The politics of sequestration: More nuanced than you think

Overall, sequester probably works to Republicans’ benefit in 2014. Taken together, these factors suggest that no one is really coming out of this fight looking particularly strong. But Republicans have an advantage in that the congressional playing field is tilted to their advantage, meaning that even losses in the court of public opinion can work to their advantage so long as they are not massive.

Republicans have a larger advantage, in that a “pox on both their houses” result helps them. Recall that a majority of the American people are willing to cast at least some blame on the president for the sequester cuts. Remember also that in October of 2010, the president had a 17-point favorability edge over the GOP, and Democrats had a seven-point edge.

The reason this matters so much is that elections are referenda on the party in power. This is true of presidential elections — the real reason Barack Obama won in 2012 is that his job approval was 54 percent among the electorate that showed up to vote — and it is true of congressional elections as well…

But the bottom line is that no president with a sub-50 approval rating has ever avoided losing at least 15 seats in the House in a midterm election; indeed you have to get to the high 50s before you start to see single seat losses occur with regularity.

Of course, the past is not always prologue; this time could be different. The politics could shift once the actual cuts kick in: The president might see his standing rise, as it eventually did for Bill Clinton in the wake of the government shutdown fight of 1995-96. A million other events could intervene between now and 2014.

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