Remember that number.  That’s about the figure that a number of midterm election models predict for a gain in Republican House seats regardless of anything actually done by the Obama administration. Though Political Science prediction models use various approaches, all rely on data that is incredibly generic: e.g., presidential approval, the current balance of Congress, real income growth, etc.  So, without a single thing about health care, cap and trade, the Tea Party, etc., we could expect Democrats to lose about 45 seats (and more than 50 in some models).  So, when you hear all those pundits going on (and read stupid journalists’ accounts) that all point to health care, Obama’s failure to communicate, cap and trade, Tea Party enthusiasm, the truth is that these factors really can only be considered responsible for what will be a very small portion of the Republican seat gain.

Ezra Klein makes a similar point:

But since I’m interested in the counterfactual, let me offer it: How many seats do the Democrats lose in a world where everything is the same — that is to say, health-care reform passed, and it was an ugly process — but unemployment is 5.5 percent? How about in a world where unemployment is the same, but health-care reform was never attempted, and the Obama administration instead sought a price on carbon?

I.e., it’s the economy, stupid.  And Chait:

I’ve been emphasizing the role of structural factors like these in determining the midterm election. The point is not that structural factors determine everything, and that policies or communication or other tactical decisions have no impact. The point is to center the discussion around a realistic baseline. Political pundits generally ignore structural factors and interpret elections as either a contest of tactics or an ideological mandate. (Generally the former style prevails before the election, the latter style after, so that in October we read that one party’s brilliant system for contacting voters in Ohio or a candidate’s boneheaded gaffe will determine the outcome of the election, and afterward we read grandiose pronouncements about an electorate embracing the winner’s political philosophy.)

In any case, without dismissing the post-election punditry altogether, it’s worth keeping in mind beforehand a clear sense of what sort of result we would expect if the president’s policies and political strategy made no difference at all. That’s about a 45 seat loss.

Keep that in mind Wednesday morning.  Of course, if Republicans manage to pick up 65 seats in the House, you can say that there really was a good bit going on beyond structural factors (but even then, 2/3 would be structural factors).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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