Oh, trust me, there are more. But these are the ones that most immediately come to mind. Also note that I’m not going to saturate this with links; this is an almost-casual observation/recap, not a would-be public policy paper.
- The polling. This has been commented on, over and over and over again: and I’m only adding it because otherwise somebody will say But, Moe: what about the polling? – But, yeah, the polling was all over the map, with the exception of some of the local pollsters.
- Primary results are not diagnostic. You know why I didn’t sweat WI-GOV? Because Scott Walker did almost as well in the 2014 primary as he did in the 2012 recall primary. FL-GOV? Because Rick Scott did well there, too. Those surprisingly strong for Republican California results? All hinted at in the primaries.
- The Democrats had a plan. I don’t know about the rest of the VRWC, but whenever I saw a mock-worthy Democratic fundraising email I always had the thought What if this is part of a clever strategy that we’re not seeing? in the back of my mind, …Turns out that it wasn’t, unless of course “Get your heads handed to you in 2014” is part of an even longer game.
- The Democrats had learned from their victory. This is kind of related to #3, but the difference here is that you can still win without a plan, if you have an organization. The Democrats thought that they had one, but what was on the box was not the same as what was actually in the box.
- The electorate is in an anti-incumbent mood. The electorate almost never is, honestly. It just changes its mind on a regular (but not quite predictable) basis about which party it hates more, and spanks that party accordingly. This year it was the Democrats’ turn in the barrel.
- The Republicans had not learned anything from their defeat. Every article made about improved Republican turnout and voter outreach programs assumed that the GOP would need to catch up with the Democrats. And that may, in fact, still be true… in the sense that the GOP in 2014 may still not be up to the standards of the Democrats in 2012. However, it’s fairly clear that they were certainly past the standards of the Democrats of 2014.
- Buying airtime at the end of the election cycle is not cost-effective. Well, it’s certainly not cost-effective if you lose. But if you’re in a tighter race than people think because of #1 and #4, and you’re willing to pay out extra… yeah, it can have its points.
- [Insert favorite superstition here]. There were a bunch of these. “Democrats always win incumbent Senate races.” “Turnout will save us.” “What’s mine is mine; what’s yours is negotiable.” “There are blue states and red states, and never the twain shall meet.” To paraphrase Bob Heinlein: if you can’t express it with an equation, it’s not a fact. It’s an opinion. We had a lot of opinions this cycle.
- Long-term demographic trends have any meaning whatsoever right now. This was mostly seen with the perennial Hispanic voter debate. It will be relevant in 2024 or 2034 whether or not the currently extrapolated trends on population makeup and partisan makeup are accurate. But for right now they’re not – and the Democrats couldn’t draw on presumed future support, either*.
- Dice have a memory. This applies to both sides, including the Republicans: because let me tell you something. A day will come when the incumbent President’s party will clean up in the sixth-year midterm election, whether or not the President is popular. Or that incumbent Senators will be able to distance themselves from an disliked President. Or any of the other rules of thumb that haven’t been tossed in the wastepaper basket yet. And I absolutely assure you that the GOP winning big this year does not give them some sort of mystical protection from future failures. Especially if the Republicans try to rest on their laurels: complacency kills electoral careers faster than almost anything else I can think of**.
I think that covers it, for right now.
*The so-called ‘woman gap’ is a slightly different situation, because (in my personal opinion) it is noticeably more accurate in Presidential years than it is for midterms. This cycle it didn’t really have that much of an impact.
**Almost. Taking pictures of your genitals and showing them to people on the Internet is actually hubris, which is even worse than complacency.