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Morning Jay: Special 'State of the Race' Edition!

6:30 AM, Oct 4, 2010 • By JAY COST
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To start, let’s use the party breakdowns from 2006, which was a year when Democratic enthusiasm outpaced Republican enthusiasm.  The GOP still got out its base vote well enough, but the Democrats had the Big Mo, and it showed up as a slight edge in party identification.  What if we give the Democrats a similar party ID edge, but assume independents go Republican?  We’d get this result:

To me, this is a best-case scenario for the Democrats.  In such a situation, they could indeed hold the House, as Republicans might “waste” their national edge in the popular vote by running up the score in heavily Republican districts (or turning heavily Democratic districts from D+15 to D+5).  This would, however, be a Pyrrhic victory, as the liberals would have responsibility without power. A coalition of Republicans and moderate-to-conservative Democrats would put an end to the Obama agenda while the liberals would get all the blame for the inactivity.

But this fails to account for how agitated the Republican base is.  So, let’s run another simulation keeping the independent vote breaking heavily towards the GOP, but the party spreads reflecting the 2004 House results.  That’s one in which the Democrats and Republicans were amped:

This is where we start to approach a 1994-style result.  In this scenario, we really see the effect of the independent vote.  The GOP gets its vote out, the Democratic party gets its vote out, and independents swing the popular vote toward the Republicans.  A 6-point victory would be just a little bit off the 6.7-point edge the GOP pulled in 1994, and it is all but certain to deliver a House majority to the Republicans.

But even a 2004-style party spread does not fully take into account the current enthusiasm gap.  How can we factor that in? 

It’s hard to go back in time to find a corresponding election for comparison.  The number of self-identified Republicans in the electorate has increased in the last 30 years as the South has realigned: when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980, the Democrats outnumbered Republicans by nearly 13 percent on Election Day; a quarter century later, when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry, the two sides were at parity.  The trouble is that we have not seen a big GOP blowout midterm since this party realignment was completed.  Not even 1994 works for this purpose, as the Democrats still outnumbered Republicans in the electorate.  The closest midterm we have is probably 2002, but the exit polls were all screwed up that year.

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