The 2015 political season has been defined by the increasingly unpopularity of the political establishments in both parties, as illustrated by the rise of Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. The degree to which the Democrats are unpopular is vastly exceeded by how unpopular Republicans are at the same time. While we expect, in our increasingly polarized politics, the leaders of each party to be highly unpopular with the base of the other party, polling shows independents disapprove of Democrats and disapprove of Republicans even more so. Republican leaders, such as Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and former GOP front-runner Jeb Bush, have high disapproval ratings from both independents and many Republicans simply because the GOP has not delivered on the promises they made during the last few campaigns.
The high negatives for leaders of both parties, especially more so on the Republican side, are one of the major factors driving our current politics. Americans are increasingly frustrated with politicians of both parties, but find themselves even more opposed to Republicans who they see as breaking their promises more than Democrats. That, and the chaos that dominates the Republican Party now, sets up a political environment in which Democrats would dominate the 2016 elections, unless Republicans united behind a strong presidential candidate in 2016 who offers voters a vision for the future they can embrace and support at the polls.
While it's early in the process, and in October of 2015 we can look in the crystal ball and see some indications of what will happen, we need to remember there is still a lot of time for many factors that will affect our politics to change before we go to the polls next year. But we can take an early look at this point at what could be happening.
For the presidential race, the voting pattern of the 50 states is a good starting basis with with to predict how they will vote in 2016. Most states have reliably voted either Democrat or Republican in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections. Between the last presidential election in 2012 and the 2008 election, the states voted the same way, for Barack Obama, except North Carolina and Indiana that voted for Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012. As of now, I expect three additional states to cross into the Republican column for 2016, Wisconsin that has moved more in the Republican direction under Gov. Scott Walker as well as Florida and Iowa. While Obama was reelected in 2012 with 332 electoral votes, this outcome would have the 2016 Democrat nominee winning with 287 electoral vote to the Republicans winning 251 electoral votes. Note that 270 are needed to win the Electoral College and become the next president.
Currently the Senate is held by Republicans, who hold a 54 seat majority to the Democrats holding a minority of 46 seats. But Democrats have high hopes of regaining the Senate majority in 2016 because Republicans are holding 23 of the 33 seats up for election in 2016. At this point, it looks like there are nine of those seats likely to be won by the Democrats, and 16 of them likely to be won by the GOP. That leaves 8 seats that will like determine which party controls the U.S. Senate after the next election. It is very possible that Democrats will win six of those eight seats and gain a 51 seat Senate majority.
The House is likely to stay nominally in Republican control, as it is currently made up of 247 Republicans out of 435 members, it is unlikely Democrats will gain more than 6-8 seats in the 2016 election. Odds are Republicans will successfully defend their House majority through another election cycle, and reelect whoever it is that will soon be elected the new Speaker of the House who replaces John Boehner.
The political picture painted by this currently early look at the 2016 election is a first-term Democratic President who presides over a narrowly Democratic Senate and is able to create a governing majority of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the House (much like Republicans did in 1981 under President Ronald Reagan) and is able to continue to lead the country more in the direction of the progressive left policies the Democrats advocate.
That is how the political picture looks now, but there is much time for things to change, and a lot of time for either or both sides to make changes. If the Democrats can give voters a reason, despite the failures of the current administration, to vote for them because they offer something new and different, or convince voters they should be afraid to vote for Republicans, they might be able to prevail in 2016. Republicans, if they can offer a vision for the future and gives voters true hope for the future of the country and the economy, might just inspire votes to give the GOP control of the presidency and both houses of Congress in 2016. At this point in time, most of what will happen next year politically has yet to be determined.