The chances are that Democrats will lose the Senate tomorrow. As when Republicans took control of the House in 2010, this will be spun by conservatives as a world-historical victory, a vindication of the conservative agenda, and an incontrovertible sign that President Obama's brand of liberalism will be forever consigned to the dustbin of history.
But if we take a closer look at the polls, we find quite a different story than that of 2010. Democrats are running behind in some states Obama won in 2012, like Colorado. But they are running very far ahead of his 2012 showing in other places, most surprisingly in red states. As Brian Beutler demonstrates:
In 2012, Obama lost Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina by 13, 24, 17, and 3 points respectively. Right now in the states' Senate races, also respectively, polling aggregators show Mark Begich trailing challenger Dan Sullivan by one to four points; Mark Pryor trailing challenger Tom Cotton by four to eight points; Mary Landrieu trailing Bill Cassidy by four to seven points; and Kay Hagan beating Thom Tillis by one to three points.
These Democrats are all outperforming Obama by significant margins, in states where Republicans have natural advantages, and in a year in which those advantages should magnify Democratic weaknesses. [The New Republic]
Even though Democrats are structurally disadvantaged, they are giving Republicans a serious run for their money. Republicans have translated their advantages into only a modest lead, indicating that we are not seeing flocks of voters eagerly embracing the conservative agenda.
This holds at the state level as well. In 2010, the GOP took more than 600 state legislative seats from the Democrats. This year, they're running only a bit ahead:
All told, the GOP is poised to pick up two or three chambers this fall, though outcomes could range from a Democratic gain of two to a Republican gain of seven or eight. [Governing]
So what does this mean for the future? Democrats and activists laying the groundwork for 2016 need to ask themselves just why President Obama is unpopular. There are many answers — general fatigue, a consistently unpopular health care law, a string of foreign policy crises — but the one that puts all these in the shade is the economy. Put simply, for all but the very rich, the economy sucks.
Given the scale of the 2008 economic collapse, job growth has been weak and the jobs that have opened up have been lousy. Median income is down 4 percent from the very bottom of the recession, when the so-called recovery started.
This should be the guiding star of the left's 2016 agenda. The Obama stimulus was too small and the turn to austerity in 2010 far too premature. Thus, the Democratic Party's policies ought to focus on getting money, jobs, and benefits to those who don't have them.
Here are some ideas: beefing up Social Security; a big new infrastructure package (ideally with a big anti-climate change component); a universal child credit and/or basic income; introducing a public option to finish what ObamaCare started; immigration reform; and facilitating per capita cash payments through the Federal Reserve.
In short, direct money and benefits down the socioeconomic ladder.
The contrast with the GOP couldn't be greater. When you look at the state level, conservatives have been trying their favored policies in earnest, and the results are abysmal. Sam Brownback, the Republican governor of Kansas, is in the fight of his political life because his huge package of tax and spending cuts has been an epic disaster. It turns out that conservative economic policy is garbage, which should give the left confidence that their ideas are the right ones.
Many centrists and D.C. pundit types argue that this kind of old-time lefty agenda isn't widely supported. But on the contrary, populist economic policy is generally popular. Americans think the distribution of wealth should be more equal, by 59 percent to 33 percent. Seventy-one percent support Social Security and would pay higher taxes to increase benefits. An identical number support raising the minimum wage.
Average Americans have a pretty clear idea of what's wrong with the nation's economy: ordinary people aren't getting a cut of economic growth anymore.
So if the left can have the courage of its ostensible convictions, and run on an unabashedly lefty policy in the FDR tradition, political dividends will follow.