In politics and polling, as in real estate, underwater or “upside down” approval ratings are not a good thing for an elected official. Moreover, in the case of a president heading into a midterm election, with the midterm often said to be a referendum on the incumbent president, this is a bad thing for the president’s party. Every point decline creates just a bit more headwind against Democratic candidates facing difficult races across the country. Specifically, this makes the challenge even more onerous for the Democratic candidates where the party is defending U.S. Senate seats in the six states that Mitt Romney carried by 14 points or more in 2012: incumbents Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and appointed Sen. John Walsh in Montana, along with Democratic candidates in open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia. While that is somewhat self-evident—a lot of people talk about the Democratic challenge in holding onto their Senate majority—it seems that this problem is often understated. Persuading people who disapprove of a sitting president to still vote for a Senate candidate of that president’s party is a real challenge in a midterm election.
Compounding this problem for Democrats is the makeup of the midterm electorate. This midterm-voting group is older, whiter, more conservative, and more Republican than those who turn out in a presidential election. Young and minority voters who flocked to the polls in 2008 and 2012 are very difficult to motivate for a Democratic candidate who very clearly isn’t Barack Obama. They got revved up for Obama in a presidential election year, but can endangered Democrats now get these voters excited for them in a midterm as well? The opposition is galvanized, but getting these more sporadic voters to turn out is far harder.
Those who seem to think that this election is a fair fight, taking place on a level playing field, are badly mistaken.