Saturday, November 19, 2011


Republicans Winning The Senate... That Is Where The ---> Points

It has been a few months since I checked in on the 2012 Senate scene, and, unfortunately for Democrats, very little has changed.

Democrats are playing defense in every region of the country with 23 Democratic seats up for reelection and are on offense in only a few states with only 10 Republican seats up for reelection.

To win back the Senate outright, Republicans need to have a net gain of 4 seats from Democrats. Polling indicates that they are well on their way.

I count 8* currently held Democratic seats where in a conceivable (i.e. both candidates in the match-up have declared they are running and have a legitimate shot of winning their party's nomination) general election match-ups the Republican candidate has led in at least one poll.

This includes Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

How good is eight for Republicans? By this point in 2010**, Republicans only led in 6 states where a "conceivable" matchup was polled. Remember that Republicans gained six seats in 2010, which if duplicated would give the Republicans a majority with room to spare in 2012***.

Democrats have led in at least one poll in only Massachusetts and Nevada. This number matches 2010 at this point when Democrats led in at least one poll in a "conceivable" matchup in Missouri and Ohio. Democrats would lose both races by double-digits.

What about expert ratings from the Cook Political Report? Experts, at least at this early point, might have information on the races that goes beyond polling data.

Cook list seats from the very competitive tossup category, to the somewhat less competitive lean category, to the possibly competitive likely category, and the least competitive solid category.

2012 Republicans are competitive in more seats at this point than in any year since 2004****.

In fact, next to the 15 Democratic held seats up not solidly held, the next highest total seats in play is 10 Democratic seats in 2004. There are also more Democratic seats in the tossup category than either party has had in any prior year, and there is already one Democratic seat leaning towards Republican control.

But how accurate are these early predictions? As the table below illustrates, they tend to be pretty accurate. Solid seats are won by the favored party 96% of the time, likely seats 79%, lean seats 80%, and tossup seats 50%.

Thus, we might expect Democrat Seats Won in 2012 = Solid D * 0.9610 + Likely D * 0.7895 + Lean D * 0.8 + Tossup D * 0.5 + Tossup R * 0.5 + Lean R * 0.2+ Likely R * 0.2005 + Solid R * 0.0390.

If these distributions held [as Nate Silver applied (but found was inaccurate) in his earlier analysis] for 2012, Republicans would be expected to pickup 4.1 seats. The issue is that in none of the past four elections did a normal distribution hold.

That is if we applied these percentages to the prior elections, the party that had more seats at risk (in likely, lean, or tossup) went onto lose more seats than a normal distribution would forecast.

In 2004, Democrats lost 4, not 1.8 seats; in 2006, Republicans lost 6, not 2.5 seats; in 2008***** Republicans 8, not 4 seats; and in 2010******, Democrats lost 6 not 0.9 seats.

If these trends hold for 2012, Democrats would not lose 4 seats, but somewhere between 6 and possibly 9.

With the 8 Democratic tossup seats or leaning Republican plus the currently leaning Democratic Florida where Connie Mack actually leads in one recent poll and close match-ups in Michigan and Connecticut (if Chris Shays wins the Republican nomination), 9 Republican pickups is not mathematically crazy.

I mean I am certainly not calling for 9 Democratic seats to fall into Republican hands, but the mere fact that it is possible says something. More than that, it fits in with the polling data and my own historic economic aggregate Senate model. They are all signaling for large Republican gains this far out from the election.

But the fact that we are a year out should lead us to caution. The datasets with which we are dealing contain a small amount of observations. Some yet unknown Senate incumbents may retire, and there may be some unforeseen primary match-ups. Indeed, it is always possible that one election cycle will break the mold (think Tim Tebow's recent performances).

The problem for Democrats is that, at least at this point, 2012 does not seem to be one of those years.

*Both Indiana and North Dakota saw Democratic Senators retire, and both were won by the Republicans by large margins.
**The currently Democratic held North Dakota Senate seat has yet to be polled, but it likely that Republican Rick Berg is in the lead.
***See my prior piece for 2008 polling. Though the piece refers to polls taken earlier in the 2008 cycle, the number of Republican seats that were predicted to be won by Democrats, 3, held through this point in the 2008 cycle. Democrats actually won 8.
****Earliest year in which the Cook Political Report lists their Senate predictions on their website.
*****Note that the Mississippi Special Election is not included in the link or in my standings because it was not yet scheduled.
******Note that the Massachusetts Special Election is included in the link, but not in my standings because it was held in January 2010. The West Virginia Senate Special is not included in the link or in my standings because it was yet to be scheduled.

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