Why 2024 Looks A Lot Like 2012

Independent Center Contributor Brett Loyd

I know, I know; THIS is the most important election in our lifetime… I’ve heard it. I’ve heard the arguments. But for me, I say that by the numbers, this election is shaping up to be 2012 – which by and large, was a relatively low impact election in which the incumbent President won, only two Senate seats flipped, only eight house seats flipped, and the look of Washington after the election was similar to that from before the election.

Now I’m not saying the incumbent President is going to win this year, or that the Senate or House won’t shift majority control. But what I am saying is that I don’t see some 63-seat House change, or some 60-seat majority party in the Senate when the dust settles. I also don’t see a ‘new’ President coming into office with such high approval ratings that they’ll get the other federally elected officials in DC to carry their agenda… I may even go so far to say, if you are a strong partisan one way or another, the best thing for your party in the long run may be to lose all control in Washington this election; 1) because there will be ultra-low favorability for the opposition’s President, 2) because ‘winning’ this year will be so narrow, it’ll be hard to get things passed in the House and Senate anyway, and 3) because then you might have a strong rubber band election in 2 and 4 years.

To understand why I’m saying all of this, take a peek at presidential polling historically: in 2020, at this point, Biden was ahead by 9 points – went on to win by a 4.5% points… People can say 2020 was a close race but wining the popular vote by (rounding) 5 points, isn’t all that close.

At this point in 2016, Clinton was up by 6 points – ending up winning the popular vote by a little over 2 points (I get it, she lost the electoral college and that’s how the game is played – but simply talking about the popular vote – or how ‘Americans’ are voting…)

In both cases, the race was a bit favored early, closed up late, but the person that was ahead in the polling early summer remained ahead in the polling and eventually won the plurality of the general election votes.

However, in 2012, at this time of year, the race was within a point – and switched hands multiple times:

Obama closed strong and won out…

He was the incumbent president, who’s party had a rough 2010 midterm election… We have an incumbent president, who’s party had a less than favorable 2022  (though it could have been much worse)… 

And the presidential polling of this election looks similar to that of 2012 with lead changes and narrow margins:

As for the down ballot candidates, the generic ballot is usually a pretty good indicator if it will be a static or turbulent election cycle. If one party is heavily favored on the generic ballot, then they win a lot of seats. If the generic ballot is even, not much happens.

Looking back at the historic generic ballots of the last few Presidential election cycles, we see that 2012 was the one year that ended with an ‘even’ generic ballot:

DateRCP Final Ballot AveragePresSenateHouse
2008D+9D wonD+8D+21
2012EvenD wonD+2D+8
2016D+1R wonD+2D+6
2020D+6D wonD+3R+13

Depending on which aggregate site you use, you’d either be seeing the generic Republicans up by less than a point:

Or the generic Democratic candidates up by less than a point.

Bottom line, the data doesn’t suggest that one party is going to run away with this election. The presidential polling doesn’t yet show one candidate ‘pulling away’. By and large, this is a pretty run of the mill election cycle based on the polling.

The Presidential race is close and will have hills and valleys for each candidate until election day. The incumbent Senators or Senate candidates from the incumbent’s party in most all of the tossup states look like they’re currently all doing fine. And for this decade due to redistricting, there won’t be a large swath of battleground congressional seats. This all tells me, that everything will likely be ‘close’ on election day… Which is what it is now… Which means a lot of squabbling, and not much action here in DC. 

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