It’s a year out and EVERY Republican has one question on their mind: Will ‘14 be more like ‘10 (yeah!), or will it be more like ‘12 (yuck)?  If this were Ireland and you could bet on political elections (it’s not and you can’t), at least this would help you handicap your wagers.

All mid-term elections hinge on the political environment: NOTHING good for the GOP will happen unless the “Big Numbers” are right. So, let’s take a look.

First, are voters rosy or glum?   Voter anger is the fuel that drives the party out of power in mid-term cycles.  This anger galvanizes turnout and caps the strength of the party that holds the White House.  At the same time, voter optimism is the stock and trade of the “No-Change” cycle.  Need a few examples?  Right-direction numbers were at 27% and 29% just prior to Election Day in the “Big-Change” ‘94 and ‘06 mid-term cycles, but were significantly higher (55% and 44% respectively) in the “No-Change” ‘98 and ‘02 cycles.

Right-direction numbers a year out from ‘10 were 36% and pegged even lower at 30% today, or firmly in the “surly” camp.

+1 for Republican House and Senate prospects.

Second, how do voters feel about the President?  When a president’s job approval is under 50%, the party in power stands to lose 40+ seats in the House.  While this is the historical average, Republicans already picked the low-hanging fruit in ’10 and, in the era of modern reapportionment, there are simply not the numbers of swing districts left to get to anywhere near this figure. Huge Republican House advances are also largely dependent on making gains in the greater I-5 and upper I-95 corridors – two places where the GOP brand has suffered most over the last 15 years.  The hopes of Republican senate campaigns won’t be confined to the same geography, however.

The President’s job approval was below the 50% threshold on Election Day 2010 (45%) and above the mark in 2012 (52%) when only two Republican challengers defeated Democratic incumbents. Today the President’s job approval stands at 44%, lower than Election Day 2010.

+1 for Republican House and Senate prospects.

Third, are voters working or not? A year out from ‘10 the unemployment rate was 10%.  A year out from ‘12 it was 8.9%.   As of August 2013, the unemployment rate was the lowest since November of 2008 at 7.3%, which on the face of it seems like good news for Democrats.  The numbers are a bit foggy though.  Low unemployment rates are also paired with the smallest percentage of Americans in the labor force since 1978 (63.2%).   According to the Washington Post, if labor participation rates were the same as when the President took office, unemployment would be at 10.8%.

Additionally, President Obama became the first president since FDR to win re-election with the unemployment rate over eight percent.  He did it by changing the electorate and jacking up turnout among core members of his base.

The negative tide makes this a +1 for Republican House and Senate candidates.

Those who want to hedge their bets are depending on House and Senate Democrats inheriting President Obama’s mojo.  While plenty argue that the president’s ballot box power is non-transferable, there is little doubt that the Democrat’s HUGE head start in Big Data will convey and it will prevent the loss of at least some Democratic seats in 2014.

Hedgers will mark this down as a -1 for Republican House and Senate Candidates.

Next, are consumers cocky about the economy? “Big-Change” elections all have one thing in common: The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index in the low 90s or below.  Check out ‘78, ‘82, ‘94, and ‘06 – all were below this mark and so was 2010 (71.6).  It is at 80.0 now and dropping.

+1 for Republican House and Senate Candidates.

Lastly, what do voters think about the GOP brand?  Check out the latest NBC/Wall St. Journal survey: when you net out the parties’ respective images, the GOP is -16% compared to the Democrats.  While it has been (much) worse, this is little in the way of change since the GOP was drubbed in ’06 (-17%) and ’08 (-20%).

For the Democrats, this is their silver-lining and the GOP’s Achilles’ heel: the lack of an effective, favorable Republican brand may cap the expansion of GOP wins on the real estate that’s left to get: the coasts.  Further, if President Obama is able to hand his election-day coalition over to Congressional Democrats, the GOP’s mediocre image will be why.

-1 for Republican House and Senate Candidates.

So, other than tapping into worries about the GOP, how do Democrats avoid losses in 2014?  Convince Americans the country is moving in the right direction (a number that’s dropped twelve points since Election Day), raise the President’s job approval, put an unexpected million people back to work … over and above the estimated 135k+ a month that it takes just to break even… and make consumers open their pocketbooks with a wild-eyed spending spree.



*Trip Mullen contributed to this article. 

Public Opinion Strategies