Senate Midterms 2014: The Plausibility of a Republican Senate

October 23, 2014

Will Republicans gain control of the Senate? And if they do, what are the consequences of having a Republican-controlled Congress? With those key questions, IGS Director Jack Citrin opened the discussion at "The Future of the Senate: Predicting Election-Day Outcomes" event on October 17. 

Gabriel Lenz (UC Berkeley, Political Science) traced Senate Elections trends from 1946-2010. Through data, Lenz showed how the number of seats a party gains or loses is related to the current president in power. Voters “punish” or “reward” the president’s party depending on their opinion of the president’s control of current affairs. According to Gallup polls from October 17, 2014, President Obama had a 42 percent approval rating, five percent above his lowest approval rating ever at 37 percent.  Lenz relates President Obama’s current approval rating with a weak world economy, the US economy recovering from the financial crisis, and mass hysteria over the Ebola virus. “This is quite in line,” said Lenz, regarding the predicted six-seat takeover by the Republicans. “…it’s a reasonable forecast.” 

Marcela García-Castañon (SFSU, Political Science) then talked about predicting the election day outcome in relation to the Latino vote. Garcia-Castañon stated that because 65 percent of Latino voters are immigrants themselves or children of immigrants, Latino voters have a major impact on immigration policy. When viewed as a block, Latinos tend to break Democratic, and for younger Latino voters the percentage voting Democratic is even higher. Even though the population of the Latino electorate is steadily increasing, Garcia-Castañon pointed out that only 48 percent of the eligible Latino electorate voted in 2012, as reported by the Pew Research Center. 

The next to speak was Robert Van Houweling (UC Berkeley, Political Science), who had quite a few students from his Introduction to American Politics present at the event. Van Houweling first gave a background on the present Senate, mentioning how the Republicans need six seats in order to break the tie with the Democrats. He then ventured into the rise of centrist independents in this midterm election, citing candidates such as Kansas’s Greg Orman and South Dakota’s Larry Pressler. Van Houweling also talked about how Republicans currently lead in election polls, but how many of these leads were small.

Eric Schickler (UC Berkeley, Political Science) then discussed the effects of a plausible Republican takeover of the Senate. Schickler believes that a Republican takeover of the Senate would have little effect, especially since a Democratic president will still be in power.

“I think [the Senate] would perfect the art of doing nothing. The bottom line is – we won’t get these major transformations,” explained Schickler. “But at the margins it would make a difference.”

Schickler also stated that a Republican Congress would have effects on the 2016 Presidential Race.

“I think it’s plausible to argue that [a Republican Senate] will give a slight boost to Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee,” stated Schickler. “A Republican Senate will give Democrats a clear target and Clinton can use a conservative Republican agenda as a foil.”

The afternoon ended with a question and answer session, as professors answered questions about stagnation among young voters, small states, democratic reform, compromise, and the nuclear option, among others. The next midterm Election event -- Election-Eve Update -- will be held on Monday, November 3 from 4-5:30pm in the IGS library.