Does It Really Matter Who Wins the Senate?

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

An increasing number of Americans don’t care who wins the Senate this fall, or at least, that’s the implication when you compare two polls from Gallup this year. Back in May, some 36% of respondents stated that they preferred to see one party in control of the House and one in control of the Senate, while 32% said they preferred a single party to have control of the House and the Senate, and finally, 24% said it didn’t make a difference for the country’s well-being either way (8% had no opinion).

Since then, the election war has waged on with a neck and neck race for the Senate majority at stake, deciding whether Democrats will retain a leading number of seats, or if the GOP will gain control of both Houses in November. There have been ad campaigns and public debates, scandals and accusations, not to mention loads of anti-Obama sentiment from both sides, and a heavy fundraising effort all around. However, a second poll published this week showed Gallup respondents are still nearly even on same party control versus two opposing parties in control — 30% and 28%, respectively — but with a significant increase in the number who believe it makes no difference.

Democrats were considerably more likely than Republicans or independents to want same party control — likely a response to frustration with blocked efforts to pass legislation like the Fair Pay bill or a minimum wage increase. However, across the board, Democrats, Republicans, and independents were all more likely to believe party control makes no difference than to prefer different parties control each House of Congress.

This is not unique historically when you look at the last decade’s worth of polling information on this topic. However, it does show a recent increase if nothing else, and there have been times in the past when opinion has spiked to one side or the other for specific elections. This fall does not appear to be one of those elections, though — bad news for Democrats who are particularly desperate for voter turnout given their inherent disadvantage in the midterm.

Sometimes during midterms [Democrats] get lazy and our folks don’t turn out. That’s going to have to change in this election,” said President Barack Obama back in July at a Democratic National Convention Event in Seattle. “It requires the level of participation that so far, at least, Democrats don’t always display.” Unfortunately for the left, Pew Research showed the GOP retaining the engagement advantage as of July. After surveying 1,805 adults, 1,420 of which were registered voters, it found that supporters are predictably split, 45% pro-Democrat and 47% pro-Republican, but Republicans have a 45% voter enthusiasm stat compared to the 37% who say they’re more enthusiastic than usual about voting for a Democratic candidate. Given the slip in party control concerns in the latest Gallup poll, it wouldn’t be unthinkable to suspect enthusiasm might be down as well.

FiveThirtyEight’s “Senate Forecast” appears to concur, at least as it compares to mid-September chances. Presently, it puts Republicans’ chance of taking the majority up at 60.1%, compared to the 39.9% chance it gives Democrats of retaining their control. September saw the split far closer to even, though still with a slight Republican advantage. The Washington Post’s election lab gives far more clear chances to the Republican party, saying there’s a 93% chance that Republicans will win enough seats to take control. USA TODAY, on the other hand, puts the race at an almost perfect split, with 41 seats to Democrats, 42 to Republicans, 7 tossups, and 5 leaning to either side. Politico is similarly kind, giving 45 to Democrats and 49 to Republicans with Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, and Louisiana all listed as toss ups.

With less than a month to go, Democrats will have to work hard if they want to take lead on the key races. While some in the party are concerned a Democratic loss will be disastrous for their agenda, others tend to agree with Gallup poll respondents and say, in so many words, that it doesn’t really matter.

The irony of this cycle is that hundreds of millions are going to be spent fighting over an outcome that won’t impact the policy American’s see out of Washington one bit. If Democrats lose the Senate, the 2016 Democratic nominee can run against Congress and Senate Democrats would be poised to recapture it in two years. Unless or until the House changes, Washington won’t change,” said a senior Washington Democrat to Time, a sentiment echoed by a Republican equivalent. “We’re promising people that things will dramatically change if we win the majority, but we all know that’s not going to happen,” the GOP campaign operative told Time.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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