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Political Predictions for 2014

Political strategists talk minimum wage, big government and Obamacare

On April 15, Michigan Capitol Confidential asked four Lansing political observers three questions about some popular preconceptions about the 2014 election. The following are their responses.

What are the chances the 2014 elections will reveal as strong a political backlash against liberal "big government" policies as seemed to be the case in 2010?

“Possible, but unlikely,” Inside Michigan Politics Founder Bill Ballenger said. “The year 2010 was huge electorally for Republicans not only in Michigan but nationally — it ranked with 1966 and 1994 as the two most successful non-presidential elections for the GOP since World War II. This year should be a ‘bounce-back’ for Republicans in Michigan from 2012, but right now it doesn't look like it will match 2010.”

Mark Grebner, of Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting, said the 2014 election results might lean a little bit toward those of 2010, but he doesn’t anticipate anything as big as what occurred then.

“I expect it to be about halfway between the way it was in 2010 and the way it was in 2012, or maybe slightly more toward 2010 than 2012,” Grebner said. “But I’ve seen nothing in any polling numbers to suggest it will be a repeat of 2010.”

Matt Resch, of Lansing-based Resch Strategies, said he thinks the chances are pretty strong that 2014 could end up being a lot like 2010.

“The perception and reality of Washington dysfunction have only increased over the last four years, and now that dysfunction has a poster child with the rollout and implementation of Obamacare,” Resch said. “Our state elections will always be driven by state issues and the strength of state candidates, but the national mood and storyline will certainly impact who and how many show up to vote.”

Democratic political strategist Robert Kolt said there’s only a slight chance that this year’s election results will be as strong a year for Republicans as was the case in 2010.

“To me, ‘liberal big government’ doesn't seem to be as effective a tagging of Democrats as some other phrases have been,” Kolt said.

Is Obamacare’s negative impact on Democratic candidates in the 2014 elections being exaggerated by conservative political observers, or does a general dislike of the health care law reach across the political spectrum?

“No doubt, Republican politicians and conservative commentators are exaggerating the evils of Obamacare, and how unpopular it is, but that doesn't mean they aren't essentially right,” Ballenger said. “Obamacare is unpopular, and it is hurting Democratic candidates; and, yes, there is evidence that dislike of Obamacare does spread across the political spectrum. Furthermore, those who view Obamacare favorably are less highly motivated to get out and vote as a way to 'reward’ the president and Democrats than the Obamacare haters are to seek revenge at the polls.”

Grebner said Obamacare may be a key issue in this year’s elections, but — as always — the results will ultimately come down to partisan turnout.

“I don’t think Obamacare, as an issue, is really about reaching across the political spectrum; it’s more about Republicans rallying their base,” Grebner said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be an important issue, in fact it could be, because most of the people who turn out to vote this year will be those who have strong opinions about many issues on one side or the other.

“Chances are that real independents, the voters who are really in the middle, are not going to make up a very large portion of the voters this year,” Grebner continued. “I think it’s interesting that polling shows that independents tend to react unfavorably or favorably about this issue depending on how you refer to it. If it is referred to as Obamacare they react unfavorably, if you refer to it as the American Affordable Healthcare Act, they tend to react to it favorably.”

Resch said he believes Obamacare is a political liability for Democrats in 2014, because that’s what the evidence indicates.

“The moment when Democratic candidates stop running from and start to campaign on their support of Obamacare is the moment I will think that its negative impact is being exaggerated,” Resch said.

Kolt said he thinks the likely impact of Obamacare is being overrated.

“Yes, Obamacare has some bad and good connotations, but more people have health insurance today than a year ago and many people still don't know how it affects us,” Kolt said. “I don't hear anyone talking about it around a kitchen table. Any political effect has been exaggerated.”

Do you expect the minimum wage increase ballot proposal to significantly increase the turnout of Democratic base voters in Michigan? 

“I've always had a hard time finding evidence that if a citizen isn't motivated to vote for president or governor — or any of the other offices that are on the ballot in a given year — he or she is going to be galvanized into action by a referendum on a single, free-standing issue, in this case the minimum wage,” Ballenger said. “However, if a party and its candidates, and this year, that appears to be the Democrats, don't seem to have much of anything good going for them, they must try anything and everything and see if something can gain traction; that means the minimum wage, the 'War on Women' Democrats claim the GOP is waging, or out-and-out class warfare. That's all they've got.”

Grebner said the Democrats should expect no more than a minimal boost to their base voter turnout from the minimum wage hike proposal.

“Let’s put it this way, I just don’t see this bringing a lot of voters down out of the mountains and into town,” Grebner said. “I wrote about this in a recent article for Michigan Liberal. What I said was that it is plausible that the proposal could draw an additional 50,000 voters to the polls. In other words, it would mean about a 1 percent overall increase. Of those 50,000, about 60 percent would support the proposal and 40 percent would oppose it. So, in the end, we’d see the proposal increase the turnout for the Democrats by about 10,000.

“To put it in perspective, that would not have been enough of an increase in turnout to have changed the result of the 1990 gubernatorial race between Jim Blanchard and John Engler, but it would have been enough to have changed the result of the 2002 Attorney General race between Gary Peters and Mike Cox. Please understand, I am not saying this is from any deep research on my part; I’m just saying that I believe these would be very plausible numbers.”

Resch said he thinks the proposal is not a sign of strength, it’s a sign of weakness.

“I don’t think it will have a significant impact,” Resch said. “It might boost numbers in some places a little, but what the ballot drive shows me is how little confidence and enthusiasm Michigan Democrats have as regards (gubernatorial candidate) Mark Schauer and (U.S. Senate candidate) Gary Peters. That reality will have a bigger impact on turnout, so I don’t blame other Democrats down the ticket for looking for any gimmick they can to get people to show up.”

Kolt said anyone expecting the proposal to drive a big turnout will likely be disappointed.

“It probably won’t impact turnout significantly but it will help the base a little,” Kolt said. “It doesn't seem like an issue that would generate excitement. People may have an opinion, but lack passion for the issue.”