Will 2014 election solve anything?

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by John Sides,

from CNN,

A midterm election sometimes arrives like a tidal wave, sweeping one party’s incumbents out of office and bringing in a new majority. For Democrats, their wave came in 2006. For Republicans, theirs came in 2010.

As the next midterm election approaches, however, there are few signs of a tsunami. 2014 seems likely to reproduce divided government and, with it, even more of the partisan polarization that has become endemic in American politics. Thus, the next election seems unlikely to change the dynamics that have produced the partial government shutdown.

Loyalty to a political party is not just a feature of Congress. It is, and has always been, a pre-eminent force in American elections. Nine in 10 Americans identify with or lean toward a party, and most vote loyally for that party.

In partnership with YouGov, we interviewed 45,000 Americans online in December 2011 and then interviewed most of them again after the election. Of those voters who described themselves as Republicans or Democrats that December, more than 90% voted for their party’s candidate.

Some maintain that the 2012 election inaugurated an “Obama realignment” or “Liberal America.” As we argue in “The Gamble,” it was always unlikely that the election signaled Democratic or liberal ascendance. In reality, Obama won despite a sharp conservative turn in public opinion and despite being perceived as ideologically further from the average voter than Romney was. The election mainly signaled just how narrowly divided the country is.

Heading into 2014, a set of cross-currents seems likely to maintain this partisan balance. Republicans have more seats to defend in the House, and history shows that the larger a party’s majority, the more seats the party is likely to lose. On top of that, the dismal marks that Americans give to Congress tend to hurt the majority party in the House most.

But the Democrats face their own challenges. Two key fundamentals in both presidential and midterm elections are the economy and presidential approval. At the moment, the economy is growing only slowly, and approval of Obama has dropped 8 points since January. Both factors could end up hurting congressional Democrats. Moreover, in the Senate the Democrats must try to hold seats in Republican-leaning states like Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, New Hampshire and Louisiana.

When you put these factors together, Republicans are currently forecast to gain a small number of seats in both chambers, although this could be enough to give them a narrow majority in the Senate.

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