Mercifully, the Midterms Are Finally Almost Upon Us
Lost, perhaps, in the maelstrom that has defined Washington -- and headlines around the country -- for the last several weeks is an almost incredible fact: it’s October and the midterm elections are now only about a month away.
The president has successfully negotiated a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. Federal lawmakers have managed to keep the government open until after voters go to the polls—in fact, members of the U.S. House are back in their home districts until after Election Day—but the FBI is investigating the White House‘s Supreme Court nominee and blue state Republicans are under pressure to vote against Judge Kavanaugh.
Have any of these high-profile political developments shifted how Americans are planning to vote on Nov. 6?
Polls aren’t indicating yet that they have, and, shockingly, there are still plenty of likely voters who report to pollsters that they remain undecided regarding how they’ll vote next month.
In general, however, Americans who know how they will vote still say they’d prefer to support a Democrat this fall. This has been a consistent response among likely voters since almost just after President Trump’s inauguration. In August, Democrats held anywhere from a two to a 14 point advantage on the “generic ballot question”—a simple question that asks whether a voter would prefer to have a Republican or a Democrat as their representative in Congress. This range -- though admittedly wide -- has been incredibly sticky. The range is nearly identical to the data we saw in September. Indeed, the numbers haven’t changed much since the beginning of this year.
The generic ballot question, while not infallible, is one of the best indicators of what the outcome might be in November. In late September 2010, five weeks before Republicans picked up 63 seats in the U.S. House and six seats in the U.S. Senate in President Barack Obama’s first midterm election cycle -- a “walloping” to paraphrase President Obama’s post-election assessment of his party’s performance -- the GOP had a lead on the generic ballot question similar to what Democrats possess now. In 2002, President George W. Bush’s first midterm election cycle and one in which his party successfully held onto small majorities in both houses, generic ballot question results had been more mixed throughout the year but, going into the election, favored Republicans.
Because the polls suggest a much more challenging environment for the Republicans next month than for the Democrats, the GOP has many more vulnerable House seats that could change hands on Election Day. According to the latest analysis from the Cook Political Report, one of the leading political prognosticators inside the Beltway, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives -- all of which will see elections next month -- 93 Republican-held seats are in danger of being taken over by Democrats. In contrast, only 13 Democratic seats are vulnerable to flipping.
Cook considers 13 of 93 seats already lost to the GOP. So, a little math: Democrats need only 23 seats to take back the House. If those 13 seats really are in hand, it means the party basically needs only a one in eight win rate, or 12.5%, in the remaining 80 toss up seats to make Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) the presumptive Speaker of the House again.
On the Senate side, Democrats need two seats to take over control of the chamber. The U.S. Constitution dictates that only one-third of the members of the Senate are up for reelection in any election year (since the Senate is supposed to be the more deliberate, cooler-headed body) and, as you might recall from previous updates, the Democratic party has many more seats in play this year. They are defending 26 seats while Republicans are defending just nine.
On paper, therefore, this election year should have been a relatively easy one for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). But it has not been. And ,over the last few weeks, the situation has tightened further. Sen. McConnell’s Republican Party still has an opportunity to convert seven vulnerable Democratic seats to GOP control, but it also is defending more of their own states than anticipated. Arizona and Nevada have been in the toss-up column for Republicans all year and remain so, but now the party also is in danger of losing seats in the heavily and historically Republican states of Texas and Tennessee.
It’s impossible right now to predict where these states will fall. FiveThirtyEight, another reliable predictor of American elections, says Democrats have a less than a one in three chance of taking over the Senate. (It puts odds for a Democratic House takeover at more than 75 percent.) Those odds have improved slightly over the past weeks, but they also could shift as the current debate regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the Senate unfolds. (FiveThirtyEight, incidentally, pinned then-candidate Trump’s odds of winning the presidency at about 30 percent prior to the 2016 election.)
If you’re like me, you’re still incredulous that any likely voter could truly be undecided given how inundated we’ve all been with talking points from both parties, nonstop media coverage, and more recently, pervasive political advertisements. The New York Times interviewed more than 1,000 of these individuals, all in battleground states, in September. What they found was that, although these voters hadn’t decided who they’d support for the House or Senate, President Donald Trump is deeply unpopular. Only 34 percent of these undecided voters approve of the job he is doing. When asked the “generic ballot” question, however, the parties received equal amounts of support. Thirty-two percent said they wanted to vote for a Republican; the same number would pull the lever for a Democrat. The rest had no preference. (Or, perhaps more likely, harbored equal distaste for both parties.)
At the heart of that indecision: more than half of the voters said they don’t know anything about any of the candidates that will appear on their ballots next month.
With approximately $3.8 billion spent during the last midterm elections in 2014, and most experts expecting the 2018 midterms to surpass that figure, these undecided voters should anticipate seeing plenty of political advertisements for the next five weeks.