Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Predictions and prognostications: Can the Democrats possibly do better than expected?

I'll offer my own predictions later, at the start of my live-blogging post that should go up around 7 pm and then be frequently updated over the course of the evening. (Stop by and check it out.)

For what it's worth, though, here's a taste of where things stand:

-- Prognosticator (sometimes extraordinaire) Charlie Cook is predicting "a Democratic net loss of 50 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible," far more than the 39 needed to take control. In the Senate, Republicans will pick up 6-8 seats, with Democrats now doing better in California (Boxer), Washington (Murray), and West Virginia (Manchin). Republicans will also pick up 6-8 "seats" in gubernatorial elections, given them the edge nationwide.

-- National Review's Jim Geraghty is predicting a 70-seat gain for Republicans in the House.

-- At The Weekly Standard, Jay Cost, looking at the 15-point Republican advantage in the final Gallup "generic ballot" poll of likely voters, suggests that GOP gains in the House could far exceed his "previous estimate of 61." Perhaps 76? Unlikely, but possible.

-- All-around numbers wiz Nate Silver thinks the GOP could "achieve the largest gain made by either party in a Congressional election since World War II." For the House, his forecasting model "now predicts an average Republican gain of 54 seats (up one from 53 seats in last night’s forecast), and a median Republican gain of 55 seats. These figures would exceed the 52 seats that Republicans won from Democrats in the 1994 midterms." What's even worse is that given the exceptionally large number of seats in play, the Republicans' gains could be significantly higher; they have better than a one-in-three chance of winning at least 60 seats, a one-in-six chance of winning at least 70 seats, and have some realistic chance of a gain exceeding 80 seats, according to the model."

-- House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.): "If you were to believe what the polls are saying about those who are likely to vote, then it's going to be something close to a bloodbath for Democrats. We'll lose the House and lose big." Ugh.

In other words, things look bleak. Very, very bleak.

And yet, Silver rightly notes that things could be different "if Democrats turn out in greater numbers than expected, or if the polling has underestimated the Democrats' standing." Possible, but not likely. What we've learned from recently elections is that the polling is usually right -- and it just doesn't appear that Democrats will turn out in significant enough numbers to overcome the Republicans "enthusiasm" advantage. (Besides, in some key races, independents are breaking heavily to the Republican candidate, as crazy as that is.)

Still, Silver gives "five reasons Democrats could outperform the polls and beat consensus expectations":

  • The cellphone effect.
  • The "robopoll" effect.
  • Some likely voter models, particularly Gallup's, may "crowd out" Democratic voters.
  • Democrats probably have better turnout operations.
  • The consensus view of Democratic doom is not on such sound footing as it seems.

In other words, Democrats are being under-represented in the polls and Democratic turnout may be decent (if not strong). So 2010 could be like 1998, when "Democrats overperformed their polls by about four points in a great number of races around the country. What was supposed to be an echo to the Republican boom year of 1994 basically flopped, eventually costing Newt Gingrich his job as majority leader."

A scenario where Democrats keep the House is "not particularly likely, but possible." Sure, but, let's face it, it's not going to happen. The polls won't turn out to have been that wrong. And so it seems a certainty now that the Republicans will take the House, and somewhat less of a certainty that they will come up just short in the Senate. But what's far more realistic -- if all goes well for the Democrats -- is that they won't win 70 or 61 or even 55 but under 50. Which would still be a significant victory, just not the overwhelming one some are predicting.

That's sort of where I am now. Republicans will pick up between 47 and 52 seats in the House. While I'm tempted to predict a range of 42 to 47, I'm just not that optimistic. The economy is bad, fear, anger, and bitterness are driving huge segments of the electorate, anti-incumbent sentiment is strong, the party of the sitting president usually loses seats in that president's first midterms, and, well, it just seems like a Republican year, with the GOP/Tea Party base whipped up into a venomous frenzy.

It will not go well tonight for the Democrats, even if they do a little better than expected. And it could be really, really bad if the polls are right and Democrats don't turn out in large numbers.

So, if nothing else... VOTE!!!!!

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