When one has retired from the ranks of American domestic political consulting, as I have, you are not really allowed to just quit. You become emeritus, of counsel, senior status and God knows what. Basically your role becomes one of trying to talk active participating democratic consultants to not, as current politics would have it, “jump off the bridge.”
There appears in both public and private to be more than usual pessimism and gloom about Democratic chances in 2014.
According to the Pollster average, two-thirds now disapprove of the Republican Party. We are not talking about Congress or even the Republicans in Congress. The party itself, the Republican Party, has a net -40 approval rating. With just a quarter of the country approving of the GOP, that means not even all of the party’s own members are giving it a positive rating.
To be sure, people are really fed up with Washington and the Democratic Party has also taken a hit. But Democratic Party favorability is at -16, not -40.
In our Democracy Corps battleground polls (a survey of the frontline Republican and Democratic districts), the Republican Party image is underwater at -29 in its own districts. Just 27 percent of voters in Republican districts have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party.
The Republican Party is at an all-time low in terms of identifiers and public image and people who want to associate themselves with it.
Just after the 2008 election, it seemed like Republican Party identification had hit a real low. At that time, Pollster recorded that just around 25 percent of the country identified as Republican. The Pollster average last week showed just under 24 percent of the country identifying as Republican, and an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey showed Republican identification at 19 percent. No matter which poll you look at, in comparision, Democrats have between an 8- and 12-point identification advantage.
Here’s the thing — pundits might say that Democrats need that edge heading into the midterms because Democrats don’t vote in the off years. I don’t care who you are, your party is in serious trouble if just one in five voters tells NBC’s pollsters they want to be identified with you.
The differential between those who want to be Republicans and those who want to be Democrats persistently and consistently is at or near all-time highs. The much envied Republican base is old, white and out of touch with the rest of America. In addition, thought most democratic consultants actually resist this, ObamaCare is actually starting to work as projected, and sign-ups at the end of March will be closer to 7 million than anyone thinks. With each passing week, it seems to get a little bit better. In addition, although I would be the first to admit anything can happen, most forecasters expect somewhat strong economic growth in 2014.
I don’t deny that the sixth year of a presidential term is historically bad for the press and produces dismal results for the incumbent party (I am an optimist, not a fool). Although, I would point out the last time we had a Democratic president the Democratic Party did decently in the sixth year, in 1998. I also don’t deny that gerrymandering and rural and urban sorting has made the House pick-up this year much more difficult. However, we recently won a competitive gubernatorial race in Virginia, a red state, and we seem to be doing pretty well in the up and coming congressional special election in Florida.
So before you take that leap, answer this question: In the last three election cycles, how many hotly contested Senate races have Democrats lost? I can’t make this an easy year, but I can tell you that we’ve got a shot to have a better year than some might think.
Oh, by the way, go negative, early and often.
Carville is a chief political correspondent for ARISE Television. He also serves as a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he lives with his wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin. Together they are finishing their book Love and War. His column will appear twice a month in The Hill.