers of NO LEFT TURNS will remember that I predicted, almost exactly, the 2006 result—contrary to Republican wishful thinking. I did think Obama would do a little better in 2008 than he did, but was again about right when it came to Congress.
Republicans should remember that the 2012 election remains the president’s to lose (and that his popularity will vacillate over the next two years). As a great expert told me yesterday, “You can’t beat somebody with nobody.” The Republican candidate will have to be at least in the president’s ballpark in terms of personal appeal—as well as seeming competent and ideologically sound or sensible. It’s become, in recent years, much easier to run against an incumbent Congress (Congress is always really unpopular) than an incumbent president (especially one who can talk and isn’t really one of our nation’s greatest conspiratorial evildoers).