. . . from Nate Cohn:
A lot of people look at these numbers and see some sort of anti-incumbent curse, especially since the challenger technically won the 2000 election. What I see is a bunch of close elections: 2000, 1976, 1968, and 1960 are the four closest elections of the last century. 1948 was a pretty close election too—Dewey beats Truman close. I think all five of these elections could have gone the other way. The two elections that weren’t close seem like relatively predictable blowouts. The less predictable blowout was probably 1988, the one where the incumbent party did pretty well.
So I think the most reasonable thing to expect is a pretty close race in 2016. No one will have the advantage of incumbency, and therefore you get a pretty level playing field—save particularly favorable or unfavorable economic conditions. Even if you’d give the challenging party an edge, it should only be a slight one—slight enough to be overwhelmed by a Clinton candidacy or a demographic trump-card, which might wind up giving the Democrats a slight edge heading into 2016. But since the economy is still the biggest variable, it’s tough to give either side much better than a 50 percent chance, unless you’re much better at predicting future economic growth than, say, economists.
One last thought, however, before I have to do some other work. Let’s think about the possible states of the world:
Basically, I think there are only three scenarios with any real probability for 2016:
Scenario 1: Republicans take the Senate and the White House and keep the House of Representatives
Scenario 2: Republicans take the White House, keep the House of Representatives, but don’t take the Senate
Scenario 3: Democrats keep the White House and the Senate, but don’t get the House of Representatives.
(There’s an outside chance that they also take the House, I suppose, but I don’t see how; this seems to happen in reaction to a previous, much-disliked incumbent. Since Obama is the incumbent, I view this as very low-probability. The probability of anything other outcome is even more negligible–not exactly zero, but very close. I don’t, for example, see any circumstances in which Democrats get the White House, but lose the Senate).
In Scenario 1, filibuster reform hurts Democrats; in Scenario 2 it doesn’t matter; and in Scenario 3, it helps them a bit.
But there’s some asymmetry. The damage that can be done in Scenario 1 (GOP uses this as an excuse to get rid of filibuster entirely, rams through a bunch of changes to core Democratic programs); is larger than the benefit you get from making a few presidential nominees.
And as I say, I view Scenario 1 as much more likely than Scenario 3. All of which makes what Reid is doing very risky, with very limited upside. Even if I’ve gotten the percentages wrong, as I may well have, you have to think that it’s very unlikely that the GOP gets the White House before Reid’s move begins to make sense. On the other hand, it’s obvious that many Democrats do think that’s very unlikely, and fair enough.