Thursday, October 21, 2010

 

Welcome

I see Dartmouth was kind enough to link to this blog (again). I am currently in the midst of preparing for the Midterm Election conference and have been caught a little unprepared for linkage.
In case you're wondering what I am currently projecting for the midterm elections, I have the following projection in the House based solely off projections of the national house vote: Republicans will gain 57.5 seats +/- 7.5. If Republicans pick up exactly 57.5 (57 or 58) seats, they will hold 235.5 (235 or 236) seats in the 112th Congress. Democrats would control 199.5 (199 or 200) seats and be forced back into minority status. This projection has not changed since my first estimate all the way back in February.

Of course, the House of Representatives is actually made up 435 single member districts. Specific seat estimates (e.g. will Democrat Anne Kuster or Republican Charlie Bass be the representative from the seat that represents Dartmouth in Congress) will be available by mid-afternoon. To forecast the outcome in every district, I've been working with the folks over at Stochastic Democracy. Developed in July, our in-depth model utilizes not only the projection of the national house vote, but district-by-district polls, Cook Political Report Ratings (visit their site as my friend Dave Wasserman has forgotten more about the House than I will ever know), and Cook's Partisan Voter Index to predict races.

Projections for Senatorial and Gubernatorial races will also come this afternoon. As a preview, I can tell you that Democrats should hold onto the Senate, but lose a number of seats. Republicans should pick up at least 2 (and probably 4 or more) Gubernatorial mansions, enough to control a major of Governorships nationwide.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

 

Campaigns have NOT made a difference in 2010

"GOP Romps to Victory; Captures Majority in both House & Senate" is a possible November 3rd headline that is starting to look like a real possibility. In the case of the House, a majority looks more like a probably. The Democratic argument against such an outcome goes something like "our campaigns are just kicking into high gear, and we will bring the argument to the people." If the headline holds true, Republicans are likely to echo this platitude after Election Day "we ran good campaigns, people heard our arguments, and we won!" The truth is that both of these generic statements are mostly false. While some campaigns have made a difference (e.g. Dick Blumenthal's large military record exaggerations, and the emergence of Christine O'Donnell as the Republican nominee in Delaware), the overall nature of the upcoming Republican romp was determined long ago.

In February, I wrote an article entitled "Republican Blizzard on the Generic Ballot". Using a regression based on past midterm elections from a paper by Joseph Bafumi, Bob Erikson, and Chris Wlezien. I wrote that the Republican position on the generic ballot was likely to improve throughout the year. That belief has not borne out.

In fact, the generic ballot has remained amazingly consistent when controlling for pollster and sample population (likely voters to likely voters and registered voters to registered voters). While certain pollsters (e.g. Gallup and Democracy Corp.) have shown movement towards the Republicans, other pollsters [ABC / Washington Post (TNS) and PPP] have actually seen Democrats gain a couple of points. In fact, I believe any difference between these pollsters February/March numbers and September/October numbers can be attributed to the margin of error. What has happened is that pollsters [e.g. ABC / Washington Post and CNN (Opinion Research)] have switched their sample populations from registered voters to likely voters. The Republican surge talk about by some is merely the change by pollsters from registered voters to likely voters, which takes into high voter enthusiasm among Republicans.

What about district-by-district polling? There certainly has been a movement towards Republicans in a number of races. Polls in Republican leaning districts like Alabama 2nd and Kentucky 6th have recently shown Republican challengers gain their first leads of the year. The Cook Political Report and Rothenberg Political Report has also seen many seats shift towards the Republicans. While some of these movements can be attributed to well run campaigns, many of the Republican advances simply have to do with the fact that challengers are becoming as well known as incumbents. In both AL-2 and KY-6, the polls as well as expert ratings are moving towards the generic ballot in these districts. In other words, district-by-district indicators are lagging behind national indicators, but are beginning to catch-up to them.

Not surprisingly, many districts that feature rematches of prior match-ups have not surprisingly remained relatively stable. In Maryland's 1st, incumbent Democrat Frank Kratovil and Republican Andy Harris have remained within a few points of each other this entire year. In Pennsylvania's 12th, incumbent Mark Critz’s numbers in Democratic and Republican polls have matched his pre-special election numbers against Republican Tim Burns. In Florida's 22nd, incumbent Democrat Ron Klein has consistently lead in the Democratic sponsored polls, while Republican polls have shown Republican Andy Harris slightly ahead. Although this is just a small smattering, similar trends have occurred in other districts.

Similar to these House districts with two very well known candidates, US Senate races have shown amazing consistency. Back in February, I wrote

I am by no means saying that the Republicans will take back the Senate; however, the polling in conjunction with past results indicate that it [is] not that long of a shot that they do. Democratic candidates seem to be consistently weak over the last six months, and the Republicans seem to be moving into a stronger position in the last two months.

Looking at Senate races with at least one poll in February / March that the Cook Political Report currently rates in at least a somewhat competitive category (i.e. not solid), Republicans have maintained their edge. In these 17 states, only one state, Washington, has the leader in the polls at the beginning year (Dino Rossi) lose her/his lead. Rossi's deficit was small then, as his lead is now, and there are signs Rossi is moving back in the lead.

Most races have only moved slightly. The average absolute change between February / March and now is only 3.92%, which is largely driven by Connecticut where the once invisible Dick Blumenthal has seen his lead cut by two-thirds. The median (which somewhat controls for outliers like Connecticut) absolute change is only 2.13%. That means that despite all the advertising and baby kissing, most Senate campaigns like those in the House have made only the smallest of dents among the electorate.

As to the question of whether there has been a national swing to either the Democrats or Republicans, the answer is also no. The average change in Republican margin between February / March and now polls is a tiny 1.74%, which again is driven mostly by Connecticut. The median (not absolute) difference is a miniscule 0.34%. While some Democrats and Republicans have gained ground, neither Republicans nor the Democrats have gained ground in the aggregate. There has been no national tide.

Does all of this mean that campaigns did not make a difference in either House or Senate elections this year? Not necessarily. For one thing, we still have a little over three weeks until the election. It is possible that races swing dramatically between now and Election Day, though I wouldn't bet on it. More to the point, one never knows when a race will turn into a Connecticut. Candidates make mistakes, and sometimes strange things happen. In addition, this sort of analysis cannot possibly get down to the nitty gritty 1% or 2% differences that sometimes make or break elections.

Still, at least in 2010, most outcomes have seemingly been predetermined. Campaigns have not made a difference, and voters made up their minds a long time ago.

Edit: I want to make it clear that I am not saying candidates should not campaign. If one candidate campaigned and her/his opponent did not, it would obviously make a difference. An inherent assumption here is that both candidates have at least a bare boned campaign and have the necessary funds to at least minimally compete. Pretty much all House and Senate races meet this criteria.

Notes


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

 

Why the Democrats will lose the House

Back in February, I used a regression equation from Joseph Bafumi, Bob Erikson, and Chris Wlezien to show the Democrats were likely to lose the House. Although, the seasons have changed, the news remains the same. Here's why:

1. The Republicans only need to be leading by about 3% in the national popular vote to regain the House. The current Pollster.com aggregate of the national House ballot has Republicans teetering on the edge with a lead of about 3.5%. That lead would lead to a cliffhanger on Election Night (as Republicans need 40 seats for the majority), but it does not tell the whole story.

2. Regardless of anything else, a refined Bafumi et al. regression for the current time period for most polls (60-31 days before the Election) suggests that the party of the President is destined to better in the House vote that the September polls indicate. This makes sense as voters take into account information including the wish to bring an "ideological balance" to Washington. Voters want to check the power of the President. This wish for a check translates a Republican lead of 3.5% in September to a little greater than 5% lead in October. Now, there is an error associated with this estimate such that about 20% of the time Republicans would actually do worse than the 3.5% lead they hold currently. Still, a look at the chart below tells us that those errors happen when the non-Presidential party already holds a large House majority (1982) and the need for the aforementioned balancing is minimized; or, when the President sports a high approval rating in the mid 60's (1986 and 1998). In 2010, the party not in the White House is in the minority, and the President's approval rating is mired in the mid 40's. Thus, neither type of error seems likely to occur in this election.


3. In addition to the natural inclination towards the party out of power, Gallup finds Republicans are currently much more enthusiastic about voting than Democrats. As I noted in October, this current edge in enthusiasm is pretty much unprecedented. Why is this important? It is true that plenty of un-enthusiastic voters will cast ballots on Election Day, but a relationship between enthusiasm and likelihood to vote does exist. Since 1994, years in which Republicans held a large lead in enthusiasm (like this one) meant that they did 7-11% better among likely voters than among the larger population of registered voters. That's why the current Gallup national Congressional vote estimate of a 3% Republican lead among registered voters is actually a double digit lead (13 or 18% depending on the turnout model). The problem for Democrats is that over the past month the best have managed on Gallup's national congressional ballot is a 1% lead. Even in the best case scenario, Republicans should win the national vote by 6% and win about 228 seats in Congress.

4. What about district-by-district? The vaunted Cook Political Report finds that Democrats hold 81 seats that would be considered vulnerable, while Republicans only hold 7. An additional 5 Democratic held seats are pretty much guaranteed to go Republican. This 79 seat edge in possible seat turnover is significantly larger than in 1994 when it was only 54 seats in the final Cook ratings (which equaled the Republican seat gain). As James Campbell of the University of Buffalo found, the party who wins in a "wave election" such as 2010 is turning out to be wins at least 66% of the seats rated toss-up and even those rated leaning towards the other party. In addition, the winning party pretty much win all of the seats leaning in its direction. Considering that 73 seats lean Democratic or are tossup, Republicans should win 49 of these seats. Add that to the 10 Democratic seats that are leaning Republican or likely Republican, and Republicans could gain up to 59 seats. I should point out that Campbell's accuracy measure is from Labor Day, while I'm Cook ratings from early October. Even so, Campbell found that Republicans would gain about 51 seats using Cook's 2010 Labor Day statistics. My higher seat gain makes sense considering the Republican edge in competitive edge is now 10 seats higher than on Labor Day.

Finally, I should explain why I do not look at district polls. The fact of the matter is that they generally are not that accurate. Whether it be RT-Stategies vailient multi-district effort in 2006 or a tabulation of other publicly made available House polls from 1998-2008, house polls have a high degree of error associated with them. In effort to account for this inaccuracy (especially this far from an election), one must considerably expand the cone of uncertainty [like the forecasts at Stochastic Democracy (to which I contribute) or FiveThirtyEight]. The result is very wide confidence intervals (or large margins of error). In my mind, these intervals are far too wide in the aggregate. Yes, any one seat change has a high degree of uncertainty, but the aggregate amount of seat change is not (see points 2-4 above). Finally, both of these rely upon what is called a random walk to estimate a forecast for the generic ballot (which helps aide district-by-district estimates because of poor past polling results). FiveThirtyEight also uses a likely voter adjustment (though I believe it underestimates the eventual Republican edge) to account for point 3. The problem with these adjustments is that a random walk does not take into account point 2. We shouldn't expect a random walk, but rather a walk that aides Republicans in the national House vote.

Thus to me, it is clear that the Republicans on their way to gaining back a majority. The exact seat gain will remain uncertain until right before the election. The present Cook Political Report ratings and generic ballot suggests that Republicans will gain 50+ seats, which matches my prior February estimate. The one thing I am certain of is that something quite unusual would have to happen for Democrats to hold onto the House after November 2nd.

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