Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

Game change: Kansas Democrat drops out of Senate race

September 3rd, 2014, 8:57pm by Sam Wang


[Update, Thursday 9:45am: see my new piece at The New Yorker.com. -SW]

Chad Taylor (D) just dropped out of the Kansas Senate race. I declare this the political news of the week. To understand why, read my essays here (The New Yorker) and here (PEC). Basically the probability of Democratic control of the Senate is about to pop up by 20-30 percent.

We only have one survey for the Orman v. Roberts matchup, from PPP. It shows an Orman lead of 10 percent. Based on a few simple assumptions*, I estimate Orman’s November win probability at 80 percent.

Since August 26th, the daily snapshot for Democratic /Independent control moved from 55% to 70%, even without today’s news. Ponder that, while we revise our code to reflect this development… [11:43pm: the snapshot is updated. Thank you, Mark Tengi!]

*The assumptions are: (1) Between now and November, Orman’s lead may vary with a standard deviation of 7 10 points. (2) Use a t-distribution with 2 degrees of freedom to allow for a black-swan event…another one, in addition to the one that just happened today.

Tags: 2014 Election · Politics · Senate

30 Comments so far ↓

  • Albert

    I do not think much of these groups that calculate probabilities. They are all pretty much useless, and statistical overkill in predicting who will control the senate. Of all of them, Nate Silver is a joke, and Sam Wang far superior in so far as it goes. I make considerable amounts of money betting against Nate Silver’s sports picks; Seattle was a hugh win for me based solely on who Nate though would win. So were the Spurs. The best predictor at the present is not to make a prediction: what is the point? We will know soon enough the reality rather than the fantasies. But if you have to, begin by giving WV, SD,and WV to Republicans. Add KY and Ga. The questions, then, are primarily about Ak andNc; if either of these states go for Republicans, the game is over unless there is a surprise in Kansas and given that, a loss in one of the other states in play. All we need is voting history of the past few elections, and the political culture of the state, and we can do as well as any statistical “model” and without so much pomposity and “magic Sauce”. One thing I am looking forward to, however is Silver’s predictions: I am in dire need of more money, and can get it easily by voting against some of his picks> I hope he sticks with Roberts in Kansas so I can spend my money in advance.

  • Joseph

    I just read your article in the New Yorker on this, Sam. No wonder the Republicans are trying every trick in the books to keep Chad Taylor on the ballot! But on that; I have to wonder if, even should they succeed in keeping him on the ballot, it’s just too late. Democrats might, in small numbers, still vote for Mr. Taylor, but the vast majority will not. And the “dirty tricks” by the desperate Republicans could easily backfire on their candidate.

    I would LOVE to see a poll that asks who people would vote for assuming Mr. Taylor is not “allowed” to remove himself from the ballot!

  • Daddyoyo

    I’m sure that it will wind up in court. What’s the history of voting percentages for candidates who died or withdrew but were still on the ballot?

  • Daddyoyo

    The Kansas Secretary of State just announced that he won’t take Taylor’s name off the ballot. How will this affect polling?

    • 538 Refugee

      This will end up in court. Taylor met the filing deadline to withdraw. I’d venture a guess but I’ve learned “right/wrong” many times has no ties to “legal”, especially where politics are involved.

  • Marc

    Will Taylor ‘s name still be on the ballot? If so, might that siphon some votes that would otherwise go to Orman? Is there precedent to know the possible magnitude of that?

    • 538 Refugee

      I doubt the ballots are anywhere near being printed and finalized at this point.

  • Dan Kleinman

    You have labeled the white bar “Orman decides”, but there must be some significant probability that the D+I total is 50 even though Orman loses.

    What do your numbers suggest is the actual probability that Orman decides (assuming the other independents caucus with the Democrats)? I suspect it’s something like 15%, not 30%.

  • Amitabh Lath

    Step back a minute and see what this says about the power and focus of the Democratic machine. Getting a candidate who is within 3 points to drop out in September? This is hardball.

    By the way, I have a hard-to-pronounce first name. A couple of years ago I did a bunch of phone interviews with local media about the Higgs discovery and was surprised that they all pronounced my name properly. I suspect most large media organizations have people whose job it is to see that their stars don’t mangle the guest’s name.

  • Mark

    You have Taylor’s name, not Orman’s on the power table on the right

  • Kat

    Thanks Sam, for being a lone light in the political forecast forrest. I dearly hope you’re correct. But I’m also rooting for a Democratic majority House. I know, I know, thanks to GOPTea gerrymandering it’s totally impossible, but ya never know…..

  • gmccpa

    Sam, what’s astounding is that you wrote an article about this more than a week ago…. considering a scenario where Taylor drops out. At the time, did you have any reason to suspect this may happen? It’s not that common of an occurrence.

  • Aaron Booth

    Do you feel the apparent legal complications (whether Taylor will actually be able to withdraw from the ballot, and whether the D’s will be required to set a convention date and replace him) in regards to how that might affect the numbers for the race?

  • Sam P

    There’s one more complication here: Angus King. He’s consistently tried to sit between the aisles, and has been caucasing with Democrats basically because they’ve been the majority. If it’s 49R/48D+Sanders+VP’s casting vote/King/Orman, it’s entirely possible that King will side with the Republicans, because they’ll have a larger plurality than the Democrats; then Orman really would have a decision to make.

    • Aaron Booth

      With the math you just laid out:
      The D’s would have a Majority with King, Orman, and Sanders. 51-49. If D’s only had Sanders, and R’s had King and Orman, it would be the same 51-49 majority in the other direction. Neither scenario is a plurality. If King stays an effective D (really not a whole lot of reason to suspect he wouldn’t), and Orman was an effective R: it is a 50-50 senate, which would give Democrats a 51-50 majority. There is no plurality scenario unless King and Orman would just refuse to caucus.

    • Diego

      Even if King is such an opportunist, switching to the Republicans in the scenario you describe would not be a rational choice for several reasons: (1) Orman choosing the Democrats would consign King to the minority; (2) the odds strongly favor a Democratic Senate being elected in 2016; (3) King’s stated policy positions and substantive voting record are to the left of all sitting Republican senators.

      If Republicans secure a caucus of 51 before King declares his affiliation, (1) does not apply but (2) and (3) may still factor into his choice.

  • Joseph

    There’s also a Libertarian in the race, Randall Baston. And 538 and Nate are giving the advantage to Roberts over Orman.

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-senate-race-in-kansas-just-got-crazy/

    And as I mentioned in another thread here, Nate is also giving the present advantage in the Senate to the Republicans (65/35).

    http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/fivethirtyeights-senate-model-is-back-and-it-gives-republicans-the-edge/

    • 538 Refugee

      This makes the first link worth reading, but there is more:

      “The fundamentals-based estimate is not so accurate, however. It won’t capture some of the more subtle qualities of the campaign, and on average it misses the final margin in the race by about 9 percentage points. By comparison, the average poll is off by something like 6 or 7 percentage points at this stage of a Senate campaign.”

      Huh?

    • Some Body

      I must say I side with Silver on the Kansas race. That one PPP poll taken when the Orman/Roberts race was still purely hypothetical is simply not enough data to base an estimate on. Bringing the Democrats’ chances of retaining Senate control from 70% to 90% based on a single data point (and, moreover, a dubious one—polls measuring the public’s preference in fantasy elections, when these fantasies do get materialized for some reason, are far too optimistic for the “dark horse” candidate than the final results are)—that’s just wishful thinking.

      The right thing to do should be just to put the forecast on hold for a while, until there are three public polls of the new Kansas race out.

    • Sam Wang

      You raise a good point about wanting a few more polls. Thanks for maintaining a cool head.

    • Sam Wang

      Incidentally, if we estimate I+10% with an error bar of +/-10%, that gives 80% win probability. However, that assumes future likely movement could go either way.

    • 538 Refugee

      Roberts still has 27% approval rating to overcome. To be sure one hypothetical poll may not be the best gauge but there are private polls we don’t see. Roberts was closing the gap with pitiful funding. Orman is much better funded though way below Robert’s level. It would be naive to think Taylor dropped out, “just cuz”. My guess is the private polls we don’t see mirror the one public poll we do see.

    • Some Body

      @538 Refugee:

      Everything you write makes sense, but it’s still just so much speculation and an interpretation of “fundamentals” (approval rating is a “fundamental” for this purpose). Silver did his own interpretation of fundamentals and came up with a different estimate. Both are fair game; neither fits in a “Type 2″, polls-only kind of model.

  • Dean

    I just saw this on TRMS. Wow. The Roberts Campaign is not full of happy campers tonight.

    Rachel Maddow kept calling Dr. Wang Sam Wong. That drove me a bit nuts, unless it is I who am mispronouncing the name.

    • Rick

      Yeah i heard that to…She kept calling him Wong…She was little careless there….Besides, I’m still pissed at MSNBC for getting rid of Olbermann….

      Casey Hunt (on Rachel’s show) said that Orman voted for Obama in 2008, and Romney in 2012….I’m “assuming” he’d be a true moderate were he to win…He couldn’t be anymore of a blue dog than Manchin or former senator from NE., Ben Nelson…

      Keeping the senate in Democratic control would assure that the great progress they’ve made on judicial nominations keeps up..Ever since the the nuclear option was invoked last Nov, Democrats have made outstanding progress on confirming Circuit and District Court nominees…

    • jonathan

      It’s not too far off- the “a” in Mandarin is pretty close to the a in “father,” which I would say similarly to Wong.

    • Sam Wang

      No, she is correct! What a bonus, to have my name pronounced correctly…

  • Bert

    What Republicans in Kansas will do now is try to tar Orman as a liberal. It will be interesting if Orman can remain on the fence about how he would caucus. Look for the inevitable ads that say “A vote for Orman is a vote for Obama and Reid.”

    Of course that kind of argument is silly and could backfire. There seems to be a real independent center right group of voters and politicians emerging in Kansas. Absent a gaffe or scandal, I think Orman is the clear favorite to be the next US Senator from Kansas. Holy cow this race just became a nightmare for the GOP.

  • 538 Refugee

    I had missed your update to the last article until I pulled it up earlier when I saw the news. Orman says he will caucus with the party in power. If Republicans hit 50 this would be interesting. But then again, I’m sure there is ‘understandings’ in place that led to Taylor stepping down.

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