Political experts have largely downplayed the prospects of a Republican wave in the November mid-term election -- an electoral blowout on a par with the 1994, 2006 and 2010 elections -- that would topple the Democratic majority in the Senate and greatly strengthen the GOP hold over the House.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey shows likely voters in the election favor a Republican-led Congress over a Democratic one, 49 percent to 44 percent – hardly the makings of a major sea change in congressional politics. At most, many analysts and prognosticators have bet on a narrow Republican takeover of the Senate and modest GOP gains in the House.
Yet several new findings on the mindset of the electorate should give Democratic leaders pause heading into the final two weeks of the election campaign. Given the Democrats’ current problems with Hispanic, black and women voters, some sort of GOP wave is no longer out of the question.
- Many Hispanic voters are troubled by the Obama administration’s handling of immigration reform – an issue of supreme importance to them. While the vast majority of Hispanic voters still intend to support Democratic candidates, only small percentages of them live in the handful of battleground states that will determine the outcome, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
- African Americans may stay home in droves in November and are unlikely to deliver the huge blocs of votes they provided to elect Obama in 2008 and 2012, according to a New York Times report.
- And in battleground states throughout the country, Obama is “under water with female voters,” according to Politico, particularly women who are not affiliated with a political party. This is making it much harder for the Democrats to capitalize on the gender gap.
“I haven’t ruled out a wave election at all,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the highly regarded Rothenberg Political Report. “Certainly [low] turnout among Democratic groups is absolutely part of it. And I think Democrats absolutely have to worry.”
The Democratic party’s problems with once unflinching Hispanic support was exacerbated in early September when Obama announced he planned to put off executive actions on immigration reform until after the election. The decision was widely viewed as a nod to Democrats fighting for their survival in a half dozen or so key races in the South and West who had complained that unilateral action by the president would hurt their chances of winning.
Immigration reform and helping to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation is the most important issue to Hispanic voters. Indeed, 51 percent of likely Latino voters surveyed for a new poll released on Monday said immigration reform was their top concern, with unemployment and jobs coming in second with 35 percent.
The poll, commissioned by America’s Voice, an immigration reform advocacy group, and conducted by Latino Decisions, shows that 59 percent of those interviewed said they were leaning towards or would vote for Democratic congressional candidates, compared to just 25 percent for the Republicans.
However, the Pew study also shows that lopsided support for the Democrats may hurt the party retain control of the Senate.
More than 25 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote, but of the 11 percent of all eligible voters, only 4.7 will be eligible to vote in eight close Senate contests. They will have the biggest impact in Colorado, where Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is struggling to fend off a challenge from Republican Rep. Cory Gardner. Hispanics make up 14.2 percent of the eligible vote in Colorado and should have a big say in the outcome of that race. Kansas is the only other state besides Colorado where the Latino share among eligible voters exceeds 5 percent.
“As a result, the impact of Latino voters in determining which party controls the U.S. Senate may not be as large as might be expected given their growing electoral and demographic presence nationwide,” according to the Pew study.
Here’s a chart that tells the story:
The Democrats also appear to be in deep trouble with African American voters – another traditionally steadfast faction of their party.
A former pollster for President Obama wrote in a confidential memo earlier this month that the Democrats were heading for “crushing” losses across the country unless the party and the White House did more to get black voters to the polls, The New York Times reported. While African American “surge voters” came out in force in 2008 and 2012 to elect the first black U.S. president in history, "They are not well positioned to do so again in 2014," pollster Cornell Belcher said.
In an Oct. 1 memo that has rattled the White House and Democratic leaders, Belcher warned that in order to avert a GOP takeover of the Senate next month, black voters must greatly exceed expectations in five key states -- Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky. Yet for now, many blacks are either indifferent to the Senate campaign or aren’t even aware of when the election will be held, according to Belcher.
Ironically, the one person who could turn things around for the black community is Obama—the man who right now is considered “toxic” to his own party’s candidates. At the White House, the unpopular president is conducting something of an “under -the-radar campaign,” that includes recording video ads, radio interviews and telephone calls specifically targeted to the African-American base.
Finally, there’s Obama’s problem with women voters. The Republicans have long held majority support from white male voters, and Obama needed overwhelming support from women voters to overcome that advantage. But after defeating former Republican governor Mitt Romney by 11 points among women in 2012, “the president has seen his approval rating drop sharply with females, particularly in the battleground states,” according to Politico.
In Alaska, for example, Obama lost soundly to the Republican candidates in 2008 and 2012. But he has steadily gone downhill from there – especially among women, of whom only 29 percent give him high ratings. “Obama’s unpopularity could be having a spillover effect on Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) who is fighting for his political life against Republican Dan Sullivan,” Politico reported. In a recent CNN/ORC poll of likely voters, Begich was losing women to Sullivan by seven points.
Democrats currently are taking a beating from male voters, who back Republicans over Democrats by double digits in most of the key Senate races. In order to overcome that deficit, Democrats need to win over female voters by a much wider margin in Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina and New Hampshire. That will be the party’s principal focus waged as an intensive voter-turnout operation.
Taken together, the disaffection or political impotence of these three major factions of the party could spell very bad news for the Democrats on Election Day.
“Republicans haven’t put away a lot of these Senate races yet, and so that kind of plays on all the handicappers’ psyche as well,” Rothenberg said in an interview Monday. “They should be slam-dunks for Republicans in Kansas and South Dakota and Georgia.”
“But I think it’s very possible that between now and Election Day, some Republicans get a little bump in late deciders who decide [the race] is about the President,” Rothenberg said. “Obviously all of the discussion now is national stuff – Ebola, etc. And yeah, I can easily imagine a weaker turnout among Democratic constituencies and a stronger turnout among Republican voters. It has been kind of slow in developing…. But I can imagine quite a good year for the Republicans.”
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