Of course unprecedented things do happen in politics. Never before 2010 had a party captured the House while leaving the Senate in the other party’s hands. And last year Obama became the first president to be elected to a second term with a smaller popular-vote total than in his first election. But the rarity of such occurrences suggests that they are the product of unusual or changed circumstances.
Do today’s circumstances point toward a precedent-shattering Democratic victory in 2014? We think not. One may harbor doubts about the reliability of our prognostication here, given that we were among those who greatly underestimated Obama’s re-election chances. But it seems to us that error does not augur well for Democratic House prospects.
We were skeptical of polls that showed Obama in the lead because their partisan composition seemed suspicious to us. The 2008 electorate, according to exit polls, was 39% Democratic and only 32% Republican. The 2010 electorate was evenly split at 35%. The polls suggested the 2012 electorate would look like 2008, which we thought unlikely given the high initial expectations of Obama and his disappointing performance in office. We were wrong: The partisan gap in 2012 narrowed by only one point, to 38% Democratic and 32% Republican.
The trouble for the Democrats is that the 2012 electorate voted for a Republican House.