There has been a lot of bad polling news for Democrats in the Senate recently. In fact, the Princeton model’s daily forecast yesterday had the Democrat’s chances of holding the Senate in the low 20 percents. It’s come back up to 39% today, but The Monkey Cage is down to 23%. Generally, however, the models are right about where they were two months ago with the Democrats having about a 40% chance of holding the Senate. Should we freak out? Of course not. But we should prepare ourselves for a less than sunny election night, at least as far as the Senate goes.
Nate Silver wrote an excellent article, Senate Update: When Should Democrats Panic? His main point is that people tend to think in terms of trends and waves, but that’s not what’s happening at all. There have been some good polls for Republicans in the last week or so, just as there were some good polls for Democrats a month ago. It doesn’t mean that the polls are going to get better and better for the Republicans.
Another important point is that this is a bad year for Democrats based upon the “fundamentals.” Yet the Democrats are generally doing better than expectations. This is actually a very big issue for me. I’m okay with the Republicans taking over the Senate. For well over a year, I’ve known there was a very good chance of this. But what I dread is watching the election results coming in and hearing pundits say things like, “Well this just shows that the people are unhappy with President Obama’s policies.” Or, “When all is said and done, America is a center-right nation.” Or, “Liberalism is dead.”
No! No! No! This is an election where the vast majority of Senate seats up for election belonged to Democrats — most in red states because the Democrats had a shockingly good year in 2008. What’s more, Democrats are poised to have a rather good year in terms of governorships. Of course, these facts won’t matter. I know that on election night, I will be seeing people say these things. It’s what they always say because nuance is not allowed on television.
From my perspective, a neutral result should have been Republicans getting 53 or 54 Senate seats — which is still quite possible. Most of the models are now predicting 52 seats. If that comes to pass, the reporting really ought to be that the Republicans did poorly. It’s funny that when it comes to something like presidential debates, the commentariat are totally focused on how well the candidates do compared to expectations. But when it comes to elections, it is only the absolute numbers. If the Republicans end up ahead it means the country has turned right and if the Democrats end up ahead, the country has turned left.
If the Democrats do manage to maintain control of the Senate, the reporting should be along the lines of, “In a year where the Republicans had every structural advantage, they failed to succeed. This does not speak well of the party during this election cycle.” But instead, it will mostly be pitched as a wash, with some even claiming it is a big win for the Republicans because they picked up five seats.
As always with elections, this one will all come down to how many Democrats manage to show up to the polls. Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien at The Monkey Cage wrote an informative article about this last week, Why Likely Voter Polls May Be Misleading. As I pointed out just after the 2012 election, a lot of polls were wrong because of their “likely voter” screens. Only 87% of those who said they were sure to vote actually voted, and more surprisingly, 55% of those who said they were unlikely to vote did vote. Now 2012, was an on-year election, so it is different but the same thing goes on.
The article at The Monkey Cage noted that most of the recent shift in the polls toward the Republicans is not about people changing their minds; it is about the polls providing data on likely voters. Registered voters are still polling the same way. This is potentially cheerful news for the Democrats. Supposedly, the Democrats are spending big money on “get out the vote” efforts. So if they really do succeed at this, the final composition of the Senate might not look that bad.
But I won’t be shocked if the Republicans have 54 seats in the Senate next year. We’ll get through it. There is no reason to freak out.
Le freak n’est pas chic!