Monday, October 22, 2018

Turnout Indicators Still Favor Democrats

Quite a lot has been written about the rise in Republican interest in voting this election. That is true, but it remains the case that turnout indicators for Democrats this cycle are still stronger than for Republicans. That is significant, breaking recent patterns and the underlying tendency of key Democratic constituencies toward low midterm turnout.
For example, the recent NBC/WSJ poll lists the top 5 groups by expressed interest in voting this election. They are seniors (+9 Democratic on the generic Congressional ballot), Democrats (+88 D), Latinos (+40 D), white college graduates (+19 D) and blacks (+70 D). The figures on seniors and white college graduates are especially worthy of note, since, as Nate Cohn has reported for the New York Times/Sienna polls, these voters appear poised to once again have a very disproportionate influence on the midterm electorate. Recall also that seniors have in recent cycles been quite a poor group for Democrats so the return of this high turnout group to the Democratic coalition is welcome news indeed (though oddly under-reported).

Sunday, October 21, 2018

House Forecasting Check-In: Just Two Weeks To Go!

A little more than two weeks 'til election day. Time for another check-in on the various House forecasting models.
As some may recall, the last time I did this was about a month ago. That was a few days before the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing and about two weeks before the Republicans hit their relative high point after that hearing.
The current reading of the forecasts is about two weeks after that high point and it is interesting to note that, at least in terms of House takeover chances and seat gains, the current forecasts have reverted to very close to where they were a month ago right before the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing took place. 538 and CBS Battleground are actually stronger on the Democrats' chances, while the Economist and Crosstab predictions have slightly weakened.
So, here are the current forecasts (readings from a month ago in parentheses, except for CNN which had not yet released a forecast at that time)
probability Democrats take House: 85 percent (80)
predicted Democratic seat gain: 39 (37)
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: 8.9 (8.5)
probability Democrats take House: 71 percent (71)
predicted Democratic seat gain: 28 (29)
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: 8.4 (8.6)
Crosstab/G. Elliot Morris:
probability Democrats take House: 75 percent (78)
predicted Democratic seat gain: 35 (38)
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: 8.9 (9.2)
CBS Battleground:
probability Democrats take House: no estimate
predicted Democratic seat gain: 31 (29)
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: no prediction
probability Democrats take House: no estimate
predicted Democratic seat gain: 31
predicted Democratic popular vote margin: no prediction
Given these data, what are we to make the of the spate of stories downgrading Democrats' chances for a "blue wave"? It depends on the story but one of the most common points made is that Democrats' chances to take the Senate have eroded. That appears to be true but of course that was never very probable anyway; only the very highest of blue waves could possibly have got that done.
The most interesting point made is that Democrats' chances of really big gains in the House may have eroded. That is, even if the Democrats' chances of gaining enough seats to take the House aren't much changed, their chances of gaining, say, 40-60 seats have dropped.
Those who make this assessment base their view on the perception that more reddish, rural districts have had their Republican bases engaged by the Kavanaugh fight and Trump's grandstanding--as well as perhaps the sheer proximity of the election--and are now much less susceptible to Democratic insurgents.
That could be true though there are some countervailing factors that push the House calculus in the opposite direction. These include the Democrats' massive fundraising advantage--identified by Nate Silver as a factor that could result in greater Democratic than expected--and the poor performance of GOP Senate and governor candidates in the Midwest which could hurt downballot Congressional candidates.
Perhaps this is why the 538 model still gives the Democrats as much chance of exceeding a 61 seat gain (10 percent) as dropping below a 19 seat gain.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

So, What Could Go Wrong? (II)

The 538 forecast is holding steady at an average 39 seat Democratic gain; other forecasts, while typically lower on seat gains, are also holding steady on a Democratic takeover of the House.
So, what could go wrong? I already covered this a bit in a previous post which dwelt on the inherent uncertainties of probabilistic forecasts and the known unknown of the extent of Republican counter-mobilization in red areas.
But here's another way of looking at it: considering the floor for Democratic gains. That's basically what this latest analysis from Sabato's Crystal Ball does--it enumerates a number of places where the Democrats seem almost certain to pick up a certain number of seats. That number comes to a (net) of 17 seats. That's not enough to take the House--if all the other many, many possibilities the Democrats have don't pan out, a worst case scenario and not at all your "expected value". But it could happen (though 538 puts the chance Democrats gain less than 19 seats at 10 percent). And if it did happen, the distribution of seat gains for the Democrats would probably follow the floor outline in the Crystal Ball piece.
— A race-by-race analysis of Democratic House targets shows the party is close to winning the majority, but they do not have it put away, in our judgment, with Election Day less than three weeks away.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Two Big Strengths, One Big Weakness

Ronald Brownstein's new piece on the CNN site has a very good rundown of the very good and not so good signs for the Democrats moving into the 2018 election.
The two big strengths (very interesting data here; note the stuff on white college men and, especially, white noncollege women):
"1. The white-collar suburban discontent with Trump is real and widespread.
The shift away from the GOP among white voters holding at least a four-year college degree is most intense among women, but also apparent among men. And those voters are retreating from the GOP not only along the East Coast (across Republican-held suburban seats in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia) and the West Coast (in a concentration of five GOP-held seats around Los Angeles and another near Seattle) but importantly also through the center of the country. There, Democrats are poised to capture suburban seats outside Minneapolis, Kansas City, Denver, Detroit, Chicago and Tucson; have toss up chances in other seats near Des Moines, Salt Lake City, Detroit and Chicago; and have solid, though more challenging opportunities in Houston and Dallas. (More on that below.)
When the Washington Post/Schar School poll recently surveyed voters in 69 of the most competitive House districts they found that Democrats led among college-educated whites in them by fully 13 percentage points; by comparison, House Republicans carried those voters by nearly 20 point margins in both the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms, according to exit polls. Republicans respectively won control of the House and Senate in those midterms.
2. Democratic Senate and governor candidates in the Midwest are showing renewed competitiveness among blue-collar white voters who keyed Trump's victories in the states that propelled him into the White House.
Democratic Senate incumbents in Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- all states won by Trump -- now appear solid favorites for re-election. The party is favored for the governorships in Michigan and Pennsylvania and locked in close races in Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa -- the fifth Midwestern state key to Trump's 2016 victory. And it could pick up as many as four House seats combined in Iowa and Michigan.
In each case, that's at least partly because the Democratic nominees are posting much better numbers than Hillary Clinton among working-class white voters. Some of that may reflect what political professionals call "differential turnout" -- meaning that the non-college whites who dislike Trump are more likely to show up than the working-class whites who surged to the polls for him in 2016, but aren't as enthusiastic about conventional Republican candidates.
But Trump also appears to have suffered genuine erosion among working-class white women, largely because of his attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and a sense among many that the improved national economy hasn't provided them appreciably more security. If that crack in Trump's armor persists to 2020, it would arguably provide the single most important advance for Democrats in the midterm election."
And the big weakness:
"1. Trump 's provocations alone show few signs of improving the subpar turnout patterns among Latinos and millennials, two core Democratic constituencies.
In polls, both groups express preponderant opposition to Trump's posture on cultural and racial issues. But most polls suggest that their turnout next month will plummet compared to 2016, just as it typically has in midterm elections. Compounding the problem, when Latino turnout sags, what's left in the voter pool tends to be older and more Republican.
Democrats received encouraging news from Sunday's ABC/Washington Post poll, which found much higher levels of youth engagement than almost any other recent survey. But that result looks like an outlier compared to most other polls. And even if young people participate in somewhat higher numbers, their share of the vote could fall if they don't keep pace with the greater-than-usual midterm interest evident among other voter groups. By 2020, millennials will significantly exceed baby boomers as a share of eligible voters, but based on their turnout trajectory they will continue to lag them among actual voters. That would be a huge opportunity cost for Democrats given Trump's consistently low marks with the generation (apart from younger non-college whites)."
A caveat on the youth turnout observation. Geoffrey Skelley on 538 has an interesting piece where he makes the case that youth turnout, based on some other indicators, might actually be pretty good this year. He says:
"Looking at the historical trends, there’s no question that youth voter turnout is consistently low in midterms, but exit poll data from competitive statewide elections in 2017 suggests that 2018 could set a record high for young voter participation....Polling from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics also gives us reason to believe we may see high turnout from young voters. The institute conducts a long-running, large-sample poll of young Americans...[I]n the IOP’s spring 2018 poll, 37 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds answered they would “definitely” vote, which was a new record high."
I don't know if this is right or not, since the data he cites are hardly definitive. But it's definitely interesting and suggests Democrats should not give up hope for decent youth turnout this cycle.
About this website
For two years Democrats have raged over Donald Trump's presidency, quarreled among themselves over the best strategy for responding to it, and above all, counted the days until next month's midterm election.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

So, What Could Go Wrong?

Lots! As noted here, the House forecasts are uniformly very good for the Democrats, with average seat gains estimated in the 31-39 range and probability of House takeover estimates in between 70 and 84 percent. At this point, 538 is on the high end of these ranges.
But there are some problems to keep in mind. The first is more accurately thought of as not a problem, but intrinsic to the enterprise. If, say, there's a forecasted 4 in 5 chance the Dems will take the House, this directly implies there's a 1 in 5 chance they won't. So things could go "wrong" in that sense.
Second, there could be a systematic bias in the inputs to these forecasts--something that's not being captured or captured incorrectly. The most likely candidate for that "something" is a mobilization surge in red areas that is currently being underestimated. We've already seen some deterioration in Democrats prospects in red state Senate races; it is possible that in the redder congresssional districts Democrats are contesting that the same dynamic may hold down their gains in such districts.
This is really the point of Nate Cohn's article in the Times today. Note that Cohn still appears to think it's likely the Democrats will take enough seats to capture the House, but he does see the possibility--and some signs--that this mobilization dynamic will hold down the magnitude of Democratic gains. I would not say that polling analysts universally see the signs that Cohn does, or interpret them in quite the same way, but I do believe his caution should be taken seriously.
About this website
Energized voters on the right dim prospects for big Democratic gains in red districts and states.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Something Is Happening Here But You Don't Know What It Is--Do You, Mr. Trump?

The news from the Rustbelt continues to be very poor for the GOP--yet this is the region that sent Donald Trump to the White House. What's going on?
Here's a snippet from Thomas Edsall's Times' column on the Rustbelt:
"Nate Silver, the founder of the political website 538, tweeted:
'By far the Democrats’ strongest region in Senate + Gov + House polling has been the Midwest, and I don’t think you’d really gather that from the tonality of the reporting, which tends to fixate on demographic change and therefore finds races in the South & the West a lot sexier.'
According to both Democratic and Republican operatives, Republican difficulties in the region stem in part from the trend among many Obama 2012-to-Trump-2016 voters to switch back to the Democrats.
Nick Gourevitch, whose Democratic firm, Global Strategy Group, is polling in the Midwest, wrote in an email: “In general, we are seeing Obama-Trump districts returning to the fold as competitive seats.” He went on:
"Our postelection research on Obama-Trump voters showed that many of them were conflicted voters who had mixed feelings about supporting the president and that not all of them were the die-hard Trump supporters some in the media like to report them to be."
Huh. So maybe all those Obama-Trump voters aren't hopeless racists the Democrats are better off ignoring.
Martin Longman adds on the Washington Monthly blog:
"Trump’s victory came about because he surprisingly won Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin which were all considered part of an impenetrable blue wall for the Democrats, but the Democrats look extremely strong in both the senate and governor’s races in all three of those states.
This can’t be explained by demographic change and it isn’t based solely on turnout models and assumptions. A lot of Democrats who voted for Trump in the industrial Midwest just have no intention of voting for a Republican in the upcoming midterms.....
It’s the formerly blue element that distinguishes the Midwest from other Trump strongholds. Many midwestern lifelong Democrats were attracted to Trump precisely because he was taking a battle-ax to the Republican establishment and so it’s unsurprising that these voters won’t transfer their loyalty from Trump to down-ticket conservatives. Because of union membership and socioeconomic status and tradition, these voters having been voting against Republicans all their lives. They made an exception for Trump and many still support him. Some will even vote for candidates that promise to help the president or that Trump has explicitly endorsed. But the snapback comes from the fact that most longtime Democrats supported Trump but not the party he leads."
And a new Politico/AARP poll of Pennsylvania finds:
"Pennsylvania was the linchpin of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory, but it could be ground zero of Democrats’ 2018 comeback. Not only are the incumbent Democratic senator and governor prohibitive favorites to win reelection, but Democrats could also pick up as many as a half-dozen congressional seats — roughly a quarter of the seats the party needs nationwide to win back the House.
Fewer than two years after Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Pennsylvania since 1988, a new POLITICO/AARP poll shows both Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Tom Wolf with double-digit leads over their GOP challengers. And Democrats have a slight edge on the generic congressional ballot — which, combined with a new, court-imposed congressional-district map unwinding GOP gerrymandering, portends major gains in next month‘s elections."
This is a trend to keep an eye on. Not only will it be key to Democrats' results in 2018 but sustaining it will be central to defeating Trump in 2020. In fact, you could reasonably say if the Democrats can sustain this momentum in the Midwest/Rustbelt through 2020 their chances of defeating Trump will be very good indeed. Of course, Trump will pull out all the stops to reach voters in this area of the country in the next two years and he will by no means be easy to defeat. But developments this year could make for a very promising beginning for Project Trump One Term President.
About this website
Health care is powering a blue comeback.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

In Defense of Optimism II

Sheri Berman has an excellent article up on the Social Europe website (a very useful site incidentally for coverage of trends and debates within European left politics). In the article she explains how important optimism has been--and should be--to the left.
"The rise of right-wing populism is probably the most pressing problem facing Europe today. Many analysts, including myself, have linked the rise of populism to the decline of the social democratic or centre left. Many traditional social democratic voters now vote populist; social democracy’s embrace of a “kinder, gentler” neoliberalism opened a policy “space” populists filled with welfare-state chauvinism; and social democracy’s fading electoral fortunes have rendered majority left government and, in many European countries, any stable majority government impossible, making it more difficult to solve problems, increasing dissatisfaction with democracy and support for populism further.
But beyond these connections lies a more fundamental one: the loss of a sense of the possible social democracy injected into post-war liberal democracy.
Social democracy was the most idealistic, optimistic ideology of the modern era. In contrast to liberals who believed “rule by the masses” would lead to the end of private property, tyranny of the majority and other horrors and thus favored limiting the reach of democratic politics, and communists who argued a better world could only emerge with the destruction of capitalism and “bourgeois” democracy, social democrats insisted on democracy’s immense transformative and progressive power: it could maximize capitalism’s upsides, minimize its downsides and create more prosperous and just societies....
Populism peddles a politics of fear—of crime, terrorism, unemployment, economic decline, the loss of national values and tradition—and asserts that other parties are leading their countries to disaster. Surveys make clear that populist voters are extremely pessimistic: they believe the past was better than the present and are extremely anxious about the future. But pessimism has infected Western societies more generally. A recent Pew survey for example revealed that even though growing percentages of European citizens view their country’s economic situation as dramatically better than a decade ago, this has not translated into greater optimism about the future. Indeed, in many European countries the “experience-expectation” differential has grown: in the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany, for example, approximately 80 percent or more say the economy is doing well, but less than 40 percent believe the next generation will be better off than their parents. These views reflect a troubling reality: particularly in times of change and uncertainty, people’s views are shaped more by emotions than rationality. Recognizing this, Roosevelt, the SAP [Swedish social democratic party] and earlier social democrats understood that for the center-left and democracy more generally to thrive, what was needed was not merely practical solutions to contemporary problems, but also an optimistic vision to counter the dystopian one offered by populists.
During the postwar decades social democracy provided just this. Against communism and liberalism they argued that people working together could use the democratic state to make the world a better place. The problems of the 21st century are different in form, but they are not different in kind. What is needed is a combination of pragmatic policies that can address challenges like economic inequality, slow growth and disconcerting social and cultural change as well as an ability to convince citizens that liberal democracy provides the most promising path to a better future. The rise of politicians as different as Trump, Corbyn and Macron makes clear how desperate many citizens are for leaders who insist that politics matters—that change is possible if the will is there."
In other words, Berman is saying that an optimistic vision isn't just an option for the left--it's a necessity if the left is to thrive. I could not agree more strongly. In fact, I wrote a whole book based on this idea: The Optimistic Leftist. Please consult it if want to see this argument developed at greater length.
About this website
The rise of right-wing populism is probably the most pressing problem facing Europe today.