GOP's Midterm-Election Nightmare Scenario

Edward Wyckoff Williams
2008 presidential election results (Thinkstock)

(The Root) — The conventional wisdom among the Washington, D.C., chattering class had been that the GOP — despite its dangerous display of extremism — was at little risk of losing a majority in the House of Representatives at the 2014 midterm elections. But a host of surveys and polling data suggests that the government shutdown and debt-ceiling debate precipitated by far-right Tea Party Republicans in the past two weeks has shifted the scales in favor of a Democratic comeback.

Gerrymandered districts, which gave Republicans control of the House in 2010 and 2012, relied heavily on strategically carving out "safe" voting districts that are overwhelmingly white. The status quo until now has been that African-American, Hispanic and young voters tend to show up in fewer numbers during midterms, all but securing a win for the GOP. But the shutdown — juxtaposed as it is by attempts to destroy health care services, cut food stamps for poor families and veterans' benefits to the nation's heroes — may well prove a galvanizing force among Democratic base supporters.


A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll finds the majority of Americans blame House Republicans for the shutdown. And the party's popularity has taken a major hit — declining to its lowest level since polling began. Just 24 percent of poll respondents had a favorable opinion of the GOP, and only 21 percent had a favorable view of the Tea Party.

By a margin of 53 percent to 31 percent the public blames Republicans for the shutdown — a wider margin of blame than the party received during the Clinton era shutdown in 1995-1996 when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House.

There were consequences then, and most indicators seem to predict history could repeat itself.

In 1998, following the 21-day shutdown led by Gingrich, Democrats actually won five seats in the midterm election. During the latest presidential election in 2012, Democrats gained eight seats — though fell short of the threshold needed for control. Today, for Democrats to win a House majority, 17 seats would need to switch in their party's favor.


Public Policy Polling (the most accurate polling service during the 2012 election cycle) shows that would be within reach. Republican incumbents are currently behind in 17 of the districts analyzed, and in four districts, the GOP candidates fell behind after constituents were told their representative supported the shutdown.

According to the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, American voters now prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress to a Republican-controlled Congress (47 percent to 39 percent), and President Obama's approval rating has increased two percentage points in the last month to 47 percent favorable. In fact, he remains the most popular political figure. His most vocal critics have fared far worse, with the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) garnering a 14 percent favorable/28 percent unfavorable rating and House Speaker John Boehner faring even worse at a 17 percent favorable/42 percent unfavorable rating.


The untold story, as Paul Krugman opines in the New York Times, is that the Republican strategy of tying the shutdown to defunding Obamacare has backfired and will cost the party dearly in 2014. "The great right-wing fear — that social insurance programs will in effect buy minority votes for Democrats, leading to further change — is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy," Krugman writes. "The GOP could have tried to reach out to immigrants, moderate its stances on Obamacare and stake out a position as the restrained, sensible party. Instead, it's alienating all the people it needs to win over, and quite possibly setting the stage for the very liberal dominance it fears."

Krugman's analysis is already being proven with statistical data, as the health care law has become more popular since the shutdown began. Thirty-eight percent see the Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare") as a good idea — up from 31 percent last month. And, 50 percent of Americans say they oppose eliminating funding for the law — up from 46 percent.


And 52 percent to 44 percent of respondents believe the government should do more to solve people's problems — an antithetical position to the core of Republican, antigovernment ideology.

So what could happen in 2014? PPP surveyed 24 congressional districts currently held by Republicans. They asked voters to choose between their current representative and a generic Democrat and the result was a swing toward Democrats for 23 out of 24 races.


Sam Wang of the Washington Post surmised that since the election is more than a year away, it is difficult to predict how current sentiment will translate to future gains or losses, but his research showed that if the election were held now, Democrats would pick up roughly 30 seats, giving them control of the chamber.

And given recent trends that show increased voter participation among racial and ethnic minorities and young people, Republicans should be concerned.


Kelly Ward, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, spoke exclusively to The Root about the GOP's manufactured crisis and the potential boomerang effect it may inspire.

"No one knows what this reckless House Republican caucus is willing to do in order to achieve their radical ideology, and that's why it's so important to work to elect commonsense problem-solvers in 2014," she said.


"House Republicans engineered this shutdown and have refused to end it — and polls show the American people know Republicans are responsible," she continued. "At the DCCC, we're driving deep into the map, putting red seats in play with strong candidates who will appeal to voters who are looking for commonsense solutions instead of these reckless antics. We hired our field and targeting staff earlier than ever before, and we're using the latest technology from the Obama campaign to make sure that we're communicating with voters earlier than ever before."

What is certain is that American governance was obstructed long before the actual shutdown. The GOP's radical right wing has stifled President Obama's agenda everywhere from the American Jobs Act to immigration reform to gun control. They have juxtaposed this with a surreptitious effort to restrict the voting franchise in states across the country.


It seems the only way for Americans to elect the government they deserve will be to unseat the government that refuses to govern at all.

Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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