When writing about politics, it's all too frequent to use terminology that often obscures more than elucidates. That's especially true when it comes to the word "wave" — shorthand for a landslide victory for the winning party. I've argued before that the likelihood of 2014 being a wave election has been rising, given the president's consistently low approval ratings and the fact that Republicans are running evenly on the generic ballot (which usually translates into a clear GOP edge) and that the right-track/wrong-track numbers are near historic lows. All these big-picture signs are ominous for the party in power.
But this week, The New York Times' Nate Cohn argued that the threat of a Republican wave is subsiding, thanks to red-state Senate Democrats remaining resilient and the declining risk of blue-state seats — such as those in Oregon and Virginia — flipping in a landslide. This, despite the various political forecasters and Senate models (including the NYT's own Upshot) showing the likelihood of a Republican takeover increasing over time, with more states emerging in play.
To be fair, a lot of the disagreement stems from semantics — the definition of the word "wave." Cohn argues that if Republicans merely sweep red-state Democratic seats and perhaps pick off a stray swing seat, it's not a wave election — even if Republicans net seven seats on their way to the majority. To accomplish that feat, Republicans would need to oust four sitting Democratic senators. Over the last decade, Republicans have defeated only three sitting senators (Tom Daschle in South Dakota, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, and Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas). Surely, a red-state sweep would signify the conclusion of a political shake-up in the South, where voters are so disgusted with the national Democratic Party that they're willing to throw out senators who had previously relied on split-ticket voters to win. If a Republican takeover by picking up seven Senate seats isn't a wave, it's awfully close.