Predicting elections is hard, but that doesn’t keep the prognosticators from trying. The view does get somewhat clearer the closer you get to Election Day. As 2016 attests, there are always wild card factors that will somewhat obscure our vision. We like predictability but sometimes the voters don’t tell us how they really feel until you count the votes.
In truth, there are so many factors in elections these days that even the very wise cannot see the ends. There has never been voter suppression on quite the scale we are seeing it in this election, at least not since the Jim Crow Era. We’ve got voters in Ohio being purged from the voting roles because they didn’t vote in the last election. We’ve got the state of North Dakota, with the sanction of the U.S. Supreme Court, prohibiting Native Americans from voting if they don’t have a fixed street address. We’ve got two secretaries of state basically controlling who gets to vote in their election for governor (Kansas and Georgia). In Dodge, Kansas, now predominantly Latino, we have just one polling place for the whole town, which is a mile from the nearest bus stop. We’ve also got some tried and true voter suppression tactics: false mailings, racist robocalls and fewer voting places in minority areas. None of this seems to bother our Supreme Court, although a federal judge or two can succeed in preventing some of the worst excesses. In Georgia, a federal judge rejected the “exact match” standard for voting imposed by its secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, Brian Kemp.
Offsetting this you have record early voting in states that allow it and what looks like what will be record turnout (at least for the last several decades) in a midterm election. Republicans as a share of voters have declined since 2016, and Independents look to be breaking primarily for Democrats. Women form a majority of the electorate, and they are leaning heavily Democrat. 40% of young voters tell pollsters they will definitely vote in this election, still not great but far higher than in previous years. Research suggests they will break at least 2 to 1 for Democrats. Trump’s latest tactics to try to sway voters likely won’t do too much, simply because so many voters have already voted. Voting on Election Day is becoming the exception rather than the rule. I used early voting in 2016 because I was out of town for Election Day. This year I will be one of the laggards, because it’s a short walk across a field to the nearby middle school where my wife and I will cast our votes.
So how all this will ultimately turn out is today anyone’s educated guess as many more factors are obscured than in previous elections. It is unquestionably the most important election in my lifetime, except perhaps 1964 when Barry Goldwater was on the ballot. Goldwater you may recall wanted to nuke the commies in Vietnam. We had a more sensible electorate then and he was soundly trounced. Trump is already in office and is far more erratic than Goldwater ever was. So we’ll see and hold our breath. My guess is that Democrats will be breathing a lot easier Wednesday morning and will do much better than conventional wisdom suggests.
I can’t claim this from any deep insight, but the tealeaves are not too hard to read. In special elections and limited elections last year Democrats did fantastically. The only reason they didn’t win the Virginia Senate last year was because of a tied vote in one district, decided by a coin toss. It doesn’t get any closer than that. They picked up the governorship, lieutenant governorship and attorney general, and flipped the deeply red Virginia House of Delegates. In states like deep red Oklahoma, Democrats have won a number of special elections. Democrats are challenging Republican incumbents pretty much everywhere, often with incredibly strong candidates, many of them women and first timers running for office. Democrats are outraising Republicans and appear to be running a better ground game. In short, Democrats have energy and a string of proven victories since 2016. Trump’s negatives are too baked in for any one event to do much to change voters’ minds. And besides, many of them have already voted.
But there are nightmare scenarios out there. In 2016, we didn’t see Russian interference in our election as a credible threat, which was one reason I predicted Clinton’s victory. This time it may come down to races that are fraudulently decided. In certain places in Texas, if you check the box for voting a straight Democratic ticket, you are voting for Republican Ted Cruz. We’ve seen election officials stuff the ballot box before, most notably in Cook County, Illinois in the 1960 election. It’s quite possible that John F. Kennedy was not a legitimately elected president. For the last few decades, Republicans have proven to be ruthless. I wouldn’t put it past some of them who could control the public vote tally by reporting false numbers. In general though our election reporting system is fair, while eligibility rules for voting are in many places deeply unfair.
I believe that Democrats will retake the U.S. House of Representatives. My guess is they will take it by at least a 10 seat margin, but I think it’s quite likely the number will be 20 seats or higher. Few pundits expect Democrats to retake the Senate, given that far more incumbent Democrats are running this time than Republicans, and many in deeply red states. Polls are all over the place but despite the bad math I don’t think that Democrats will do worse than their current 49-51 minority. If this is a true wave election then seats that look tied or close to tied will break primarily for the party out of power. For example, Texas might well send Democrat Beto O’Rourke to the U.S. Senate. If it occurs, this will be a seismic political event suggesting that Texas can no longer be counted in the red state column.
Trump has ensured that this election will be all about him. In the end that may be what decides who controls the Congress. If I had to bet, I would bet for a 50-50 Senate. But it’s not inconceivable that Democrats will flip the Senate too.
Democrats can expect to pick up ten or more governorships and control of many more state legislative bodies too. It should be a very good night for Democrats overall. The only question is how good it will be.