Will the DFL lose ground in state legislative elections in 2014? Following the 2013 legislative session, there are a lot of things swirling around suggesting that they might. In no particular order, here are five things to watch:
Freshman Frailty. Newly elected DFL freshman won in lots of places in 2012 where they were not expected to win. There was a good reason why they were not expected to win. Many of these are difficult districts for DFLers to hang onto under the best of circumstances, and the circumstances will be more difficult than they were in 2012 (see below). That could make many in this large freshman class of DFLers one hit wonders.
Mid-term MIAs. Voter turnout among DFLers, especially young people, traditionally is lower in mid-term elections than in presidential elections. An older, whiter, and smaller electorate was the biggest reason for the 2010 midterm shellacking, and it is likely to happen again. George Mason University voter turnout expert Michael McDonald explains:
“There is little to nothing Democrats can do to mitigate the drop-off of turnout among their core constituencies that regularly happens — like a clock — when moving from presidential to midterm elections. Indeed, the primary way to stimulate midterm voters who do vote to support Democrats will not be present in 2014: a poorly performing Republican president that Democrats can rally against (e.g., Bush 2006 or Nixon 1974).”
Obama Fatigue. In the wake of a lot of GOP-fueled noise about the IRS, NSA, AP, and Benghazi, President Obama’s approval rating is slipping into the net negatives. If this continues or gets worse, it could have a bit of a residual effect down ballot.
Taxapalooza Tall Tale. The DFL-controlled Legislature debated a long list of taxes in 2013, many of them unpopular with voters. They only passed two of the taxes – the tobacco tax and tax on top earners. Polls show that a majority of voters support the DFL-passed taxes on wealthy people and smokers, but they don’t support taxing everything in sight – clothing, haircuts, beer, wine, gas, legal counsel, etc. The GOP campaign will try to fuel the perception that the DFL taxed everything in sight. While that is inaccurate, the GOP message machine could make it stick. After all, polls show that the GOP successfully convinced voters in 2010 mid-term elections that President Obama raised taxes, when he had actually had cut taxes by $240 billion. Republicans know how to muddy these waters, and the DFL’s long 2013 tax shopping list has handed them a lot of mud.
Gay Marriage. A recent Star Tribune poll shows that voters are split – 46% agree, 44% disagree, and 10% are not sure — about whether the Minnesota Legislature should have legalized gay marriage. But the same poll shows that DFLers are very vulnerable outside of the metro area (only 37% agree), among the over 50 year old crowd that disproportionately turns out for midterm elections (only 41% agree), and among the Independents who typically swing elections (only 43% agree). The line of GOP attack on this is likely to be less about the substance of the issue than that Democrats “spent all their time overstepping on this divisive issue instead of fixing the real problems Minnesota faces.” In some corners of the electorate this message will have some traction.
I’m not saying it’s a lost cause. But I am saying it’s a difficult cause. If I were a freshman DFL legislator, I wouldn’t quit my winter job yet.
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