A Look Ahead to the 2014 Elections in the States

The next few months will see the closing of legislative sessions in many states across the country, marking the unofficial beginning of the 2014 elections in those states.  During this time, caucus leaders will engage in the critical tasks of candidate recruitment, organization building, and fundraising, all of which are needed for a successful November 2014 outcome.

After a tough 2012 national election for Republicans, we nevertheless remain in a strong position on the state level.  Republicans hold a 30-19 edge over Democrats in governorships and a 27-18 advantage in control of state legislatures (4 legislatures are split and 1 Independent).  While local issues and candidate quality mean A LOT in state legislative races, history tells us voters’ national outlook plays a very prominent role in the outcome of state races.

For state Republican leaders, the key barometer to watch is the President’s job approval rating.  Like Congressional contests, there has been a direct correlation between Presidential job approval and the Presidential party’s success in mid-term state legislative elections.  The table below summarizes this finding:

table 1

A recent example of the impact of the national mood on legislative races can be found in Southwest Missouri.  With President Bush’s approval rating plummeting in 2006, the GOP lost a heavy Republican seat by ten points (we regained the seat in the next election).  In the April 2013 special election, Republicans beat that same Democratic candidate in a seat that encompasses most of that territory by twenty points despite a double digit disparity in the candidates’ favorable ratings – due in large part to a 71{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} negative rating for President Obama in that district.

The latest NBC-WSJ poll shows President Obama’s job approval rating dipping below the 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} threshold (47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve- 48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove).  Real Clear Politics shows the average approval rating for the President at 49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}.  While the November 2014 is still a long time from now, Gallup has shown that few Presidents become more popular in their second term.  The table below shows that four of the six two-term Presidents in the post-World War II era experienced significant drops in their job approval ratings between the beginning of their fifth year and the November mid-term election.

table 2

So while national pundits and the press fret about the decline of the Republican Party, there is ample reason to believe 2014 will be a solid year for the Republican farm team in many states.  For state legislative leaders, doubling down on candidate recruitment and fundraising will enhance your ability to leverage a favorable political environment.

When sitting down with your Tier 1 recruit in a targeted seat or meeting with a new potential donor, take out the chart below that shows the average electoral performance over the last 13 mid-term elections for the President’s party compared to the President’s job approval ratings prior to the election.  This will demonstrate why Republicans are poised for a solid year.

chart 1

Public Opinion Strategies