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Nov 03: Biden 342 EV (D+5.3% from toss-up), Senate 53 D, 47 R (D+3.9%), House control D+4.6%
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Where are you on the Fauci scale?

October 31st, 2020, 11:00am by Sam Wang


Three days to the election. I’d rate myself between 2 and 3 on the Fauci scale. Somewhat complex feelings, so let’s say 2.5 + √-1. (Thanks to Karen Errichetti for thinking of this excellent graphic.)

But seriously, here are my thoughts on what I’m watching on the home stretch. Read it in between phone banking and canvassing.

The big unknowns are probably whether the fuss will continue after election day, or whether North Carolina and Florida give us an early evening. The early evening seems more likely at the moment.

None of this is holding Republicans back from one of their core strategies this year: preventing votes from being counted. A big story this week has been the series of court decisions laying the groundwork for not counting mail-in votes that arrive after Election Day. Because mail-in votes heavily favor Democrats this year, courts have started to entertain fairly radical new lines of logic. Principles known to legal scholars under names such as Purcell and Anderson/Burdick have fallen by the wayside – or have been cited selectively, almost always in a manner where the partisan affiliation of the judge matches the outcome. This alignment of partisan interests undermines the credibility of federal courts as a place to resolve voting rights disputes.

I think such effects can have effects in extremely close races. I would be surprised if they could close gaps of more than 1 percentage points. So they will likely not make a difference in Pennsylvania. But they could make a difference in Iowa, and in important state legislative races in North Carolina and Texas. (If you have evidence that such effects are larger, please offer them in comments.)

If North Carolina and Florida split between Biden and Trump, then the final resolution will come from vote-counting in other states. Back in September we reviewed the timetable for counting mail-in ballots in all 50 states. States that only start counting mail-in ballots on Election Day or the night before include Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Polls do not show particularly close races in those states at the moment.

The thing I am watching most closely, more than the Presidency, is the Senate. Because so many races are closely fought, there is a wide range of possible outcomes, anywhere from 50 to 57 Democratic seats. This is because polling error can be up to 3 points based on past Presidential years. At the low-end of that, there will be lots of gridlock. At the high-end, there is potential for action, including the end of the filibuster. That has many consequences for legislation, ranging from economic stimulus to climate change to court reform.

Senate candidates are pretty well-tied to the top of the ticket. Above is a plot of current poll medians for 13 states where the Senate poll margin is less than 10 points. In every case the Senate leader matches the party of the Presidential leader. In 11 states, the Senate margin is closer than the Presidential margin. The exceptions are Arizona (Kelly, D) and Texas (Cornyn, R), where the Senate leaders are doing better than their Presidential counterpart. Maybe they are unusually strong candidates, or maybe their opponents are unusually weak.

This coattail effect explains why such great efforts are being made over Georgia. The chances of Senate candidates Jon Ossoff (D) and Raphael Warnock (D) may be closely linked to how well Democrats can turn out votes for the entire ticket, especially Joe Biden.

Of at least equal importance for the political landscape in 2021 is state legislatures, both for local legislation and for redistricting. Over 100 Congressional seats could come under bipartisan control for redistricting, depending on how legislative elections turn out in our Redistricting Moneyball states. Just as Republicans had a massive wave in 2010 affecting redistricting, Democrats could get the benefit of a wave in the other direction in 2020. Examples include states with close Presidential or Senate races: Texas, Kansas, and North Carolina. Next Tuesday I’ll probably be watching those three states the most closely. The consequences will last for a decade.

If you’re looking for last-minute stuff to do, it’s probably a good time for phone banking and texting. I’d say Georgia, Texas (especially Tarrant and Harris Counties), and Iowa are prime targets. Or you can give a little last bit of money to the party organizations in the ActBlue and WinRed buttons in the sidebars. Like I said, Tarrant and Harris Counties are pretty important.

Tags: 2020 Election · Moneyball · President · Senate

10 Comments so far ↓

  • Matthew J. McIrvin

    Trump’s best scenario for winning could be described as “2016 and 2000 happening at the same time”. The state polls are systematically off by a large amount, in a direction such that the result turns out to be really close, AND legal/ref-working maneuvers successfully occur such that he can shut down any counting that is likely to be unfavorable to him.

    If he doesn’t get the big polling miss, then the election-stealing has to be much more brazen. The composition of the Senate could turn out to be key to how the White House goes, since Congress certifies the Electoral College vote on January 6. If that turns out to be relevant, 1876 may be a more relevant model to study than 2000.

  • A New Jersey Farmer

    Thank you for all of your wisdom and hard work Sam.

    At this point in the race, are polling firms including responses from people who say they’ve already voted?

    • Sam Wang

      Thanks. I hope the cumulative sum of my mistakes is large enough to be useful.

      Yes, pollsters do ask if people have already voted. You can dig around by clicking on any of the individual polls curated at FiveThirtyEight to see.

    • Matthew J. McIrvin

      I’ve seen some that definitely do. I recall one St. Pete poll of Florida from several days ago in which something like 60% of the Biden supporters had already voted.

  • Stephen Huegel

    Adding thanks + donation! Considering the hrs I have spent viewing (ok; agonizing about info on your site, think my donation works out to approx. 11 cents/hr.!
    After election (assuming there is an “after”), will be focusing on helping groups working to heal the divides; certainly your work should help.

  • Randy L Haugen

    Thank you Sam for all of the hard work. I am about a 3 on that Fauci scale myself..In Iowa a New and Last Selzer poll will be out in a few hours. It will tell a big story on how we are doing here and other places. Lets all hope for a early night Tuesday with the 2 states you mentioned.

    • Tom Rutkowski

      The Selzer poll on the Senate race (still waiting on Prez) is not heartening to us hawkeyes.

  • John Chypre

    #1. He’s professional. Has a cool head & lots of moxie.

  • Dave Kliman

    One interesting twist that has come up recently is here https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2020/Pres/Maps/Oct29.html#item-6

    The battle over the order in which ballots are counted.

    If mail-in ballots which theoretically favor Biden are counted first, then the count will have him in the lead from the start. If Biden leads, there will be no more incentive for trump to use the Supreme Court to stop the counting.

    To that end, officials in Democratically controlled PA have invested a lot of money in super fast mail in ballot processing equipment, from envelope opening machines, to counting machines.

    It makes sense to me, to count mail in ballots before the in person votes, if a state doesn’t want court interference.

  • Paul Marino

    Thanks Sam. Based on your site I made a bet with friends I zoom with in the US that we will know the result Wednesday AM (I’m duel American/Canadian living in canada). Basically, I bet using your Florida/North Carolina scenario as stated. I’m also betting that anger trumps adulation (which I think is overstated; the rallies are smaller). The Senate is what has me most concerned, to fix anything it must go Democrat. With regard to elections, almost everything the U.S. does wrong, Canada does right – campaigns last usually 30 days, candidates are publicly financed, no corporate contributions, we vote on paper ballots with little yellow pencils everywhere. I much prefer a Parliamentary Democracy, it is more representative and flexible. Government is like life, from an evolutionary persective, the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances is critical to success because everything is always changing. The U.S. Constitution is antiquated and relatively unresponsive to change and that is out of step with the modern rapid pace of change.

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