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Year Of The Woman, Again: Four Races That Will Determine The Senate Majority

October 13th, 2016, 6:00am by Sam Wang

The election of 1992 was hailed as the Year Of The Woman. In the wake of Anita Hill’s testimony against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, female candidates such as Patty Murray were moved to run for office. Then-candidate Barbara Mikulski took issue with press coverage that treated her like a novelty*, treating the whole thing like “The Year Of Asparagus” (Mikulski’s words).

This year’s coverage of women in politics has, reasonably, focused the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. In the Senate, women will also play a historic role, but not because of their gender.

The four women pictured above are all Democrats: Deborah Ross (North Carolina), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada), Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire), and Katy McGinty (Pennsylvania). They are running in some of next month’s closest Senate races. There are also close races in Indiana and Missouri. Control of the Senate in 2017 hinges on these races; current polls suggest that Democrats+Independents could end up with as many as 53 seats, depending on how their races turn out.

However, Republicans’ best outcome is similar, about 52 seats. And somewhat surprisingly, Senate polls have edged toward Republicans in the last several weeks. It looks like it will be right down to the wire. For supporters of both major parties, these races are of tremendous significance.

These candidates’ election will change the gender composition in the Senate (currently 20 women out of 100). However, it is not as groundbreaking – there were fewer women in the Senate in 1992, and in this case Maggie Hassan (D) would replace another woman, Kelly Ayotte (R). There is also Tammy Duckworth (D) in Illinois, who is a safe bet to oust Senator Mark Kirk (R). As Democratic Senators, these candidates would affect how a President Hillary Clinton would get Supreme Court and Cabinet nominees approved, how treaties will get ratified, and how the budget and legislative process will play out. In addition, as Rebecca Traister explained in our Politics & Polls podcast, Clinton may very well push for children’s issues in the new Congress. In this domain, women bring extra credibility to the table.

For those who wish to get involved, the left sidebar contains links to the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC) and to a list hosted by ActBlue, which supports Democrats.

*Senator Mikulski’s reaction reminds me of an experience I had in 2005, when I visited a local town association to talk about neuroscience. Many members were Princeton University alumni from a time when the school did not admit women. One of them remarked favorably about the ascent of my colleague, Prof. Shirley Tilghman, to University president. He said he didn’t have a problem with that. (Whew.) But he also mentioned the school’s leadership, noting in a concerned tone that it seemed that half the leadership was now composed of women. Deadpan, I replied, “it seems like a lot, doesn’t it.” He didn’t get it.

Tags: 2016 Election · Senate

25 Comments so far ↓

  • Olav Grinde

    It is interesting that the balance of the Senate is likely to depend on whether or not these candidates succeed.

    One of the most striking thing about polls this year, is the difference between how women and men intend to vote. Take a look at the maps in this BBC article.

    I wonder whether we are likely to see similar gender differences with regard to the voting for Senate candidates and other downticket races?

    • DaveM

      Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which the unmasking of Predator Trump comes to symbolize the more general experience shared by many women (witness the Twitter response mentioned here: ).

      That is, in addition to some women renouncing previous (explicit or implied) support for Trump, or undecideds moving permanently away from him—call this the anti-Trump reaction—will there be as well a proactive, solidarity-based movement toward down ballot women?

  • Amitabh Lath

    If the Trump downballot effect is real, it should be easier to come up with a first-order correction for Senate races than it is for House ones.

    What is the Clinton advantage in state X? And fold in the max historic rate for ticket-splitting and see if it agrees with the Senate polling. If there is a large discrepancy, then either the magnitude of ticket-splitting will be historic, or the polls will be off. The former is more likely, but when two different ways of getting to a result are in tension it behooves us to pay attention.

    PS: I remember the alumni boards chatter getting especially excited when Susan Hockfield became MIT’s 16th president. A lot of it was “oh my god she’s a…biologist!” The interesting responses ranged from “we are an engineering school, damnit!” to “what a president does is raise money and she can do that as well as anyone”.

    • Josh

      Polling for these races is sparser and less frequent than for president; therefore, the data we have to work with is less than optimal.

      In WI, for example, there’s a single outlying poll over the last two months that shows Johnson up by several points over Feingold–that poll has brought Feingold’s average lead from 6-8%, where it’s been all year, down to 2%. If this were a state presidential poll, or a national presidential poll, that outlier would be out of the mix in a week or two. Because of the infrequency of senate polling, that outlier may be around until November.

      I’m therefore skeptical that what we’re seeing is a real and lasting disconnect between presidential trends and senate trends. I do believe that these six races are all very close, but a race being close doesn’t necessarily mean it’s in doubt, or that the likely outcome has become decoupled from other previously influential factors.

    • TJHalva

      As of recent example, Clinton has been way over performing relative to Senate candidates. The two examples I can think of are AZ and IA. I think Clinton is like +15 over her Senate colleagues. This could also be a special case for reddish states.

      I think some of that can be attributed to, I’ll vote for Hillary, but I want a check on her authority so I’m voting for the Republican.

      I think there are absolutely cases where the correlation between the downticket candidate and Trump is high, so you’ll see less of that strategy employed.

      The difficulty is knowing why people are ticket splitting. I think in the past its been predicated on actual policy or personal affection; this cycle I think its based entirely on disaffection, and its difficult to quantify how far that will carry.

    • Sam Wang

      In a podcast that Julian and I will soon release, David Wasserman of the Cook Report pointed out that the remaining ticket-splitters are well-represented among college-educated suburban voters, perhaps because they consume a lot of information about candidates. The flip side of your speculation is that these voters are repelled by Trump, but their lack of enthusiasm is not reflected in downballot races.

    • Olav Grinde

      I recall seeing a figure that only 6 % of voters split their tickets.

      Sam, do you, Julian, or David Wasserman have strong reason to believe the percentage of ticket-splitters will be significantly higher this year? And if so, is there any objective data you can cite?

    • Matthew Coons

      That WI poll is no longer an outlier. Marquette and CBS both have polls less than 10 days old showing the race within the margin of error. Feingold still has a slim lead per Marquette and CBS but the Loras poll can no longer be dismissed as an outlier. PEC now has the race as Feingold +2. That’s a lot closer than previous polling showed it to be.

    • Chip

      Re discussion of ticket-splitting in Sam’s latest podcast, and Olav’s comment:

      Ticket splitting reached a 92 year low in 2012

      The decline and fall of split-ticket voting, visualized

      Is split-ticket voting making a comeback? With Trump on the ballot, some Republicans hope so.

  • bks

    Too bad that Sigmund Freud is not still around to appreciate the headlines of the past week.

  • Chip

    I contributed to these races via your ActBlue page the day you put it up, and have braved around 20 emails/day from the candidates asking for more ever since. (The first emails came 12 hours after contributing.) The fundraising has been at a fever pitch, often desperate-sounding – I don’t remember it ever being this crazy in past elections, and I’ve contributed to your ActBlue pages for 8(?) years now.

    Looking at RealClearPolitics, all these races are an average of 1-5 points behind, which could explain the intense emails I’ve gotten from the candidates. I assume that there will be an eventual coattail effect as a significant number of those voting for Clinton will go (D) down-ticket as well, but so far it seems like these are going to be hard races to win.

    • Rachel Findley

      The emails are intense indeed. I funnel them all into a mailbox titled “politics.” And I keep giving when I have a little spare cash at the end of the week. We all have more important things to do — even about this election — than read mass emails.

  • Rick Howard

    There is a 19-year-old black man in Illinois who has no idea of the role he is playing in this election.

    He is sure he is going to vote for Donald J. Trump.

    And he has been held up as proof by conservatives — including outlets like Breitbart News and The New York Post — that Mr. Trump is excelling among black voters. He has even played a modest role in shifting entire polling aggregates, like the Real Clear Politics average, toward Mr. Trump.

    How? He’s a panelist on the U.S.C. Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Daybreak poll, which has emerged as the biggest polling outlier of the presidential campaign. Despite falling behind by double digits in some national surveys, Mr. Trump has generally led in the U.S.C./LAT poll. He held the lead for a full month until Wednesday, when Hillary Clinton took a nominal lead.

    Our Trump-supporting friend in Illinois is a surprisingly big part of the reason. In some polls, he’s weighted as much as 30 times more than the average respondent, and as much as 300 times more than the least-weighted respondent.

    Alone, he has been enough to put Mr. Trump in double digits of support among black voters. He can improve Mr. Trump’s margin by 1 point in the survey, even though he is one of around 3,000 panelists.

    • Rob

      Good lord. I mean, other polls suggest Trump is getting about 1-2% of the African American vote. it looks like they’re really misreading this one guy vs the rest of the electorate.

    • Matt McIrvin

      As a general rule, taking these “panel” sorts of polls in which they repeatedly survey the same voters over and over as a take on the absolute state of the race is foolish, since any systematic bias in the sample is permanently baked in. They shouldn’t be used in polling aggregates.

  • DeanH

    All the polling models are still based on turnout of the different groups of voters. This R inter battle very well may push down the groups supporting either pro or anti Trump voters. I suspect there will be lower turnout for the Rs and each non vote is a vote across the board for the Ds.

  • Ed Wittens Cat

    Have any PEC readers used this MIT medialabs tool?
    it looks very interesting to me.
    I wonder if it could be used to track the influence of GropeGate.
    im listening to Trump speak…it occurs to me that he may not do debate 3.

    • Ed Wittens Cat

      I mean…we need MOAR MATH
      the latest gropegate accusation wasnt even brought forward by the victim– it was brought by friends that she had told about the groping incident contemporaneously in the early 90s– and THEN she agreed to be interviewed by Karen Tumulty ex post facto.
      polls, even aggregated pols, are basically linear interpolation relying on a core assumption that demographics react equally to fresh information– the two stories, wikileaks and gropegate have wildly different affect on humans– it takes work to understand, read, process, the vast amt of wikileaks drops– always Assanges problem.
      But sex hits us right in the neocortex– BAM!
      Also…the media has turned on Trump.
      The turning point was the birtherism presser that turn into a hotel informercial.
      i just saw Ryan try the same thing– promising a presser on response to gropegate, but really an informercial on young republicans and GOP retaining congress– media just cut him off when it became speaking to gropegate was just a headfake.

  • Greg Gross

    This is a good discussion about down-ballot support. And recent press reports discuss how Clinton is (finally) helping down-ticket Dems by more frequently tying their Repub opponents to Trump; Clinton now persistently underscores their endorsements and support of him, noting how they enabled his rise. Perhaps it’s time to consider once again making the ActBlue thermometer a little taller….

  • Benjamin Hertzberg

    Question regarding the Generic Congressional Ballot chart: the chart shows the D/R threshold for the national ballot to be about +7 D. However, the Harry Enten article the chart cites puts the threshold at being +3 D. What is the source of the discrepancy?

  • Jon Greenberg

    Very disappointed to see a Princeton site capitalizing prepositions in titles; it should be “Year of the Woman,” “Year of Asparagus.”

  • Carolyn Kay

    No mention at all of Tammy Duckworth in Illinois? I don’t understand that at all.

    • Sam Wang

      Good point…though Illinois is not competitive – she’s in for sure. Conversely, Kirkpatrick is a probable loser in Arizona. This is more about Senate control.

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