In my various roles in politics – whether it’s as a blogger, leader in the La Crosse GOP, campaign functionary, or observer of the talk radio/social media echo chamber – I’m hearing a lot about how momentum is building for the Republican ticket in November and it’ll most likely be a wave election.
It’s nonsense. There is no evidence whatsoever that this election will be a wave, and in fact Republicans from Gov. Walker to dog catcher might be in a lot of trouble, especially due to the wave mindset that Republican activists have lulled themselves into.
“Buhwhahh? But Karl Rove was on Fox the other day and he said…” one might say. Let’s pretend we’re on the cast of CSI and look at the evidence.
First, polls are showing Walker and Burke in a dead heat; Walker has a lead among registered voters, but there’s a good chance many of those people will end up being so incredibly busy on election day that they won’t scrape up five minutes to show up and vote. They might vote, but they might not.
Among likely voters, the people who claim to be fired up to cast their ballots, Burke has an uncomfortable lead. That seems to indicate her backers are more determined to show up and vote.
There is zero evidence that some wave will occur for Walker other than the usual migration of the undecided and sunshine electorate back into the hands of the incumbent. That’s nothing more than a ray of hope with as much mass as a rainbow, and it’s no way to approach an election against someone who has built a team of crack Demo operatives. Unless the conservative faithful rally, there will be problems.
“Oh, but the polls are wrong,” a Republican voter might say to make him or herself feel better as they absorb the echo chamber of talk radio and do other things besides volunteering to help the GOP ticket they’re so convinced will prevail. “They always oversample Democrats, anyway.”
Yes they do, and they do it for a reason. And the polls are usually right. In both of his face-offs against Tom Barrett, Walker maintained a comfortable lead among registered voters. The wind of voter enthusiasm remained at Walker’s back, and Barrett’s candidacy remained abysmal.
This year it is not, and Barrett confined to Milwaukee his quest to inflict bad policies and his shoddy campaign on people. Mary Burke is not running a Barrett-esque campaign.
Yes, the governor’s campaign collected a lot of data and built a great network during the 2010 and 2012 elections. But if the volunteers are spending their time being burnt out by politics and convinced the governor is going to win anyway, and no one shows up on election day because they believe they’ve already divined the election’s outcome, that data and that network are worthless.
There also seems to be a strange, unfounded belief that the GOP will do well in the congressional elections. But simply by comparing the generic ballot in the last two waves – 2006 and 2010 – you can tell that this year is no wave year.
In 2010, the GOP dominated nearly every poll on the generic congressional ballot; out of dozens of polls in the month before the election, Dems took only two. That’s a wave year.
In 2006 the picture was even more clear that the Democrats, based on their dominance of the generic ballot, would sweep Congress. That’s a wave year.
In 2014, the picture is significantly less clear; Democrats are up 1.4 points and the parties take turns polling on top in the generic ballot. We know what a wave year looks like, and this is no wave year. If anything, it’ll be a wash for both parties.
There is evidence to believe the GOP will do well in its contests for the US Senate. Democrats are forced to defend seats in states where they’re not very competitive like Georgia, Montana, and Wyoming. It’s plausible that the Republicans will pick up 7 seats, taking control of the Senate.
That’s all well and good, but it’s no result of any enthusiasm within the conservative grassroots that will translate to other states or other races. Here in Wisconsin, many activists who were active during Walker’s campaigns and the 2012 elections are sitting on the sidelines. Donors are keeping their checkbooks closed. Voters are less pumped up to hit the ballot box, a concern that even Walker himself pointed out on WTMJ.
Fox News talking heads babble sweet words of optimism about how things went in 2010, that the GOP actually has candidates who aren’t weirdo gaffe machines this time, and that a wave is certain to build, or at least that it’s sure to be a good year. Faux evidence built on foundations of fallacies abound, but in the end pretending it’ll be a good year absent evidence is like giving NyQuil ZZZ to an insomniac. Meanwhile the Dems are smoking crystal meth.
While it’s looking less-than-terrible for hopes of re-taking the Senate, GOP gains in the states could be turned back. The generic ballot provides insight into the sentiments of voters, and so does this: Sam Brownback is down by nearly double digits for the governorship of Kansas. That’s Kansas. Kansas!
Time is running out for that wave to materialize, and there – again – is no evidence that it will happen, save some unusual, novel approach by the national GOP like, say, coming up with ideas for people to vote for like a 21st Century Contract with America. We do well at complaining about the shocking incompetence and indifference of Barack Obama, tie every Democrat to him, and offer that to people to vote against. But GOP message makers need to remember that Obama will never run for office again, Democrats are very good at insincere platitudes, and voters are too prone, even in an age of cynicism toward both parties, to buying the words of a silver tongue.
I don’t mean this piece to be a bucket of cold water for the complacent GOPer in his easy chair.
Actually, that’s precisely what I mean it to be.
The human mind has a wonderful predilection toward self-delusion and cherry picking information to believe. The nonexistent wave is a case-in-point.
If the conservative base wants to soothe itself by disbelieving the polls which have generally proven accurate and dismissing the darkening clouds on the horizon that can be plainly seen, insisting on believing it’ll be a sunny day despite all the evidence, then conservatives can carry their complacency right into a string of defeats on election night over which Mr. Armchair will no doubt be stunned.
If there are defeats, and if GOP gains are on the net rolled back on November 4th, there is no reason anyone should be stunned by it, save Mr. Armchair, who insists on spending his time believing against the evidence that victory will come to us rather than believing that we are required to reach out and grab victory.