Making Sense Of The Midterms

Sargent dwells on the finding that “62 percent of Republicans — and 67 percent of conservative Republicans — say a reason for their vote is to ‘express opposition to Obama'”:

[T]he high percentages of Republicans who flatly state that their vote is about Obama are pretty stark, and help explain GOP midterm strategy. The key to winning is all about getting out the base, even as core Dem voter groups like minorities, younger voters and single women drop off, helping ensure that the electorate is older and whiter than in presidential years. And one key to that — in a year that seems to fall somewhat short of the seismic levels of rage we saw in 2010 — is keeping Republicans and conservatives worked up about Obama.

Cillizza highlights how Obama’s numbers are dragging the Senate Democrats down:

In short: Alison Lundergan Grimes could win — not would win but could win — if President Obama’s approval ratings in Kentucky were at, say 38 percent. At 28 percent, it’s almost impossible to see how she ends up on top. The hardest thing about that reality for Senate Democrats is that there isn’t much they can do about it; they simply need to wait and hope that Obama’s numbers in 57 days time don’t look like they do today. If his numbers stay the same or erode even further, Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate disappear.

But the GOP’s own unpopularity isn’t holding it back:

[I]t’s always important to note that the GOP brand is worse than the Democratic brand in large part because of members of their own party. While 63 percent of Democrats approve of their party’s congressional members, just 34 percent of Republicans say the same. Among independents and members of the opposite party, it’s almost exactly even. And those other Republicans, we’ll bet you, will still vote GOP in 2014. So, again, the practical effect of the GOP’s poorer brand is probably more negligible than people think.

Stu Rothenberg expects Republicans to do very well:

After looking at recent national, state and congressional survey data and comparing this election cycle to previous ones, I am currently expecting a sizable Republican Senate wave. The combination of an unpopular president and a midterm election (indeed, a second midterm) can produce disastrous results for the president’s party. President Barack Obama’s numbers could rally, of course, and that would change my expectations in the blink of an eye. But as long as his approval sits in the 40-percent range (the August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll), the signs are ominous for Democrats.

538’s forecast also favors Republicans:

The GOP’s odds of winning the Senate ticked down a bit on the Democrats’ strong poll in Michigan, but FiveThirtyEight still has Republicans with a 62.2 percent chance of taking control of the chamber.

But Sam Wang continues to argue that Democrats have a good shot a keeping the Senate. He currently calculates a 70 percent chance of a Democrat-controlled Senate:

Fundamentals can be useful when there are no polls to reference. But polls, when they are available, capture public opinion much better than a model does. In 2012, on Election Eve, for example, the Princeton Election Consortium relied on polls alone to predict every single Senate race correctly, while Silver, who used a polls-plus-fundamentals approach, called two races incorrectly, missing Heidi Heitkamp’s victory, in North Dakota, and Jon Tester’s, in Montana.

The Princeton Election Consortium generates a poll-based snapshot in which the win/lose probabilities in all races are combined to generate a distribution of all possible outcomes. The average of all outcomes, based on today’s polls, is 50.5 Democratic and Independent seats (two Independents, Bernie Sanders and Angus King, currently caucus with the Democrats).

No other major forecast is as favorable to the Democrats. Andrew Prokop explains why the different election models diverge. One significant caveat from the end of his piece:

[E]ven though models like these have performed well in recent years, they’re still all vulnerable to the possibility of a broad-based polling failure. “The volume of polling is way lower than it was 2 and 4 years ago, and the quality of polling is problematic,” Silver says. “The response rates get lower and lower every year. Pollsters have still been managing to get decent results, but sooner or later, something’s gonna break.” One particular problem Silver mentions is that “pollsters tend to herd, or copy off each other. Then, instead of having random variation around some mean, you can get weird patterns where you can be right for several elections in a row, and then you might have fat-tailed errors.”

“That does make me really nervous,” Silver adds. “Maybe it won’t be this year, but sooner or later you’re going to have a year when things were way off.”