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The Politic Blog

Political Gurus Peer into Midterm 2014 Crystal Ball

With only a handful of days left before polls open across the country, political experts are taking one last look into their crystal balls—or, more accurately, their statistical models—to predict who will emerge victorious in Tuesday’s midterm elections. At the moment, the crystal ball is hazy as the panelists assembled at Midterm 2014: Expert Perspectives and Predictions, sponsored by the Yale Institute for Social and Policy Studies, would tell you. Moderated by Jacob Hacker, Stanley B. Resor Professor of Political Science and Director ISPS, the event featured Eitan Hersh, the young election guru (Hacker’s words) and Assistant Professor of Political Science, David Mayhew, the eminent political historian, and Natalie Jackson, a pollster for The Huffington Post.

If you have been following along at home, you already know that the haziest outlook for November 4 concerns the Senate. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in the modeling structure,” Jackson explained. The Huffington Post puts the odds of a Republican takeover at 63%. Mayhew echoed that sentiment, stating, “The age of Harry Reid is probably over.” Even if the Democrats hold onto a slim majority, a reduced Democratic caucus would dilute Reid’s grip. “It’s going to be a mess organizing the Senate,” Mayhew continued. Despite the uncertainty, one thing is crystal clear: that the words “mess” and “Senate” will continue to go together for a long time to come.

Would a Republican takeover change the policy landscape? According the experts, probably not. “There’s no statistical way that they can get to 60,” Jackson said, the number of senators needed to overcome a Senate filibuster by invoking cloture. “I don’t see any break in the gridlock we’re already seeing.” That said, Hersh acknowledged that even though the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz may not run the table in terms of policy, they will influence the judiciary. “Those nominations will take a very different flavor depending on who has control over the Senate,” Hersh said.

The forecast for continued gridlock is heightened by the expectation that nothing much will change on the House side. According to Mayhew, “it’s pretty close to the bottom of the barrel” for the Democrats in terms of how many seats they can lose – cold comfort indeed.

Another easy prediction concerns the media narrative that will build on Tuesday evening as the returns come in. The press will probably report the Democratic losses in the Senate as proof of America’s disenchantment with Barack Obama. But Mayhew encouraged us to consider “a little history.” Over the past century, presidents elected to two terms have seen a steady decline in their party’s seats in Congress. “Midterms are just plain bad news for the President’s party,” Mayhew said. And in fact, historically, the President’s party gets “hammered” after the second midterm in the Senate. Given that the senators up for re-election next week were last on the ballot in 2008, we should not be shocked by the Democratic losses. During the midterms, Mayhew said, “The antis tend to get more heated than the pros. That’s it.”

A Republican House and Senate would mean more gridlock, but that isn’t entirely bad news for the Democrats. Hacker noted that the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate (Hillary? Or perhaps the ever-enthusiastic Martin O’Malley?) would benefit from running against a do-nothing Republican Congress.

Lastly, Jackson, Mayhew, and Hersh considered a peculiar trend this year: the surge in third party candidates in Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, and Maine. Like third wheels on a date, these candidates are making dynamics awkward (particularly those who are ignoring pressure to drop out of their races to cede their vote share to the Democrat or Republican). These races may have the most interesting outcomes at the close of the polls, but the possibility of runoffs and tight tallies will complicate the final outcomes. According to Hacker, “It may be a very long night.”