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Why Republicans Might Lose in 2016

Megan McArdle thinks that a Republican victory in 2016 is likely. The reason? Voter fatigue with the other party:

At the beginning of Obama’s term, people were talking about the kind of Democratic dominance that FDR enjoyed. Didn’t happen. Isn’t going to. So I think the GOP goes into the race with a big edge on the White House. Voters just get tired after eight years.

It’s true that in the post-WWII era one party has rarely controlled the White House for three consecutive terms, and that could be a problem for the Democrats in the next election. However, voter fatigue and anti-incumbency sentiment don’t just happen because of a certain length of time in office.They are products of political and policy failure by the incumbent party and, probably more important, worsening economic and social conditions. If economic conditions are good and the country isn’t in an open-ended war, most voters will favor continuity over change. The 1960 and 2000 elections are reminders of how close Eisenhower and Clinton came to having a successor from their own party, which means that it isn’t as strange as the official results suggest.* The Democrats won the presidential popular vote three times in a row within recent memory, and they have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, so based on recent experience we would have to say that the burden is on the GOP to demonstrate that they can cobble together a winning coalition in a presidential year.

As far as the GOP is concerned, the problem with expecting anti-Democratic voter fatigue in 2016 is that it could delude many Republicans into thinking that they can get away with running another ill-suited nominee with more or less the same uninspired and irrelevant agenda that Romney offered voters last year. One of the things that harmed the Republicans in the last presidential election is that they assumed that they were “supposed” to win because of economic factors. This conveyed the message they felt entitled to winning the election, and it confirmed that they were oblivious to the modest improvement in the economy. Depending on the state of the economy in 2015 and 2016, Republicans may end up setting themselves up for disappointment again if they assume that a majority will be eager to throw the other party out.

What happens in the 2014 elections could make a difference. If the Republicans take control of the Senate and retain control of the House as they are likely to do, the next Republican nominee will have the difficulty of reassuring voters that they shouldn’t fear unified Republican government. Considering how poorly the last period of unified Republican control went, that could be a very difficult sale. As long as Republicans control one or both houses, the Democratic nominee will be able to use that to make the case for divided government. Of course, if the economy worsens between now and then the incumbent party will take the blame, but otherwise there is reason to think that the GOP faces several significant obstacles to winning in 2016.

* I should have added that the very close 1976 election is another example of how one party nearly won in three straight presidential elections.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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