by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The word “spin” can mean many things. One definition is to present information in such a fashion that it makes people see something that isn’t really there. A classic example would be a memo from the Democratic firm Democracy Corps on a recent poll they conducted in “competitive House districts” for the 2014 midterm elections.
The memo’s authors want readers to believe that the Democrats have a chance to win back House of Representatives in the midterms based on Democracy Corps data. History and their own polling data, in fact, suggest the very opposite.
The president’s party rarely picks up seats during midterm elections. It has occurred only three times since the American civil war: 1934, 1998, and 2002. All three featured presidents who were very popular. President Clinton in 1998 and President Bush in 2002 had approval ratings into the 60s in most surveys. Despite that high approval, their parties picked up only five and eight seats respectively. The Democrats need to pick up 17 to gain control of the House in 2014. The president’s party has not picked up more than nine seats in a midterm since 1865.
In order for that to occur, we would almost certainly need to see an extremely popular president. We don’t.
Among registered voters, President Obama’s approval rating is in the mid 40s. No poll since the middle of May has had President Obama’s approval rating above his disapproval rating among registered voters. The best estimate I have is that President Obama has somewhere in the neighborhood of a -4pt approval among registered voters. It’s probably slightly worse among those who turn out to vote in midterm elections.
Indeed, the Democracy Corps survey shows that President Obama’s approval rating in the swing districts is a measly 44%. His net approval among these 2014 likely voters is -8pt. This is despite the respondents saying that they voted for President Obama by a 3 pt margin in 2012. It’s very difficult to imagine that Democrats can win back many seats when Obama is this disliked in these districts.