Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

The real news today…downticket

September 13th, 2016, 8:42am by Sam Wang


It is good for a cheap laugh to flay the media for its obsession with horserace. This week’s ongoing ruckus with Phlegm-ghazi confirms that reporters cannot get out of their mental rut of some older storyline. In this case, the storyline is “Clinton is secretive.” Let us pause for a moment. She was concealing her pneumonia because the press would make a big deal out of it. And, wait for it…the press made a big deal out of it.

You, Dear Reader, are complicit in this. I notice that more of you click Presidential links than on the nifty Competitive Congressional District Finder. You like the Presidential horserace. My reason for generating the best prediction I can is to reduce the noise of campaign news. I thought it would clear mental space for thinking about policies, or downticket issues.

The Presidential forecast [methods] takes a low-noise snapshot of state polls, then adds possible drift based on recent elections and this year. Because of intense polarization, few voters are movable. The calculation says that Clinton’s win probability is 90%. The Senate forecast does the same [methods], but also factors in Presidential-year or midterm-year bias. It says that Democrats’+Independents’ probability of taking control is 72%, which is in the 20-80% range, meaning that things could really go either way. Other forecasts tend to count uncertainties twice, or to overestimate how movable voters are. Other forecasts are also under commercial pressure to attract eyeballs.

Still, the comment section is still peppered with anxious questions about Clinton’s chances. Honestly, some liberals can be total ninnies. You don’t see the conservatives in hysterics…though actually, here is their version of a meltdown. I take it back. You go.

Here are some news items that matter more. In Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party (similar to Democrats elsewhere) failed in their lawsuit to keep Donald Trump off the November ballot. At a literal level, this didn’t matter because Minnesota is a safe win for Clinton. The real importance was in the three close House races in Minnesota, as you can see using our Competitive Congressional District Finder. In addition, the DFL is within striking distance of taking back a legislative chamber there. The lawsuit was a tacky move, but it would have been effective.

In a second news item, the National Collegiate Athletics Assocation (N.C.A.A.) decision to take basketball and other championship games out of North Carolina is likely to have repercussions. North Carolina is crazy for basketball. The trigger was North Carolina H.B. 2, an anti-bathroom-access law that is directed at transgendered people. Republican Governor McCrory was the force behind it. However, he is already a median of 7 percentage points behind Democrat Roy Cooper in polls. Any possible anti-Republican backlash is more likely to have downticket effects on Deborah Ross’s effort to unseat incumbent Republican Senator Richard Burr. She is currently behind by a median of 3.5 percentage points. On average, between now and Election Day, Senate polls move close to 4 percentage points toward the winning Presidential candidate. That election should be close.

Ross is one of five Democratic women running in close Senate races. Their outcomes will determine which party controls the Senate after the election. No matter which side you support, these races matter quite a lot. You can contribute at ActBlue if you’re a Democrat, or at the N.R.S.C. if you’re a Republican.

Tags: 2016 Election · President · Senate

91 Comments so far ↓

  • George

    Well, Sam did say at 2.5% it could get “interesting.” And that would be a mild way of putting it. But I do recall a point in time with Obama ’12 it was down to 0.6%. But really – if polls don’t change soon …..

  • Sandlot

    She is in a down cycle. The question now is whether it is temporary or a bigger downward trend. I think it does raise the stakes for the first debate, but that was going to be a major event anyway.

  • Amitabh Lath

    In 2014 the polls took a rather sudden shift towards Republicans, that held all the way to November. It was the third week of September. On the plots it looked almost like a step function, and it wasn’t just a few races, but national.

  • A New Jersey Farmer

    Time to breathe. Clinton got a nice bounce from the convention and Trump had a terrible summer. Now Republicans are coming home to Trump and Hillary is having a bad stretch. Once Hillary begins actually running, because she’s let TV ads and Trump’s foibles run for her since June, she will recover and will be seen as the most viable candidate. The debates will help because now the bar will be lower for her. All she has to do is stay standing for 90 minutes and act presidential.

    The polls took a while to move. They will take another while to move back to her.

    Do not sell your house.

  • James Campbell

    The problem now is Trump’s momentum with undecided voters and the ones who are vacillating between supporting a third-party candidate, voting for Hillary, or not voting at all. I just don’t see safety here. I agree that Trump’s potential to gain further has a hard limit. Yet, inactive or I-hate-them-both voters can end up having a drastic effect. And what of more illness for Hillary?

    I’m seriously worried now.

  • Kai

    Dear Sam,
    I am also weak and can’t help but note a few things:
    – in the Bayesian forecast the probability of a Trump victory has risen about fivefold (from three to 14 percent).
    – the random drift approach agrees well with the Daily Kos and The Upshot’s model (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/15/upshot/as-clinton-trump-race-tightens-heres-how-forecast-models-differ.html)
    – you mentioned a move of the Meta-Margin outside 2,5 % would be interesting.

    Given all of that, was the “sharpening” of the presidential forecast premature?
    And, more importantly, what is the right threshold for panicking?

    • Sam Wang

      I agree with most of your statements…except the last point. The model’s fine. More information to come.

      Threshold for panicking: Did you panic after the first Obama-v-Romney debate? In which case, go ahead and panic now. But I think conditions will change again.

  • Eric Krzeminski

    Wait, I thought Sam said “the cake was baked?” I thought Sam said that there would be a precipitous move in the direction of Democratic Senate candidates? Oh, but this is the same Sam Wang who, up until the eve of the 2014 midterms, when he reversed course to try to remove the egg from his face, insisted the Democrats would retain control of the Senate. Sam Wang is quickly becoming the feeder of false hope for Democrats like me.

    • Sam Wang

      Whether this matters depends on what you do with your time. If all you do is read this site without acting, then I suggest that you push away the keyboard and go do something for your side. Work off that anger.

Leave a Comment