It has officially been deemed a “wave”. The 2014 midterm elections in the US brought the Senate under Republican control for the first time in years. While this is nothing to scoff at, it should not be taken as some large shift in US policy or US public opinion. Due to the rules of electing the Senate, the electoral map was highly unfavorable to the Democrats, not to mention the electorate that shows up to vote in American midterm elections is notorious for being favorable to the Republicans. Finally. due to how things are now done in the Senate, a filibuster-proof majority of 60 (instead of a simple majority of 50) senators is now needed to pass most laws in the chamber.
There are two aspects that will lead to the Senate most likely changing hands again in just two years. First is the system in which senators are elected. Every two years, a third of the senate is up for re-election, resulting in six year terms for each senator. This year was the re-election of the candidates that came in during the 2008 elections–which was a Democratic wave due to Obama’s widespread popularity at the time.
The second aspect is the fact that presidential elections have become much more favorable to Democrats, mostly thanks to demographic changes. The party has a huge edge on Republicans with minorities and young people, all of which come out to vote in larger numbers at presidential elections. According to these exit polls, the Democrats won 71% of the hispanic vote, 73% of the Asian vote, and 93% of the Black vote. Among voters under 30, the party got 60%. These high numbers can often be enough to offset losses with the older white vote.
Looking first at the 2014 elections, the Republicans gained 8 seats while the Democrats gained zero, flipping control of the chamber. To get a better idea of how the map was stacked against the Democrats, the states they lost should be examined. These states are: Alaska, Montana, Colorado, South Dakota, Iowa, Arkansas, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Of these eight states, Obama won two (Iowa and Colorado) in 2012 and three (including North Carolina) in 2008. Iowa has long been a swing state in national elections, and Colorado and North Carolina have both recently become swing states, being former Republican strongholds. It should also be noted that the only Democratic stronghold the Republicans were able to win was Maine.
The Senate map for this election obviously put the Democrats on the defense. Besides it being a mid-term year when the Republican voter is more likely to turn out, the seats up for grabs were the result of the Democratic wave in 2008. This is all combined with the fact that the American public have a historically dismal view of Congress, both political parties, and politics in Washington in general. Not to mention the popularity of Obama is hovering around just 40%, low enough for some Democrats to try and distance themselves from the president to their state electorate. With so many things going against them, the Democrats and their supporters should at least celebrate the victory in Virginia, and still being able to hold relatively safe seats like Michigan and New Mexico in an election where they faced such a tough climate.
As 2008 was a huge Democratic wave thanks to the popularity of Obama, 2010 ended up being a huge wave in the other direction due to the unpopularity of Obamacare, and the onslaught of outside money that the Republicans utilized to great effect (at the time Democrats refused to utilize this strategy). 2016 will be the reelection of these Senators, forcing the Republicans into defense mode. The party will have to defend seats in 7 states that Obama won in 2008 and 2012 (Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Florida). With the aftermath of the current election being a majority of just four seats, it is very likely that the Senate will again shift back to Democratic control in this election. Besides the general favorability of the map to the Democrats, it will also be a presidential election which will see minorities and young people vote in larger numbers. Furthermore, of the 10 states the Democrats will defend, they have carried all in the past two presidential elections.
There is no doubt that 2014 was not a good election for the Democrats, no matter which way you look at it. However, I would argue that it is not as bad as has been reported. The party is in a good position to take the chamber back in just two years, making the Republican celebration short lived and short sighted. The party needs to improve its standing with young people and immigrants if it has any chance of surviving in the future. Overriding all of this electoral analysis is of course the fact that the climate in the US Senate has made it so nearly every piece of legislation needs 60 votes to actually have a chance of passing. the use (or the threat of using) a filibuster to have continuous debate to block a bill has now required parties to gather 60 votes to override the possibility. With the Republicans failing to gain 60 seats and the Democrats not likely to reach that level in 2016, there cannot be much change expected from the US Senate.