I’m going to make a very premature prediction. It could easily be wrong, but I stand by it. I believe that the Democrats are going to take back the House of Representatives in November 2012. It’s a very premature declaration, to be sure, but it’s one that I believe will happen for three reasons.
First, the electorate will be more favorable to Democrats because it is a presidential year. In midterm years, turnout is lower, which leaves the electorate to be whiter, older and wealthier than presidential-year electorates, making it more GOP-leaning in the process. The last election had unusually good turnout for the Republicans, even for a midterm. A common theme going around was the “enthusiasm gap,” about how Republicans were so energized to vote and Democrats were disillusioned, causing big GOP wins. But that claim is only half true. Democrats tuned out at normal rates for a midterm, if not better. It’s just that Republicans turned out at much higher levels than usual.
Anyway, polls show this gap no longer exists, so it should not be a problem when Election Day comes. If anything, the GOP might soon be the one on the wrong side of the gap. Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union actions in Wisconsin have excited the Democratic base to levels unseen since President Obama’s election.
Second, the economy is improving. Republicans won big because the recovery was anemic over the spring and summer of 2010, which, according to political scientists, is the crucial period during which swing voters make their voting decisions. But now, the economy is improving, and although the exact speed of the recovery is uncertain, nobody knowledgeable thinks there will be another recession. And Obama has the political sense not to let federal budget cuts dampen the recovery.
If unemployment goes down to 7.5 to 8 percent, he would likely win in a Reagan-esque landslide, and, since ticket-splitting is far less common now than in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he will likely bring the Democrats back to a majority in the House, if not a huge majority. Sure, redistricting will make it harder, but redistricting cannot make a majority permanent.
Third, the Republicans have no good candidates, with no current frontrunner in the primaries, and all of which currently trail Obama in national polls. They have Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for a nomination that nobody expects him to get; Mike Huckabee, who looks less and less likely to run this cycle; Tim Pawlenty, the dark horse who never got above 47 percent in any statewide race he won; Newt Gingrich, who apparently assumed (incorrectly) that waiting 14 years after resigning from a scandal would make people forget they didn’t like him; and Sarah Palin, a candidate so terrible she would be a disaster.
They hoped for various dark horse candidates, like John Thune (declined to run), Chris Christie (also declined to run), and even Donald Trump (he wants attention), but the result is the same: They all trail Obama in national polls in most swing states and even a red state or two. And again, since ticket-splitting is increasingly rare, even a mediocre Obama showing could bring the Democrats back on their feet.
Either way, this is all hypothetical, but, by basic regression to the mean, higher turnout and an improving economy, the House can easily be back in Democratic hands.