Low and behold, Public Policy Polling is out with a brand new poll that shows Democrats poised to gain seats in their party's 2nd term, mid-season election. What's so special about that, you might ask. Probably the fact that the President's party has lost every 2nd-term, mid-term election since 1938, with just one exception: 1998.
But if PPP is right, Democrats would win the House of Representatives today by a 6 point margin, 47-41%. To be fair, yes, Republicans DO seem to be in a state of dissaray post-November 2012; they lost an election that was supposed to be painfully close by a not-so-painful 4 points, they were forced through fiscal cliff negotiations to accept tax hikes without spending cuts, and external events (Newtown massacre) put the GOP at odds with public opinion. But if the Democrats were to actually defeat the Republicans in November 2014 by 6 points, it would be historic. In fact, in the mid-term election of every 2-term president since 1950, the best the President's party did in the popular vote was was 51% in 1966, to the Republicans 48%. Yet despite that 3 pt popular vote victory for the Democrats, Republicans still gained 47 seats. The below chart documents the results of every 2nd term, midterm election since 1950.
As you can see, if PPP's results hold up between now and Nov. 2014, it would be a historic popular vote victory for the Democrats. But a close look at PPP's internals reveals what COULD be driving the Democrats 6 pt lead on the House ballot. Poll respondents identified as 43% Democrat, 34% Republican, and 23% Independent, or D+9. That's 3 points MORE Democratic than we saw in the electorate just 2 months ago, when it was D+6. Not only that, but PPP's party I.D. is more Democratic than every midterm election since 1986.
Partisan Identification by 2nd-term, midterm election
Dem Ind Rep
The point of this article is not to suggest PPP's findings are wrong (after all, they had a fair enough track record in 2012). It IS meant to point out the fact that if they're right about party I.D. and the ultimate result, it would be unprecedented for a party's second term, midterm election result. Even in 1998, when Democrats were miraculously able to gain 5 seats in the House despite Clinton being reelected in 1996, they still lost the popular vote to the GOP, 48-47% (not to mention that 1998 was the height of the Lewinsky scandal, and the public had grown weary of a GOP they felt had overreached with impeachment). So it may be worth taking a look at how the Democrats & Republicans would perform in the PPP poll had they found a party I.D. similar to the most recent elections: 2012 & 2010.
2012 may not be the best marker for what to expect in terms of party I.D. in 2014, given that midterm elections tend to feature a whiter, older electorate. But for the sake of seeing what would likely be a ceiling for the Democrats, here's what the PPP poll would look like if reweighted to a D+6 party I.D.
The 47-41% Democratic lead on the 2014 generic house ballot becomes a 43-42% lead, even when reweighted to 2012, D+6 turnout. Why such a large drop from D+9 to D+6? It's because Republicans have a 6 point lead with Independents, and attract MORE cross-over voters than the Democrats. The Democrats lead in the PPP poll comes from the heavily Democratic sample. So having less Democrats in the sample could have a substantial effect on PPP's results. Keep in mind, historically speaking, that D+6, in a party's 2nd-term, midterm election, is generous. But what if the PPP poll were reweighted to the last midterm election, when 'Tea Party' sentiment was at its peak?