Midterm Elections 2014: ISPS Experts Discuss

Updated Nov. 4, 2014

As elections are entering their final days, ISPS held a panel discussion on what to expect from voters this year. “Midterms 2014: Expert Perspectives and Predictions,” sponsored by both ISPS and the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism was held on October 30 at 77 Prospect Street.

Panelists included two ISPS election experts David Mayhew, who gave the statistical and historical overview of incumbent presidents’ fourth Congress, and Eitan Hersh, who focused on voter turnout. Natalie Jackson, the Huffington Post pollster, presented all the permutations of the forecast models. The Director of ISPS, Jacob Hacker, moderated.

Jackson pointed out that although most polls hover around 60% for the Republican takeover of the Senate, “the moral of the story is that it’s a flip of the coin for the overall forecast.” She pointed out that many of the models don’t just take in the polling (what voters tell pollsters on the phone), but also try to adjust the numbers accordingly to “capture what the national mood is.”

Hersh thought ten of the Senate races were close, but that Democrats have an advantage because they are better “at last minute grass root organizing to get out the vote.” However, he also thought that there might be a story about “lack of enthusiasm in voters.”

Mayhew focused on presidential and congressional history. “Midterms are bad news for two-term Presidents. The presidential party typically gets hammered in the second round.”

Hacker asked the panel about possible policy enactments if the Republicans win the House. Jackson replied, “Not much will change. They’re not going to get a super majority. There won’t be any break in gridlock.” Hersh commented that the appellate and district court judges could change. And Mayhew thought that the Republicans could push through the medical device tax and maybe the Keystone pipeline. But he also sees a lot of “veto games.”

Many of the questions from the audience centered on campaign finance and the Citizens United ruling. Hersh said, “Citizens United makes both sides compete,” and pointed out that Super PACs don’t change that much, because there’s parity. Hacker pointed out that polls find that people worry about money in politics. Hersh agreed that Super PACs can also backfire, “because voters are skeptical of outside groups.”

Mayhew thought that there is a history of “palliations of perceived problems.” In years past, the perceived problems were about unions or corporations influence on politics. “Now it’s the billionaires. Billionaires putting money into politics smells bad.”

On a question about the possible impact of third party candidates, Jackson mentioned the Georgia race where a libertarian could pull votes away from either party and could present a chance of a runoff, and races in Kansas and Maine where third party candidate could be spoilers. “They can throw a race,” she said.

Looking to the 2016 election, Hersh said that a candidate who is Rand Paul-like and challenges the hawkishness of both parties could present a problem, particularly to [assumed candidate] Clinton.

Mayhew, addressing a question if there were any up and coming politicians worth noting, pointed out two relatively unknowns he thought worth watching, both Republicans: Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

In closing, Jacob Hacker announced the next ISPS event on November 10 that will be on campaign disclosure.  “Show Me the Money: How Transparency in Political Donations Could Change American Elections,” will take up the Citizens United ruling with guest panelists, Trevor Potter (of Colbert Super PAC fame), Ray La Raja and David Primo, along with Heather Gerken at the Yale Law School. 

Predictions Aside, HuffPo Analyst Sees Gridlock Ahead, Yale News

Political Gurus Peer into Midterm 2014 Crystal Ball, The Politic

Area of study 
Political Behavior