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Triage and Refocus

October 17th, 2018, 11:43pm by Sam Wang


A curious inverse law seems to be at work. As politics gets louder and more extreme, public opinion becomes less volatile. As measured by public opinion, this trend dates to the mid-1990s, when Newt Gingrich led the charge to take control of Congress – a fateful turn in national politics. Fewer voters cross partisan lines than ever. It’s the heat death of modern politics.

This trend was apparent in 2016, especially in the home stretch. Trump stayed afloat because of partisan polarization, and therefore loyalty to him no matter what he did or said. As I wrote immediately after the election, state-by-state polling errors were largest in red states, suggesting that Republican voters came home in the final weeks of the campaign.

Looks like we’re heading down that road again, at least in the Senate.

Until Labor Day or so, Democrats looked like they had a shot at taking control of the Senate. They started with 43 Democratic/Independent seats that either were not up for election, or appeared to be likely wins (counting West Virginia’s incumbent Joe Manchin as a likely win for Democrats based on polling data). After that, the path was, starting from the largest Democratic margin, NJ / MT / IN / FL / AZ / NV / MO. That gets to 50 Democratic/Independent seats. Then they needed to win in Texas, Tennessee, or North Dakota.

This positioning eroded in September, and then fell off a cliff at the start of October as Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation battle came to a head. Considering the timing, the simplest explanation is that the Kavanaugh battle made Republican voters come home – just as they did in 2016.

Here are the medians for the most recent three polls, compared with the end of September.

You can see the pattern here. All races moved toward Republicans or stayed flat, with larger changes in the more Republican states. The change is especially apparent in Texas, Tennessee, and North Dakota – all strongly Republican states. It sure looks like McConnell and Trump succeeded in firing up their base.

In today’s snapshot, 48 Democratic/Independent seats is the median outcome, with a likely range of 44 to 50 seats. It would would take a 2.0-point swing toward Democrats to make 50 seats the median outcome. And it would take a 6.5-point swing to get them to 51. For now, it looks like the Republicans have a red wall.

What’s the bottom line for activists? It’s time to regroup. The House Meta-Margin is D+1.8%, which means that House control is very much up in the air. That’s becoming a pretty good place to put one’s energy. (find out what a Meta-Margin is)

For activists on either side who want to give money, I would recommend focusing on the closest Senate races (NV/MO/FL/AZ/IN/MT), and on close House races in those states. The close House races are NV-03, AZ-01, FL-15, FL-18, FL-26, and FL-27, where polls are within five points. Helping there will help that candidate – and also move the needle on a close Senate race. I’ve updated the donation link at left, and Republicans can still give to the NRSC.

You should not just give money. November’s election has enormous impact on the future of our democracy. You can get out the vote near you:

Turn your attention to key state-level ballot questions. State government is very important heading into the next redistricting cycle. Find a hotspot near you. Or read more in Taniel’s curated list of hot questions.

Get out the vote in a close House district near you. Volunteer for a campaign that is listed in PEC’s 2018 Competitive Congressional District Finder. Canvassing is hard work, but it brings satisfaction.

Get out there. You have less than three weeks to make a difference!

Tags: 2018 Election · House · Senate

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