Republicans have lost the last two presidential elections, but not much else over the past six years. They’ve captured the House and Senate. They now hold 31 governorships and 69 of the 99 state legislative chambers. What this means is pretty simple: There’s an emerging Republican majority.
The GOP still has significant emerging to do before reaching majority status. It may never get there. The rise this year may be Republicans’ peak for now. They may have achieved nothing more than what University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato calls “the emerging outline of possible GOP victory in 2016.”
At the very least, a Republican must win the White House in 2016 while maintaining control of Congress. Republicans need to attract more votes from minorities, particularly Hispanics. They must continue to improve their appeal to women. Most of all, Republicans must avoid self-inflicted wounds such as prompting another government shutdown or nominating a poor presidential candidate.
That’s a lot to pull off. But Republicans have advantages they lacked in the presidential years of 2008 and 2012. One is the eight-year itch. That’s the tendency of voters to change parties in the White House after a two-term presidency. The only exception in the last seven instances of such a presidency was the election of George H. W. Bush in 1988 after Reagan’s two terms.
And President Obama is likely to make things worse for the Democratic candidate in 2016. He is not only unpopular but also appears committed to an unpopular agenda. Every poll shows Americans want compromise in Washington. Obama’s preference is for confrontation.
Then there’s the ideological direction of the Democratic party. It’s tilting left.
All the energy and passion is on the left. The party is being McGovernized. Moderates have about as much influence as liberals do in the Republican party. The Democratic agenda—bigger government, higher taxes, increased spending, and cultural nihilism—isn’t a winning combination for 2016.
Midterm elections are not predictive of presidential outcomes. We know that from recent history: After winning in a landslide in the 2010 midterm, Republicans lost the presidential race two years later. Still, the 2014 election offers some clues about political trends. For instance, it suggests the Obama coalition is not the same as the Democratic coalition.
Obama was a great presidential candidate. He maximized the Democratic vote. But when he wasn’t on the ballot in 2010 and 2014, Democrats lost badly. Their turnout machine didn’t work as effectively without him on the ticket. So the Democratic coalition will probably be less broad in 2016.
Democrats think they have a number of current issues on their side. But issues that poll well don’t always cause voters to back candidates of the party associated with those issues. Raising the minimum wage is a good example. It’s clearly a Democratic issue. In November, voters in Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Alaska backed increases in the minimum wage. At the same time, they elected Republicans to the Senate—and by large margins except in Alaska.
Among the major Democratic issues today are global warming, same-sex marriage, abortion, and voter ID. Global warming is so far down the list of issues that voters care about, it has dropped out of sight. The fight over gay marriage is over. Democrats benefited in two election cycles from blaming Republicans for a “war on women” involving abortion and contraception. That issue died in 2014. Opposing voter ID laws may galvanize African Americans and the party base, but that’s it. Besides, there’s no evidence such laws prevent voting.
Immigration is different. It divides the country. It’s a problem for Republicans, who need 40 percent or more of Hispanic voters to win the presidency. It is one of the few issues that actually may help Democrats. Even so, Republicans fared better with Hispanic voters in 2014 than in 2012. In Texas, Republican Greg Abbott got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in winning the governor’s race.
The Hispanic vote is growing, but it’s voters over 65 who are increasing the fastest as a share of the electorate. According to one estimate, seniors will be 30 percent of voters in 2030, Hispanics only 15 percent. And older voters tend to be more conservative, thus inclined to vote for Republicans.
The youngest voters, 18 to 29, are beginning to slip away from Democrats, too. Exit polls showed House Democrats had “half the advantage” with voters under 30 this year than they did in 2006. “The party’s grip on the young may be loosening,” wrote Mark Bauerlein in the New York Times.