So if you’re a Democrat struggling to curb your enthusiasm over the demographic problems afflicting the GOP, or your hilarity at the “clown car” of the 2016 Republican presidential nominating contest, I’ve got just the cure for you: the latest analysis of party strength by RealClearPolitics‘ Sean Trende and David Byler. They’ve got a metric that puts together the two parties’ relative performance at the presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative levels at any moment in time, and after 2014, it gives Republicans their best showing since 1928.
There are all sorts of quibbles one can make about the Trende/Byler methodology or the implications they draw frrom the numbers. Until recently, the persistence of conservative southern Democratic strength capped national Republican performance at the state level and probably exaggerated the impression of Democratic strength from the POV of legislative expectations. Several of their factors obviously contain a small-state bias, though it’s worth noting that one of them–the Senate–is embedded in our system by the Constitution. The current measurement, moreover, is being taken after a midterm election during a period of exceptional presidential/midterm oscillation of results. And you could argue that the preponderance of gubernatorial elections held in midterms gives Republicans another artificial advantage that may not last that long.
But after going through this and that qualification, the fact remains that the belief in party parity–much less any long-term Democratic advantage–probably requires a very good Democratic rebound in 2016. I think that’s almost certain to happen at the Senate level, and could happen at the U.S. House and state legislative levels. But on the other hand, a Republican presidential victory could quite easily give the GOP a trifecta at the federal level and continued domination in the states. As the New Yorker‘s John Cassidy sums up his feelings after reading Trende & Byler’s analysis:
At this stage, Democratic control of the White House is about the only thing holding the Republicans back, but the Party is far from invulnerable. Thanks to the big gains they made in the midterms of 2010 and 2014, they will be defending a lot of seats at the national and state level that are potentially up for grabs. Indeed, Trende and Byler note that, “a bad Republican year could place the party ‘in the red,’ with its share of the presidential vote, Senate, House and state legislatures falling precipitously.” In short, the 2016 election could bring a quick end to Republican gains, or it could assign them a position of dominance. It matters; it matters enormously.
That’s certainly my feeling.