The Daily Strategist
September 12, 2014
Huffpost Pollster Sees 56 Percent Chance Dems Will Hold Senate Majority
Don't bet the ranch on it just yet, but when Huffpost Pollster joins the Princeton Election Consortium in forecasting that Democrats are more likely to keep their Senate majority, that's good news. Today Huffpost Pollster calculates a 56 percent "chance that Democrats will keep control of the Senate."
Of course 56 percent doesn't allow all that much breathing space. But 8 weeks from election day, it's fair to say that it's a sign that Dems are in a much better position in the battle for Senate control than many pundits thought they would be in in mid-September, given the lopsided Democratic vulnerabilities this year.
Huffpost Pollster's Mark Blumenthal and Natalie Jackson explore the ramifications of "the Orman factor" (Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman in Kansas) in their calculations, and conclude:
...Now, however, in the simulations that project an Orman win, our model will usually assign him to the party in the majority...In the rare scenario in which Orman wins and the chamber is split with 49 Democrats and 50 Republicans, we give Orman a 50 percent chance of caucusing with the Democrats and a 50 percent chance of caucusing with the Republicans. (Thus, the overall probabilities of each party's winning the majority still add to 100 percent.) But we also note the probability of this situation occurring -- we call it "the Orman factor." On the Senate model dashboard, this number appears right below the probabilities for Democratic and Republican majorities.
Sure, as noted elsewhere there are respected poll analysts who still believe the odds favor a GOP takeover of the U.S. Senate. But with both Mark Blumenthal and Sam Wang arguing otherwise, Dems have cause for optimism -- especially if they mobilize an energetic GOTV effort where it counts.
Seven GOP Advantages
Assessing the end of the primary season at TPMCafe this week, I noted seven distinct advantages Republicans will carry into November:
With the primaries concluded, political junkies may now devote themselves to a general election in which the overall battleground is tilted towards the GOP thanks to at least seven separate factors: (1) a wildly favorable Senate landscape with seven Democratic seats up in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012; (2) a House majority entrenched by redistricting, incumbency, and superior Republican "efficiency" in voter distribution; (3) a Democratic "midterm falloff" problem based on eternally lower participation rates in non-presidential years by younger and minority voters; (4) a long history of second-term midterm struggles by parties holding the White House; (5) relatively low presidential approval ratings; (6) an economy perceived by most voters as not-yet-recovering from the Great Recession; and (7) a host of international problems the president will be held accountable for not instantly resolving.
That's not what you'll hear after the election, though:
If Republicans meet or exceed expectations, of course, most will cite none of these factors and will instead claim a "mandate" on issues ranging from health care to immigration to "entitlement reform," and vindication of their conspiratorial accusations about Benghazi! and the IRS. By then, however, we will have fully entered a presidential cycle, and a whole new ball game with many arrows immediately shifting to an opposite direction. So the true legacy of this cycle will only be determined when its influence over the next one is fully absorbed.
That could take us right up to the next election day.
Political Strategy Notes
Charles Pierce offers some perceptive insights about the President's address last night, including that it was: "...a speech that was neither as bellicose as some people wanted, nor as isolationist as other people wanted. (Rand Paul, of course, feels strongly both ways.)...The president also asked the Congress, and the political elite of this country, to take ownership of all that loose talk that has come out of our government since that day 13 years ago, the incoherent babble of our national derangement...There are substantial political constituencies, both here and abroad, for the national derangement that began in 2001 to continue. And I think that last night's speech was, in part, a attempt to challenge those constituencies to come out of the shadows and show themselves."
From Greg Sargent's Plum Line post "For Republicans, the midterm elections are all about Obama": "The poll finds that 54 percent of voters -- including 64 percent of independents and 63 percent of moderates -- say Obama is "not a factor" in their vote...But 62 percent of Republicans -- and 67 percent of conservative Republicans -- say a reason for their vote is to "express opposition to Obama." Perhaps Dems need an ad campaign along the lines of 'Obama ain't running, but Boehner and his obstructionist minions are on the ballot. End Gridlock, vote Democratic."
In his wrap-up of the midterm primary season, Geoffrey Skelley notes at Sabato's Crystal Ball that "On the House side, the percentage of incumbents that won less than 60% in their primaries was up from the last two midterm cycles. At the same time, the percentage of incumbents facing major-party opposition in November will be lower in 2014 than in 2010 or 2006...Although no incumbent lost in the Senate this cycle, 2014 continued the trend of increased competition in primaries seen in 2010. While 2010 saw more senators face actual opposition, both cycles saw six members win less than 60%..."
At The New Yorker Sam Wang rolls out the case that "Democrats Now Have a Seventy-Per-Cent Chance of Retaining Control of the Senate."
Chris Cillizza posts at The Fix, however, that heavyweight pundits Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg believe the Republicans have a significant edge -- Rothenberg smells "a sizable Republican senate wave." Cillizza doesn't even mention Wang's take.
Sometimes they just come right out and say it.
GA Governor's race now in stat tie, according to SurveyUSA/11-Alive poll of registered LV's. Democrat Michelle Nunn down 3 in Senate Race, with 14 point drop in support from women.
Re the proposed constitutional amendment to restore congressional authority to limit outside campaign spending that is up for a vote: A New York Times editorial supporting the measure notes that "outside spending on this year's midterm elections ($189 million so far) is more than three times what it was at this point in 2010."
File this idea under "not gonna happen," since there is no strategic upside.
No Wows in Final Primary Wrap-Up
Ed Kilgore has the best wrap-up of the latest primary, which is also the last of 2014. There were no major surprises, but there were some interesting outcomes, as Kilgore explains at his Talking Points Memo post, "Rebuke, Rebirth, Rejection, Rematch: The Last Primary Night of 2014":
The rebuke was to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who despite a vast advantage in money, name ID, and institutional support, struggled to win 60 percent in a low-turnout primary competition with progressive activist Zephyr Teachout. He barely ran ahead of his little-known running mate for lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul. Since the benchmark for an "embarrassment" of Cuomo among most cognoscenti going into the primary was Teachout reaching 30 percent of the vote, her 35 percent performance (with 88 percent of precincts reporting) certainly qualifies. And it verifies the strong progressive opposition to any presidential campaign by Cuomo -- who is reliably reported to have seen a future president of the United States in his bathroom mirror each morning for many years -- in the near future, thanks to his conservative fiscal policies, coziness with Wall Street, and perceived indifference to the New York Democratic Party.
Looking at the primary season as a whole, Kilgore observes "Despite many efforts to impose a national "narrative" on the primaries, none really stuck. Some observers have insisted on a "Republican Establishment Defeats Tea Party" meme. But Eric Cantor's loss, some ideologically ambiguous Senate winners, and a notable lurch to the Right by many "Establishment" candidates, make this claim questionable, and perhaps if true rather meaningless."
Kilgore cites seven major factors favoring Republicans moving toward November 4, though some pundits believe they are underperforming in polls thus far, despite these advantages. When all of the votes are tallied, he reminds us that "we will have fully entered a presidential cycle...with many arrows immediately shifting to an opposite direction. So the true legacy of this cycle will only be determined when its influence over the next one is fully absorbed."
The new cycle will lift a lot of Democratic spirits. Until then the challenge for Dems over the next eight weeks is do 'better than expected' and to put the Democratic party and 2016 candidates in the best possible position.
Debate Between Silver and Wang Entertaining, But It's Time for Dems to Pour it On
To read the most recent posts by Nate Silver and Sam Wang regarding their predictive models vis a vis the November midterms, you might think the main event on November 4 is between them. It's an entertaining dispute, no doubt about that and the two wizards are having fun and getting plenty of attention from political data junkies.
Here's the latest from Wang's "Is Nate Silver a little too excited about his model?" in a couple of nut graphs:
The PEC Election Day prediction indicates a 70% probability of Democratic+Independent control. That is based on polls alone, plus the assumption that September-October will act like June-August. FiveThirtyEight's probability is 64% favoring the Republicans, based on a model with polls plus a substantial dose of special sauce (a.k.a. fundamentals).
Meanwhile, over at FiveThirtyEightPolitics, Silver's "Registered Voter Polls Will (Usually) Overrate Democrats" adds this to the donnybrook:
Polls of so-called likely voters are almost always more favorable to Republicans than those that survey the broader sample of all registered voters or all American adults. Likely voter polls also tend to provide more reliable predictions of election results, especially in midterm years. Whereas polls of all registered voters or all adults usually overstate the performance of Democratic candidates, polls of likely voters have had almost no long-term bias....We can infer that, because likely voter polls have no long-term bias and registered voter polls show more favorable results for Democrats, registered voter polls usually have a Democratic bias.
Silver links to an informative chart at The Upshot, comparing forecaster snapshots of senate races, which show a slight Republican edge. But Wang isn't in it, and he still ain't having it.
There's more to Silver's analysis, and yes, it's complicated. Of course Dems hope Wang is right. But Silver is extremely cautious in his assumptions, and his track record is pretty damn good, so who knows?
There's room enough here for either Wang or Silver to be wrong when all the votes are counted. But neither one of them would argue with the conclusion that it's high time for Democrats to pour on the GOTV in the battleground states on an unprecedented scale. That simply has to happen if Dems want to keep a senate majority.
Political Strategy Notes
Steven L. Schweizer asks at The Monkey Cage "Is a Democratic realignment afoot in the middle class?," and answers "Meanwhile, the political partisanship of the middle class is trending Democratic. Data from the General Social Survey show that, since 2004, the self-identified middle class has moved toward the Democrats (see these charts). These shifts are particularly pronounced among those ages 18-39, men, the college educated, whites and Protestants...My argument naturally shares some affinities with other proponents of a pro-Democratic realignment, such as John Judis and Ruy Teixeira. But I see this realignment as being driven in part by groups not typically considered part of the "rising American electorate" -- such as whites and men within the middle class. The emerging Democratic coalition is broader and deeper than many have suggested, and it is less reliant on the support of the poor, urbanites, minorities, women and highest-educated."
"Democrats Counting on an Early Voting Advantage," writes Emily Schultheis at The National Journal: "More than a third of the 2014 electorate is expected to cast ballots early this year, and they're starting to do it very soon...Democrats have enjoyed a ground-game advantage in past elections, and have put $60 million behind their field efforts in 10 key Senate states--two facts they're counting on help tip the scales toward them in a year when the electorate will be whiter and more conservative than in presidential years. But Republicans aren't ceding the ground game, and they have made significant investments--including an additional $8 million last week--of their own to help with early-vote turnout and field operations...Of the nine Senate races rated as toss-ups by The Cook Political Report--Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina--seven currently have significant early-vote programs, which consist of some combination of of no-excuse-necessary absentee voting and at least a week of early in-person voting."
Patricia Murphy writes at The Daily Beast about the battle for control of the offices of Secretary of State across the country. Notes Murphy: "As the jobs have gained prominence and power, so has the pressure for the two parties to win them. Republicans currently dominate the breakdown, with 27 GOP secretaries of state in the 47 states that have the position. Democrats believe reversing that ratio is key to expanding ballot access in the short term among traditionally friendly constituencies like low-income seniors, women, and minorities, as well as setting the table for the 2016 presidential elections by having Democratic elections officials in place in key swing states."
From "How Democrats Could Gain Power This Fall" by Perry Bacon, Jr. at NBC News: "Polls show Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and even deeply-red Kansas could upset Republican incumbents. Many of these key races are in blue states, and the rising unpopularity of President Obama does not hobble Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls as much congressional candidates, who must say if they will vote for or against his agenda...If they win, these Democratic candidates could implement major policy changes on the state level, such as expanding Medicaid and further entrenching Obamacare, increasing the minimum wage, joining forces with the Obama administration on reducing U.S. carbon emissions and rolling back GOP-backed provisions that Democrats say make it harder to vote."
Only 5 percent of Republican "insiders" say they believe Obamacare will be the top issue in November, according to a National Journal poll.
At The Upshot Nate Cohn opines in his post "Why Democrats Can't Win the House," "Democrats often blame gerrymandering, but that's not the whole story. More than ever, the kind of place where Americans live -- metropolitan or rural -- dictates their political views. The country is increasingly divided between liberal cities and close-in suburbs, on one hand, and conservative exurbs and rural areas, on the other. Even in red states, the counties containing the large cities -- like Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis and Birmingham -- lean Democratic."
At Slate.com John Dickerson adds: "In the election of 2014, only a small number of seats are in a position to act as a proving ground for a battle of ideas. The Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that this might be the lowest midterm turnout in history. The number of people who will participate in states with elections that will determine control of the Senate is even smaller still. The House represents a national election of sorts, since all 435 members are up for re-election, but of that group only 30 (6 percent) are in races that are considered up for grabs."
In his post "The GOP's fear of higher voter turnout," David Sirota notes at The Everett Herald-Tribune, "According to data compiled by the think tank Demos, average voter turnout is more than 10 percent higher in states that allow citizens to register on the same day that they vote. Demos also notes that "four of the top five states for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election all offered same-day registration." There was some evidence in Wisconsin that same-day registration boosted Democratic turnout, but the Wisconsin State Journal of Madison reports that "Republican areas also saw heavy use of the state's last-minute registration law." The registration system been also been adopted by such deeply Republican states as Wyoming, Idaho and Utah."
I'm glad somebody's thinking. In "A Quacked-Up Strategy to Stop Terrorism" at The Democratic Daily, Walter Brasch riffs on the whole Duck Dynasty/Sean Hannity 'convert 'em or kill 'em' strategy conservative luminaries are peddling. A teaser: "...Make sure every soldier also has a duck call. I recommend Duck Commander's Homeland Security duck call. It's only about $150 each, or about $1.5 million retail if both regiments are at full strength. This sale will help spur the American war economy. The soldiers will use the quackers to lure and mesmerize the ISIS fighters...The Robertson clan needs to be on the front lines as decoys. Because the clan looks like terrorists, the ISIS terrorists will think long-haired, bearded scarf-wearing camouflaged Robertsons are kin-folk."
Rasmussen tells survey-takers: "If we want your opinion, we'll give it to you."
Any wild guesses about how the responses to this question turned out? I mean, really, how many people are going to say, in effect, "Nah, we don' need no stinkin' strategy. We can just make something up as we go along."
So it's hardly a surprise that 73% of voters said they are indeed "concerned," 47% are "very concerned," 25% are "not concerned" and only four percent 4% are "not at all concerned."
It's a basically meaningless question, but it produces the headline Rasmussen was seeking to produce in the first place: "73% of voters concerned by Obama's lack of a strategy"
And now here's how Rasmussen frames another question, this time when they want to get a positive response:
This question is, of course, a trifecta of factual inaccuracy: After all, few Sunni's or Kurds would agree that elections in Iraqi are "democratic," Middle East experts agree that the ISIS extremists, grotesquely vile though they may be, are not the same organization as the Pakistan-based al Qaeda and few if any military observers think ISIS can actually take over the Shia areas of Iraq, areas that include the capital, Baghdad.
But once you load up the question with a bunch of helpful little hints like the ones above it's hardly a surprise that 60% of likely U.S. voters approve of President Obama's decision while only 20% oppose it and 19% are undecided. Realistically, the airstrikes may very well be the right thing to do, but Rasmussen's ridiculously loaded question obviously sheds no light on the issue at all.
Oh well, and so it goes, I guess. But, just as a scientific experiment I do wish that Rasmussen would ask the following questions:
1. Obama admits he has no strategy for dealing with the political and military threat that a potentially hostile Nova Scotia might pose to northeastern Maine and northern Vermont. Are you at all concerned that Obama has no strategy to deal with this threat?
2. Do you approve of Obama's decision to aid the heroic freedom fighters of East Timor in defending their staunchly pro-western island nation against the imminent threat of invasion by insurgent rebels from Tonga?"
I'm willing to bet the survey responses to these questions will be almost exactly the same as the ones Rasmussen got to the questions above, even though until they were asked these two questions most of the respondents probably thought Nova Scotia was just smoked fish and a Tonga a South Beach cocktail.
The Unsteady Status of Voting Rights
There was good news today from a federal judge in Ohio who halted an effort by the GOP Secretary of State, Jon Husted, to cut back on early voting opportunities. This is the same judge and the same Secretary of State who battled in 2012 when Judge Peter Economus wouldn't let Husted implement early voting restrictions just prior to the presidential election. But while the results are temporarily the same, the shift in the battleground over early voting may not be positive, as I noted today at Washington Monthly:
In , the state had proposed special provisions to let certain voters (as cynics suggested, Republican-leaning voters like active military personnel) cast ballots early, so it was reasonably easy to label the changes as discriminatory violations of both equal protection requirements and the Voting Rights Act.
Occasional wins in the courts aren't enough absent a national re-commitment to voting rights, and an expectation that states and localities will treat participation in elections as a good thing to be actively encouraged.
Kansas Doings Shake Up Battle for Senate Control -- in a Good Way
Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium posts today at The New Yorker on the latest development in the Kansas Senate race, and observes:
Last night, Chad Taylor, the Democratic nominee in the upcoming Senate election in Kansas, announced that he was dropping out of the race. This is the biggest political story of the week: the path is now clear for the independent candidate Greg Orman to run against the unpopular Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. Orman is now the front-runner, a change that puts the Democrats squarely in the driver's seat to retain control of the Senate.
Wang crunches some numbers and concludes, "...With Orman facing off alone against Roberts, the probability of Democratic control shot up to eighty-five per cent. During the past two weeks, polls in other states have moved even more in the Democrats' favor. It's safe to say that thanks to Chad Taylor's decision, the Democratic Party is now the odds-on favorite to retain control of the Senate."
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