Might 2014 Be a Status-Quo Election?

One more point before we look at the Senate. In 2008, the blue team’s advantage in the competitive House races list was clear, but, at 49-18, it wasn’t as pronounced as in 2006 or 2010.  Moreover, despite the largest congressional vote advantage of the last quarter-century, Democrats realized a net gain that fell short of the other three wave elections. The reason? They already held 233 seats, so there simply wasn’t as much upside for them.

That same lofty starting point faces the GOP this year.  With 234 seats already in their quiver, Republicans will find it hard to produce substantial gains. And with no advantage in the congressional preference metric, they may find it hard to earn any gains at all.

Senate Elections

Structural advantages in the Senate election line-up should produce large GOP gains in November -- with or without a Republican wave.  And early polling data doesn’t fit a wave-election model.

Nearly all the battlefields are in red states

Open Democratic seats in the deep red states of Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia all but ensure GOP gains in the Senate this year.  But the structural advantages for Republicans don’t end there. The four most vulnerable Democratic incumbents also hail from states won by Republican Mitt Romney in 2008.  Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina are all struggling to keep their Senate seats in Republican-leaning states. Even races which have Republicans concerned, the open seat election in Georgia and Mitch McConnell’s re-election bid in Kentucky, are being waged in GOP-friendly territory.

So from a structural standpoint, this year’s Senate elections favor Republicans in a big way. With so many targets situated in Republican states, the GOP conceivably could win the Senate majority without a significant tailwind. That means a true GOP wave requires a more aggressive target. Sweeping the races I’ve mentioned would be but a baseline. To achieve wave election status, the GOP would need to add victories in blue states like Colorado, Iowa and Michigan.

Polling data is good -- but not great -- for Republican Senate candidates

So are the poll numbers there to foster confidence that such a run might come to pass for Republicans?  Not at this point in the election season. Election Projection’s current Senate projections do show the GOP regaining the majority, but the massive takeover count one would expect in a wave election with such strong structural advantages just isn’t there.

Pryor leads Tom Cotton in Arkansas.  Begich is ahead in Alaska.  That’s two races in red states which Democrats are defending well.  In Michigan, Republican Terri Land’s early leads have vanished, and while newly minted Republican nominee Joni Ernst bests Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley in two post-primary polls in Iowa, her lead seems more like a temporary primary bounce than a true advantage.  Taken together, the polls show a good election is in store for Republicans, but a landslide may not be.

The political barometer, based on news cycles and voter unrest, promises a wave election for Republicans.  But a deeper investigation into the underlying factors of Election 2014 paints a different picture.  The overall outlook is certainly positive for the red team, but it might not deliver the kind of rout intrinsic to a wave election.

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