Dispatches from Brookline: Home Schooling and Social Distancing II

In a previous post, I described how my wife Nell, our two daughters and I were coping with social distancing and the closure of the public schools in Brookline, Massachusetts until at least April 3, 2020. Other than staying inside as much as possible, we converted our dining room into a functioning classroom complete with workbooks, flip charts and a very popular white board.


On Thursday, March 19, 2020, I came downstairs to find this in the “classroom.”

March 19

Unlike the previous day, our daughters had a much smoother morning. Nell set up the video game Just Dance on the big screen HD television in our living room, which was particularly good for our 6th-grade daughter, who requires a great deal of regular physical activity. Our 4th-grade daughter would generally prefer to sit quietly in a darkened bedroom with an iPad. Both daughters have also made extensive use of FaceTime to stay in touch with their many friends.

When “Dad Academy” began, our older daughter read aloud the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America (“Constitution”). We then proceeded to work through much of Article I, establishing the nature and role of the House of Representatives (“House”) and the Senate. After a brief foray into Article II and the qualifications for the presidency, however, it was clear their doodling minds were wandering.

As a result, I shifted gears and walked them through the scenario I detail below: what would happen as of 12:01 pm on January 20, 2021 if there were no November 2020 elections for the House, Senate, vice president and president. I had tweeted my initial thoughts on Wednesday, but as I sketched it out—much to their delight, I am pleased to report—I realized I had forgotten a crucial element. After a quick check of this year’s Senate elections, I made the appropriate revisions on Twitter and, more importantly, the white board.

This quickly devolved into both daughters sketching out their own mind-bogglingly grin doomsday scenarios on the white board, all of which seemed to end up with 50,000 or 100,000 survivors living on Antarctica and dividing up only whatever food they could carry with them. Hey, they were using their imaginations, thinking about geography and doing arithmetic, so I was not complaining.

After an hour-long break, we reconvened to resume learning about basic statistics. After quickly reviewing frequencies, range, mode, median, mean and a few statistical distributions, I decided to change my lesson plan again. Rather than begin to discuss relationships between variables, I put my doctorate in epidemiology to good use and explained “sensitivity” and “specificity” of testing for some condition like, say, the novel coronavirus. They quickly grasped the underlying idea:

  1. Persons who have the condition AND test positive are True Positives
  2. Persons who do not have the condition AND test negative are True Negatives
  3. Persons who do not have the condition AND test positive are False Positives
  4. Persons who do have the condition AND test negative are False Negatives

If you divide True Positives by the sum of True Positives and False Negatives you get sensitivity: the percentage of persons who truly have the condition who test positive for it.

If you divide the number of True Negatives by the sum of True Negatives and False Positives you get specificity: the percentage of persons who truly do not have the condition who test negative for it.

It is nearly impossible to have a test be both 100% sensitive AND 100% specific because of the likely gray area between an extremely tight case definition (e.g., you must meet all 10 criteria)—which gives you higher sensitivity—and a relatively looser definition (e.g., you only need to meet five out of 10 criteria)—which gives you higher specificity. For a host of reasons I will not review here, mostly related to accuracy of categorization, epidemiologists generally prefer to have the specificity of a test be as close to 100% as possible, even at the risk of lower (by which I mean, say, 90% instead of 95%) sensitivity.

Think of it this way, though: the lower the specificity of the test, the more False Positives you have. And the more False Positives you have, the more people you have being treated for the condition at the expense of other people who actually need to be treated. Moreover, given that most conditions being tested are fairly rare, there will always be many fewer False Negatives than False Positives; one exception, though, would be if you only test persons you are already very certain have the condition, which bring the number of False Negatives much closer to the number of False Positives.

And with that—and a review of some of our older daughter’s algebra problems—school was out for the day.


Ohio was supposed to hold its 2020 Democratic presidential primary on March 17. It was postponed until June 2, however, due to concerns over spreading the novel coronavirus. Five other states have done the same thing, meanwhile, leading to speculation President Donald J. Trump may attempt to postpone—or outright cancel—the November 2020 federal elections (Congress, vice president, president).

Leaving aside whether such an action is even feasible—for one thing, while under Article I, Section 5, the House and Senate have broad authority over the timing of elections to their respective houses, those elections are actually administered by each individual state. The same is true for elections for vice president and president—and that is before considering that the Electoral College essentially mandates 51 distinct elections, one within each state and the District of Columbia.

But let us assume, as a kind of thought experiment, it actually would be possible to delay these elections. So long as the presidential and vice-presidential elections were held long enough before December 13, 2020—the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, when electors are required to meet in their respective states to cast their presidential ballots—there would be more than enough time to swear in a president the following January 20.

However, if these elections simply never occur…well, this is where two sections of the Constitution and the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 (PSA) come into play.

  • Under Amendment XX, Section 1: “The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January,
  • “…and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January.”
  • Under the PSA, the line of succession to the president is the vice president, followed by the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate—the longest-serving member of the Senate of the majority party—and members the Cabinet, beginning with the Secretary of State.

In other words, barring a non-starter Constitutional amendment, an Act of Congress (hard to see Democrats going along with this) or a very-unlikely ruling by the Supreme Court (the Constitution explicitly states that as as of 12:01 pm on January 20, 2021, Trump and Michael R. Pence would no longer be the president and vice president of the United States, respectively.

And for the previous 17 days, there would also be no Speaker of the House because the term of every one of the 435 members of the House would have ended at noon on January 3, 2021.

I note at this point that Amendment XX, Section 1 ends with “the terms of their successors shall then begin,” so it is just barely possible an argument could be made the terms of the president, vice president, House members and Senators would not end because there are no successors. Without a successor, there are no occupants of those offices, effectively shutting down the federal government.

Here is the counter-argument, however, and where things get really interesting.

There would still be a United States Senate, albeit one 35% smaller, at 12:01 pm on January 3, 2021, meaning there would still be a President Pro Tempore to assume the office of the presidency, and who would then nominate someone to be vice president pending Senate approval.

There would still be a Senate because only 35 of the 100 Senators are reaching the end of their terms this year.[1] Fully 65 Senators will still be serving at that time: 35 Democrats (including two Independents, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, who caucus with the Democrats) and 30 Republicans.

That is right: rather than the current Senate, which has a 53-47 Republican majority, this “abridged” Senate would have a 35-30 Democratic majority. And the longest-serving Democratic Senator—who is not up for reelection in 2020—is Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who was first elected in 1974!

So…Leahy would absolutely become the 46th president of the United States, sworn somewhere by Chief Justice John J. Roberts?

Well…not so fast.

And that is because of what I had forgotten on Wednesday: under Amendment XVII, governors are empowered to appoint a replacement for a Senator who leaves office before the end of her/his term—just about always a member of the same party as the governor.

In this scenario, these governors immediately appoint replacement Senators as soon as those 35 Senate terms expire at noon on January 3, 2021…and they are sworn in immediately. Traditionally, the vice president swears in each new Senator, so that may be the fly in the ointment here. Presumably, though, in this unusual circumstance Chief Justice Roberts could swear in all the appointed Senators at one time, somewhere in Washington, DC.

As for the governors themselves:

  • In the 12 states where a Democratic Senate term is ending there are
    • 8 Democratic governors
    • 2 Republican governors
    • 1 Democratic governor up for reelection in Delaware
    • 1 Republican governor up for reelection in New Hampshire
  • In the 22 states where a Republican Senate term is ending (with two in Georgia) there are
    • 15 Republican governors filling 16 seats
    • 6 Democratic governors
    • 1 Democratic governor not seeking reelection in Montana

Excluding the three states where a gubernatorial election is being held (or not…as our younger daughter pointed out, why would there be elections for governor if all the federal elections were postponed?), the new Senate would now include:

  • 35 + 8 + 6 = 49 Democrats
  • 30 + 2 + 16 = 48 Republicans

This is still a bare 49-48 Democratic majority, making Leahy the 46th president.

IF gubernatorial elections are held in Delaware and New Hampshire this November, though, it is very likely the incumbent wins both races, which adds one new Democratic and one new Republican Senator, for a bare 50-49 Democratic majority…and President Leahy.

That leaves it all up to Montana.

IF there is a Montana gubernatorial election this November, the Republican nominee would likely be favored to win. In that case, we would wind up with a 50-50 tie in the Senate. And with no vice president to break the tie, it is not clear whether Leahy or Republican Charles R. Grassley of Iowa, who was first elected in 1980. Of course, if a Democrat were elected the next governor of Montana, that would result in a 51-49 Democratic Senate majority…and President Leahy.

Perhaps the nod still goes to Leahy in the case of a 50-50 Senate split, as the longest-serving Senator overall. Perhaps there is something like a coin flip. Or maybe these two men—who have served together in the United States Senate for 40 years and are around 80 years of age—decide to serve jointly, with one as president and one as vice president.

The bottom line, though, is that it is far more likely than not that if there are no federal elections this November, Democratic Senator Patrick Joseph Leahy of Vermont would be sworn in at 12:01 pm EDT on January 20, 2021 as the 46th president of the United States.

Until next time…please be safe and sensible out there…

[1] Including Republican Kelly Loeffler, appointed to replace retiring Republican Johnny Isakson in December 2019.

November 2019 update: 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and general election polling

With the fifth Democratic presidential nomination debate set for November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia, here is an updated assessment of the relative position of the now-18 (19?) declared candidates. Since the previous update, United States House of Representatives Member (“Representative”) Tim Ryan of Ohio exited the race on October 24, followed by former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke on November 1. The nine candidates who have abandoned their quest to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee each exited with grace, class and dignity; I commend them for it.

However, rather than shrink the field to 17 announced Democratic candidates, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick entered the race on November 14, while others such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are strongly considering a bid—with Bloomberg even placing his name on the 2020 Democratic primary ballot in Arkansas. For this update, though, I exclude them from Table 1; the few recent polls listing Bloomberg show him registering between 0 and 3%, while no poll has included Patrick since he earned 1% in a McLaughlin & Associates national poll conducted February 6-10, 2019.

To learn how I calculate the value I assign to each candidate, NSW-WAPA (national-and-state-weighted weighted-adjusted polling average), please see here;[1] for recent modifications, please see here.

And, of course, here is the November 2019 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2019 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

Nov 2019 lighthouse.JPG


Table 1 below aggregates data from all national and state-level polls publicly released since January 1, 2019 (as of 11:39 pm on November 15, 2019), including:

  • 246 national polls (including 45 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 34 Iowa caucuses polls
  • 34 New Hampshire primary polls
  • 11 Nevada caucuses polls
  • 28 South Carolina primary polls
  • 65 Super Tuesday polls[2]
  • 70 polls from 19 other states.[3]

There are now 488 total polls, up from 414 last month.

Table 1: National-and-state-weighted WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate National IA NH NV SC Post-SC NSW-WAPA
Biden 28.5 20.4 22.5 26.8 36.6 27.4 26.2
Warren 16.4 18.9 18.2 18.6 12.6 18.8 17.3
Sanders 16.3 15.0 17.4 18.8 11.7 16.3 15.8
Buttigieg 5.6 13.7 9.0 5.8 4.0 6.0 8.1
Harris 7.3 6.0 6.3 5.6 7.4 7.1 6.4
Booker 2.2 2.0 1.8 1.5 3.0 1.5 2.0
Yang 1.8 1.9 2.2 2.8 1.2 1.4 2.0
Klobuchar 1.3 3.4 1.9 1.2 0.9 1.3 1.8
Gabbard 0.9 1.5 2.4 1.2 0.7 0.9 1.4
Steyer 0.4 0.03 1.1 3.2 2.2 0.3 1.3
Castro 0.9 0.6 0.2 1.0 0.3 1.1 0.57
Delaney 0.3 0.5 0.5 0.00 0.3 0.2 0.33
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.31
Williamson 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.29
Bullock 0.2 0.6 0.00 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.24
Sestak 0.02 0.02 0.05 0.1 0.03 0.1 0.04
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.02 0.00 0.00 0.05 0.01
DK/Other 12.9 12.7 12.5 10.5 15.8 12.0 13.4

The race continues to follow the same storylines. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the nominal frontrunner (26.2, down from 27.2), primarily because of his 24.0-percentage-point (“point”) lead in South Carolina, itself down from 25.2 last month. However, he is less strong in Iowa, New Hampshire and (to a lesser extent) Nevada, where the two candidates battling for second place—Massachusetts United States Senator (“Senator”) Elizabeth Warren (17.3, up from 16.5) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (15.8, down from 16.1)—are closer to first place. And this more-inclusive version of NSW-WAPA overstates the gap between Biden and Warren; only examining polls conducted entirely after June 26, 2019, when the first round of Democratic presidential debates ended, Biden drops to 24.9 and Warren rises to 18.9; Sanders is at 15.4.

Rounding out the top five, overall and in the four earliest states, are South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (8.1—down from 7.1) and California Senator Kamala Harris (6.4—down from 7.6); Buttigieg surged passed a fading Harris (down 2.9 in two months), particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, where a top three finish in one or both states appears increasingly plausible. These five candidates account for three-quarters (73.9%, down from 74.6%) of declared Democratic voter preferences.

In the next tier are five candidates with NSW-WAPA between 1.3 and 2.1 who could yet rise into the top five: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar—essentially tied for 6th place—followed by Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard and billionaire activist Tom Steyer. Other than Booker, these candidates rose in the last month, particularly in the early contests. Moreover, using post-first-debate polls only puts a little more distance between Yang (2.1) and Booker, Klobuchar, Gabbard and Steyer, tightly bunched between 1.6 and 1.8.

These 10 candidates—all of whom will be on the debate stage Wednesday night—total 82.5% of declared Democratic voter preferences. Of them, six—Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, Klobuchar—have thus far met the criteria for the sixth Democratic presidential nomination debate in Los Angeles, California on December 19, though Yang and Gabbard are close; not appearing on the debate stage for the first time, meanwhile, is former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, who remains mired around 0.6.

The remaining six candidates and Castro divide just 1.9 between them; as none is remotely close to making the December 2019 debate(s), I expect them to end their campaigns by the end of 2019.

Speaking of the debates, 10 different pollsters—nine nationally[4] and one in Iowa[5]–conducted polls of the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination both before (but after the September 2019 debate) and after the October 2019 debate. Simple average differences in polling percentage (Iowa poll results weighted five times national results) show measurable gains for Buttigieg (+3.5 points), Sanders (+2.3) and Klobuchar (+0.9), as well as measurable declines for Yang (-0.6), Don’t Know/Other (-0.9), Harris (-1.0) and Biden (-2.1). Adjustment for pollster quality and the number of days between polls made no appreciable difference. These shifts are reflected in the changes in NSW-WAPA detailed above for each candidate except Sanders and Yang; the latter discrepancy may be due to the preponderance of low-weighted national polls in this calculation.


Less than two weeks ago, I took a deeper dive into hypothetical match-ups between the declared Democratic nomination candidates and Trump—assuming he is the 2020 Republican presidential nominee, as well as post-mortem on recent gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Mississippi. Rather than repeat myself, however, I offer a few quick updates and a final look at the Louisiana gubernatorial runoff election to be held November 16 between incumbent Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone.

Kentucky and Mississippi. After the November 5 elections, I discovered a final poll[6] of the Kentucky governor’s race which gave incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin a six-point lead over Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear. Adding this poll dropped the “projected” margin to 4.0 points With Bevin conceding the race on November 14, Beshear actually won by 0.4 points, for a 3.6-point Republican “bias” in the results.

In Mississippi, meanwhile, Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves beat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood by 5.5 points, while my final “projection” was Reeves by 3.0 point, for a 2.5-point Republican bias. The average bias was 3.0 points in favor of the Republicans even though I “called” both races correctly.

Louisiana. Based upon 18 polls with an average Democratic “bias” of 0.1 points and B-/C+ rating, my “projection” is that Bel Edwards will beat Rispone by 4.7 points. However, I note two caveats. One is that 3.0 pro-Republican bias in two other southern states, implying a narrower Bel Edwards victory of 1.7 points. The other caveat is that when only the nine polls conducted after the October 12 “jungle primary” are examined (averages: R+0.4; B-/C+), Bel Edwards’ lead drops to 2.2. In other words, while a narrow Bel Edwards victory—say 2.0 points—is the likeliest outcome, anything from an extremely narrow Rispone win to a mid-single-digits Bel Edwards victory is plausible.

Notably though, even if Rispone wins by one point, Democrats will still have outperformed their “fundamentals”—how a generic Democrat would fare against a generic Republican given a state’s partisan lean, national partisan environment and incumbency—by an average of 16.3 points in three strongly Republican southern states just one year before the 2020 elections.

[Update, 1:00 am, November 17: John Bel Edwards was reelected by 2.6 points. With one last Trafalgar Group poll conducted November 13-15, the final “projected” margin was Bel Edwards by 4.5 points, a miss in the Republican direction of 1.9 points. On average, in the 2019 gubernatorial races in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, the final “projected” margin missed by 2.7 points in the direction of the Republicans, though all three elections were “called” correctly–and Democrats net one governor’s mansion. Also, the three Democratic gubernatorial nominees outperformed their “fundamentals” by an average of 17.5 points, which is extraordinary.]

Democrats vs. Trump. No sooner had I completed my most recent calculations than FiveThirtyEight.com updated its pollster letter grades and average partisan skew, analogous to the “bias” calculations I performed above. While the changes did not materially affect the Democratic nomination standings, they did have a slightly pro-Republican effect on general election polls.

Still, Biden would beat Trump nationally by 8.1 points, Warren by 3.5 points, Sanders by 5.2 points and Harris by 1.6 points, while Buttigieg would essentially tie Trump and Booker would lose by 0.7 points; Bloomberg, based on three polls, would win by 1.9 points. The other 11 candidates for whom I have match-up data would lose by between 5.2 and 12.7 points, although these numbers are misleading, as they are primarily based upon data from pollster Harris X, who tend not to push undecided voters to choose, making for unusual polling margins.

Weighted by a rough estimate of the likelihood of being the nominee (NSW-WAPA/.843), the 2020 Democratic nominee would beat Trump by 3.6 points. This is broadly in line with the median Democratic presidential margin (+3.0) in the previous six presidential elections, which include three elections with an incumbent seeking reelection and three elections with no incumbent. However, once you exclude Biden and Sanders, the margin decreases to 0.3 points, with the caveat fom the preceding paragraph.

Examining available state-level results,[7] which actually decide presidential elections via the Electoral College, then comparing to my partisan-lean measure 3W-RDM implies Democrats would win the national popular vote by between 3.6 (excluding Biden and Sanders) and 5.8 points, substantially higher than national polls suggest. Most encouraging to Democrats should be polls from North Carolina (R+6.0), Georgia (R+9.6), Arizona (R+9.7) and Texas (R+15.3), which show Democrats either barely ahead (Georgia) or within three points of Trump; on average, they imply a national Democratic lead of 8-9 points, confirming strong opportunities for Democrats in the southeast and southwest.

By contrast, however, a handful of polls from Democratic-leaning Nevada (D+2.0) who Democrats barely winning the state while implying Democrats would lose nationwide by between 1.4 and 3.8 points. And while Democrats are 4.0-7.5 points ahead in the swing state of Michigan, which Trump won by 0.16 points in 2016, their position is…wobbly…in Florida (R+3.4), Pennsylvania (R+0.4) and Wisconsin (D+0.7), all of which Trump won narrowly in 2016.

Still, at this very early point in the 2020 electoral cycle, the fact that Democrats are far more competitive in Republican-leaning states, albeit slightly behind, than Republicans are in Democratic-leaning states should encourage Democrats.

Until next time…

[1] Essentially, polls are weighted within nation/state by days to nominating contest and pollster quality to form a area-specific average, then a weighted average is taken across Iowa (weight=5), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (4), South Carolina (4), time-weighted average of subsequent contests (2) and nationwide (1). Within subsequent contests, I weight the 10 March 3, 2020 “Super Tuesday” states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) twice subsequent contests. As of this writing, I have at least one poll from (in chronological order) Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oregon and New Jersey.

[2] Primarily California (25). Texas (17) and North Carolina (8)

[3] Primarily Florida (12), Wisconsin (11), Pennsylvania (9) and Michigan (8)—not coincidentally, the four states President Donald J. Trump won in 2016 by the narrowest margins.

[4] Morning Consult Tracking, Harris X Tracking (Likely Voters), Fox News, YouGov, Emerson College, Quinnipiac University, Ipsos, Monmouth University, NBC News/Wall Street Journal

[5] Civiqs

[6] Trafalgar Group, October 29-November 1, 2019

[7] From 27 states: Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, South Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Washington, Colorado, Missouri, Utah, Virginia, Montana, Connecticut, Georgia.

Four stories and 12 years ago…

I have been deeply immersed in preparing final first drafts (how is that for an oxymoron?) of early chapters of the book I am writing, whose new tentative title is Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive into My Family’s History…and My Own. We have also been preoccupied with various illnesses, injuries and anniversaries. Not to mention following the twists and turns of the impeachment saga.

With all that, however, I have not forgotten about this site. I have been meticulously compiling polling for the next 2020 Democratic nomination and presidential election updates, as well as this year’s three governor’s races.

And life has thrown a handful of interesting curveballs our way.


Sunday, October 6, 2019 was Nell’s and my 12th wedding anniversary.

Rather than go out to celebrate, we chose to stay home and order food from our favorite local pizza joint. Three of our orders—and both orders of French fries—were perfect; only Nell’s was thoroughly botched, somewhat dampening the otherwise celebratory mood.

But that is beside the point.

As a gift on my first birthday as a married man, my mother-in-law gave me—after strong hinting from Nell—this high-quality Swiss Army knife with my surname engraved on the primary blade. Ever since then, it always goes into my front left pocket when I leave the apartment. This has proven troublesome on a few occasions, as it was nearly confiscated by a TAA worker at Logan Airport as well as on my recent trip to Philadelphia.

Swiss army knife.JPG

Swiss army knife--open.JPG

Along with my wedding band, in other words, it is one of my most-prized possessions.  In a recent post, I told the story of how I lost my wedding band in the spring of 2011, only to have it miraculously recovered a few weeks later. Well, with all due respect to the excellent and criminally-underrated Split Enz, history does sometimes repeat.

On the Thursday night before our recent wedding anniversary, I used the primary blade on my Swiss Army knife to puncture holes in a seemingly-endless set of air bags used for packing boxes from Amazon, so I could flatten them prior to recycling them. I also broke up a handful of cardboard boxes, threw them into the back of Nell’s car—along with our golden retriever Ruby, who was due for a “’venture”—and took them to a nearby giant metal recycling bin; given the tandem nature of our residential parking, it was easier to take her car. After recycling the cardboard, I filled up Nell’s gas tank then took Ruby to a nearby park for a quick play.

I mean, who could resist this?

Ruby on blue sofa.JPG

To be clear, speaking to pet dogs in a form of baby talk stems from my mother, who invented an entire language for our pet Keeshond Luvey (so named because “he loves everybody!”): chicken became “cluckies,” a favorite game was “sockie ballies,” and so forth. Given that history, my calling an adventure a “’venture” is perfectly understandable.

Meanwhile, eureka!

Luvey on Sue Ellen Drive 1974

Look carefully at the photograph of Luvey and me in my parents’ bedroom in the Havertown, PA house in which I lived until I was 10 years old. Well, forget that the big stuffed blue bear I am snuggling belies the story I have long told that my allergies were so bad as a young child I lost all my stuffed animals; I will interrogate that memory some other time.

On the floor just to the left of the white two-drawered bureau is a blue spherical object which looks like an old-fashioned portable hair dryer, like the one that features so prominently in the house fire I first interrogated here.

But that poses a bit of a puzzle (yes, I am in the middle a story about my Swiss Army knife…just bear with me). Luvey was born on December 17, 1972, and we brought her home about two weeks later, when he was nothing but a small black ball of fur with a pink tongue. My house fire almost certainly took place in March or April 1973. If that is indeed THE portable hair dryer, Luvey would be at most four months old in this photograph. Could he really have grown that much that quickly? While it is certainly possible, it is also possible—maybe even more likely—that this photograph was taken shortly after the fire, and what is pictured is a replacement for the portable hair dryer destroyed in the fire—now stored safely upstairs. The Polaroid photograph itself is undated, other than the cardstock on which it was printed having the date “4/72.”

As the fictionalized King of Siam would say, “Is a puzzlement.”

Returning to my beloved Swiss Army knife, I am reminded of an incident that took place on an earlier wedding anniversary. Nell and I were then extremely fond of an upscale Italian restaurant in Newton Centre called Appetito, which closed in March 2014. In fact, we had one of the most important early conversations of our relationship at its bar.

On this particular anniversary, most likely in 2013, given the state of decline then apparent in the restaurant (nearly every customer was using a Groupon), our waitress was particularly flirtatious—and to my regret and shame, I playied along, cracking jokes about knives. At one point, I went to the bathroom. Just outside the door, our waitress stopped me, wanting to hold my Swiss Army knife, in lieu of my earlier “jokes.” I gave it to her, thinking nothing of it…OK, I was flattered by the attention.

I know, I know, it was my wedding anniversary.

While I was in the bathroom, in full view of Nell, our waitress pulled out every gizmo on the Swiss Army knife in a way that could be described as “provocative.” Needless to say, Nell was NOT happy with either of us, though I (deservedly) bore the brunt of her displeasure.

Hmm, I had intended that to be a funny anecdote, not a “husbands behaving poorly” confession. At times, I think these posts write themselves.

Moving right along, we return to last Thursday night, when I distinctly last remembered using my Swiss Army knife. The following night, there were yet more cardboard boxes to recycle, so once again Ruby and I had a ‘venture. We did not stay at the park nearly as long as we had the night before, however, in part because in the darkness I slipped on some small apples that had fallen from a tree near where I parked, whacking my left knee a bit.

Returning home a few minutes later, I removed all of the accessories (wallet, keys, pen, etc.) from my pockets into the wooden tray I keep in my office to hold those items.

Umm, where is my Swiss Army knife?

I checked every pocket of my jacket and jeans to no avail.

The first thing I thought was that it seemed as though when I had put things INTO my pockets, something had been missing. So that became my starting point: somehow it had gotten misplaced between Thursday night and Friday night.

Acting on that thought, I quickly searched all of the surfaces near where I had used my Swiss Army knife, thinking I had closed it up, put it down then forgotten to put it back in my office. That is very unlike me, but I was also wicked tired that night, so anything was possible.

Perhaps Nell had borrowed it during the day and simply forgotten to return it? Or one of our daughters? The answer to both questions, I learned on Saturday, was an emphatic “No!”

Thus commenced an epic search of the apartment, including my going through every single item in the large blue wheeled recycling bin in our backyard, thinking I had somehow tossed it in there with other recycling Thursday night. I even went through the adjacent trash barrel, as well as Nell’s car, on the off chance I had put in on the seat next to me or it had gotten mixed up with the broken-down cardboard boxes.

It was not in any of those places.

That evening, our daughters, a friend of our eldest daughter and I walked down to our favorite local restaurant, Zaftigs, for supper. Our route took us past the large metal recycling bin I had visited the previous two evenings, so I scoured the ground around it; it was not there either.

Finally, just after Nell went to bed, I had all but decided it had somehow gotten thrown into the large metal recycling bin with the cardboard when I remembered slipping on the apples at the park the previous night.

Well, it is worth a shot, I thought. And for the third night in a row, Ruby and I drove to the park. Using the flashlight on my iPhone, I scanned the ground where I had had my pratfall. Within seconds, a red metallic object caught my eye.

I am not ashamed to say I actually kissed my Swiss Army knife after picking it up from the dewy grass.

Nell was asleep when I get home, though the next day, after she heard the full story, she said that for that I could have woken her up.

Good to know.


In this post, I took an early look at four elections, one of which was the 2019 Louisiana gubernatorial election. The “jungle primary” featuring every announced candidate, regardless of political party, will be held on Saturday, October 12. If no candidate wins an outright majority of the vote, a runoff election between the top two contenders will be held on November 16.

With 18 polls released since January 1, 2019 to analyze—11 since September 1, including five from Republican-leaning JMC Analytics (rated C+ by FiveThirtyEight), four from Democratic-leaning Remington Research Group (C) and three from unbiased Market Research Insight (B+), there are two questions to ask.

  1. Will Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards, who has an average lead of 23.2 percentage points (“points”) over his two primary Republican rivals, secure more than 50% of the vote on Saturday, avoiding a runoff?
  2. If he does not, will he face United States House of Representatives (“Representative”) member Ralph Abraham or businessman Eddie Rispone?

As of early on the morning of October 10, Bel Edwards averages (weighted by pollster quality and time to election) 46.6% of the vote, well ahead of Abraham’s 21.5% and Rispone’s 17.9%; three additional candidates included in some polls total 2.9% of the vote,[1] leaving 11.0% undecided. Bel Edwards is tantalizingly close to 50%; assuming these averages are accurate and every undecided voter actually casts a vote, he would need to win just 31.9% of that vote to win an outright majority on Saturday. This is certainly possible, though I would not bet on it; never mind that I do not ever gamble.

That brings us to the question of whom Bel Edwards would face in a runoff. In early September, the weighted-adjusted averages were Bel Edwards 46.5%, Abraham 24.9% and Rispone 10.3%. While Bel Edwards’ position has not materially changed, Rispone has surged 7.6 points, both at the expense of Abraham, down 3.4 points, and by picking up support from some undecided voters. It is now effectively a toss-up between the two Republicans, although Rispone has finished ahead of Abraham in six of the last eight polls.

Either way, however, I estimate Bel Edwards has roughly a 92% chance of winning the runoff, and by around eight or nine points.


For the last 69 days, ever since a string of mass shootings in late July and early August left 34 people dead, I have written a daily tweet which begins “Day XX mourning/decrying/bemoaning XXX mass shooting deaths in US in 2019.” The tweet always includes a call to repeal Amendment II to the Constitution of the United States, about which I first wrote in October 2017, and the hashtag #Repeal2A. To read those tweets, I invite you to follow me at @drnoir33.

While my tweets have clearly not effected any policy changes, I at least continue to call attention to the unaddressed scourge of gun violence in this country, to the point where a candidate for president of the United States could have this harrowing moment on a late night talk show. I have also had some fascinating, umm, conversations with gun enthusiasts, mostly some radical libertarians, while finding common cause with some extraordinary allies.

But what really made me realize how far this nation has come (not in a good way)—and because on this site EVERYTHING ultimately connects—was a seemingly unrelated event.

As I am naturally predisposed toward being a night owl, and because I do my best work after 11 pm, when the apartment becomes wonderfully dark and quiet, I tend to go to sleep well past 3 am, waking in the early afternoon. Indeed, the running joke now is “Daddy has finished breakfast so it must almost be time for Ruby’s supper!”

To wind down in those wee small hours after I turn off my computer, I like to watch selected YouTube videos on our living room television. I am especially drawn to videos produced by WhatCulture, Polyphonic, CineFix, WatchMojo and anything relating to the utterly brilliant third season of Twin Peaks.

A week or so ago, somewhat at random, a video of performances by stand-up comedian Emo Philips on Late Night with David Letterman appeared. I had quite liked the quirky cerebral Phillips 30 or so years ago but had lost track of him since. Intrigued, I began to watch; eventually I watched this 1987 special in its entirety. Another 1987 special, filmed in Washington DC, saw Phillips open his set by observing Joe Biden had just dropped out of the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

What is old is new again?

But the bit that really stuck out was this oft-repeated line: “I go the playground often to watch the little kids jump up and down and scream, because they don’t know I’m using blanks,” delivered in what could be described as a deadpan nasal falsetto.

Dang, I thought, nobody could get way with a joke like that today. And the only reason it was even remotely funny in the mid-1980s is because of how unthinkable such an action was.

Yes, it is time to repeal Amendment II.


My birthday was September 30 and, not unlike Nell’s and my wedding anniversary, the day did not go precisely according to plan. Still, I received a generous Amazon gift card from a close friend; we routinely exchange such cards on our respective birthdays.

With it, I purchased a DVD copy of one of my all-time favorite “guilty pleasure” films, The Shadow, the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin as the titular character. And I promptly decided that I wanted to be his version of the character—dressed all in black with a red scarf covering most of his face—for Halloween this year.

When I shared this notion with my psychotherapist, I had a mild epiphany. One of the issues we routinely discuss is the sense that nobody really listens to me, no matter how “right” I am. (And, yes, I appreciate the irony of making that statement on a blog, where by definition you are listening to me, a fact for which I am very grateful.)

Huh, I said, so for Halloween I choose to be a person that literally nobody can see, only hear. That is very telling.

Here is the thing, however.

For weeks, I have been telling Nell how there was only one thing I want for my birthday. Really and truly, I only want this one thing. I wanted it because my previous version of it had finally ceased to function, which it made it hard to follow up on those wonderful Polyphonic videos.

To her eternal credit, Nell, my brilliant, beautiful, loving and supportive wife of 12 years, listened to me, because this is what I saw when I came downstairs for the first time on September 30:

New keyboard.JPG

OK, OK, it was actually still in its box, covered in birthday cards and ribbons, along with three bags of mini Three Musketeers bars, which I had been craving the past few days for some reason.

But who wants to see a photograph of a box?

This may finally have supplanted my Swiss Army knife as BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER!, though it is very close.

Until next time…

[1] I assign them “0” if excluded.

A post-Labor-Day look at 2019 elections for U.S. House and governor

In May, I took a “wicked early” look at, among other elections, the three gubernatorial elections to be held on November 5, 2019 in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. I also updated my estimated effects of incumbency for Democratic and Republican United States Senators (“Senators”) and governors.

Having passed Labor Day, the traditional start of the fall campaign season, I want to take a closer look at those three 2019 gubernatorial elections, as well as a “do-over” election for the United States House of Representatives (“House”) to be held in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District (“CD”) on September 10, 2019[1].

Specifically, I want to add available public polling to the fundamentals of each election: a baseline estimate of the outcome of an election. I calculate an election’s fundamentals by summing three values:

  1. State partisan lean, measured by my 3W-RDM[2],
  2. Incumbency advantage, which I estimate to be 5.7 percentage points (“points”) for incumbent Democratic governors and 8.5 points for incumbent Republican incumbent governors, and
  3. National partisan lean, measured by the “generic ballot” question for the House[3]. As of the evening of September 5, 2019, FiveThirtyEight gave Democrats a 6.5-point edge on this measure.

Before I discuss the individual races, however, just bear with me while I discuss my new approach to converting fundamentals and polling averages into probabilities, as well as the weights I now use to combine those two values into a single “projection” and probability of victory.

Probability. When I calculated updated advantages for Senators and governor, I used the simple arithmetic difference between the “expected” result (fundamentals-only) and the actual results. This means I have an “error” distribution for 106 gubernatorial elections going back to 2011. These errors are roughly normally distributed, with a mean of 0.6 points and a very high standard deviation of 17.5 points, suggesting inordinate uncertainty in my fundamentals estimates.

Still, using the properties of the normal distribution, I can estimate the probability a given estimate of fundamentals equates to a Democratic win (i.e., Democratic margin > 0).

Similarly, I can generate the probability a WAPA equates to a Democratic win using the formula

Standard deviation = square root of ((D average*R average)/total number polled),

using the simple polling averages for the Democratic and Republican candidates. Technically, this is calculating the margin of error (without multiplying by a “z-score” to get, say, a 95% confidence level), but with an assumed normal distribution it is the functional equivalent of a standard deviation.

Time weighting. This close to election day, polling averages should be given more weight than fundamentals, and that weight should increase daily. Since my polling data for these races begins on January 1, 2019, I used the number of days between that day and November 5, 2019[4]—308—as the denominator for my weight. The numerator is the number of days between January 1, 2019 and the closing field date of the most recent poll of that election. That ratio is the weight given to WAPA, with one minus that weight applied to the fundamentals.

For example, the most recent poll of the Kentucky gubernatorial election was in the field from August 19 to August 22, 2019. It is 233 days from January 1 to August 22 this year; dividing 233 by 308 yields 0.754. Thus, as of now, I weight WAPA in Kentucky 0.754 and fundamentals 0.246. The other two gubernatorial elections have similar 3-1 ratios of polling to fundamentals, which seems right.


Let us begin the election in North Carolina’s 9th House CD. In the 2018 midterm election, Republican Mark Harris, a conservative pastor, appeared to defeat Democrat Dan McCready, an entrepreneur and former Marine Corps captain, by just 905 votes (0.4%). However, once substantial evidence emerged of ballot tampering by a Republican operative named Leslie McCrae Dowless, the state election board refused to certify the election results. Instead, they called for a new election—including new primaries to select each party’s nominees. While McCready ran unopposed, Republicans chose State Senator Dan Bishop in a July 9 runoff election.

According to the Cook Political Report, this CD leans 8.0 points more Republican than the nation. With no incumbent running, the fundamentals suggest a generic Republican would beat a generic Democrat by 1.5 points.

However, examination of available public polling[5]–adjusted for mean partisan bias and pollster quality, as well as time to election (what I call “WAPA”: weighted-adjusted polling average)—suggests McCready is ahead by 0.5 points. That lead increases to nearly two points in the two most recent polls, both taken in late August. Take this WAPA with multiple grains of salt, however, as the average pollster rating is just C+.

Still, the time-weighed polling and fundamentals by time, gives you an aggregate of D+0.3, making this race a true toss-up, and likely within recount territory. But any outcome between D+2 and R+2 is extremely plausible…and that includes R+0.4; it would be a beautiful bit of irony if Bishop wins by the same 0.4 points Harris led by on election day 2018.


That Democrats are reasonably competitive in all three gubernatorial elections this fall is extraordinary given they average 23.1 points more Republican than the nation (Table 1). A word of caution, however: the available public polling in these races ranges from an average of C+ (Mississippi) to B/B- (Kentucky).

Table 1. 2019 Gubernatorial elections

Incumbent Party State 3W-RDM Fund WAPA Comb Prob D win
John Bel Edwards D LA R+22.2 R+10.0 D+9.1 D+3.8 79.5%
Open seat R MS R+18.5 R+12.0 R+4.0 R+6.1 6.9%
Matt Bevin R KY R+28.7 R+30.7 D+4.7 R+4.0 76.5%

The likeliest Democratic win is in Louisiana, where Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards remains fairly popular (favorable 47%, unfavorable 33% in the most recent Morning Consult polling). This is remarkable in a heavily Republican state; even as an incumbent in a strongly-Democratic year, he would still be expected to lose by about 10 points to a generic Republican (though that would still give him about a 30% chance based on recent electoral history).


Photograph of John Bel Edwards from here

Louisiana will actually hold a “jungle primary” on October 12 in which every declared candidate will run regardless of party affiliation. If no candidate captures more than 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters will face off in a runoff election on November 16. The available polling[6] shows Bel Edwards far ahead of his two primary Republican challengers, House Member Ralph Abraham and businessman Eddie Rispone. WAPA values across the available public polls shows Bel Edwards at 46.5%, Abraham at 24.9% and Rispone at 10.3%, with the remaining 18.3% scattered among a handful of other candidates and undecided. Bel Edwards could well fall shy of a majority on October 12.

His likeliest opponent appears to be Abraham, though he recently stirred up some self-inflicted controversy. Head-to-head matchups suggest Bel Edwards would defeat him by about 7 points. Similar polls suggest Bel Edwards would defeat Rispone by about 16 points. If we assume Abraham would be roughly a 5:2 favorite to be Bel Edwards’ runoff opponent, the weighted average is a Bel Edwards win by about nine points. Overall, Bel Edwards is about a 4:1 favorite to win reelection.

At the other end of the popularity spectrum, meanwhile, is Republican governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky, the least popular governor in the country (if you subtract his unfavorable rating of 56% from his favorable rating of 32%). In fact, the incumbent Bevin only defeated State House member Robert Goforth in the May 21 primary 52-39%. Still, even with a -24-point differential in favorability and a divided party, Kentucky is such a Republican-leaning state that the fundamentals have Bevin beating a generic Democrat by a whopping 30.7 points. That generic Democrat would have only about a 4% chance of winning, based on recent electoral history.

However, in a closely-fought primary, Kentucky Democrats nominated state Attorney General Andy Beshear, whose father Steve was governor of Kentucky (as a Democrat) from 2008-2016. And Beshear’s name may be just enough to defeat Bevin, even in the 7th most Republican state in the country. The Democrat leads by 4.7 points in the WAPA, which would make him essentially a shoo-in to win; this value is derived from only three publicly-available (two with a strong Democratic lean) polls, though[7].


Photograph of Andy Beshear from here.

The time-weighted average of fundamentals and WAPA is Bevin+4.0, reflecting the enormous disparity between the two. Still, with WAPA weighted 3-1 over fundamentals, Beshear would seem to be about a 3:1 favorite.

I remain skeptical, though, and consider this race essentially a toss-up (maybe even a slight advantage for Bevin) until I see more and higher-quality polling.

As for the open seat in Mississippi, where Republican Governor Phil Bryant is not seeking reelection, the fundamentals have a generic Republican defeating a generic Democrat by 12.0 points, giving that Democrat about a 1-in-4 chance of winning based on recent electoral history.

On August 6, Democrats nominated state Attorney General Jim Hood, who easily defeated seven other candidates, while Republicans nominated Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, who edged state Supreme Court Chief Justice William Waller in a controversial August 27 runoff election. In fact, following filmed instances of electronic voting machines switching Waller votes to Reeves, Waller refuses to endorse his party’s gubernatorial nominee.

Unlike in Kentucky and Louisiana, though, the few publicly-available Mississippi polls[8] are broadly in line with the fundamentals; the WAPA is Reeves+4.0, making him a near-certain victor. In fact, if you remove two Democratic-leaning Hickman Analytics polls, Reeves’ lead over Hood jumps to about 10 points. The time-weighted average has Reeves up about six points, with a roughly 93% chance of victory.

In sum, then, the good news for Democrats in these three races—in heavily Republican southern states—is that they are unlikely to lose any ground in governor’s mansions overall (they now trail Republicans 23-27), and could even net one new seat in Kentucky, of all places.

Until next time…

[1] There will also be a special election in North Carolina’s 3rd CD that day, to fill the seat vacated when GOP House Member Walter Jones died on February 13, but Republican Greg Murphy is heavily favored to win that seat over Democrat Allen Thomas.

[2] Essentially, how much more or less Democratic a state’s presidential voting has been relative to the nation as a whole over the last three presidential elections.

[3] If the election for were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or some other candidate?”

[4] November 16 for Louisiana

[5] RRH Elections, 8/26-8/28/2019, 500 LV: Harper Polling/Clarity Campaign Labs, 8/26-8/28/2019, 551 RV; Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, 7/15-7/18/2019, 450 RV; Atlantic Media and Research, 5/20-5/30/2019, 358 RV; JMC Enterprises, 5/21-5/24/2019, 350 RV

[6] Market Research Insight 8/13-8/16/2019, 4/9-4/11/2019, 600 LV; Multi-Quest International, 7/19-7/21/2019, 601 RV; Remington Research Group, 6/1-6/2/2019 (1,471 LV), 3/13-3/14/2019 (1,484 LV); JMC Enterprises, 4/25-4/29/2019, 650 LV; LJR Custom Strategies, 1/14-1/17/2019, 600 LV

[7] Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, 8/19-8/22/2019, 501 LV; Clarity Campaign Labs, 8/12-8/13/2019, 792 LV; Gravis Marketing, 6/11-6/12/2019, 741 LV

[8] Hickman Analytics, 8/11-8/15/2019 (600 LV), 5/5-5/9/2019 (604 LV); Survey Monkey, 7/2-7/16/2019, 1.042 RV; Impact Management Group, 6/10-6/14/2019, 610 LV; Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc., 1/30-2/1/2019, 625 RV; OnMessage Inc., 1/28-1/30/2019, 600 LV

A wicked early look at 2020 Senate and gubernatorial races

In recent posts, I began to take a wicked early look at the 2020 U.S. elections. First, I assessed the field of Democrats seeking to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in 2020. Then I turned to the 2020 presidential election itself, pondering how Democrats would potentially fare against Trump.

Now I turn my attention to

  1. The 34 elections for United States Senate (“Senate”) to be held in 2020.
  2. The three gubernatorial elections to be held 2019 (Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi) and the 11 gubernatorial elections to be held in 2020.

My goal is primarily to provide the view from 30,000 feet: what the “fundamentals” in each race reveal about the overall partisan landscape—and what the likelihood is Democrats will have the Senate majority in January 2021 (and cut into the Republican advantage in governor’s mansions) As such, I only briefly discuss actual or potential candidates in these races, other than incumbents seeking reelection.

“Fundamentals” are simply the sum of three values:

  1. The state’s partisan lean, measured by my 3W-RDM (weighted[1] three-election average of the difference between a state’s Democratic [minus Republican] margin in a presidential election and the Democratic [minus Republican] margin in the total national vote in that election).
  2. The estimated effect of incumbency (incumbent office-holders tend to receive a higher percentage of the vote than an open-seat candidate of the same party).
  3. The national partisan lean, as measure by the “generic ballot” question (variations on “If the election for were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or some other candidate?”)


Just bear with me as I explain how I estimated the effect of incumbency for Senate and gubernatorial elections. As usual, unless otherwise noted, election data come from Dave Liep’s indispensable Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.

Senate. I first calculated an “expected margin of victory”[2] for each Democratic Senate nominee in the 35 Senate elections in 2018[3], the 34 Senate elections in 2016[4] and the 35 Senate elections in 2014[5]: a state’s 3W-RDM plus the national Democratic margin (minus Republican percentage of all votes cast) in that year’s elections. Using three elections years guarantees a minimum of two Senate elections from each state. The margins for the three previous Senate election years are:

2014 = D-5.8%

2016 = D+0.9%

2018 = D+9.9%

Next, I subtracted each actual margin (Democratic minus Republican) from the “expected” margin. I then calculated three averages of these differences within each election year:

  1. Races with Democratic incumbents
  2. Races with Republican incumbents
  3. Open-seat races (where expected margin is for party currently holding the office)

Within each election year, then, the effect of incumbency for Democrats is simply the first average minus the third average[6], while the Republican advantage is the second average minus the third average[7]. And the estimated effect of incumbency for each party is the weighted average (2018=3, 2016=2, 2014=1) of the election-year averages.

For Democratic Senate incumbents, the effect is +4.4 percentage points (“points”), and for Republican Senate incumbents the effect is +2.6 points. Somewhat arbitrarily, I divide these values by 1.5 for incumbents who have won a special election, but not yet served a full six-year term and by 2.0 for incumbents who were appointed to the seat and have yet to face the voters.

Governor. Complicating these calculations is that five states hold their gubernatorial elections in odd-numbered years; thus, in November 2019, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi will elect a governor, as will New Jersey and Virginia in November 2021.

As a result, I analyzed data from two-year cycles: 38 gubernatorial elections in each of 2017-18[8] and 2013-14[9], and 15 gubernatorial elections in each of 2015-16[10] and 2011-12[11]; going back to 2011 guarantees at least two gubernatorial elections from each state (with New Hampshire and Vermont, which hold gubernatorial elections every two years, included four times[12]). The calculations were otherwise the same, except for calculating a four-cycle weighted average (4,3,2,1)[13]: for Democratic gubernatorial incumbents, the effect is +5.7 points, and for Republican gubernatorial incumbents the effect is +8.5 points.

That the effect of incumbency is stronger for governors than for Senators reflects how partisan Senate elections have become.


Let us now turn to the elections themselves. I base the “national lean” of D+6.0 on generic ballot polls listed on FiveThirtyEight.com, which have varied between D+2 and D+9—and mostly between D+5 and D+7—over the last few weeks. While this value is broadly in line with the last four Senate election years (weighted average=D+4.3 points; unweighted average from last two presidential election years= D+6.5), it is much higher than the last four gubernatorial election cycles (weighted average=D-0.6 points; unweighted average from last two presidential election years= D-3.2).

2020 Senate elections. Republicans currently hold 53 Senate seats, with 47 held by Democrats (including Independent Senators Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucus with Democrats), meaning that to win back the majority in 2020, Democrats need either to win a net four seats, or win a net three seats and win the presidential election (Democratic Vice President would break 50-50 tie).

Table 1. 2020 Senate election overview

Name State Run




Total Last margin First elected
Edward Markey MA Yes 22.1 4.4 6.0 32.5 23.9% 2013
Jack Reed RI Yes 18.0 4.4 6.0 28.4 41.3% 1996
Richard Durbin IL Yes 14.7 4.4 6.0 25.1 14.6% 1996
Chris Coons DE Yes 12.5 4.4 6.0 22.9 13.6% 2010
Cory Booker NJ Yes 12.0 4.4 6.0 22.4 13.5% 2012
Jeff Merkley OR Yes 8.7 4.4 6.0 19.1 18.9% 2008
Tom Udall NM No 6.5 0.0 6.0 12.5 N/A
Gary Peters MI Yes 2.2 4.4 6.0 12.6 13.3% 2014
Mark Warner VA Yes 1.5 4.4 6.0 11.9 0.8% 2008
Tina Smith MN Yes 1.5 2.9 6.0 10.4 10.6% 2018
Jeanne Shaheen NH Yes 0.1 4.2 6.0 10.3 3.3% 2008
Doug Jones AL Yes -28.4 2.2 6.0 -20.2 1.7% 2017
Susan Collins ME Yes 5.9 -2.4 6.0 9.5 37.0% 1996
Cory Gardner CO Yes 2.2 -2.4 6.0 5.8 1.9% 2014
Joni Ernst IA Yes -4.7 -2.4 6.0 -1.1 8.3% 2014
Thom Tillis NC Yes -6.0 -2.4 6.0 -2.4 1.6% 2014
David Perdue GA Yes -9.6 -2.4 6.0 -6.0 7.7% 2014
Martha McSally AZ Yes -9.7 -1.2 6.0 -4.9 Apptd 2019
John Cornyn TX Yes -15.3 -2.4 6.0 -11.7 27.2% 2002
Lindsey Graham SC Yes -15.7 -2.4 6.0 -12.1 15.5% 2002
Cindy Hyde-Smith MS Yes -18.5 -1.6 6.0 -14.1 7.3% 2018
Steve Daines MT Yes -18.6 -2.4 6.0 -15.0 17.7% 2014
Dan Sullivan AK Yes -19.2 -2.4 6.0 -15.6 2.1% 2014
Bill Cassidy LA Yes -22.2 -2.4 6.0 -18.6 11.9% 2014
Pat Roberts KS No -23.4 0.0 6.0 -17.4 N/A
Lamar Alexander TN No -25.8 0.0 6.0 -19.8 N/A
Ben Sasse NE Yes -25.8 -2.4 6.0 -22.2 32.8% 2014
Mike Rounds SD Yes -25.8 -2.4 6.0 -22.2 20.9% 2014
Tom Cotton AR Yes -28.2 -2.4 6.0 -24.6 17.1% 2014
Mitch McConnell KY Yes -28.7 -2.4 6.0 -25.1 15.5% 1984
James Risch ID Yes -34.2 -2.4 6.0 -30.6 30.7% 2008
Shelley Moore Capito WV Yes -35.5 -2.4 6.0 -31.9 27.7% 2014
James Inhofe OK Yes -38.1 -2.4 6.0 -34.5 39.5% 1994
Mike Enzi WY No -45.7 0 6.0 -39.7 N/A

At first glance, Democrats appear to have a significant advantage in the 2020 Senate elections (Table 1): of 34 Senate elections scheduled for November 2020, fully two-thirds (22) are currently Republican-held. And of those 22 seats, fully 73% (16) are potentially more vulnerable because they include…

Moreover, only one currently-Democratic seat appears particularly vulnerable as of now: Jones’ seat in deep-red Alabama (D-28.4); a reasonable estimate is that Jones would lose to a generic Republican by around 20 points. Even with the full effect of incumbency (+4.2), a repeat of Democrats’ strong overall performance in 2018 (D+9.9) and a pro-Democratic error of 5.4 points in 3W-RDM (the average miss over time), Jones would still be down about nine points to a generic Republican. Yes, Jones overcame similar odds in December 2017, but that was against a severely compromised Republican opponent.

And while first-term Democratic Senators Gary Peters of Michigan and Tina Smith of Minnesota (who won by double-digits in November 2018 after being appointed to replace Democrat Al Franken in December 2017) could be vulnerable—along with Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Warner of Virginia, who narrowly won reelection in 2014—if Democrats only break even in 2020, as of now, they appear quite likely to prevail. They would join six safe Democratic incumbents (Ed Markey, Jack Reed, Richard Durbin, Chris Coons, Cory Booker[14] and Jeff Merkley) and a likely-safe open seat in New Mexico (with Democratic United States House of Representatives member [“Representative”] Ben Ray Luján a strong candidate to win the seat).

Ben Ray Lujan

2020 New Mexico Democratic Senate candidate Ben Ray Luján,

However, Democrats should not be banking on New York Senator Chuck Schumer switching from Minority to Majority Leader in January 2021 just yet. While as many as 16 Republican-held seats are arguably vulnerable, only two are in states that even lean Democratic: Maine (D+5.9) and Colorado (D+2.2). And while Gardner is clearly vulnerable (he underperformed by about four points in 2014, when he beat incumbent Democrat Mark Udall), even a slight improvement by Republicans in the total national Senate vote puts that seat at toss-up status, at best. And Collins has been winning statewide in Maine since 1996, including winning her fourth term by an eye-popping 37.0 points!

Plus, the next four most vulnerable Republican incumbents (all finishing their first term)—Ernst, Tillis, Perdue and McSally—represent states averaging 7.5 points more Republican than the nation as a whole; this is why even in a very good Democratic year the fundamentals have these races “toss-up” at best. Moreover, while it is true that Ernst, Tillis and Perdue won in 2014 by an average of just 5.9 points (with McSally losing by 2.3 points in 2018)—a hair over the overall Senate Republican that year—all four now have the modest added advantage of running as incumbents in lean-Republican states. And where Democrats have a strong candidate to run against McSally—former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of former Representative Gabby Giffords (D-AZ)—other strong candidates such as former Iowa Governor (and Secretary of Agriculture) Tom Vilsack and former Georgia House Speaker Stacey Abrams have ruled out running for the Senate in 2020.

Mark Kelly

Left to right: former Representative Gabby Giffords and 2020 Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly

Abrams and Vilsack are not the only high-profile Democrats choosing not to challenge vulnerable incumbent Republican Senators. Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice will not challenge Collins, while former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is running for president in 2020 instead.

Beyond those six races, Democratic chances to flip seats only get slimmer. Former South Carolina Democratic Party chair Jaime Harrison is formally exploring a bid against Senator Lindsey Graham. And while former Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX; running for president) and Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) passed on a run, Air Force veteran Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, who came within 3 points of defeating incumbent Representative John Carter (D-TX) in 2018, plans to run against Senator John Cornyn. Even with Democrats winning nationally by six points, however, the fundamentals suggest both Harrison and Hegar begin their races down around 12 points.

Jaime Harrison

2020 South Carolina Senate Democratic candidate Jaime Harrison

MJ Hegar

2020 Texas Senate Democratic candidate MJ Hegar

Mississippi, meanwhile, will see a rematch between Espy and Hyde-Smith as she seeks a first full term. But while he came within about seven points of unseating her in 2018, this will be a tough Senate race for Democrats to win, as the fundamentals have him down by 15.1 points—similar to the Democratic position against first-term Senators Daines in Montana (where outgoing Democratic Governor Steve Bullock is apparently running for president instead) and Sullivan (who only defeated Democratic incumbent Mark Begich by 2.1 points in 2014) in Alaska.

Mike Espy.jpg

2020 Mississippi Democratic Senate candidate Mike Espy

That leaves 11 Republican-held Senate seats which average 30.3 points more Republican than the nation. Even with three open seats it is very difficult to see how Democrats flip any of them. One intriguing exception, however, could be in Kentucky, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (quite unpopular at home) is seeking a seventh term; if Air Force veteran Amy McGrath (who, like Hegar, came within three points of defeating an incumbent Republican Representative in 2018—in this case Andy Barr) were to run, she may be able to overcome the fundamentals showing a generic Democrat down 25.1 points to McConnell.

The bottom line?

While there are several plausible paths for Democrats to win back a Senate majority in 2020…

  1. Win presidency; Jones win in Alabama; win Maine and Colorado and one of Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona
  2. Win presidency; Jones lose in Alabama; win Maine and Colorado and two of Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona
  3. Lose presidency; Jones win in Alabama; win Maine and Colorado and two of Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona
  4. Lose presidency; Jones lose in Alabama; win Maine and Colorado and three of Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona
  5. Any of 1-4 above but substituting wins in even more Republican states such as Texas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alaska and Kentucky.

…a great deal would have to go just right for Democrats in each scenario. In fact, it is easy to foresee anything from Democrats net losing a handful of seats (Alabama and some combination of Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia) to winning a clear majority (holding Alabama, sweeping the six most vulnerable states and maybe even picking off South Carolina and/or Texas and/or Mississippi and/or Kentucky) is possible.

The silver lining for Democrats, though, is that forcing Republicans to invest money, time and resources in states like Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas makes it that much harder for them to beat Democratic incumbents in Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Virginia.

2019-20 Gubernatorial elections. Republicans currently occupy governor’s mansions in 27 states, with Democrats occupying the remaining 23.

Three gubernatorial elections will be held in 2019, all in southern states averaging 23.1 points more Republican than the nation (Table 2). The lone Democrat is John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, and while the fundamentals have him down to a generic Republican by 10.5 points, he is generally popular with voters in his state and thus more likely than not to win reelection. By contrast, the only Republican governor to seek reelection this year—Matt Bevin of Kentucky—is the least popular governor in the country; still, the fundamentals have him beating a generic Democrat by a whopping 31.2 points. As for the open seat in Mississippi, the fundamentals have a generic Republican defeating a generic Democrat by 12.5 points.

This means that the likeliest outcome is no net change in partisan control of governor’s mansions in 2019—though that could mean the parties switch control in Louisiana and Kentucky!

Table 2. 2019-20 Gubernatorial election overview

Name State Run

2019/ 2020



Total Last margin First elected
John Bel Edwards LA Yes -22.2 5.7 6.0 -10.5 12.2% 2015
Phil Bryant MS No -18.5 0.0 6.0 -12.5 N/A
Matt Bevin KY Yes -28.7 -8.5 6.0 -31.2 8.7% 2015
John Carney DE Yes 12.5 5.7 6.0 24.2 19.2% 2016
Jay Inslee WA No 12.1 0.0 6.0 18.1 N/A
Roy Cooper NC Yes -6.0 5.7 6.0 5.7 0.2% 2016
Steve Bullock MT No -18.6 0.0 6.0 -12.6 N/A
Phil Scott VT Yes 27.7 -8.5 6.0 25.2 14.9% 2016
Chris Sununu NH Yes 0.1 -8.5 6.0 -2.4 7.0% 2016
Eric Holcomb IN Yes -16.3 -8.5 6.0 -18.8 6.0% 2016
Mike Parson MO Yes -15.9 -4.3 6.0 -14.2 Succ 2018
James Justice WV Yes -35.5 -8.5 6.0 -38.0 6.8% 2016
Doug Burgum ND Yes -29.4 -8.5 6.0 -31.9 57.1% 2016
Gary Herbert UT No -33.1 0.0 6.0 -27.1 N/A

Looking ahead to 2020, two states currently governed by Democrats, Delaware and Washington, are all-but-certain to remain in Democratic hands, with Governor John Carney poised to reprise his nearly-20-point win in 2016 and a Democrat (state Attorney General Bob Ferguson?) heavily favored to succeed Governor Jay Inslee (running for president instead).

Equally certain to remain in Republican hands are West Virginia and North Dakota (where James Justice—who switched parties after winning as a Democrat in 2016—and Doug Burgum will seek reelection), as well as Utah, where Governor Gary Herbert is term-limited from seeking reelection.  The fundamentals in these states have Republicans ahead by 32.3 points over a generic Democrat.

That leaves six races which could be competitive—although Governors Eric Holcomb of Indiana and Mike Parson (who became governor in June 2018, following the resignation of Eric Greitens, just elected in 2016) of Missouri—are ahead in the fundamentals by 14-19 points.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper barely defeated Republican incumbent Pat McCrory in 2016, and while the fundamentals have him beating a generic Republican by 5.7 points, this race would be a pure toss-up in a neutral partisan environment. Montana is another story, though, with Bullock retiring after two terms (and 16 consecutive years of Democratic governors); the fundamentals suggest a generic Republican would win back the governor’s mansion in Helena by 12.6 points (and that is with Democrats winning by six points nationally).

That only leaves two New England Republican governors who just won reelection last year, but who the fundamentals see as highly vulnerable: Phil Scott, who won by nearly 15 points in deep-blue Vermont (D+27.7), and Chris Sununu, who “only” won by 7.0 points in swing-state New Hampshire. If they did not lose in 2018, though, it is unlikely (though not impossible) they will lose in 2020.

The bottom line?

As of May 2019, the 14 gubernatorial elections in 2019 and 2020 will most likely result in a net gain of 1 (with Republicans winning the open governor’s seat in Montana) governor’s mansion, expanding their overall lead to 28-22—but races this year in Kentucky and Louisiana, and next year in Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Vermont could yet surprise.

Until next time…

[1] The most recent election is weighted “3,” the 2nd-most recent election is weighted “2” and the 3rd-most recent election is weighted “1.”

[2] That is, relative to the Republican candidate. I excluded data from special elections such as the December 2017 Senate election in Alabama.

[3] For the California Senate election, I used the total votes for Democratic, Republican and all-other-party candidates in the June 5, 2018 “jungle primary.” For the Mississippi special Senate election, I used the results from the runoff election on November 27, 2018. For the Maine and Vermont Senate races, I counted as “Democratic” votes those cast for Independent Senators Angus King and Bernie Sanders, respectively, since each man caucuses with the Democrats (and there was no Democratic Senate nominee in Vermont); in Maine, I counted the Democratic votes as “other.” Notably, counting votes for King and Sanders as “other” (and Democratic votes in Maine as “Democratic”) only changes the national Democratic margin from +9.9 percentage points to +9.4.

[4] For the California Senate election, I used the total votes for Democratic, Republican and all-other-party candidates in the June 7, 2016 “jungle primary.” For the Louisiana Senate election, I used the results from the runoff election on December 10, 2016.

[5] I excluded the Alabama Senate race in which Republican incumbent Jeff Sessions ran unopposed.

[6] These values were +0.9% in 2018, +6.5% in 2016 and +10.6% in 2014.

[7] These values were +2.6% in 2018, +3.6% in 2016 and -0.7% in 2014.

[8] I counted the 2018 Alaska gubernatorial election as a Democratic open seat after Independent Governor Bill Walker suspended his reelection campaign on October 19, 2018, throwing his support to Democratic nominee Mark Begich.

[9] I counted Walker as a Democrat in 2014 Alaska gubernatorial election (though counting him as “Other” would have made little material difference). I counted the Rhode Island gubernatorial election as a Democratic open seat although outgoing Governor Lincoln Chafee was an Independent (who briefly sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination).

[10] For the 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial election, I used data from the runoff election held November 21, 2015.

[11] Because incumbent Republican governor Bobby Jindal easily cleared the 50% threshold on election day 2011, for the 2011 Louisiana gubernatorial election, I used the sum of all votes cast for the candidate of each political party (Republican, Democrat, Other) that day.

[12] West Virginia is counted three times because it also held a special gubernatorial election in 2011.

[13] Democratic incumbency “advantage” was +2.0% in 2017-18, +6.3% in 2015-16, +5.7% in 2013-14 and +18.9% in 2011-12; the corresponding Republican values were +17.3%, -3.4%, +10.3% and +5.1%.

[14] Or whoever replaces him, should he become the next president or vice president of the United States.

Organizing by themes I: American politics

This site benefits/suffers/both from consisting of posts about a wide range of topics, all linked under the amorphous heading “data-driven storytelling.”

In an attempt to impose some coherent structure, I am organizing related posts both chronologically and thematically.

Given that I have multiple degrees in political science, with an emphasis on American politics, it is not surprising that I have written a few dozen posts in that field…and that is where I begin.

I Voted sticker


I started by writing about the 2016 elections, many based on my own state-partisanship metric (which I validate here).

The absurdity of the Democratic “blue wall” in the Electoral College

Hillary Clinton’s performance in five key states (IA, MI, OH, PA, WI)

Why Democrats should look to the south (east and west)

How having (or not) a college degree impacted voting

An alternative argument about gerrymandering

An early foray into what I call “Clinton derangement”

The only statistic from 2016 that really matters


Here are a few posts about presidential polling (before FiveThirtyEight jumped on the bandwagon)…

Be careful interpreting President Trump’s approval polls

…and the 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District (GA-6)

Ossoff and the future of the Democratic Party

Using GA-6 polls to discuss statistical significance testing (spoiler: I am not a fan)


And then I started looking ahead to 2018…first to control of the United States House of Representatives (“House”). Note that posts are often cross-generic…

An alternative argument about gerrymandering

The impact of voting to repeal (and not replace) Obamacare (May 2017)

I debut my simple forecast model (June 2017)

Making more points about polls and probability

A March 2018 update

A followup March 2018 update (after which I stopped writing about the 2018 House elections)

…then the United States Senate

The view from May 2017

What it meant that the Senate voted NOT to repeal Obamacare in July 2017

The view from December 2017

…and, finally, races for governor in 2017 AND 2018.

The view from June 2017

A tangentially-related post may be found here.


After Labor Day 2018, I developed models (based on “fundamentals” and polls) to “forecast” the Senate elections…

September 4

September 13

October 23

…and those for governor (the October 23 post addressed both sets of races)

September 16

These culminated in…

My Election Day cheat sheet

And my own assessment of how I did (spoiler: not half bad)

Speaking of assessments, I took a long look at my partisan lean measure here.

And I carefully examined some polling aggregation assumptions here.


Beginning in April 2019, I turned my attention to the 2020 elections.

First came a wicked early look at the relative standings of the dozens of women and men actually or potentially seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination:

April 2019

Then came a wicked early look at the 2020 presidential election itself.

April 2019

And, of course, a wicked early look at races for Senate (2020) and governor (2019-20).

With a post-Labor-Day update.

With the first of regular updates to both the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and the 2020 presidential election in May 2019

This post both set up the first Democratic debates and had good news for Democrats looking ahead to 2020.

This post set up the second Democratic debates and drew some conclusions about who “won” and “lost” the first debates.

This post updated the data for August 2019 and drew some conclusions about who “won” and “lost” the second debates.

Ditto for September 2019, October 2019, November 2019,  December 2019, January 2020

Once voting commenced in the 2020 Democratic presidentil nomination process, I wrote posts specific to the

As for the 2020 general election:

And two assessment of Emerson College polls (one, two).


Finally, there are other politics posts that defy easy categorization.

I indulged in some speculative alternative history about the presidential elections of 1948 and 2000.

I delineated issue differences between Democrats and Republicans.

I got a bit personal here and here, concluding with the fact that, despite overlapping in the same residential college at Yale for two years, I did NOT know Associate Justice Brett Kavanagh at all.

I argued for the abolition of the Electoral College.

Until next time…

2018 Election Cheat Sheet: How did I do?

I should apologize to our younger daughter’s friend’s mother.

In my…determination…to be settled in front of the television with snacks and beverages at precisely 6 pm EST on November 6, 2018, I might have been a bit abrupt collecting our youngest daughter from a local taqueria where said friend’s mother had generously taken them to supper (after schlepping them and one other girl back from gymnastics class).

However, thanks to help from the same daughter, I was at my post at the appointed time. Our youngest daughter even carefully picked out all of the red M&M’s (plain and peanut) from their decorative bowls. There were no red cashews to extract (but they were still delicious).

I also had a blue mechanical pencil to mark my 2018 Election Guide, as well as an entire 12-pack of unflavored Polar Seltzer cans sitting on the floor to my left (as the evening turned into midnight and beyond, the line of empty blue cans on the floor emanating from the carton grew longer and longer).

And sitting within reaching distance of my right arm was this colorful fowl.


You know it is a celebration in our home when “the rooster” makes an appearance. Rather than ice water, however, this evening it was filled with blue lagoons—which my wife Nell still cannot decide more closely resembles Windex or Scope.

As the early returns from Indiana and Kentucky were being tabulated on MSNBC, however, a sinking feeling set in that I would not be drinking as much of this cocktail as I had anticipated. I remembered from 2008 that Indiana’s Democratic pockets report much later than its eastern-half Republican counties, but Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly was trailing by well over 20 percentage points in a race that both FiveThirtyEight.com and I had labeled “Lean Democratic.” (Republican Mike Braun would eventually defeat Donnelly by 5.9 percentage points [points]) And Democrat Amy McGrath was not faring as well in the early tallies from the 7th Congressional District (CD) in Kentucky against incumbent Republican Andy Barr as I had hoped. (McGrath would eventually lose by 3.2 points.)

When polls closed at 7 pm EST in Vermont and Virginia, MSNBC almost immediately projected wins in their respective United States Senate (Senate) races for Independent Bernie Sanders and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine—meaning that the first calls of the night were for men I had voted for in 2016 in completely different contexts—Sanders in the Massachusetts Democratic Presidential Primary and Kaine as the Democratic nominee for vice president.

That sinking feeling only grew worse as the FiveThirtyEight.com “live tracker” of Democrats’ chances of regaining control of the United States House of Representatives (House) dipped below 50% around 8:30 or so. Nell, worried, yelled into the living room, “I am not hearing any whoops or cheers.”

At just before 9 pm (when it was already clear Republicans would not only maintain control of the Senate but add seats), the indefatigable Steve Kornacki  announced NBC was giving the Democrats only a 65% chance of regaining the House, projecting they would finish with between 216 (2 too few) and 232 House seats; this translates to a net gain of between 21 and 37 seats.

Finally, however, as votes were counted in Virginia and, especially, New York, both the FiveThirtyEight.com tracker and the NBC “big board” manned brilliantly by Kornacki creeped higher and higher.  I do not remember when MSNBC projected Democrat Abigail Spanberger had defeated two-term Republican Dave Brat in Virginia’s 7th CD, but it was then I realized the anticipated “blue wave” (at least in the House) would materialize. When Democrat Max Rose beat two-term incumbent Republican Dan Donovan in New York’s 11th CD (on Republican-leaning Staten Island), it was off to the races.

Finally, at just before 11 pm EST, MSNBC (OK, I cannot find when they made their call, but it was likely within a few minutes of CNN) projected a Democratic takeover of the House.

A few minutes later, a not-yet-asleep Nell came downstairs to say that one of our politically-like-minded downstairs neighbors had texted her appreciation of my (partially-restrained) whooping-dancing “We got the House! We got the House!”

For the first time since the election of Republican Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, accompanied by a Republican House and Senate, plus a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, I truly exhaled.


In my previous post, I laid out a series of “projected” final margins for 17 (of 35) Senate races and all 36 governor’s races. In this post, I described two simple models of the number of House seats Democrats would net in 2018 based upon the change from 2016 in the Democratic (vs. Republican) margin in the total vote cast nationwide for the House. In 2016, Democrats lost the total national House vote by 1.1 points (while netting 6 seats as they improved by 4.7 points from 2014).

Votes are still being tabulated across the country, especially in California, but enough time has passed since Election Day to see how my projections compared to the actual margins (and to the FiveThirtyEight.com assessment of those same races), starting with the House.

House. According to the indispensable Cook Political Report vote tracker, as of 6 pm EST on November 18, 2018, nearly 110.7 million votes had been cast in House races. For perspective, 81.0 million, 86.8 million and 78.8 million House votes were cast in the last three midterm elections (2006, 2010, 2014), respectively. And that total was 129.8 million in the last presidential election year (2016). (House election data from the Cook tracker and here).

Democrats have thus far won 53.0% of those votes, compared to 45.7% for Republicans (and 1.3% for a smattering of third-party candidates) for a Democratic margin of 7.7 points…and an 8.8-point shift towards the Democrats from 2016 (and 13.5 points from 2014!)

According to my preferred “simple” model (change in margin only), a shift of 8.8 points would yield a gain of 26 seats (and give Democrats a 72% chance of regaining House control). My “complex” model (accounting also for whether the election was a midterm or not) was more bullish on the net seat gain (30) but more bearish on the probability (64%). Averaging across the two models yields a net of 28 seats and a 68% probability of Democratic House control.

Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight.com’s final House forecasts projected a Democratic national House margin of 9.2 points (the median of their Lite, Classic and Deluxe forecasts) and a net gain of 38 (ditto) seats. Using the FiveThirtyEight.com projected House margin ups my average projected House seat gains to 33 with an 82% chance of regaining control.

With three-seven House races yet to be called, the likeliest outcome is that Democrats will net 38 (36-41) House seats, widely geographically dispersed: six (with Republican David Valadao the likely winner in CD 21) in California; four each in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (+5 D, +1 R); three each in New York and Virginia; two each in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Texas; and one each in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia (with incumbent Republican Rob Woodall leading Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 419 votes[1]), Kansas, Maine, New Mexico (almost certainly), South Carolina and Washington. Incumbent Republican Mia Love also leads Ben McAdams by just 419 votes. Minnesota showed no net change as Democrats flipped the 2nd and 3rd CDs while Republicans flipped the 1st and  8th CDs.

Based on the information I had on the morning of Election Day, that is 5 (3-8) seats more than I projected Democrats to net, well below the average nine seats by which my models “missed” across 24 previous midterm elections—and consistent with my models underestimating gains/losses in “wave” elections.

FiveThirtyEight.com almost perfectly nailed the actual Democratic net gain of seats, though (as of this writing) they overestimated the Democratic national House margin by 1.5 points; historically, this is not an especially large difference.

Most fascinating, however, is that a net gain of 38 House seats would actually be one seat higher than the upper range of what NBC was projecting at 9 pm EST on Election Day. Vote counting may be laborious and require infinite patience, but it is ultimately rewarding.

Senate. Table 1 compares the actual margin (Democratic percentage of total vote minus Republican percentage of total vote) in 33 2018 U.S. Senate races; italicized states indicate Republican pickups while boldfaced states indicate Democratic pickups. I excluded California, where incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein beat fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon by 9.0 points, and the special election in Mississippi, where incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith will face Democrat Mike Espy in a November 27 runoff. The latter race should be an easy win for Hyde-Smith in ruby red Mississippi (18.5 points more Republican than the nation as a whole, according to my 3W-RDM), but Hyde-Smith’s recent comments may make this race closer than expected.

Table 1. Comparing projected to actual 2018 U.S. Senate election margins*

State 3W-RDM Actual Difference

(Projected – Actual)

AV Difference

(Projected – Actual)

JBWM 538.com JBWM 538.com
Hawaii 34.3 42.2 -11.2 11.2
Vermont 27.7 39.9 -1.3 1.3
Maryland 22.6 33.9 -3.3 3.3
Massachusetts 22.1 24.8 -1.3 1.3
New York 21.6 33.0 4.8 4.8
Rhode Island 18.0 23.0 -5.6 5.6
Connecticut 12.8 20.2 -1.2 1.2
Delaware 12.5 22.2 -4.7 4.7
Washington 12.1 17.0 -5.4 5.4
New Jersey 12.0 10.6 1.5 -0.9 1.5 0.9
New Mexico 6.5 23.5 5.3 5.3
Maine 5.9 19.0 -0.9 0.9
Michigan 2.2 6.6 -6.3 -4.6 6.3 4.6
Nevada 2.0 5.0 4.7 4.0 4.7 4.0
Virginia 1.5 16.0 0.2 0.2
Minnesota SE 1.5 10.6 1.4 1.0 1.4 1.0
Minnesota 1.5 24.1 2.7 2.7
Wisconsin 0.7 10.8 -0.8 -2.0 0.8 2.0
Pennsylvania -0.4 12.8 -2.0 1.3 2.0 1.3
Florida -3.4 -0.2 -2.2 -3.4 2.2 3.4
Ohio -5.8 6.4 -5.7 -5.0 5.7 5.0
Arizona -9.7 2.2 0.7 0.5 0.7 0.5
Texas -15.3 -2.6 3.2 1.9 3.2 1.9
Missouri -15.9 -6.0 -5.5 -7.0 5.5 7.0
Indiana -16.3 -5.9 -7.1 -9.6 7.1 9.6
Mississippi -18.5 -20.3 0.8 0.8
Montana -18.6 3.5 -0.2 -1.2 0.2 1.2
Tennessee -25.8 -10.8 -6.3 -5.4 6.3 5.4
Nebraska -25.8 -19.6 -4.7 4.7
North Dakota -29.4 -10.8 -2.4 -6.0 2.4 6.0
Utah -33.1 -32.2 -2.8 2.8
West Virginia -35.5 3.3 0.0 -4.2 0.0 4.2
Wyoming -45.7 -37.0 7.1 7.1
Average Difference

(all projected elections)









Average Difference

(both projections only)









      *Excluding California (two Democrats) and the special election in Mississippi (runoff

      November 27, 2018)

States are sorted from most-to-least Democratic, according to their 3W-RDM score. The table presents the numeric and absolute value of the difference between the actual and projected Democratic margins in each election for both JustBearWithMe (JBWM) and FiveThirtyEight.com. Two sets of averages are presented at the bottom of the table: one was calculated using every election projected (I only projected the 17 most “interesting” races, while FiveThirtyEight.com projected all 35) and one was calculated only using the 16 listed Senate elections projected by both JBWM and FiveThirtyEight.com.

With Democratic Senator Bill Nelson conceding to Republican Rick Scott in the Florida Senate race, and the runoff in Mississippi still likely to result in a Republican hold, Democrats appear to have lost a net of 2 Senate seats. Besides Florida, Republicans ousted Democratic incumbents in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota; they also won hard-fought races in Tennessee and Texas. Democrats, however, beat incumbent Republican Dean Heller in Nevada and won the open seat in Arizona vacated by Republican Jeff Flake.

My final back-of-the-envelope estimate was a loss of 0.9 Senate seats, while the median final FiveThirtyEight.com projection was a loss of 0.5 Senate seats; this is at most a 1.5 seat underestimate, depending on what happens in Mississippi, though I was slightly closer to the actual outcome. Both projections “called” the Florida and Indiana Senate races wrong—while FiveThirtyEight.com called the Missouri Senate race wrong as well.

Both JBWM and FiveThirtyEight.com overestimated Democratic margins in a swath of states stretching from North Dakota (average 4.2 points) south and east to Florida (2.8); states in which both projections overestimated the Democratic margin by at least four points were Ohio (5.4, on average), Michigan (5.5), Tennessee (5.9), Missouri (6.3) and Indiana (8.4). FiveThirtyEight.com also underestimated Republican margins in solidly Democratic Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Washington, as well as in solidly Republican Nebraska.

At the same time, both projections underestimated Democratic margins in Nevada (4.4) and, to a lesser extent, Texas (2.7); FiveThirtyEight.com also significantly underestimated Democratic margins in New Mexico, New York and Wyoming.

Overall, I overestimated Democratic Senate race margins by an average of 1.7 points (3.1 points in absolute terms) while FiveThirtyEight.com missed by an average of 1.9 points (3.7 in absolute terms). Only looking at the 16 Senate races we jointly assessed, FiveThirtyEight.com’s performance is slightly worse: overestimating Democratic margins by 2.5 points (though just 3.6 in absolute terms). This suggests FiveThirtyEight.com performed slightly better in Senate races in which the winner was clear well in advance.

Governor. Table 2 compares the current actual margin (Democratic percentage of total vote minus Republican percentage of total vote) in 35 2018 gubernatorial elections; italicized states indicate Republican pickups while boldfaced states indicate Democratic pickups. I excluded Nebraska because no polls were conducted of its gubernatorial election. States are again sorted from most-to-least Democratic.

Table 2. Comparing projected to actual 2018 U.S. Gubernatorial election margins**

State 3W-RDM Actual Difference

(Projected – Actual)

AV Difference

(Projected – Actual)

JBWM 538.com JBWM 538.com
Hawaii 34.3 29.0 -4.1 -1.1 4.1 1.1
Vermont 27.7 -15.0 -10.0 -3.6 10.0 3.6
California 23.2 22.6 5.7 5.2 5.7 5.2
Maryland 22.6 -12.7 -8.7 4.9 8.7 4.9
Massachusetts 22.1 -32.6 -2.7 1.4 2.7 1.4
New York 21.6 22.2 0.5 3.1 0.5 3.1
Rhode Island 18.0 15.5 0.1 -4.9 0.1 4.9
Illinois 14.7 15.4 -2.4 6.1 2.4 6.1
Connecticut 12.8 3.2 -3.9 -1.9 3.9 1.9
Oregon 8.7 6.4 -3.0 -0.1 3.0 0.1
New Mexico 6.5 14.4 5.2 5.0 5.2 5.0
Maine 5.9 7.6 -1.8 -4.7 1.8 4.7
Colorado 2.2 10.6 1.9 -1.8 1.9 1.8
Michigan 2.2 9.5 0.5 -0.2 0.5 0.2
Nevada 2.0 4.1 2.9 3.9 2.9 3.9
Minnesota 1.5 11.5 2.7 1.4 2.7 1.4
Wisconsin 0.7 1.2 -2.9 -0.5 2.9 0.5
New Hampshire 0.1 -7.0 -0.8 1.3 0.8 1.3
Pennsylvania -0.4 16.8 0.2 1.4 0.2 1.4
Florida -3.4 -0.4 -4.3 -4.6 4.3 4.6
Iowa -4.7 -2.7 -4.3 -3.5 4.3 3.5
Ohio -5.8 -4.2 -5.4 -5.7 5.4 5.7
Georgia -9.6 -1.4 -0.4 0.8 0.4 0.8
Arizona -9.7 -14.2 -2.5 -0.5 2.5 0.5
Texas -15.3 -13.3 2.6 3.6 2.6 3.6
South Carolina -15.7 -8.0 4.7 5.6 4.7 5.6
Alaska -19.2 -7.9 -5.1 -3.9 5.1 3.9
Kansas -23.4 4.5 7.1 5.8 7.1 5.8
Tennessee -25.8 -21.1 -5.7 -7.5 5.7 7.5
South Dakota -25.8 -3.4 -2.5 -0.9 2.5 0.9
Arkansas -28.2 -33.5 -3.5 -6.1 3.5 6.1
Alabama -28.4 -19.2 1.6 -3.0 1.6 3.0
Idaho -34.2 -21.6 -3.4 -5.2 3.4 5.2
Oklahoma -38.1 -12.1 -2.3 -4.9 2.3 4.9
Wyoming -45.7 -39.8 -4.2 -9.8 4.2 9.8
Average Projected-Actual -1.4 -0.7 3.4 3.5

      **Excluding Nebraska because no polls were conducted of its gubernatorial election

With Democrats Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams (sort of) in Georgia conceding to Republicans Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp, respectively, Democrats netted six governor’s mansions. Democrats defeated Republican incumbents in Illinois and Wisconsin and won Republican-held open seats in Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico; Republican Mike Dunleavey beat Democrat Mark Begich to win the open Independent-held governor’s mansion in Alaska. At the same time, Republicans cut their losses by narrowly holding the governor’s mansions in Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio.

My final back-of-the-envelope estimate was a Democratic net gain of 9.2 governor’s mansions, while the median final FiveThirtyEight.com projection was 8.2 governor’s mansions. Both projections incorrectly “called” the gubernatorial elections in Florida, Iowa and Ohio for the Democratic candidate while mistakenly projecting a win in Kansas by Republican Kris Kobach over Democrat Laura Kelly.

Both JBWM and FiveThirtyEight.com overestimated Democratic margins by at least three points in Iowa (3.9 points on average), Idaho (4.3), Alaska (4.5), Florida (4.5), Arkansas (4.8), Ohio (5.5), Tennessee (6.6), Vermont (6.8) and Wyoming (7.0)—and, to a lesser extent Connecticut (2.9); all but Vermont[2] are at least 3.4 points more Republican than the nation as a whole. However, both projections underestimated Democratic margins in Nevada (3.4), New Mexico (5.1), South Carolina (5.2), California (5.5) and Kansas (6.5)—and to a lesser extent Texas (3.1); I addressed the woes besetting Kansas Republicans here.

Overall, I overestimated Democratic gubernatorial election margins by an average of 1.4 points (3.4 points in absolute terms) while FiveThirtyEight.com did so by an average of just 0.7 points (3.5 in absolute terms). Clearly, while both forecasts were identical in terms of correct and incorrect “calls,” FiveThirtyEight.com did a better job of assessing election probabilities and final margins.

Summary. Across all 51 Senate and gubernatorial elections “projected” by both JBWM and FiveThirtyEight.com, my projections overestimated Democratic margins by 1.5 percentage points on average, only slightly worse than the FiveThirtyEight.com average overestimation of 1.3 points. This is almost exactly the latter’s overestimation of the total national House Democratic margin by, at most, 1.5 points, suggesting that the 2018 midterm electorate was slightly more Republican than pollsters estimated (though well within historic parameters). The average miss in either direction of 3.4-3.5 points was also well within the range of recent elections.

However, these averages mask wide variation in Democratic under- and over-performance. In races with both a Senate and a gubernatorial election, Democrats had the most disappointing showings in Florida, Ohio and, especially, Tennessee; they also underperformed in Senate races in mostly Democratic states and in gubernatorial elections in mostly Republican states. Underperformance in two traditional presidential swing states—Florida and Ohio—could be of some concern to Democrats as they try to unseat President Trump in 2020.

On the brighter side, states where Democrats overperformed—California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas—are all in the southwest (as is Arizona, where Democrats won a Senate race for the first time since 1988), an area of the country trending sharply Democratic. The closer-than-expected race for governor in South Carolina plus very close losses for governor in Florida and Georgia may also herald improved Democratic prospects in the southeast.

Besides geography, did state partisanship determine which state electorates were more or less Democratic than anticipated? For FiveThirtyEight.com’s gubernatorial election projections, the answer is…maybe. The Pearson correlation[3] between a state’s 3W-RDM and its numeric difference in gubernatorial margin is +0.44, while for the absolute value of the difference it is -0.37, suggesting that the more Democratic the state, the more Democrats overperformed in that state’s race for governor, while missing less in absolute terms. However, this could simply be an artifact of FiveThirtyEight.com’s newly-minted methodology for projecting gubernatorial elections.

The bottom line. As of January 3, 2019, Democrats will control the U.S. House of Representatives—most likely by 31 seats—for the first time in eight years, despite slightly “underperforming” in the total national House vote (which they still won by nearly 8 points). Their net gain of ~38 seats is the highest Democratic total since the Watergate elections of 1974 (49). Moreover, turnout in House elections—nearly 111 million votes and counting—will be at least 35.2% higher than the average turnout in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Democrats did not regain the Senate—suffering disappointing losses in Florida, Indiana and Missouri (as well as Tennessee and Texas)—but by winning elections in two southwestern states (Arizona, Nevada), they held their losses to two (or one, if they pull off an upset in Mississippi in 18 days), ground they will almost certainly make up in 2020, when the map is more favorable to Democrats (or, at least, far less unfavorable). Finally, they netted six governor’s mansions (including holding on to win a closer-than-expected race in Connecticut), despite disappointing losses in Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio. Democrats will control governor’s mansions in 23 states—the most since the 2008 elections—which have a combined 280 electoral votes, meaning more than half of the nation’s population will have a Democratic governor.

Do not let a few disappointing results fool you. The Democratic wave in 2018 was strong and wide.

Until next time…

[1] We actually know Ms. Bourdeaux’s sister from our younger daughter’s former ballet class; following our move, we also share a dog park.

[2] Vermont voters may not have wanted to tell pollsters—in just three public polls—they were unwilling to vote for transgendered Democratic nominee Christine Hallquist.

[3] A number from -1.0 to +1.0 indicating the strength of the linear relationship between two variables. Briefly, a positive correlation means that as one variable increases the other variable does the same (and vice versa), while a negative correlation means that as one variable increases the other variable decreases (and vice versa). A correlation of zero means there is no association at all.

Your 2018 Election Cheat Sheet

The 2018 midterm elections end today, November 6, 2018. If you are not one of the 36 million Americans who have already voted, PLEASE vote! Democracy is too precious not to participate, as is your right.

I voted early, so starting at 6 pm EST (when some polls close in Indiana and Kentucky), I will be parked in front of MSNBC with my family, ample snacks—and a pitcher of blue lagoons (minus the cherry—maybe blueberries instead?).

blue lagoons

I will also have the following cheat sheet to keep track of the returns as they are announced. This sheet has one side each for United States Senate (“Senate”) and United States governor’s races, sorted by when the last polling locations close in a state (some states cross time zones, meaning eastern polling locations close one hour earlier than western ones); Washington state conducts all of its balloting by mail, so I slotted it in between the 11 pm (EST) and midnight closings.

2018 Election Guide

The sheet lists the surnames of the Democratic and Republican (and occasional Independent) candidates in each race. Incumbents are underlined; the candidate of the party currently holding the seat is italicized. I also list two “projected” final vote margins for each race, one calculated by me (Just Bear With Me—JBWM) and one calculated by FiveThirtyEight.com (here and here); I did not calculate a margin for every Senate race. There is a column for the actual margin, plus columns for the difference between projected and actual margins. You can effectively ignore the Mississippi special election, which will almost certainly proceed to a November 27 runoff. I am curious how much better (or worse), on average, my methods will turn out to be compared to those designed by Nate Silver.

While I describe my algorithm (and each Senate race) here, with follow-ups here and  (plus details on each governor’s race) here, I made two recent alterations. First, all polls with a midpoint of October 25 or later are weighted twice as much as polls with a midpoint between September 1 and October 24. These latter polls, in turn, are weighted twice as much as polls with a midpoint of August 31 or earlier. Second, the calculation of how much polls are weighted over “fundamentals” now includes the number of polls conducted entirely in October or later.

Unlike FiveThirtyEight.com, I did not attempt to divine how undecided voters would vote; in essence, I assume (for better or worse) they will “break” the way decided voters did. To assess the impact of a systematic polling error in favor of one party or the other (averaging about 3.0 percentage points across the last four election cycles), you should add/subtract about 2.7 percentage points to the listed JBWM margin.

I colored seats projected to flip Democratic in blue and seats projected to flip Republican in red. I did not include the probability of a party winning each race, but (at least for the JBWM margins), you could think of any margin between +1.0 and-1.0 as a “toss-up,” any margin between 1.1 and 3.0 as “lean,” any margin between 3.1 and 6.0 as “likely,” any margin between 6.1 and 9.9 as “solid,” and any double-digit margin as “safe.”

By this method, in the Senate, there are two toss-up races: Missouri and Nevada, with the former leaning slightly Republican and the latter leaning slightly Democratic; I believe this is what will happen in those races. Arizona is likeliest to flip to the Democrats, while North Dakota is likeliest to flip to the Republicans. I thus call that the Senate breakdown will remain unchanged (using FiveThirtyEight’s margins, though, gives the Democrats a net gain of one seat, still one seat shy of a majority).

As for the governor’s races, I call a Democratic net gain of eight seats (Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada flipping Democratic, with Alaska flipping Republican), with South Dakota’s governor’s race a toss-up, leaning slightly Republican. FiveThirtyEight essentially agrees, though they are less certain about Iowa and Nevada.

But there are nine Senate and 10 governor’s races with a “JBWM” margin in the toss-up, lean or likely categories—meaning that there is still considerably uncertainty about how these races will end. This is one more reason that your vote is so vitally important.

Please vote, if you have not already!

Thank you!

And then sit back and track the returns on the cheat sheet with your company, snacks and beverages of choice.

Until next time…

A plea to readers with two weeks until Election Day 2018 ends…

The 2018 midterm elections end in two weeks, on November 6, 2018.

I write “end” because early voting is underway in 28 states, including Massachusetts. In fact, it opened Monday, October 22, and so I dragged our two daughters to Brookline Town Hall so they could participate in the process. And, yes, I voted straight Democratic with the exception of governor.

The best habits start early as our youngest daughter’s backpack reveals.

I Voted sticker.JPG

Along those lines—as a former political-scientist-in-training, lifelong political junkie and huge fan of democracy, I cannot strongly encourage you enough to vote.


This plea applies both to my American readers and to my many international readers, whenever the opportunity next presents itself.


I do three things in this post.

  1. Update analyses of 2018 elections for the United States House of Representatives (“House”), United States Senate (“Senate”) and governor.
  2. Attempt to quantify the Republican polling “bounce” following the September 27, 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and United States Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.
  3. Reconsider House, Senate and gubernatorial election projections under two scenarios: one where polls underestimate Republican voting by 3 percentage points, and where polls underestimate Democratic voting by 3 percentage points.


Updated analyses. As of Tuesday afternoon, October 23, 2018, the FiveThirtyEight forecast was that Democrats would win the national House vote by 8.9 percentage points. According to my “simple” model, that translates to an 89.8% probability Democrats net at least the 23 House seats they need to regain control of the House (projecting a 29 seat gain). By comparison, the FiveThirtyEight forecast is 85.8% and 40 seats—reasonably close to my less “complex” estimates.

Since I last wrote about Senate races, I created two new metrics.

  1. A weighted probability of Democratic victory
  2. A projected Democratic election day margin.

The victory probability is simply a weighted average of the “fundamentals” and adjusted polling average (APA) probabilities, with the latter increasing in weight based upon the number, recency and quality of published polls. I estimate the “fundamentals” probability by assuming a normal distribution whose standard deviation is that of my 3W-RDM measure (4.9), and I estimate the APA probability using a margin of error derived from the total sample size of all polls of each election conducted entirely in calendar year 2018, to which I add 3.0 to account for recent average polling bias (averaging across the last four elections in the table “Polling bias shifts from election to election”).

Weights are calculated using this formula:

#Polls/10 + #Sept/Oct Polls/2 + (Average Pollster Rating – 4.3) + %Sept/Oct Polls/10

For example, 51 total polls have been conducted since January 1, 2018 in the Florida Senate race, with 21 conducted since September 1, with an average pollster rating of 2.7 (using the letter-grade assigned by FiveThirtyEight on a scale where A+=4.3, A=4.0, etc.). Thus, the amount by which polls are weighted over fundamentals in this race is 51/10 + 21/2 + (2.7-4.3) + 41.2/10 = 5.1 + 10.5 – 1.6 + 4.1=18.1.

The “projected Democratic margin” is also the weighted average of the “fundamentals” and APA margins.

Table 1: Democratic Victory Probabilities and Margins in 10 Key 2018 Senate Elections

State Probability Democratic Victory Projected Democratic Margin Democratic Gain, Hold, Loss 3W-RDM
AZ 90.3% D+2.5 Gain R+9.7
FL 70.2% D+1.3 Hold R+3.4
IN 72.8% D+1.2 Hold R+16.3
MO 38.9% R+0.4 Loss R+15.9
MT 92.4% D+4.1 Hold R+18.6
NV 43.6% R+0.2 Hold D+2.0
ND 0.2% R+7.3 Loss R+29.4
TN 19.2% R+2.7 Hold R+25.8
TX 0.1% R+6.2 Hold R+15.3
WV 90.4% D+5.1 Hold R+35.5
  Lose 0.8 seats R+0.3 R+1 R+16.8

The rough-and-ready forecasts in Table 1 are consistent with anything from a Democratic loss of one seat to a Democratic gain of one seat, depending on outcomes of very close races in Missouri and Nevada (not to mention Florida, Indiana and, perhaps, Tennessee). In this, they are broadly in agreement with the FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast (19.0% chance Democrats regain Senate; average loss 0.5 seats), though they are far more bullish on Democratic chances in Missouri (61.1%), North Dakota (30.1%), Tennessee (24.5%) and Texas (21.5%), and more bearish on Arizona (63.4%).

Not to belabor the point, but given the extreme “redness” of these 10 states (16.8 percentage points more Republican than the nation, on average), even a net loss of “only” one Senate seat would be a moral victory of sorts for Democrats…though a net gain of two or more seats would be an actual victory, in that they would then control the Senate.

Table 2: Democratic Victory Probabilities and Margins in 19 Key 2018 Gubernatorial Elections

State Probability Democratic Victory Projected Democratic Margin Democratic Gain, Hold, Loss 3W-RDM
AK 18.8% R+2.3 Loss R+19.2
AZ 1.5% R+8.6 Hold R+9.7
CO 99.8% D+9.0 Hold D+2.2
CT 100.0% D+9.0 Hold D+12.8
FL 99.4% D+4.6 Gain R+3.4
GA 38.2% R+0.2 Hold R+9.6
IL 100.0% D+16.5 Gain D+14.7
IA 95.5% D+2.7 Gain R+4.7
KS 31.4% R+2.0 Hold R+23.4
ME 100.0% D+6.8 Gain D+5.9
MI 99.9% D+9.7 Gain D+2.2
MN 99.8% D+8.7 Hold D+1.5
NV 53.3% D+0.9 Gain D+2.0
NM 100.0% D+8.6 Gain D+6.5
OH 28.2% R+0.3 Hold R+5.8
OK 0.5% R+6.8 Hold R+38.1
OR 100.0% D+7.9 Hold D+8.7
SD 23.6% R+4.4 Hold R+25.8
WI 99.1% D+5.0 Gain D+0.7
AVE Gain 7.9 seats D+3.4 D+7 R+4.3

Table 2 presents Democratic victory probabilities and margins for those gubernatorial elections most likely to change partisan hands and/or with margin< 10 percentage points. This group of states is far more purple, averaging only 4.3 points more Republican than the nation as a whole.

The governor’s race in Alaska altered considerably on October 19, when Independent Governor Bill Walker suspended his reelection campaign and endorsed Democrat Mark Begich over Republican Mike Dunleavy, though the likely outcome (a Dunleavy win) remains the same. Otherwise, Democrats remain strongly favored to pick up governor’s mansions in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Wisconsin, losing only in Alaska (Walker was effectively a Democrat). Extremely close races in Georgia, Nevada and Ohio could go either way, while Democrats are within shouting distance in Kansas and South Dakota (albeit, with only two polls). At the same time, once-possible pickups in Arizona and Oklahoma now seem far less likely.

The bottom line (again, in broad agreement with FiveThirtyEight) is that Democrats appear poised to net between six and nine governor’s mansions, putting them tantalizingly close to a majority.

A Kavanaugh bounce? There is evidence of a pro-Republican bounce in polling following the sequence of events between the Judiciary hearings on September 27 and the final confirmation vote (50-48 in favor) on October 6, including the week-long FBI investigation, spurred by increased Republican enthusiasm and voting likelihood.

To quantify the bounce, I compared Senate and gubernatorial race polls, unskewed and weighted by pollster rating, conducted before (though after August 1) and after September 27; all polls had to be completed by September 26 or started no earlier than September 27.

Table 3: 2018 Polling Data in 16 Key 2018 Senate Elections, Before and After Ford-Kavanaugh Hearings 

State Adjusted Poll Average


Adjusted Poll Average




AZ D+3.0 (11) D+0.3 (8) -2.8 R+9.7
FL D+0.3 (14) D+2.1 (10) +1.9 R+3.4
IN D+1.9 (3) D+0.2 (8) -1.6 R+16.3
MI D+14.7 (9) D+12.4 (3) -2.3 D+2.2
MN D+5.9 (4) D+10.1 (3) +4.2 D+1.5
MS R+13.5 (1) D+1.4 (1) -14.9 R+18.5
MO R+1.6 (7) R+0.8 (7) -0.8 R+15.9
MT D+5.2 (6) D+3.7 (1) -1.5 R+18.6
NV D+0.2 (5) R+1.6 (5) -1.8 D+2.0
NJ D+7.2 (2) D+6.9 (5) -0.3 D+12.0
ND R+4.6 (1) R+12.9 (2) -8.3 R+29.4
OH D+12.2 (6) D+16.5 (2) +4.3 R+5.8
PA D+15.3 (7) D+14.4 (1) -0.9 R+0.4
TN D+0.3 (8) R+6.2 (5) -6.5 R+25.8
TX R+3.2 (10) R+7.0 (7) -3.8 R+15.3
WV D+8.2 (7) D+7.9 (4) -0.3 R+35.5
WI D+7.9 (4) D+9.7 (2) +1.8 D+0.7
AVE D+4.4 D+2.4 -2.0 R+10.4

On average across 17 key Senate races (Table 3), the Republican position in the polls improved by an average of 2.0 percentage points following the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings. And the more Republican the state, the more the Republican candidate’s position improved (r=0.48)—as can be seen in Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas (and also, surprisingly, in Democratic-leaning Michigan and Nevada). In fact, removing six states where the Democrat is strongly favored (albeit, four won by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in 2016; average 3W-RDM D+1.7), the Republican increase jumps to 3.7 percentage points (D+1.2 to R+2.6; r=0.31). At the same time, the bounce fades (-0.6; r=0.41) once you examine only states with at least two polls in both time periods.

Table 4: Polling Data in Selected 2018 Gubernatorial Elections, Before and After Ford-Kavanaugh Hearings

State Adjusted Poll Average


Adjusted Poll Average




AK R+0.9 (2) R+11.8 (2) -10.9 R+19.2
AZ R+6.5 (9) R+14.5 (6) -8.0 R+9.7
AR R+36.7 (1) R+37.7 (1) +1.0 R+28.2
CA D+10.6 (7) D+11.4 (4) +0.8 D+23.2
CO D+9.1 (2) D+7.5 (1) -1.6 D+2.2
CT D+8.5 (4) D+5.7 (3) -2.8 D+12.8
FL D+4.6 (13) D+4.7 (7) +0.1 R+3.4
GA D+1.9 (3) R+1.8 (6) -3.7 R+9.6
IL D+15.1 (4) D+17.6 (2) +2.5 R+16.3
KS R+0.4 (3) R+0.1 (1) +0.3 R+23.4
ME R+0.6 (1) D+7.8 (2) +8.4 D+5.9
MD R+16.9 (3) R+18.7 (2) -1.8 D+22.6
MA R+36.5 (2) R+38.8 (1) -2.3 D+22.1
MN D+6.9 (4) D+10.5 (3) +3.6 D+1.5
MI D+11.0 (8) D+11.2 (2) +0.1 D+2.2
NV D+2.1 (2) R+0.9 (4) -3.0 D+2.0
NH R+12.7 (2) R+13.7 (3) -1.0 D+0.1
NY D+1.0 (1) D+22.7 (2) +21.7 D+21.6
OH R+2.0 (5) D+1.3 (2) +3.3 R+5.8
OR D+7.0 (2) D+5.1 (1) -1.9 D+8.7
PA D+15.8 (6) D+11.4 (1) -4.4 R+0.4
RI D+7.3 (1) D+9.9 (2) +2.6 D+18.0
SC R+7.8 (2) R+23.7 (1) -15.9 R+15.7
TN R+14.5 (7) R+18.4 (3) -3.9 R+25.8
TX R+17.0 (8) R+20.1 (4) -3.1 R+15.3
WI D+3.3 (6) D+4.6 (2) +1.3 D+0.7
AVE R+1.8 R+2.6 -0.8 R+1.1

Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, New Mexico, Oklahoma have no polls after September 26

Hawaii had no polls between August 1 and September 26.

The trend was similar in 26 governor’s races (Table 4; average R+1.1)—an overall Republican increase of 0.8 percentage points, though once you remove New York (only one extreme outlier poll between August 1 and September 26), the increase becomes 1.7 percentage points. Again, the sharpest increases were in more Republican states (r=0.43), especially Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas (and, surprisingly, in purple-to-blue Connecticut, Nevada and Pennsylvania). Examining only states with at least two polls in both time periods, the Republican increase jumps to 1.5 percentage points (r=0.36).

So, the “Kavanaugh bounce” appears to have been roughly one-to-three percentage points, and it was most evident among Republican voters in Republican states—who may well have been “coming home” to their party anyway (the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings may only have started the process earlier). And there is evidence the bounce is fading somewhat—at least in House voting (which covers the entire nation rather than a Republican-leaning set of states). The FiveThirtyEight House forecast dropped from an 80.7% chance of a Democratic takeover on September 30 to 73.9% on October 4—but then started to increase again October 9. Similarly, the forecast was a 32.0% chance of a Democratic Senate takeover on September 30, but by October 11 the probability had dropped to 18.6%. After rising three percentage points since then, as of Tuesday afternoon, October 23, it stood at 18.9%; the gubernatorial forecast does not lend itself to an analogous comparison.

Alternate polling scenarios. That even a small Kavanaugh “bounce” was enough to reduce Democratic Senate and gubernatorial gains by one-to-two seats shows how close this election (or, at least, the binary outcome of “majority/minority status”) is.

This can be shown by increasing—or decreasing–every polling margin by three percentage points, consistent with the statistical “bias” polls have displayed in the last four even-numbered election years; the direction of that bias changes from year to year.

For the House, if the projected national Democratic margin in total vote was actually 5.9% (that is, a 7.0% election-to-election increase), the probability they regain control plummets to 25%, with an average net gain of only 20 seats, three fewer than necessary. By contrast, however, were the margin 11.9%, Democrats would be locks to regain House control (99.6% probability), netting an average of 40 seats. Put simply, this close to Election Day, Democrats could still fall achingly short of a House majority—or net as many as 20 more seats than necessary.

For the Senate, a pro-Democratic polling bias of three percentage points in the polls would result in losing seats in Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, while gaining zero seats; this is the nightmare scenario for Democrats. And while a pro-Republican polling bias of “only” two percentage points would mean winning in Arizona, that would still be a net loss of three Senate seats.

By the same token, a pro-Republican polling bias of three percentage points would almost certainly give them majority status in the Senate, as they still lose Heidi Heitkamp’s seat in North Dakota while winning seats in Arizona, Nevada and (possibly after a recount) Tennessee.

That is, this close to Election Day, a range of losing four Senate seats and gaining two seats remains plausible for Democrats.

Finally, in governor’s races, Democrats appear to be far enough ahead in key states that even a pro-Republican polling bias of three percentage points would still net them five governor’s mansions (win in Florida, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Wisconsin; lose in Alaska) with Iowa a virtual tie. But a pro-Democratic polling bias of three percentage points would truly unleash a blue gubernatorial tsunami: not only would they likely WIN in Alaska (and Iowa), they would most likely add Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota to their column. An historic net gain of 13 governor’s mansions could easily be in the offing.


One overarching message from this barrage of data is that while pollsters do their best to model an unknown electorate and reduce uncertainty—the actual set of citizens who will turn out to vote remains, at best, a highly-educated guess and uncertainty (beyond just margin of error) still remains. Still, some good news for Democrats lies buried in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll. While the overall result was an eight percentage point lead for Republican Senator Ted Cruz (and among those whose certainty to vote is confirmed by prior voting behavior), Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke actually LED by three percentage points among those who said they were almost certain to vote.

The other overarching message, then, is simply that every vote counts—even the tiniest changes in the composition of the 2018 electorate could fundamentally who governs us for the next two years.

I cannot say this often or loudly enough…PLEASE VOTE!

Until next time…

2018 Gubernatorial Elections: Where the REAL action is

With the recent—and thoroughly warranted—attention on the excellent Democratic prospects for recapturing control of the United States House of Representatives (“House”) and their improving (though still less than 50%) chance to do the same in the United States Senate (“Senate”) this November 6, there has been insufficient focus on the 36 gubernatorial elections being held simultaneously.

In fact, I would argue that from a long-term perspective (innovative policy making, redistricting following the 2020 United States Census, etc.), this is where the real electoral action is. And currently Democrats only hold 17 governor’s mansions, compared to 32 held by Republicans and Independent Alaska Governor Bill Walker.

I first addressed the importance of governors in June 2017:

“In an age of increasing partisan polarization and Congressional gridlock, governors have emerged as crucial policy leaders far from Washington DC. On the conservative side are recent innovations by Republican Governors such as Sam Brownback of Kansas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin (prompting an unsuccessful 2012 recall election) and Rick Snyder of Michigan. Governors could choose whether or not to accept Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, as Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio continues to note.

More recently, Democratic Governors have attempted to block Trump Adminstration actions. Washington’s Jay Inslee was a key leader in blocking iterations of the travel ban. California’s Jerry Brown has emerged as a leader on climate change, especially after President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord.”

In this post, I present an analogous comparison of “fundamentals” (state partisan lean [3W-RDM], expected Democratic “advantage” in 2018 of 8.9 percentage points, incumbency) to the current polling average (WAPA; average Democratic margin of all publicly-available polls conducted in 2018 adjusted for statistical bias and weighted by date and pollster quality) I recently conducted for 2018 Senate races. Unlike those races, however, I calculated a WAPA for all 36 races, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Summary of 2018 Polling Data in 2018 Gubernatorial Elections

State # Polls/ Pollsters Raw Margin Bias-Adjusted Margin Average Pollster Rating Adjusted

 Poll Average

Adjusted Pollster Average Final Ave
AL 2/2 D-19.5 D-19.6 2.7 D-18.4 D-18.4 D-18.4
AK 4/3 I-9.3 I-9.5 2.8/2.6 I-9.4 I-9.6 I-9.5
AZ 6/4 D-3.7 D-4.1 2.8/3.1 D-5.9 D-8.2 D-7.1
AR 2/2 D-37.0 D-37.5 3.0 D-37.2 D-37.2 D-37.2
CA 6/6 D+14.3 D+14.5 3.0 D+17.6 D+17.6 D+17.6
CO 2/2 D+6.0 D+5.9 3.0 D+5.8 D+5.8 D+5.8
CT 3/3 D+8.7 D+8.4 2.8 D+9.2 D+9.2 D+9.2
FL 10/7 D+2.9 D+2.8 2.8/2.8 D+3.0 D+3.4 D+3.2
GA 5/5 D+2.4 D+2.2 3.0 D+1.4 D+1.4 D+1.4
HI 2/1 D+25.0 D+25.7 3.3 D+24.8 D+24.8 D+24.8
ID 3/2 D-10.0 D-11.0 2.6/2.5 D-10.7 D-10.9 D-10.8
IL 12/9 D+14.4 D+14.6 2.3/2.4 D+14.6 D+14.7 D+14.7
IA 2/2 D+0.0 D-0.1 3.8 D+3.5 D+3.5 D+3.5
KS 3/2 D-0.3 D-0.9 2.7/2.7 D-1.0 D-0.5 D-0.8
ME 1/1 D+0.0 D-0.6 3.3 D-0.6 D-0.6 D-0.6
MD 6/5 D-14.0 D-14.0 2.8/2.8 D-13.7 D-13.5 D-13.6
MA 3/2 D-36.3 D-36.3 3.6/3.5 D-35.8 D-36.5 D-36.2
MI 10/8 D+8.2 D+8.2 2.8/3.0 D+8.9 D+9.2 D+9.1
MN 3/3 D+6.3 D+6.0 3.5 D+6.1 D+6.1 D+6.1
NE 0  
NV 5/4 D+0.4 D-0.4 2.8/2.6 D+0.2 D+0.2 D+0.2
NH 3/2 D-21.3 D-23.3 3.1/3.2 D-22.1 D-22.1 D-22.1
NM 6/6 D+7.3 D+6.7 2.9 D+6.8 D+6.8 D+6.8
NY 8/5 D+21.4 D+21.4 3.3/3.6 D+20.1 D+19.1 D+19.6
OH 12/9 D-2.3 D-2.5 2.7/2.7 D-0.3 D-0.5 D-0.4
OK 4/2 D+2.0 D+0.6 2.6/2.7 D-0.1 D-0.1 D-0.1
OR 5/5 D+4.2 D+4.5 2.5 D+4.2 D+4.2 D+4.2
PA 7/5 D+14.1 D+14.0 3.1/2.9 D+13.6 D+13.0 D+13.3
RI 3/2 D+1.3 D+1.7 3.1/3.0 D+1.7 D+1.6 D+1.6
SC 2/2 D-7.5 D-7.9 3.2 D-7.8 D-7.8 D-7.8
SD 1/1 D-4.0 D-5.4 2.0 D-5.4 D-5.4 D-5.4
TN 4/4 D-12.0 D-12.2 3.2 D-15.4 D-15.4 D-15.4
TX 11/9 D-14.7 D-14.6 3.0/2.9 D-15.4 D-15.1 D-15.2
VT 0  
WI 8/5 D+3.9 D+3.6 3.5/3.5 D+3.6 D+3.9 D+3.7
WY 0  
AVE 5/4 D-1.5 D-1.8 3.0/3.0 D-1.6 D-1.7 D-1.7

Gubernatorial elections are woefully under-polled: only 163 polls have been conducted for 36 races in 2018, or just 4.5 per election. These polls were conducted by an average of 3.6 pollsters, meaning most pollsters have only polled these races a single time. Only five of these elections—Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Texas—have been polled as many as 10 times, with Illinois and Ohio being polled 12 times each. At the same time, Nebraska, Vermont and Wyoming have not been (publicly) polled at all, Maine and South Dakota have only been polled once, and 13 states have only been polled two or three times. Of these 163 polls, just over half (52.1%) were conducted since July 1. Overall, the quality of the polling is marginally better than in the Senate races I analyzed recently: the average poll was conducted by a B-rated pollster. And their skew (according to the FiveThirtyEight.com pollster ratings) has only been slightly pro-Democratic (0.3 percentage points, on average—note, however, that 24 polls were conducted by non-rated pollsters).


This analysis is divided into five parts:

  1. Safe seats
  2. States with Republican governors most likely to elect a Democrat
  3. States with Democratic governors that are (not very) vulnerable.
  4. Popular Republican governors in Democratic states
  5. Alaska

Just as a reminder, “expected” margin is each state’s 3W-RDM plus 8.9 plus party-specific incumbency advantage; I described how I calculate incumbency advantage in my updated Senate race post. The only difference with gubernatorial races is that I used data from the 2014, 2010 and 2006 elections—the last three times these 36 states (excluding New Hampshire and Vermont which hold gubernatorial elections every two years). Also, Republican incumbency advantage, for unknown reasons, dropped from a bonus of 16.2 percentage points (“points”) in 2006 to just 0.5 points in 2010 to a loss of 8.4 points in 2014. Averaging these values yields a Republican gubernatorial incumbency “advantage” of just 2.6 points; Democrats, by contrast, had gubernatorial incumbent bonuese of 24.0, 1.4 and 7.1 point, respectively, for an average of 10.8 points.

Safe seats. Three heavily Democratic states (average 3W-RDM=D+26.4) will remain in Democratic hands. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is ahead of Duchess County Executive (and four third-party candidates, including former Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon on the Working Families line) by 19.6 percentage points (“points”) though Cuomo “should” be ahead by 41.3 points; weighting polls 3-1 over fundamentals puts Cuomo ahead about 27 points. Similarly, Hawaii Governor David Ige leads Republican State House Minority Leader Andria Tupola by 24.8 points; an expected lead of 54.0 points works out to Ige being ahead by 34.6 points. Finally, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newson leads Republican businessman John Cox by 17.6 percentage points; an expected lead of 32.1 points works out to Newson being ahead by 22.4 percentage points.

Next January, nine solidly Republican states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming; average 3W-RDM=D-27.2) will still have Republican governors (Table 2); incumbents are bold-faced. Because only one poll has been released of the South Dakota governor’s race, WTD is the simple average of Expect and WAPA. The one remotely-possible upset here is South Carolina if the Democratic wave crests high enough.

Table 2: Safe Republican governorships in Republican states

State Democrat Republican Expect WAPA Diff WTD
AL Maddox Ivey D-20.8 D-18.4 D+2.4 D-19.0
AR Henderson Hutchinson D-22.0 D-37.2 D-15.2 D-33.4
ID Jordan Little D-25.3 D-11.0 D+14.3 D-14.6
NE Krist Ricketts D-19.6 n/a n/a n/a
SC Smith McMaster D-8.1 D-7.8 D+0.3 D-7.9
SD Sutton Noem D-16.9 D-5.4 D+11.5 D-11.2
TN Dean Lee D-16.9 D-15.4 D+1.5 D-15.8
TX Valdez Abbott D-9.1 D-15.2 D-6.2 D-13.7
WY Throne Gordon D-36.8 n/a n/a n/a
AVE     D-19.5 D-15.8 D+1.2 D-16.5

Here are the nominees in each election (Democrat listed first):

  • Alabama: Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox vs. Governor Kay Ivey
  • Arkansas: Former Arkansas Executive Director of Teach for America Jared Henderson vs. Governor Asa Hutchinson
  • Idaho: Former State Representative Paulette Jordan vs. Lieutenant Governor Brad Little
  • Nebraska: State Senator Bob Krist vs. Governor Pete Ricketts
  • South Carolina: State Representative James Smith vs. Governor Henry McMaster
  • South Dakota: State Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton vs. U.S. Representative Kristi Noem
  • Tennessee: Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean vs. businessman Bill Lee
  • Texas: Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez vs. Governor Greg Abbott
  • Wyoming: Former State House Minority Leader Mary Throne vs. State Treasurer Mark Gordon

States with Republican governors most likely to elect a Democrat. Thirteen states that currently have Republican governors represent the best opportunities for Democrats to pick up governor’s mansions (Table 3); on average, these states lean Republican (average 3W-RDM=D-4.8). However, term limits mean nine states have no incumbent running, creating an opening for strong Democratic challengers. And Iowa’s Kim Reynolds only became governor when Governor Terry Branstad became Ambassador to China in May 2017). Note that for Iowa (2 polls) and Maine (1 poll), WTD is the simple average of WAPA and Expect.

Table 3: States with Republican governors most likely to elect a Democrat

State Democrat Republican Expect WAPA Diff WTD
IL Pritzker Rauner D+21.0 D+14.7 D-6.3 D+16.2
MI Whitmer Schuette D+11.1 D+9.1 D-2.0 D+9.6
NM Lujan-Grisham Pearce D+15.4 D+6.8 D-8.6 D+8.9
ME Mills Moody D+14.8 D-0.6 D-15.4 D+7.1
WI Evers Walker D+7.0 D+3.7 D-3.2 D+4.5
FL Gillum DeSantis D+5.5 D+3.2 D-2.3 D+3.8
IA Hubbell Reynolds D+2.9 D+3.5 D+0.6 D+3.2
NV Sisolak Laxalt D+10.9 D+0.2 D-10.7 D+2.9
GA Abrams Kemp D-0.7 D+1.4 D+2.1 D+0.8
OH Cordray DeWine D+3.1 D-0.3 D-3.4 D+0.5
KS Kelly Kobach D-14.5 D-0.8 D+13.7 D-4.2
AZ Garcia Ducey D-3.5 D-7.1 D-3.6 D-6.2
OK Edmondson Stitt D-29.2 D-0.1 D+29.1 D-7.4
AVE     D+3.4 D+2.6 D-0.8 D+3.1

 Of these elections, the one for which you can most clearly say “stick a fork in it, it’s over” is Illinois. Billionaire businessman Bruce Rauner defeated unpopular incumbent governor Pat Quinn in the Republican 2014 wave by less than four points. Four years later, an equally-unpopular Rauner appears headed for a 16.2-point loss to billionaire venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker.

Two additional races also have the Democrat heavily favored. The specter of Flint’s water crisis hangs over the race in Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder—who championed the emergency manager law that precipitated the crisis—is term-limited. Former State House Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer could crack double-digits against state Attorney General Bill Schuette; her adjusted lead in six polls since mid-July is 10.5 points, nearly the “expected” margin. New Mexico, meanwhile, is merely reverting to partisan form (D+6.5) after Governor Susana Martinez won two elections in Republican wave years. U.S. Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham would be the nation’s first Latina governor; she seems headed for a high single-digit win over U.S. Representative Steve Pearce.

Maine’s penchant for supporting Independent candidacies (as in Senator Angus King) likely cost Democrats the governor’s mansion in 2010 and 2014. In 2010, Independent Eliot Cutler won 35.9% of the vote, while Democrat Libby Mitchell only won 18.8%, allowing Republican Paul LePage to win with 37.6% of the vote. LePage proved…controversial…though he still won reelection in 2014 with by just 4.8 points over Democrat Mike Michaud; Cutler’s 8.0% could have made the difference. In 2018, however, state Attorney General Cheryl Mills is in a strong position to defeat businessman Shawn Moody (who won 5.0% as an Independent in 2010). An early August poll showed the race tied (with 22% other/undecided), but Mills “should” be ahead around 15 points; a mid-single-digits win for Mills seems highly plausible.

In four other states with a Republican governor, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee is less-heavily favored. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was first elected in the 2010 Republican wave, surviving a recall attempt in 2012 before winning reelection in 2014. This year, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers is likely to defeat Walker, whose ill-fated run for president in 2015 did not help him. Evers, who “should” be ahead by 7.0 points, leads by 3.7 points (though only by 2.2 points since mid-August), suggesting a mid-single-digits victory. Florida Governor Rick Scott is term-limited (and running for the Senate). To replace him, Democrats nominated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Republicans nominated U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis. Gillum, who would be the first African-American governor of Florida, rode a progressive insurgency to an upset primary victory while DeSantis decisively embraced President Donald Trump. Gillum, who would be the first Democratic governor of Florida since 1999, leads by 3.2 points (and in all seven polls released since the August 28 primary), slightly lower than the expected 5.5 points, but enough to anticipate a low-single-digits win. Businessman Fred Hubbell looks similarly headed for about a 3-point win in Iowa over Governor Reynolds as both the fundamentals and the polls (only one since January) converge. Finally, Nevada has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990. With popular Governor Brian Sandoval term-limited, however, Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak has an excellent chance to change that. While Sisolak is effectively tied in the polls with state Attorney General Adam Laxalt (D+0.2), he “should” be ahead by 10.9 points. The fact that Laxalt is the grandson of the late Senator Paul Laxalt (and the son of former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici) may explain the discrepancy. Still, a 2-3 point win for Sisolak appears plausible.


Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat, (left) leads U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis to be the next governor of Florida

Two Republican-leaning states with term-limited Republican governors are pure toss-ups. First, former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams is vying to become the first African-American—and first female—governor of Georgia, and its first Democratic governor since 1995. She “should” be 0.7 points down to state Secretary of State Brian Kemp (who also ran a Trump-like ad), but polls show her ahead 1.4 points, which works out to an anticipated margin of D+0.8. And in Ohio, Democrat Richard Cordray, the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is tied in the polls (D-0.3) with state Attorney General (and former Senator) Mike DeWine. Cordray “should” be ahead by 3.1 points, which works out to an anticipated margin of D+0.5.

Finally, there are three Republican states (average 3W-RDM=D-23.7) where polls and/or weak Republican candidates give Democrats hope, merited or not. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey “should” be ahead of Arizona State University Professor David Garcia by 3.5 points, though he actually leads by 7.1 points, which works out to an anticipated margin of 6.2 points. Former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback had approval ratings in the mid-20s when he became Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in January 2018. Then, state Secretary of State Kris Kobach—controversial in his own rightnarrowly edged Brownback’s replacement Jeff Colyer in the Republican gubernatorial primary runoff. This has given Democrats hope that State Senator Laura Kelly could be Kansas’ next governor: while she “should” be trailing by 14.5 points, polls show her trailing by less than one point (which still works out to a 4.2-point loss). And in Oklahoma, Democrats chose former state Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and Republicans chose businessman Kevin Stitt, to replace unpopular term-limited governor Mary Fallin. This race should not be remotely close (D-29.2), but polls have this race essentially tied (D-0.1), likely because of Stitt’s position on teacher pay raises. The most plausible outcome, however, remains a high-single-digits Stitt victory.

Bottom line: Democrats are heavily favored to win the governorships of Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico and (more tentatively) Maine, and they are at least modest favorites in Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa and Nevada. They are even-money in Georgia and Ohio, while Arizona, Kansas and Oklahoma appear just out of reach. Still, Democrats could easily net as many as 10 governor’s mansions from this group of 13 election.

States with Democratic governors that are (not very) vulnerable. Six Democratic states (average 3W-RDM=D+7.1) with Democratic governors are the only chance Republicans have to flip a governor’s mansion—at least based on polling (Table 4). And while it is true that Democrats are “underperforming” expectations by an average of 14.7 points in these six states, they still lead by an average of 6.7 points.

Table 4: States with Democratic governors that are (not particularly) vulnerable

State Democrat Republican Expect WAPA Diff WTD
RI Raimondo Fung D+37.7 D+1.6 D-36.1 D+10.6
OR Brown Buehler D+28.4 D+4.2 D-24.3 D+10.2
CO Polis Stapleton D+11.1 D+5.8 D-5.3 D+7.1
MN Walz Johnson D+10.4 D+6.1 D-4.3 D+7.2
CT Lamont Stefanowski D+21.7 D+9.2 D-12.5 D+12.3
PA Wolf Wagner D+19.3 D+13.3 D+6.0 D+14.8

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo only beat Cranston Mayor Allan Fung in 2014 by 4.5 points; Moderate candidate Robert Healey won 21.4% of the vote. Raimondo still has only middling approval, which could explain why she barely leads Fung in a rematch (D+1.6), fully 36.1 points below where she “should” be. Despite appearing headed for high-single-digits win, this is the governor’s race that should most worry Democrats. Less vulnerable is Oregon Governor Kate Brown, the nation’s first openly bisexual governor, though she “only” leads State Representative Knute Buehler by 4.2 points, fully 24.3 points below expectations. Nonetheless, I expect her to win by around 10 points. Three other states with retiring Democratic governors look solid for Democrats:

  • In Colorado, U.S Representative Jared Polis looks like a 7.1-point winner over State Treasure Walker Stapleton
  • In Minnesota, U.S. Representative Tim Walz looks like a 7.2-point winner over Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson (who beat former two-term governor Tim Pawlenty by almost nine points)
  • In Connecticut, businessman (and 2006 Senate nominee) Ned Lamont looks like a 12.3-point winner over businessman Bob Stefanowski

As for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, he could easily be on the “Safe” list, as he appears headed for double-digit win over State Senator Scott Wagner.

Bottom line: In these six states with Democratic governors, only Raimondo in Rhode Island seems remotely vulnerable, and even she is somewhat likely to win.

Popular Republican governors in Democratic states. In 2014, Maryland and Massachusetts voters narrowly elected centrist Republicans Larry Hogan and Charlie Baker, respectively, governor. In 2016, New Hampshire and Vermont voters narrowly elected Chris Sununu (son of former governor John Sununu) and Phil Scott, respectively, governor. The common theme seems to be normally Democratic voters (average 3W-RDM=D+18.1, with New Hampshire D+0.1), selecting a moderate “check” on overwhelmingly Democratic legislatures (less so in New Hampshire). Thus, these governors should sail to reelection (Table 5) over former State Senator Molly Kelly (NH), former NAACP CEO and President Ben Jealous (MD), former state Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez (MA) and Vermont Electric Cooperative CEO Christine Hallquist (who would be the first transgendered governor). In fact, in the three states with polling, these Republican governors are over-performing expectations by an average of 45.1 points!

Table 5: Popular Republican governors in Democratic states

State Democrat Republican Expect WAPA Diff WTD
NH Kelly Sununu D+6.4 D-22.1 D-28.4 D-15.0
MD Jealous Hogan D+28.9 D-13.6 D-42.5 D-3.0
MA Gonzalez Baker D+28.4 D-36.2 D-64.5 D-20.0
VT Hallquist Scott D+34.0 n/a n/a n/a
AVE     D+24.4 D-24.0 D-45.1 D-12.7

Bottom line: While Jealous could make a race of it in Maryland, suffice it to say that this lifelong liberal Democrat is voting for Charlie Baker.

Alaska. This is the one state where Republicans are likely to pick up a governorship—by defeating the Independent Walker, who defeated Republican Governor Sean Parnell in 2014 with a Democratic Lieutenant Governor (Brian Mallott). In 2018, Walker will face former Democratic Senator Mark Begich and Republican former State Senator Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy currently leads both Walker and Begich by between nine and 10 points in what “should” be a toss-up (I+0.5). Multi-candidate races are notoriously tricky to gauge, but the likelihood is that Walker and Begich split the non-Republican vote, giving Dunleavy a high-single-digits win.

Conclusion. Democrats need to net eight governor’s mansions to have a 25-25 split nationally. As of September 16, 2018, they appear well on their way to doing just that. They are clear favorites in Illinois, Michigan and New Mexico (and probably Maine), and they are likely also to prevail in Florida, Iowa, Nevada and Wisconsin. Georgia and Ohio are toss-ups, while Arizona, Kansas and Oklahoma may be just out of reach. Only in Rhode Island do Republicans have even a remote chance of netting a governorship (and Raimondo is still favored), while they will almost certainly flip Alaska from Independent to Republican.

Overall (and with all necessary warnings about polling accuracy, unforeseen events and margins of error), the (very unlikely) worst-case scenario is Democrats net two governor’s mansions, while the (very unlikely) best-case scenario is they net 13 (or more) governor’s mansions. The likeliest outcome is a net of between six and 10 governor’s mansions, with my money on the higher end of that range.

Until next time…