Musings —11.03.2014 04:40 PM—
Nate Silver, the Oracle, has spoken.
Silver – the U.S. statistician and political analyst, the Warren Buffett of modern politics – said over the weekend that President Barack Obama’s Democrats are facing a 75 per cent chance of losing control of the Senate Tuesday night. Given that the Republicans already control the House, this is no small thing. Obama, already a lame duck, would be rendered the lamest of lame ducks.
“The polls are clear enough that the GOP will probably win the Senate,” Silver, who exactly predicted the 2012 outcome. “[The mid-terms] look fairly poor for Democrats.”
Much is at stake, so Silver’s prediction is important. Every one of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives is up for grabs Tuesday night – along with a third of the 100 seats in the Senate. Assorted state governorships are on the line, too.
Having been in both Boston and New York City in the past few days, it seems likely that Obama is facing a loss. The mood on the ground certainly suggests a late-race Republican surge.
But why? And, as we poke through the entrails in advance, what does all this mid-term stuff portend (if anything) for Stephen Harper?
We know, we know. Messrs. Harper and Obama could not be more dissimilar. One is a conservative, the other is a progressive. One runs a super power, one does not. One liked George W. Bush, one did not.
But Obama and Harper share some of the same circumstances. For starters, both have wielded power for most or all of the last decade. Both are the undisputed leaders of their respective parties. And both are facing the same challenges (ISIS and Ebola), while simultaneously experiencing the same opportunities (burgeoning economic growth, shrinking unemployment).
In both Canada and the U.S., there are no general strikes. There are no constitutional crises. There are no mass rallies, seeking a premature end to Obama and Harper’s rule.
So why is Obama likely to lose Tuesday night – and is Harper to do likewise, in less than a year?
On any given day, Nate Silver doesn’t have much to say about Stephen Harper. But what he has to say about Barack Obama should give the Canadian Prime Minister pause for thought. There are three principal reasons for this.
One, Silver says, incumbency has become a bit of a curse at the national level. The electorate in the U.S. have not fallen in love with the Republicans, says Silver, so much as they have been seized with what he calls a “very anti-incumbent” mood.
Two, notwithstanding the fact that growth is up and joblessness is down, fear is upon the land. In their advertising, Republicans have relentlessly hammered the fear button – on ISIS, on Ebola – and the media have provided an uncritical echo chamber. Silver tweeted that, “in NYC, I’ve seen zero people wearing surgical masks or otherwise acting paranoid about Ebola. It’s only the media that’s been irrational.” But the fear campaign has paid dividends. When no one else is offering hope, fear works.
Finally, all politicians claim to oppose the status quo, because they know that voters dislike it. With the exception of Obamacare, Obama hasn’t exactly been a rousing agent of change. If anything, he has favoured a caretaker type of presidency, where even the most modest of achievements are celebrated. As such, Silver dryly notes, “President Obama remains unpopular.”
Anti-incumbency. Anxiety about an unpopular war, and an uncertain future. A desire for change, and a rejection of the status quo. All of these things have combined, on this day, to almost guarantee a bad night for the U.S. President.
All of those things should concern Stephen Harper, too.
Ask Nate Silver, Mr. Prime Minister. He’ll tell you.