There’s a myth that economics are always the decisive issue in politics, and everything else (war, scandal, social issues) is just window dressing. But that’s not likely to be the case in 2014, as economic issues take a backseat to other factors. Unlike so many famous elections decided by a recession (1932, 1980, 2008) or excellent economic expansion (1964, 1984, 1996), this one’s going to be decided by one of three factors.
1. Guns: Many of the races will be decided in red states with Democratic incumbents, like Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Virginia and North Carolina, or rural areas where a Democrat is stepping down (Montana, Iowa, South Dakota, West Virginia). In some Southern states, Democrats are hoping to take back a few spots that feature an open seat (Georgia) or chances for a far right candidate to knock off a moderate, and repeat the story of Indiana in 2012 (like Tennessee and South Carolina). Even Senate seats in New Hampshire and Minnesota as well as Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado could see this issue crop up. Republicans are apt to make the election a referendum on gun control legislation, just as Democrats could target their own who don’t toe the party line.
2. Abortion: Just as the GOP hopes to make guns a wedge issue, Democrats may do the same with abortion. Republicans have been reading the wrong tea party leaves, and have ignored the message that a record number of people support abortion rights, whether they like it or not. Democrats could easily paint the GOP as out of touch on abortion issue, especially if conservatives make mental missteps like Missouri Rep. Todd Akin and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock did.
3. Health Care: Much of the Affordable Care Act doesn’t take effect until 2014. Should premiums rise or fall, companies shed workers to avoid paying for health care, and the uninsured start paying for insurance, people will feel the health care legislation more than they ever have. How they feel could tip the balance of power in the House of Representatives and the Senate.