Question Day: Will Bergdahl Affect Midterm Elections?

The prisoner swap with the Taliban probably won't matter in November.
President Barack Obama, flanked by Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's parents, announcing the prisoner exchange. 

Doverby asks, "If, after investigation, it was found that the Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap was an unlawful move by the Obama administration, do you think this could have electoral effects in 2014?"

It's very unlikely the deal made for the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl will matter for the midterms. Mostly because single issues rarely matter. Moreover, issues or scandals can have electoral effects directly (by turning voters for or against the president's party) or indirectly (by changing the incentives for potential candidates, donors, and other political elites), and it's already too late for most of the indirect effects.

This would apply to any political story or scandal at this point. The Bergdahl swap looks to me like an unpromising scandal. In particular, the question of whether President Barack Obama broke the law by not notifying Congress of the swap seems very unlikely to resonate beyond intense partisans, who are always looking for reasons to hate the president. It's more or less similar to the question of whether presidents break the law when they ignore the War Powers Act, as Barack Obama was accused of doing in Libya. Voters care about U.S. troop casualties, but they don't care about the details of the law in these cases.

My guess is that the flap here already had its desired effect. Getting a captured soldier home was a potential rally-around-the-flag moment that might have lifted the president's approval rating. However, political scientist Richard Brody found long ago that the rally effect depends on one variable: whether the out-party praises or criticizes the president. So the immediate Republican attacks surely had the effect of preventing an approval boost.

Not that it matters much anyway; the whole idea of the rally effect is that it's a temporary boost. So that didn't and won't happen. After a few weeks, approval will be back to where it would have been anyway.

At any rate: I'd be shocked if Bergdahl has any effect on the 2014 elections.

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