2020 Elections Post-Mortem

On November 3, 2020, the United States ended a weeks-long electoral process. At stake was the presidency, control of the United States Senate (“Senate”) and House of Representatives (“House”), 11 governor’s mansions, and thousands of state and local offices. That day, I published “cheat sheets” to guide election viewers through state-level presidential returns, 35 Senate elections and the gubernatorial elections.

[Ed. note: This post, my 200th, is the longest I have written to date. It is fitting that a blog which found its data-driven footing in the wake of the 2016 elections would have its 200th entry address the aftermath of the 2020 elections, beyond mere repetition of the number “20.”]

As I write this on midnight EST on November 17, 2020, precisely two weeks after the elections concluded, these are the top-line results:

  • Only one governor’s mansion changed partisan hands: Republican Greg Gianforte won back the statehouse in Montana for the first time in 16 years. As of January 2021, Republicans will hold 27 governor’s mansions, and Democrats will hold 23.
  • Democrats basically held serve in state legislative races. For more details, please see here.

On balance, the 2020 elections affirmed the status quo: a nation roughly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, though it remains possible the former could control, however narrowly, the White House, Senate and House for the first time since 2010.

Presidential election

Biden-Harris are closing on 79.0 million votes (50.9%), shattering the previous record of 69.5 million votes won by Democrat Barack Obama and Biden in 2008. Trump-Pence have just under 73.3 million votes (47.3%), ranking them second in history. Biden has now appeared on three of the four presidential tickets to receive the most votes, with Obama-Biden earning 65.9 million votes in 2012, edging out Clinton-Kaine in 2016 by about 65,000 votes. Third party candidates are receiving more than 2.8 million votes (1.8%), significantly lower than the 8.3 million votes (6.0%) such candidates received in 2016. Approximately 155.1 million votes have already been counted, with an estimated 4.1 million votes—mostly in California and New York—left to be counted. This ~159.2 million vote projection, or about 2/3 of all Americans eligible to vote, also shatters the previous record of 137.1 million votes set in 2016.

Biden-Harris’ 3.6 percentage point (“point”) margin is a 1.5-point increase from 2016, and 0.3-point decrease from 2012, making it the third consecutive presidential election in which the Democratic ticket won the national popular vote by between two and four points; adding 22 million voters did not fundamentally alter the partisan electoral divide. Based on my Electoral College model, a Biden-Harris win of 3.6 points equates to 296 EV, nearly the 306 EV they received; for a Republican ticket, this equates to 327 EV.

How did Biden-Harris win the Electoral College?

Table 1: 2020 and 2016 Presidential Election Results by State, Ranked from Highest to Lowest Biden-Harris Margin

StateEVWinnerClinton-Kaine MarginBiden-Harris MarginDelta
DC3Biden86.886.6-0.2
Vermont3Biden26.435.49.0
Massachusetts11Biden27.233.05.8
Maryland10Biden30.032.52.5
California55Biden26.429.63.2
Hawaii4Biden32.229.5-2.7
Rhode Island4Biden15.520.85.2
Connecticut7Biden13.620.16.7
Washington12Biden15.719.33.6
Delaware3Biden11.319.07.7
Illinois20Biden14.016.62.6
Oregon7Biden11.016.25.2
New Jersey14Biden16.915.5-1.4
New York29Biden22.513.7-8.8
Colorado9Biden4.913.58.6
New Mexico5Biden8.210.82.6
Virginia13Biden3.010.16.9
Maine4Biden (3)5.38.73.4
New Hampshire4Biden0.47.47.0
Minnesota10Biden1.57.15.6
Michigan16Biden-0.22.62.8
Nevada6Biden2.42.40.0
Pennsylvania20Biden-0.71.01.7
Wisconsin10Biden-0.80.61.4
Georgia16Biden-5.10.35.4
Arizona11Biden-3.50.33.8
North Carolina15Trump-3.7-1.42.3
Florida29Trump-1.2-3.4-2.2
Texas38Trump-9.0-5.73.3
Ohio18Trump-8.1-8.2-0.1
Iowa6Trump-9.4-8.21.2
Alaska3Trump-14.3-10.13.3
South Carolina9Trump-20.4-11.78.7
Kansas6Trump-18.5-15.13.4
Missouri10Trump-19.0-15.63.4
Indiana11Trump-20.2-16.14.1
Montana3Trump-14.7-16.4-1.7
Mississippi6Trump-25.1-17.87.3
Louisiana8Trump-19.6-18.61.0
Nebraska5Trump (4)-17.8-19.2-1.4
Utah6Trump-17.9-20.2-2.3
Tennessee11Trump-31.8-23.38.5
Alabama9Trump-26.0-25.60.4
Kentucky8Trump-27.7-26.01.7
South Dakota3Trump-29.8-26.23.6
Arkansas6Trump-29.8-27.62.2
Idaho4Trump-26.9-30.8-3.9
Oklahoma7Trump-36.4-33.13.3
North Dakota3Trump-35.7-33.42.4
West Virginia5Trump-41.7-39.02.7
Wyoming3Trump-46.3-43.42.9
Average  Trump+3.6Trump+0.8D+2.8

As Table 1 reveals, Biden-Harris won 25 states and the District of Columbia (“DC”) by an average of 17.4 points, while Trump-Pence won 25 states by an average of 19.8 points; medians are 14.6—reflecting the 86.8-point margin in DC—and 18.6, respectively. Biden-Harris won seven states and DC totaling 97 EV by 20 or more points, while Trump-Pence won 11 states totaling 65 EV by that margin.

Biden-Harris won 19 states, DC and the 2nd Congressional district in Nebraska by at least 6.0 points, for a total of 228 EV. Add Nevada (6) and Michigan (16), which the Democratic ticket won by ~2.5 points, below their national margin, and the total increases to 250 EV.

At around 10:30 am EST on Saturday, November 7, the major news networks declared Biden-Harris the projected winner in Pennsylvania—and its 20 EV put Biden-Harris over the total of 270 needed to win the presidency. It also makes Pennsylvania—the state in which I was born—the “tipping point” state, as it puts Biden-Harris over 270 EV when states are ranked from most to least Democratic. But the margin stands at just 1.0 points, or just 68,903 votes; Biden-Harris also won Wisconsin (0.6 points), Arizona and Georgia (0.3 points each) by similarly small margins. The Democratic ticket has a total winning margin of 104,025 votes in these four states.

In the 25 states, plus DC, won by the Democratic ticket, the average increase in margin from 2016 was 3.4 points, while in states won by the Republican ticket the average increase was 2.1 points; overall, the average margin shift was 2.8 points. In the five states which switched from Republican to Democratic, the average increase was 3.0 points, led by a 3.8-point increase in Arizona and a 5.4-point increase in Georgia. While Biden-Harris lost North Carolina by 1.4 points and Texas by 5.7 points, they improved the margin by 2.3 and 3.3 points, respectively.

However, while Biden-Harris improved on the 2016 margins by an average 3.7 points in these four southeastern/southwestern states—states I suggested were fertile ground for Democrats—they basically held serve in Iowa (D+1.2) and Ohio (no change), while falling further behind in Florida (D-2.2); I will not speculate what role undelivered ballots in Miami-Dade County played in the latter state. This should not be surprising, as these were perhaps the most disappointing states for Democrats during the otherwise “blue wave” 2018 midterm elections.

In 2016, Trump-Pence won 306 EV by winning six states Obama-Biden won in 2012: the aforementioned Florida, Iowa and Ohio, plus Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The latter were decided by a combined 77,736 votes; Clinton-Kaine also lost Georgia by 211,141 votes and Arizona by 91,234 votes. In 2020, as Table 2 shows, Biden-Harris won the former three states—more than enough to give them an Electoral College victory—by a combined 233,945 votes: a shift of 311,681 votes, or just 0.2% of all votes cast. But the Democratic ticket also increased their margin in Arizona by 101,691 votes and in Georgia by a remarkable 226,296 votes.

Table 2: Changes in Margin from 2016 to 2020 in Five Key States

State2016 Dem Margin2020 Dem MarginIncrease, 2016-20
Michigan-10,704+144,532+155,236
Pennsylvania-44,284+68,903+113,187
Wisconsin-22,748+20,510+43,258
Arizona-91,234+10,457+101,691
Georgia-212,141+14,155+226,296
TOTAL-381,111+258,557+639,668

Overall, across these five states, the margin swung toward the Democratic ticket by about 640,000 votes, which is still less than 1% of all votes cast. But we can get even more granular than that. Early in 2017, I observed that in the three states that swung the 2016 election to Trump-Pence, the Clinton-Kaine ticket did about as well in the Democratic core counties—the urban centers of Detroit, Milwaukee/Madison and Philadelphia/Pittsburgh—as Obama-Biden had in 2012. What changed was a massive increase in Republican turnout in the other, more rural counties of those states. I ultimately concluded this resulted from a split between white voters with a college degree (more Democratic suburban/urban) and without a college degree (more Republican rural).

Table 3: Changes in Margin from 2016 to 2020 in Pennsylvania Counties

County2016 D Margin2020 D MarginIncrease, 2016-20
Phila Suburbs   
Bucks+2,699+17,415+14,716
Chester+25,568+53,598+28,030
Delaware+66,735+87,066+20,331
Montgomery+93,351+133,343+39,992
TOTAL+188,353+291,422+103,069
    
Major Urban   
Philadelphia+475,277+457,649-17,628
Allegheny+108,137+146,706+38,569
TOTAL+583,414+604,355+20,941
    
All Other Counties-816,051-826,874-10,283
TOTAL-44,284+68,903+113,187

Table 3 shows just how this split played out in 2020, using Pennsylvania as an example. Compared to 2016, the margins for the Democratic ticket increased only at 21,000 votes in the heavily urban Democratic counties of Allegheny (Pittsburgh) and Philadelphia. And the 61 counties outside these two counties, excepting the four-county ring around Philadelphia, also held serve for the Republican ticket; Erie and Northampton Counties switched, barely, from Trump-Pence to Biden-Harris. In fact, the two parties may have reach voted saturation in these two areas. But those four suburban Philadelphia counties, swung even further toward the Democratic ticket, from a margin of 188,353 votes to nearly 291,422 votes, for a total increase of 103,069 votes, nearly the entire swing from 2016 to 2020.

What about the polling?

With most of the vote counted, Biden-Harris lead Trump-Pence nationally by 3.6 points, which is 4.6 points lower than my final weighted-adjusted polling average (“WAPA”) of 8.2 points.

For my final post tracking national and state polling of the 2020 presidential election, I estimated the probability Biden-Harris would win a given state. In 24 states/DC totaling 279 EV, the probability was at least 94.7%; Biden-Harris won all of them. In 20 states totaling 126 EV, the probability was 1.3% or less; Trump-Pence won all them. The remaining seven states were:

  • Florida (80.1%), which Biden-Harris lost
  • Arizona (77.5%), which Biden-Harris won
  • North Carolina (69.0%), which Biden-Harris lost
  • Georgia (56.4%), which Biden-Harris won
  • Ohio (39.1%), Iowa (37.0%) and Texas (28.4%), each of which Trump-Pence won

Florida and North Carolina were the only “misses,” though it should be noted Trump-Pence still had a non-trivial 19.9% and 31.0% chance, respectively, to win those states. Further, my final back-of-the-envelope EV estimate was 348.5 for Biden-Harris—subtracting the 44 combined EV of Florida and North Carolina essentially gets you to 306. The latter value is also very close to the 297.5 EV I estimated Biden-Harris would receive if all polls overestimated Democratic strength by 3.0 points.

Along those lines, my 2020 election cheat sheets included a projected Democratic-minus-Republican margin (“JBWM”), which adjusts final WAPA for undecided votes, along with recent polling errors in selected states. Compared to the final FiveThirtyEight.com margins/polling averages (“538”), JBWM margins were about 1.2 points more Republican.

Even so, as Table 4 shows, the JBWM margins were, on average, 3.4 points more Democratic than the final margins, and the 538 margins were 4.6 points more Democratic. When the direction of the difference is ignored, meanwhile, the differences between the two method vanish: an average absolute difference of 4.5 from JBWM margins compared to 4.8 for 538.

However, this overall difference masks a stark partisan difference: the mean JBWM difference was only 1.1 points more Democratic in states/DC won by Biden-Harris, while it was 5.9 points more Democratic in states won by Trump-Pence. The correlation between the Biden-Harris margin and the JBWM difference is 0.73, meaning the more Republican the state, the better Trump-Pence did relative to the final polling. In short, pollsters continue to undercount “Trump Republicans” in the most Republican states.

Table 4: 2020 Presidential Election Results by State, Ranked by Difference from JBWM Democratic-Republican Margin “Projection”

StateEVWinnerJBWM ProjectionBiden-Harris MarginDelta
West Virginia5Trump-20.4-39.0-18.6
New York29Biden28.313.7-14.6
Wyoming3Trump-32.1-43.4-11.3
South Dakota3Trump-15.6-26.2-10.6
North Dakota3Trump-23.2-33.3-10.1
Montana3Trump-7.1-16.4-9.3
Kentucky8Trump-17.2-26.0-8.8
Oklahoma7Trump-24.9-33.1-8.2
Texas38Trump1.6-5.7-7.3
Utah6Trump-12.9-20.2-7.3
Alabama9Trump-18.6-25.6-7.0
Indiana11Trump-9.6-16.1-6.5
Tennessee11Trump-16.9-23.3-6.4
Nevada6Biden8.62.4-6.2
Missouri10Trump-9.6-15.6-6.0
Kansas6Trump-10.2-15.1-4.9
Idaho4Trump-26.0-30.8-4.8
New Jersey14Biden19.515.5-4.0
Maine4Biden (3)12.58.7-3.8
Mississippi6Trump-14.1-17.8-3.7
Florida29Trump0.2-3.4-3.6
Alaska3Trump-6.7-10.1-3.4
Iowa6Trump-5.0-8.2-3.2
Connecticut7Biden23.020.1-2.9
Louisiana8Trump-15.8-18.6-2.8
South Carolina9Trump-8.9-11.7-2.8
Wisconsin10Biden3.20.6-2.6
Arizona11Biden2.90.3-2.6
Washington12Biden21.719.3-2.4
Hawaii4Biden31.629.5-2.1
Ohio18Trump-6.2-8.2-2.0
Michigan16Biden4.42.6-1.8
New Hampshire4Biden8.97.4-1.5
Nebraska5Biden (4)-17.8-19.2-1.4
Massachusetts11Biden34.333.0-1.3
Oregon7Biden17.516.2-1.3
New Mexico5Biden12.010.8-1.2
Pennsylvania20Biden2.21.0-1.2
Delaware3Biden20.219.0-1.2
Virginia13Biden11.210.1-1.1
Minnesota10Biden7.97.1-0.8
Georgia16Biden0.60.3-0.3
North Carolina15Trump-1.1-1.4-0.3
Illinois20Biden16.216.60.4
California55Biden29.129.60.5
Arkansas6Trump-29.1-27.61.5
Maryland10Biden30.231.91.7
Rhode Island4Biden19.020.71.7
Colorado9Biden11.413.52.1
Vermont3Biden28.835.46.6
DC3Biden74.986.611.7
Average  Biden+2.6Trump+0.8D-3.4

To again get more granular, Table 5 lists the pollsters who assessed the national popular vote at least five times since January 1, 2019, sorted by distance from the actual national margin of 3.6%. Margins are weighted for time, but not adjusted for partisan “bias.”

Table 5: Top 2020 Presidential Election Pollsters, Final WAPA National Margin

Pollster538 RatingFinal MarginDelta
OpiniumC+14.1-10.5
NORC (AllAdults only)C+11.3-7.7
CNN/SSRSB/C11.1-7.5
QriouslyC+10.5-6.9
USC DornsifeB/C10.4-6.8
Quinnipiac UniversityB+10.4-6.8
NBC News/Wall Street JournalA-10.1-6.5
Global Strategy Group/GBAO (Navigator Res)C+9.9-6.3
Data for ProgressB-9.8-6.2
Redfield & Wilton StrategiesC+9.6-6.0
ABC News/Washington PostA+9.2-5.6
Marist CollegeA+9.1-5.5
Echelon InsightsC+8.8-5.2
SurveyUSAA8.8-5.2
IpsosB-8.5-4.9
LégerC+8.4-4.8
Change ResearchC-8.3-4.7
Fox NewsA-8.3-4.7
YouGovB8.2-4.6
Research Co.B-7.8-4.2
PureSpectrumC+7.6-4.0
Morning ConsultB/C7.6-4.0
Monmouth UniversityA+7.4-3.8
Firehouse Strategies/OptimusB/C7.4-3.8
RMG ResearchB/C7.1-3.5
Harris XC6.5-2.9
Suffolk UniversityA6.2-2.6
IBD/TIPPA/B5.5-1.9
Emerson CollegeA-3.8-0.2
Zogby*C+3.60.0
Rasmussen Reports/Pulse Opinion ResearchC+3.20.4
CiviqsB/C3.10.5
AverageB/B-8.2-4.5

           * John Zogby Strategies/EMI Solutions, Zogby Analytics, Zogby Interactive/JV Analytics

These 32 pollsters accounted for 556 (80.6%) of the 690 polls conducted. On average, they estimated Biden-Harris would win the national popular vote by 8.2 points, identical to my final WAPA; the average miss was 4.5 points in favor of Biden-Harris. There was only minimal difference by pollster quality: the 11 pollsters with a rating of B or better missed by an average of 4.2 points, while the 21 pollsters with a rating of B- or lower missed by an average of 4.7 points. That said, three of the four pollsters who came closest to the final national margin—Zogby, Rasmussen and Civiqs—had ratings of B/C or C+; the fourth was Emerson College, rated A-. At the other end of the spectrum are seven pollsters who anticipated a double-digit national popular vote win for Biden-Harris: low-rated Opinium, NORC (who polled adults, not registered/likely voters), CNN/SSRS, Qriously and USC Dornsife; and high-rated Quinnipiac University and NBC News/Wall Street Journal.

Overall, though, the polling captured the broad contours of the 2020 presidential election—if not the precise margins—fairly well, with JBWM and actual Democratic margins correlated a near-perfect 0.99; the order of states from most to least Democratic was accurately predicted. It forecast a solid, if not spectacular win by Biden-Harris in the national popular vote, a restoration of the upper Midwestern “blue wall,” and continued Democratic gains in southeastern/southwestern states such as Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, even as Florida, Iowa and Ohio become more Republican.

One final note: it is exceedingly difficult to beat an elected incumbent president. Since 1952, it had happened only twice (1980, 1992) in eight chances prior to 2020[1]; Biden-Harris beat those 1:3 odds convincingly.

Senate elections

Democrats entered 2020 needing to flip a net four seats—or three seats plus the White House—to regain the majority for the first time since 2014. As Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris breaks a 50-50 tie.

Table 6: 2020 Senate Election Results by State, Ranked from Highest to Lowest Democratic Margin, Compared to Pre-Election “Fundamentals”

StateWinnerFundamentalsFinal Dem MarginDelta
Rhode IslandReed24.433.08.6
MassachusettsMarkey28.532.94.4
DelawareCoons18.921.52.6
OregonMerkley15.117.62.5
IllinoisDurbin21.116.9-4.2
New JerseyBooker18.415.8-2.6
New HampshireShaheen6.515.79.2
VirginiaWarner7.912.04.1
ColoradoHickenlooper1.89.37.5
New MexicoLujan8.56.1-2.4
MinnesotaSmith5.75.2-0.5
ArizonaKelly-8.32.410.7
MichiganPeters8.61.5-7.1
Georgia Special???-8.0-1.07.0
Georgia???-10.0-1.78.3
North CarolinaTillis-6.4-1.74.7
IowaErnst-5.1-6.6-1.5
MaineCollis5.5-8.9-14.4
TexasCornyn-15.7-9.85.9
MontanaDaines-19.0-10.09.0
South CarolinaGraham-16.1-10.35.8
MississippiHyde-Smith-18.1-11.26.9
KansasMarshall-21.4-11.99.5
AlaskaSullivan-19.6-12.96.7
KentuckyMcConnell-29.1-19.59.6
AlabamaTuberville-24.2-20.63.6
LouisianaCassidy-22.6-25.9-3.3
TennesseeHagerty-23.8-27.1-3.3
IdahoRisch-34.6-29.35.3
OklahomaInhofe-38.5-30.28.3
South DakotaRounds-26.2-31.5-5.3
ArkansasCotton-28.6-33.3-4.7
NebraskaSasse-26.2-41.3-15.1
West VirginiaCapito-35.9-43.3-7.4
WyomingLummis-43.7-46.1-2.4
AverageD+1 to 3GOP+8.9GOP+7.0D+1.9

Table 1 summarizes these elections; for the Georgia special election and Louisiana, margins are for all Democrats and all Republicans. Democrats John Hickenlooper and Mark Kelly defeated Republican incumbents in Colorado (Cory Gardner) and Arizona (Martha McSally), respectively, while Republican Tommy Tuberville defeated Democratic incumbent Doug Jones in Alabama. This leaves Democrats two seats shy of 50-50, pending the January 5 runoff elections in Georgia. Incumbent Republican David Perdue edged Ossoff on November 3 by 1.7 points, but fell 0.3 points short of the 50.0% needed to win outright. In the special election necessitated by the retirement of Republican Johnny Isaakson in December 2019, Warnock (32.9%) led incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler (25.9%) by 7.0 points in the all-candidate “jungle primary;” overall, Republican candidates earned 49.4% of the vote and Democratic candidates earned 48.4%, with 2.2% split between a handful of third-party candidates.

When I took a “wicked early” look at these elections, I assessed the Democrat’s chance in each election using their “fundamentals,” or the sum of the state’s partisan lean (calculated using my 3W-RDM), the Democratic margin on the generic ballot and incumbency advantage.[2] For Table 6, the generic ballot is the difference in the percentages of the total vote for all Democratic House candidates and for all Republican House candidates; Democrats are ahead by 2.0 points.

On average, Democrats overperformed “expected” margins by 1.9 points. In the 13 elections won by Democrats, the overperformance was 2.5 points, while in the 20 elections won by Republicans, the overperformance was just 0.9 points; Democrats overperformed in the two Georgia Senate races by 7.0 and 8.3 points, confirming how rapidly it is moving toward swing-state status. The biggest Democratic overperformance—fully 10.7 points—was in Arizona, which in 2021 will have two Democratic Senators (both of whom beat McSally) for the first time since 1953. Other Senate elections in which the Democratic candidate overperformed by at least 9.0 points were New Hampshire, and three states where Democrats fell short in their attempt to win back a Republican-held seat: Montana, Kansas and Kentucky.

On the flip side, setting aside a 15.1-point underperfomance in Nebraska, the biggest Republican overperformance was in Maine, where incumbent Susan Collins, first elected in 1996, “should” have lost by 5.5 points. Instead, she won by 8.9 points; this is a 28-point decline from 2014, when Collins won by 37 points. Pending the results of the Georgia runoff elections, Maine is the only state in 2020 to have a Democratic presidential victory and a Republican Senate victory, with a gap of 17.6 points. It will be interesting to see whether Collins adjusts her voting in the next Senate. Other large Democratic underperformances, finally, took place in Michigan, where first-term Democratic Senator Gary Peters beat Republican John James by only 1.5 points and in West Virginia, which grows more Republican every year.

On the whole, though, expected and actual margins aligned nearly perfectly, with a 0.94 correlation.

What about the polling?

As with the presidential election, the final polling averages/projected margins were far less accurate, as Table 7 shows; I did not calculate a projected final margin for the Louisiana Senate election.

Table 7: 2020 Senate Election Results by State, Ranked by Difference from JBWM Democratic-Republican Margin “Projection”

StateWinnerJBWM ProjectionDemocratic MarginDelta
West VirginiaCapito-20.6-43.3-22.7
WyomingLummis-30.2-46.1-15.9
MaineCollins3.3-8.9-12.2
South DakotaRounds-19.9-31.5-11.6
NebraskaSasse-30.8-41.3-10.5
KentuckyMcConnell-9.7-19.5-9.8
OklahomaInhofe-20.5-30.2-9.7
AlaskaSullivan-3.7-12.9-9.2
AlabamaTuberville-11.5-20.6-9.1
New JerseyBooker24.615.8-8.8
MontanaDaines-1.3-10.0-8.7
DelawareCoons29.621.5-8.1
TexasCornyn-2.3-9.8-7.5
IllinoisDurbin23.716.9-6.8
KansasMarshall-5.4-11.9-6.5
South CarolinaGraham-4.7-10.3-5.6
TennesseeHagerty-21.9-27.1-5.2
MississippiHyde-Smith-6.4-11.2-4.8
ArizonaKelly6.62.4-4.2
New MexicoLujan10.06.1-3.9
Georgia???1.7-1.7-3.4
MichiganPeters4.71.5-3.2
IdahoRisch-26.1-29.3-3.2
MinnesotaSmith8.45.2-3.2
VirginiaWarner15.112.0-3.1
IowaErnst-3.6-6.6-3.0
North CarolinaTillis1.1-1.7-2.8
OregonMerkley20.017.6-2.4
ArkansasCotton-33.0-33.3-0.3
ColoradoHickenlooper9.39.30.0
MassachusettsMarkey31.432.91.5
New HampshireShaheen14.415.71.3
Georgia Special???-3.9-1.02.9
Rhode IslandReed29.633.03.4
AverageDem+1 to 3GOP+0.6GOP+6.4D-5.8

The polling may have been within historic parameters for the presidential election, but it was far worse in the Senate elections, with the JBWM margins overestimating Democratic margins by an average of 5.8 points, almost exactly the 6.0 points by which 538 margins erred on average; ignoring direction, the average misses are 6.3 and 7.0 points, respectively. That said, the correlation between the actual and projected Democratic margins was 0.97, meaning the polling correctly forecast the order of Senate elections from most to least Democratic.

These overall averages again mask substantial partisan differences. In the 13 states where the Democratic nominee won, the average miss was a historically-reasonable -2.9 points, but in the 19 states (excluding Louisiana) where the Republican nominee won, the average miss was an astounding -8.3 points. Put another way, in the 15 states Trump-Pence won by at least 10 points which also held a Senate election, the average Senate miss was -8.9 points, while it was -3.3 points in all other states. Somewhat reassuringly, in the five states whose presidential margin was within five points also holding a Senate election (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina), the miss was only -2.2 points. Overall, the correlation between the Biden-Harris margin and the JBWM margin error was 0.57, confirming the idea pollsters systematically undercounted Republican support in the most Republican states.

My back-of-the-envelope estimate was a net gain of five Democratic seats in the Senate, with at least a 77% chance Democrats would regain control; these values dropped to 30% and either two or three seats with the assumption all polls systematically overestimated Democratic strength by three points. Democrats will ultimately net between one and three seats, corresponding more with the latter assumption. I estimate the probability Democrats win both Georgia Senate runoff elections—and thus the Senate—is between 25 and 50%, depending on the degree of ticket-splitting.

From a purely mathematical perspective, the largest Democratic underperformances occurred in the Senate elections in West Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska: four extremely Republican states. But from a strategic perspective, the most disappointing elections were in Maine (-12.2) and North Carolina (-2.8), where incumbent Republican Thom Tillis narrowly held off a challenge from Democrat Cal Cunningham, who may have been hurt by a sexting scandal; given the narrowness of his victory (1.7 points) and the increasingly swing status of North Carolina, Tillis’ voting patterns also merit watching. These were the two states besides Arizona (98.1%) and Colorado (99.5%) in which I estimated the Democratic nominee had at least an 85% chance to defeat a Republican incumbent; I also thought Democrat Theresa Greenfield was roughly even money to defeat incumbent Republican Joni Ernst, despite projecting a final margin of 3.6 points for Ernst; the latter won by 6.6 points.

There were four additional Senate elections—in Alaska, Kansas (open seat), Montana and South Carolina—where I estimated the probability of a Democratic flip was between 11.7 and 26.4%. In a sign of how good these elections were for Republicans, their nominees won all four elections by an average of 11.3 points, a mean 7.5 points more Republican than projected. In fairness, these states tilted an average 19.2 points more Republican than the nation as a whole coming into the 2020 elections. A similar story can be told in Texas, which tilted 15.3 points more Republican, but where Democrat M.J. Hegar “only” lost by 9.8 points to incumbent Republican John Cornyn, beating expectations by 0.6 points.

Put simply, assuming a loss in Alabama, Democratic hopes of winning back control of the Senate relied on flipping two Senate seats in Democratic states, then winning at least two more seats in states ranging from somewhat Republican—Iowa, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia—to extremely Republican—Alaska, Kansas, Montana, South Carolina and Texas—all while Trump sought reelection. To date, Democrats have only flipped seats in Colorado (D+2.2) and Arizona (D-9.7) while winning back the Vice-Presidency, losing tough elections in Iowa, Maine and North Carolina, while never really being in contention anywhere else. Senate control now rests on Democrats winning two Senate runoff elections in a nominally Republican state (D-9.6), but one where Biden-Harris won, improving on Clinton-Kaine’s by 5.4 points.

Gubernatorial elections

Unlike those for the White House and Senate, there was very little drama in these elections. Two Democratic incumbents—John Carney of Delaware and Jay Inslee of Washington—were expected to win easily; they won by margins of 20.9 and 13.6 points, respectively. Six Republican incumbents—Eric Holcomb of Indiana, Mike Parson of Missouri, Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Phil Scott of Vermont and Jim Justice of West Virginia—as well as Republican Spencer Cox of Utah were expected to win easily, though I projected Parson to win by “only” 8.0 points (he won by 16.6 points). They won their elections by an average margin of 31.6 points!

The only possible drama was in Montana, where Republican Gianforte and Democrat Mike Cooney vied to win the governor’s mansion being vacated by Democrat Bullock, and North Carolina, where Democratic Governor Roy Cooper—who won extremely narrowly in 2016—faced Republican Dan Forest. Gianforte defeated Cooney by 12.4 points, easily exceeding a projected 4.5 points, while Cooper won by 4.5 points, not the projected 10.4 points. Still, my global projection was correct: a net gain of one governor’s mansion by the Republicans, giving them a 27-23 majority; this an overall net gain of seven governor’s mansions by the Democrats since 2016.

In these elections, Republicans strongly overperformed fundamentals (7.1 points) and JBWM projections (7.6 points). However, expected values were strongly skewed by Scott’s 41.1-point victory in extremely-Democratic Vermont (D+27.7) and Sununu’s 31.8-point victory in swing New Hampshire (D+0.1); exclude those two margins and DEMOCRATS overperformed expectations by 1.0 points—with Democrat Ben Salango exceeding what were admittedly very low expectations by 8.5 points. Meanwhile, in the four states with governor’s races won by Biden-Harris, Democratic gubernatorial nominees finished an average 8.9 points lower than projected, while in the seven states won by Trump-Pence, they finished an average 6.8 points worse than expected. Once again, the extreme disparity in presidential/Senate and gubernatorial voting in New Hampshire and Vermont—two of three states in solidly-Democratic New England, along with Massachusetts (Charlie Baker), to have very popular Republican governors. In fact, gubernatorial elections are among the only ones in which ticket-splitting is still relatively common: Biden-Harris won six states with a Republican governor,[3] while Trump-Pence won five states with a Democratic governor.[4]

House elections

A wide range of forecasters expected Democrats to net between five and 10 House seats[5]. I was highly dubious of this, to be honest, given the likelihood the margin for Democrats in the total national House vote would decline from the 8.6-point margin they earned in 2018; it would also be higher than the 1.1 points by which they lost in 2016, when they still managed to net six seats. However, because I was not closely tracking House races, I said nothing about my doubts.

According to the Cook House vote tracker, Democrats had earned more than 75.1 million House votes (50.1%), Republicans had earned just under 72.1 million votes (48.0%), with the nearly 2.2 million votes (1.8%) going to third-party candidates. A total of 150.0 million votes have been counted, 5.1 million less than those cast in the presidential election. The 2.0-point margin by which Democrats are winning the House vote—just under 3.1 million votes—is also lower than the 3.6 points, and 5.6 million votes by which Biden-Harris currently lead Trump-Pence. It is also much lower than the 9.7-million Democratic vote margin in 2018, albeit with 36.3 million more votes cast in 2020, reinforcing the conclusion a few million Republican-leaning voters “balanced” a vote for Biden-Harris with Republican votes elsewhere…or simply chose not to vote in down-ballot elections.

In the races that have already called, Republicans have gained 11 seats held by Democrats (two each in California and Florida, one each in Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah), while Democrats have gained three seats held by Republicans (two in North Carolina, one in Georgia). This gives Democrats 221 seats, three more than needed for the majority, and Republicans 208 seats. Of the six seats yet to be called, Democrats currently hold four, with freshman Democrat Tom Malinowski leading by ~5,000 votes in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District (“CD”). Giving that seat to the Democrats—and giving Republicans their open seat in New York’s 2nd CD—increases the totals to 222 Democrats and 209 Republicans.

That leaves four seats truly in doubt:

  • California’s 21st CD, where incumbent Democrat T.J. Cox trails Republican David Valadao, in a 2018 rematch, by 2,065 votes.
  • California’s 25th CD, where Democrat Christy Smith is within 104 votes of unseating Republican Mike Garcia, who won a special election in May 2020 after first-term Democrat Katie Hill resigned.
  • Iowa’s 2nd CD, where Democrat Dave Loebsack did not seek reelection; Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks leads Democrat Rita Hart by only 47 votes!
  • New York’s 22nd CD, where Republican Claudia Tenney’s lead over incumbent Democrat Anthony Brindisi continues to shrink as New York votes are slowly counted.

Democrats will thus lose a net 8-12 seats compared to the 234-201 margin they had after the 2018 elections. This is a bad result for the Democrats, right?

Well, no…it suggests that polling-based expectations were flawed, because the fundamentals always pointed toward a net loss of House seats for the Democrats. Moreover, the comparison should be to 2016, because that is the last election in which Trump appeared on the ballot.

Following the 2016 elections, Republicans had a 241-194 House majority. Democrats were convinced, wrongly I thought, that gerrymandering by Republican legislators and governors would keep them in the minority for the foreseeable future. Looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, knowing Democrats needed to net 24 seats to regain the majority, I looked at all House elections from 1968 to 2016, and I noticed that what “predicted” net change in seats from one election to the next was not the national margin in a given election, but the change in that margin from the previous election. Figure 1 helps to illustrate this.

Figure 1:

In 2018, Democrats net a surprisingly-high 41 House seats, 17 more than they needed, most by narrow margins. It is then reasonable to expect that even a small decline in the Democratic share of the total national House vote would allow Republicans to “claw back” some of these seats Democrats currently lead the total national House vote by 2.0 points, fully 6.6-point decrease f 2018. Entering this value into the OLS regression shown in Figure 1 yields an estimated Democratic loss of 22.4 seats.

In other words, while Democrats expected to gain seats—based on what we now know was polling that underestimated Republican margins by 3-7 points—they should actually have been bracing themselves for a possible loss of the House itself. Instead, they “only” lost between eight and 12 seats, meaning they did far better than history would have suggested. Moreover, Democrats have net between 29 and 33 seats since 2016, earning control of the House in back-to-back elections for the first time since 2006-2008, something that seemed nearly impossible early in 2017.

Summary

Both Democrats and Republicans can find 2020 election results to celebrate.

Democrats won back the White House after just four years (beating 1:3 odds to defeat an incumbent), rebuilding their upper-Midwestern blue wall while expanding into the southeast and southwest; no Democratic presidential nominee has won both Arizona and Georgia since 1948. They also maintained control of the House of Representatives and made gains in the Senate; with two more wins in Georgia in January 2021, they regain control of the Senate as well. Democrats have not controlled both the White House and House since 2010.

Republicans, even as they lost the White House, gained as many as 12 seats in the House and staved off losing control of the Senate until January 2021 at the earliest. They net one governor’s mansion, giving them a 27-23 majority, and held their own in state legislative elections. Once again, Trump’s name on the ballot encouraged many more exurban and rural voters to vote than expected, ironically helping all Republicans but himself and his running mate.

Fans of bipartisan “balance” can also celebrate 11 states seeing different parties win their state’s electoral votes and serving as governor. Moreover, a record-smashing 155.1 million—and counting—Americans cast a ballot for president, which equates to two in three of all adults eligible to vote.

Finally, the polls erred substantially in favor of Republicans, with a miss of around 3.5 points compared to my final projections and 4.7 points relative to those from 538. Republicans fared even better in Senate and gubernatorial elections, beating final projections by around six points in the former and nearly eight points in the latter. These values mask a partisan split, with polls far more accurate for Democratic candidates than Republican ones. In the end, though, polls were far less accurate—in this Trump-led cycle at least—than simply considering a state’s recent partisan lean, the national partisan environment and incumbency. These fundamentals remain extremely predictive, at least relatively.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…


[1] 1956, 1972, 1980, 1984, 1992, 1996, 2004, 2012

[2] Democratic full-term incumbents=4.4, Democratic partial-term incumbents=2.2, non-incumbent=0, Republican partial-term incumbents=–0.4, -0.6, -1.6; Republican full-term incumbents=-2.4

[3] Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont

[4] Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina

[5] The Cook Political Report hedged a bit, labeling 229 seats at least Lean Democrat, 179 seats at least Lean Republican, and 27 seats Toss-up. Of the Toss-ups, nine are held by Democrats, 17 by Republicans, and one by Justin Amash of Michigan, who switched from Republican to Independent in July 2019.

Your 2020 Election Cheat Sheets

Election Day 2020 has finally arrived. More accurately, the end of election season comes today, as over 100 million Americans have already voted. To help guide you through the coming hours of media coverage, I have attached two PDFs.

The first one allows you to track the results of the presidential election. For my last update and to understand how I aggregate all polls assessing Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. versus Republican President Donald J. Trump, please see here.

The second one allows you to track, the results of the 36 Senatorial and 11 gubernatorial elections. In the column headed “538CL,” I list the final projected FiveThirtyEight.com Senate election margins using their “Classic” methodology. The analysts at 538 did not track gubernatorial elections this year. For my last update, see here.

Names of incumbents are underlined in italics, while, in open seats, the candidate of the incumbent’s party is in italics. Values highlighted in blue are projected Democratic gains, and values highlighted in red are projected Republican gains.

In both trackers, the column headed “JBWM” list my my best estimate of the final margins in each election, not the polling averages. In most states, this is essentially the same as the final polling average. Since my last update, I made two algorithm changes. First, I weight all poll conducted entirely after the final presidential debate on October 22 six times higher. Second, I halve the weight of any poll with a one-day field date.

However, in the 13 key Electoral College states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, and in the key Senate battlegrounds of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina and Texas, I began by assigning between 0.5 and 3.0 percent of the total vote to third party candidates, essentially eyeballing their polling percentages and cutting them in half. I then adjusted the final polling margin, for states for which I had this information, by the average 2016-2018 miss, as calculated by Dave Wasserman. Finally, I divided the remaining–usually minimal–undecided vote based on the relative Democratic or Republican lean of the state and the early vote count as a share of the 2016 vote totals. Put simply, in strong Democratic states with high turnout, I gave two-thirds of the undecideds to Biden, in strong Republican states with lower turnout I gave two-thirds of the undecideds to Trump, and where the two metrics diverged, I split them evenly.

With that in mind, here are some general observations.

  1. Maine and Nebraska assign two Electoral Votes (“EV”) to the statewide winner and one each to the winner of the state’s two and three Congressional districts (“CD”), respectively. I did not analyze polling data from the 2nd CD of Nebraska or the 2nd CD of Maine. While I expect Biden to win the former (and the 1st CD of Maine), I have no clear sense of who will win the latter; Trump will easily win the other two CD in Nebraska.
  2. My final “product of EV probabilities” sums are 348.5 using all polls conducted since January 1, 2019, and 350.6 using only polls conducted since the national party conventions concluded on August 28. With a systemic three-point polling error favoring Republicans, the EV total drops to 297.5, and with a systemic pro-Democratic error the EV total jumps to 391.2
  3. In my 2020 presidential election cheat sheet, Biden wins a total of 290 EV in states where I project him to win by at least 2.2 points, including NE-2; the latter state is Pennsylvania, with 20 EV–losing it drops Biden to exatly the 270 he needs to win. Note that I “award” North Carolina to Trump, while 538 has Biden slightly favored there. I am far less certain of three states whose 83 total EV–Florida, Georgia and Texas–I “award” to Biden by very narrow margins; 538 has Trump slightly favored in Texas. Honestly, Biden could win all four of these states, Trump could win all four, or any combination in between. Thus, by my calculations, Biden could win anywhere from 290 to 373 EV–very close to my six-point polling error spread.
  4. Recall that there are two Senate elections in Georgia, one scheduled between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican incumbent David Perdue, and one being defended by incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler in which all candidates run in the same election. In the former, I “award” the win to Ossoff, but if neither candidate reaches 50%–and Libertarian Shane Hazel routinely earns ~3% in public polling–there will be a runoff election on January 5, 2021. In the latter race, it is a near certainty Democrat Raphael Warnock will advance to a runoff election on January 5, probably–but not certainly–against Loeffler. As of now, Warnock is the strong favorite to win that election.
  5. Louisiana also has a “jungle” primary for Senate, with a runoff between incumbent Republican Bill Cassidy (if he does not reach 50% today) and Democrat Adrian Perkins a near-certainty.
  6. I line up exactly with 538 on Senate races, though the Senate race in Iowa is quite close. We both anticipate the next Senate to have 50 Democrats, plus two Independents who caucus with them, and 48 Republicans.
  7. However–keep an eye on Montana. Democratic Governor Steve Bullock is a very slight underdog against incumbent Republican Steve Daines, but could also easily eke out a narrow win. And the only remotely competitive governor’s race–an open seat battle between Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney versus House Member Republican Greg Gianforte–is being held there as well.

And that is it.

Time to prepare a batch of blue lagoons, ready my bowl of blue and white M&M’s and settle in for a long night…or week.

Until next time…please stay safe, and if you have not done so already, please VOTE!

Quinnipiac University and Emerson College: Mirror-image pollsters?

In three earlier posts—most recently here—I analyzed all polls conducted by Emerson College (“Emerson”) of 2020 presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial elections. I found that they had a clear bias towards the Republican candidate, on average, compared to all other polls of the same election.

As I continue to analyze polls of the presidential election between former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and President Donald J. Trump, as well as this year’s 35 Senate and 11 gubernatorial elections, I have observed the opposite mathematical bias for Quinnipiac University (“Quinnipiac”) polls.

In fact, as we will see, the two polling organizations nearly mirror each other in their mathematical bias.

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Let us begin with the national race between Democrat Biden and Republican Trump. Using all 632 publicly-available polls released since January 1, 2019, I calculated a weighted-adjusted polling average (WAPA) of 8.3. That is, adjusting for time (with polls conducted after August 29 weighted and additional 1.5 times higher and polls conducted since September 29 3.0 times higher), pollster quality and partisan lean, Biden leads Trump by a little over eight points nationally. Emerson has an A- rating, and a historic lean of 0.3 points Democratic, while Quinnipiac has a B+ rating, and a historic lean of 0.2 points Democratic.

Table 1: State-level 2020 presidential election polling averages by Emerson College and Quinnipiac University compared to all other pollsters in the same state

StateQuinnipiac  Emerson 
 WAPAOtherDeltaWAPAOtherDelta
Arizona   4.62.72.0
California   29.328.60.8
Florida8.62.46.1   
Georgia5.70.25.5   
Iowa   -0.40.5-0.9
Kentucky-15.8-17.41.6   
Maine18.712.85.9   
Massachusetts   36.934.32.6
Michigan   11.07.43.7
Montana   -12.1-6.1-5.9
Nevada   -0.16.0-6.1
New Hampshire   7.88.1-0.3
North Carolina   0.92.1-1.2
Ohio1.40.41.0-0.30.5-0.8
Pennsylvania9.95.84.14.15.9-1.8
South Carolina-4.2-7.12.8   
Texas-0.9-1.60.7-1.1-1.60.4
Wisconsin   7.05.71.3
AVERAGE All States3.5  -0.5
AVERAGE Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas1.9  -0.7

However, using the same calculation method—except for ignoring partisan lean—the 20 Emerson polls conducted by Emerson give Biden “only” a 3.7-point lead, which is 5.3 points more Republican than the average of the other 612 polls. At the same time, the 13 Quinnipiac polls give Biden a 9.9-point lead, which is 1.0 points more Democratic than the average of the other 619 polls. Put another way, Quinnipiac polls “see” a race that is 6.3 points more favorable to Biden than Emerson polls do, though both give Biden a solid lead.

While national polls are interesting—and plentiful—it is the Electoral College that determines who wins presidential elections. Table 1 compares state-level presidential polling averages by Emerson and Quinnipiac, in states where they have assessed the presidential election at least twice, to those calculated by all other pollsters in the state; positive values indicate a Democratic lead or pro-Democratic bias, and negative values indicate the opposite. Emerson has conducted one poll of the presidential election in Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, New Jersey and South Carolina; Quinnipiac has conducted one poll of the presidential election in Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin.

In the 13 states where Emerson has assessed the 2020 presidential election, the average bias is only 0.5 points towards Trump, fully 4.8 points lower than its national bias toward Trump. By contrast, in the eight states where Quinnipiac has assessed this election—five of them in the south, the average bias is 3.5 points toward Biden, 2.5 points higher than its national bias toward Biden. The gap between the two polling organizations also narrows from 6.3 to 4.0 points at the state level.

Notably, while Quinnipiac has an average bias toward Biden in all eight states—ranging from more than five points in Georgia, Maine and Florida to around one point in Ohio and Texas—Emerson’s bias is evenly split across its 13 multiple-assessment states, ranging from nearly six points towards Trump in the western states of Montana and Nevada to between two and four points toward Biden in the disparate states of Arizona, Massachusetts (where Emerson College is located) and Michigan.

Curiously, Emerson and Quinnipiac have both assessed the 2020 presidential election in only three states—Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas—multiple times since January 1, 2019. In these three states, the bias is relatively narrow: Trump +0.7 for Emerson and Biden +1.9 for Quinnipiac, for a gap of “only” 2.6 points.

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Turning to other statewide elections in 2020, Table 2 compares Senate election polling averages by Emerson and Quinnipiac, in states where they have conducted such polls at least twice since January 1, 2020, to those calculated by all other pollsters in the state. Emerson has conducted one Senate election poll in Georgia, assessing both seats on the ballot this year, as well as in Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New Jersey; Quinnipiac has conducted one Senate election poll in Iowa and Michigan. For the “jungle primary” in which Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler seeks reelection, I analyze the difference between the total percentage for all Democratic candidates and the total percentage for all Republican candidates.

Table 2: 2020 Senate and gubernatorial election polling averages by Emerson College and Quinnipiac University compared to all other pollsters in the same election

StateQuinnipiac  Emerson  
 WAPAOtherDeltaWAPAOtherDelta
Georgia–Loeffler-1.0-8.27.2   
Georgia–Perdue4.4-1.86.2   
Kentucky-9.5-9.3-0.2   
Maine9.14.74.5   
Montana   -8.4-0.8-7.6
North Carolina   2.65.1-2.4
South Carolina0.0-2.82.8   
Texas-7.0-6.5-0.5   
AVERAGE  3.3  -5.0

In a reverse of state-level presidential election polling, Quinnipiac has assessed six Senate elections multiple times—again focusing on the south, while Emerson has only assessed Senate elections in Montana and North Carolina more than once; no Senate election has been polled multiple times by both pollsters. Quinnipiac has an average 3.3-point bias toward Democratic Senate nominees, nearly identical to its 3.5-point state-level presidential election bias. By contrast, albeit only in two Republican-leaning states, Emerson has an average 5.0-point bias toward the Republican Senate nominees, nearly identical to their Trump bias nationally, and fully 4.5 points higher than their state-level bias toward Trump. Overall, and recognizing this is not an apples-to-apples comparison, Quinnipiac Senate election polls lean 8.3 points more Democratic than Emerson Senate election polls.

Quinnipiac has been especially Democratic-leaning in Georgia’s two Senate elections, with average pro-Democratic-nominee biases of 6.2 and 7.2 points, and in Maine, while they have shown minimal bias in Kentucky and Texas. As with the presidential election, meanwhile, Emerson has a whopping 7.6-point bias toward incumbent Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines in his race against Democratic Governor Steve Bullock; they are relatively closer to the mark in North Carolina, where Democrat Cal Cunningham has a small lead against incumbent Republican Thom Tillis.

Quinnipiac has conducted no gubernatorial election polls this year, while Emerson has conducted one poll in New Hampshire and multiple polls in Montana (6.5 points more Republican) and North Carolina (7.4 points more Republican), with a large average pro-Republican bias of 6.9 points!

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Table 3 lists the average partisan biases for Emerson and Quinnipiac for each set of races.

Table 3: Average partisan biases in Emerson College and Quinnipiac University polls across multiple election categories

StateQuinnipiacEmerson
Presidential–nationalDEM+1.0GOP+5.3
Presidential–stateDEM+3.5GOP+0.5
SenateDEM+3.3GOP+5.0
Governorn/aGOP+6.9
AVERAGEDEM+2.6GOP+4.4

While Quinnipiac has had only a relatively small pro-Biden bias in national polls, they have had an overall lean of 2.6 points Democratic across all elections they have assessed multiple times. By contrast, while Emerson has been very close to the all-polls average in their state-level presidential election polling, they have had an overall lean of 4.4 points Republican across all elections they have assessed multiple times. Overall, Quinnipiac has leaned fully 7.0 points more Democratic than Emerson has.

I will not attempt to “explain” these relative partisan biases, though they almost certainly result from some combination of how the demographic distribution of the likely 2020 electorate is modeled, the fact Quinnipiac shifted to “likely voters” models more recently than Emerson did, how hard they “push” initially undecided voters to choose one candidate, and the relative partisan leanings of demographic categories within their respective samples.

I will say, though, that the final Democratic-minus-Republican margin will almost certainly be very close to the midpoint of the two polling averages plus one point Democratic—at least in elections assessed at least once by Emerson and by Quinnipiac.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…and if you have not already voted, please do so as soon as you can!

2020 Senate and Gubernatorial Elections: The View from Labor Day

Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez should be very pleased with his performance. Since winning the chairperson position in February 2017, he has overseen a net gain of eight gubernatorial elections and hundreds of state legislative seats, as well as winning back control of the United States House of Representatives (“House”) in 2018—flipping a historic net 41 seats. He also held net losses in the United States Senate (“Senate”) to one—helped Democrat Doug Jones’ upset win in Alabama in December 2017—when 2018 looked like a terrible year for Senate Democrats.

As of Labor Day 2020, meanwhile, the Democratic nominee for president—former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.—is in a very strong position, the House appears safe for Democrats…and Democrats are poised to add seats in the Senate, with control of the upper chamber for the first time since 2014 highly plausible.

Currently, there are 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with Democrats in the Senate. To regain control, Democrats must either win a net total of four Senate seats OR a net total of three Senate seats while winning back the presidency; as president of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris breaks a 50-50 tie.

In May 2019, I surveyed the 34 Senate races—now 35 with the December 2019 retirement of Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia and subsequent appointment of businesswomen Kelly Loeffler by Republican Governor Brian Kemp—scheduled for November 2020. I concluded then that while paths existed for the Democrats to recapture the Senate, everything would have to go just right.

More than one year later, based upon a political climate strongly favoring Democrats—they lead by 7.2 percentage points on the generic ballot[1]—and all publicly-available polls conducted since January 1, 2020, everything appears to be going right for the Democrats.

Before continuing, here is the September 2020 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2020 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

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Table 1 presents the 35 Senate races scheduled for November 2020, sorted by 3W-RDM, my measure of how much more or less Democratic a state votes relative to the nation. “National Lean” is the current generic ballot margin. “Incumbency” is the average electoral advantage adhering to reelection candidates, calculated separately by party and adjusted downward for serving less than one full six-year term. “Sum” is 3W-RDM plus Incumbency plus National Lean, or what I call the “fundamentals”: how a generic Democrat would expect to fare against a generic Republican in a state, all else being equal.

Table 1. 2020 Senate election overview

NameStateRun 20203W-RDMIncumbencyNational LeanSum
DEMOCRATS
Edward MarkeyMAYes22.14.47.233.7
Jack ReedRIYes18.04.47.229.6
Richard DurbinILYes14.74.47.226.3
Chris CoonsDEYes12.54.47.224.1
Cory BookerNJYes12.04.47.223.6
Jeff MerkleyORYes8.74.47.220.3
Tom UdallNMNo6.50.07.213.7
Gary PetersMIYes2.24.47.213.8
Mark WarnerVAYes1.54.47.213.1
Tina SmithMNYes1.52.27.210.9
Jeanne ShaheenNHYes0.14.27.211.5
Doug JonesALYes-28.42.27.2-19.0
 
REPUBLICANS
Susan CollinsMEYes5.9-2.47.210.7
Cory GardnerCOYes2.2-2.47.27.0
Joni ErnstIAYes-4.7-2.47.20.1
Thom TillisNCYes-6.0-2.47.2-1.2
David PerdueGAYes-9.6-2.47.2-4.8
Kelly LoefflerGAYes-9.6-0.47.2-2.8
Martha McSallyAZYes-9.7-0.67.2-3.1
John CornynTXYes-15.3-2.47.2-10.5
Lindsey GrahamSCYes-15.7-2.47.2-10.9
Cindy Hyde-SmithMSYes-18.5-1.67.2-12.9
Steve DainesMTYes-18.6-2.47.2-13.8
Dan SullivanAKYes-19.2-2.47.2-14.4
Bill CassidyLAYes-22.2-2.47.2-17.4
Pat RobertsKSNo-23.40.07.2-16.2
Lamar AlexanderTNNo-25.80.07.2-18.6
Ben SasseNEYes-25.8-2.47.2-21.0
Mike RoundsSDYes-25.8-2.47.2-21.0
Tom CottonARYes-28.2-2.47.2-23.4
Mitch McConnellKYYes-28.7-2.47.2-23.9
James RischIDYes-34.2-2.47.2-29.4
Shelley Moore CapitoWVYes-35.5-2.47.2-30.7
James InhofeOKYes-38.1-2.47.2-33.3
Mike EnziWYNo-45.70.07.2-38.5

Based solely on these fundamentals, only one Democrat—Jones—entered the 2020 election cycle in serious danger of losing her/his seat, while two Republican—four-termer Susan Collins of Maine and first-termer Cory Gardner of Colorado—were in a similarly weak position. First-termer Joni Ernst of Iowa is basically a 50-50 proposition, while first-termer Thom Tillis of North Carolina is only slightly ahead, as are two recently-appointed Senators, Loeffler and Martha McSally, who lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in 2018; slightly further ahead, but “only” by 4.8 points is first-termer David Perdue of Georgia.

So, at least according to the fundamentals, Democrats entered the 2020 election cycle poised to net between one and six Senate seats, making control of the chamber slightly more likely than not to remain Republican.

**********

Publicly-available polling tells a broadly similar story, even if the quantity and quality—based upon FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings—of polls varies widely from state to state:

Table 2: Number and Average Quality of 2020 Senate Election Polls

State# of PollsAverage Rating
North Carolina46B-/B
Michigan42B-/C+
Arizona37B/B-
Georgia (Loeffler)31B/B-
Georgia (Perdue)16B
Texas13B
Maine12B-/C+
Iowa10B/B+
Kentucky10B/B+
South Carolina10B-/B
Montana7B-
Alabama6B-/B
Colorado6B-/C+
Kansas5B
Minnesota5B/B+
Mississippi5B-/B
New Hampshire5B-
Alaska3B-/B
Oklahoma2C+/B-
New Jersey1A+
New Mexico1B
Virginia1B-/C+
All other states0 
TOTAL274B-/B

Only 22 races (63%) have been polled at all, with North Carolina (46), Michigan (42), Arizona (37) and the Loeffler race in Georgia (31) topping the list; six other states—the Perdue race in Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, South Carolina and Texas—have been polled at least 10 times. Thus, just 11 races account for 227 (83%) of the 274 total Senate election polls conducted thus far in 2020.

Table 3 lists expected outcome, based on the fundamentals, and current weighted-adjusted polling average (WAPA) for each Democratic Senate nominee; New Hampshire will hold its Senate primaries on September 8, with incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen expected to win re-nomination easily. Elections with no incumbent are in italics.

Table 3: Expected and actual polling margins for 2020 Democratic Senate nominees, Labor Day 2020

StateExpectedWAPAExp – WAPA
Massachusetts33.7  
Rhode Island29.6  
Illinois26.3  
Delaware24.1  
New Jersey23.621.7-1.9
Oregon20.3  
New Mexico13.713.70.0
Maine10.73.6-7.1
Colorado7.010.03.0
Michigan13.89.4-4.4
Virginia13.120.57.4
Minnesota10.96.0-4.9
New Hampshire11.713.61.9
Iowa0.11.31.2
North Carolina-1.24.85.9
Georgia–Perdue-4.8-2.52.2
Georgia–Loeffler-2.8-5.1-2.3
Arizona-3.18.911.9
Texas-10.5-8.42.1
South Carolina-10.9-4.16.8
Mississippi-12.9-11.01.9
Montana-13.8-0.912.9
Alaska-14.4-6.48.0
Louisiana-17.4  
Kansas-16.2-4.012.2
Tennessee-18.6  
Nebraska-21.0  
South Dakota-21.0  
Arkansas-23.4  
Alabama-19.0-10.58.6
Kentucky-23.9-9.614.3
Idaho-29.4  
West Virginia-30.7  
Oklahoma-33.3-19.413.9
Wyoming-38.5  
AVERAGE-2.8*1.44.3

* Only for the 22 states with both measures

The WAPA for New Hampshire is the average of polls assessing Shaheen against retired United States Army officer Donald J. Bolduc (12.5) and attorney Bryant “Corky” Messner (14.8); all five polls were conducted by the University of New Hampshire, a B- pollster with a prior Democratic lean of 2.8 points.

The Loeffler race is a “jungle” primary in which every candidate, regardless of party affiliation, will appear on the November 3 ballot; assuming no candidate tops 50%, a runoff election between the top two vote-getters will take place on January 5, 2021. Republican House Member Doug Collins of Georgia is also running, as are Democrats Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Matt Lieberman, son of 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman, and former United States Attorney Ed Tarver. WAPA combines polls of all candidates—which suggest Loeffler and Collins could be the top two vote finishers—and head-to-head matchups between each Republican and each Democrat. The latter show all three Democrats beating Loeffler, and all three losing to Collins—albeit based on only one or two polls. Overall, then, this is an extremely difficult election to assess.

The correlation between expected margin and WAPA is +0.92, meaning the polling is broadly in line with the underlying “fundamentals” of the election. Still, even in a strong Democratic year, Democratic Senate nominees are “overperforming” expectations by an average of 4.3 percentage points (“points”), at least in the 22 Senate elections with at least one poll.

Table 4, finally, shows the win probability for each Democratic nominee based upon fundamentals, current polling and a weighted combination of the two, as well as a final projected margin; for calculation details, please see here. Republican seats in which Democrats lead are in boldface, while Democratic seats in which Repubicans lead are in boldfaced italics.

Table 4: Estimated state margins and probability Democrat wins, 2020 Senate Elections

StateCurrent PartyP(D win): ExpectedP(D win): WAPAP(D Win): OverallPredicted Margin
MassachusettsDEM100.0% 100.0%33.7
Rhode IslandDEM100.0% 100.0%29.6
IllinoisDEM100.0% 100.0%26.3
New JerseyDEM99.9%100.0%100.0%22.3
DelawareDEM99.9% 99.9%24.1
OregonDEM99.7% 99.7%20.3
MichiganDEM96.6%99.9%99.6%9.8
VirginiaDEM95.8%100.0%99.5%19.5
New HampshireDEM93.7%100.0%99.3%13.4
New MexicoDEM96.5%100.0%99.2%13.7
ColoradoGOP81.0%100.0%97.8%9.7
MinnesotaDEM92.2%97.7%97.2%6.5
ArizonaGOP29.2%99.8%92.5%7.6
MaineGOP91.9%88.4%88.8%4.5
North CarolinaGOP39.1%94.4%88.6%4.1
IowaGOP46.2%67.1%64.3%1.2
MontanaGOP2.0%38.7%33.1%-2.8
Georgia–PerdueGOP21.6%19.9%20.1%-2.8
KansasGOP0.8%9.4%8.2%-5.7
Georgia–LoefflerGOP30.6%4.4%8.1%-4.8
South CarolinaGOP5.0%8.7%8.1%-5.1
AlaskaGOP1.6%1.7%1.7%-7.3
TexasGOP5.6%0.3%0.8%-8.6
LouisianaGOP0.5% 0.5%-17.4
MississippiGOP2.7%0.0%0.4%-11.3
TennesseeGOP0.3% 0.3%-18.6
NebraskaGOP0.1% 0.1%-21.0
South DakotaGOP0.1% 0.1%-21.0
AlabamaDEM0.3%0.0%0.1%-11.8
KentuckyGOP0.0%0.1%0.1%-16.7
ArkansasGOP0.0% 0.0%-23.4
IdahoGOP0.0% 0.0%-29.4
West VirginiaGOP0.0% 0.0%-30.7
OklahomaGOP0.0%0.0%0.0%-26.3
WyomingGOP0.0% 0.0%-38.5

Two months before election day 2020, and with caveats about what voting will look like during a pandemic, Democrats are in a very strong position to recapture the Senate—albeit with few, if any, seats to spare.

Let us examine these 35 elections in groups.

Safe Democratic (9). Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Chris Coons of Delaware, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Mark Warner of Virginia and Shaheen should easily win reelection by double-digit margins, while in New Mexico House Member Ben Ray Lujan is expected to beat meteorologist Mark Ronchetti equally handily.

Lean/likely Democratic (2). The only reason first-term Senators Gary Peters of Michigan and Tina Smith of Minnesota are considered remotely vulnerable is the fact they represent two of the closest states in the 2016 presidential election, and because their polling averages are between four and five points below their election fundamentals. Still, each is very likely to prevail over businessman John James and former House Member Jason Lewis, respectively, by mid-single-digit margins.

Likely Democratic flips (4). Four incumbent Republican Senators—Gardner, McSally, Collins and Tillis—appear headed for defeat by single-digit margins. Gardner is the most likely to lose—by as much as 10 points—to former Governor John Hickenlooper. McSally is right behind, staring at a high-single-digit defeat by former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of former Arizona House Member Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot and severely wounded in January 2011.

Collins and Tillis, meanwhile, trail Maine State House of Representatives Speaker Sara Gideon and former North Carolina State Senator Cal Cunningham, respectively, by around five points. While not guaranteed to win by any means—Collins won her last election by 37 points, and North Carolina leans 6.0 points Republican—right now these two states are likely Democratic pickups.

Toss-ups (2). Based solely on expectations—incumbent Republican in a lean-Republican state running for reelection in a strong Democratic year—Ernst is no more than even money to win reelection. And while she only trails businesswoman Theresa Greenfield by 1.3 points, that is enough to make Ernst the slightest of underdogs.

On the flip side is heavily Republican Montana, where Steve Daines seeks a second term. The fundamentals suggest Daines should easily win reelection by between 10 and 15 points. However, Governor Steve Bullock is mounting a very strong challenge, trailing by only 0.9 points overall—albeit a few points lower than when he declared his candidacy in early March.

Democrats could easily win both of these races, lose both of these races or split them, with Greenfield likelier to win than Bullock.

Likely Republican flip (1). While Jones is outpacing his fundamentals—running as a Democratic incumbent after only three years in a very Republican state—by 8.6 points, he remains very unlikely to prevail against former college football head coach Tommy Tuberville. In fact, losing “only” by single digits would be a moral victory.

Lean/likely Republican (6). Setting aside the Loeffler reelection, Democrats appear likely to fall short in Georgia’s other Senate election, Kansas, South Carolina, Alaska and Texas. Journalist Jon Ossoff, State Senator Barbara Bollier, former South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison, orthopedic surgeon (and Independent) Al Gross, and United States Air Force veteran Mary Jennings “M. J.” Hegar, respectively, are overperforming expectations by an average 6.3 points against Senator David Perdue, House Member Roger Marshall and Senators Lindsey Graham, Dan Sullivan and John Cornyn. However, they are doing so in states which lean Republican by an average of 16.6 points.

Still, just as Republican upsets in Michigan and Minnesota cannot be ruled out, neither can Democratic victories in any of these states, with Ossoff likeliest to do so, followed by Harrison. And, in Texas, roughly 20% of voters in polls conducted in July and August are still undecided, which is a warning sign for any incumbent.

It is worth noting that a Harrison victory would give South Carolina two African-American Senators, which has not happened in any state since Reconstruction.

Likely Republican/Sleepers (2). In Mississippi, first-term Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith is again facing former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, who lost by only 7.2 points in 2018. One year later, Republican Tate Reeves defeated Democrat Jim Hood by only 5.5 points in an open gubernatorial election. Currently, Espy trails by 11.0 points, very close to the 12.9 points suggested by the fundamentals. Based on recent history, then, this race could yet tighten, though Hyde-Smith is still heavily favored.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seeks a 7th term against former United States Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath. The fundamentals say McGrath should be trailing by nearly 24 points. However, she is “only” down by 9.6 points, and in six polls conducted since June 1, 2020, she trails in three by 3-5 points and in three by 17-22 points, making this a very difficult race to assess. As with Espy, though, McGrath is highly likely to lose by mid-to-high single digits.

Safe Republicans (9). Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, James Risch of Idaho, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and James Inhofe of Oklahoma should easily win reelection by double-digit margins. And in Tennessee and Wyoming, respectively former United States Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty and former House Member Cynthia Lummis are expected to win by similar margins.

In sum, Democrats appear all but certain to net at least one Senate seat, losing in Alabama while winning in Arizona and Colorado, and are very well-positioned to win seats in Maine and North Carolina, giving them a 50-50 tie in the Senate—broken by Vice President Mike Pence or Harris. To be fair, though, it is difficult to see how Democrats win all four seats while losing the presidential election, so I assume Harris breaks the tie in this scenario.

The question, then, is whether Democrats can add further seats in Iowa, where they are slightly favored, and/or Montana, where they are slight underdogs…and possibly in Georgia, where Ossoff has a roughly 1-in-5 chance of winning. Democrats have further pickup opportunities in some Republican states, albeit with at most an 8% chance.

Bottom line: The most likely range of Democratic pickups is three to five, with a plausible range of one to six—exactly what the fundamentals suggested in May 2019. If I simply add up the probabilities Democrats win each race, they sum to +4.1, though this is very “back of the envelope” methodology.

Another way to think about these races is to observe how Democratic win probabilities change with either of two reasonable assumptions:

  1. All polls are overestimating Democratic margins by 3.0 points.

In this scenario, Democrats remain almost certain to win in Arizona (89.0%) and Colorado (95.5%) while losing in Alabama. Maine (61.1%) and North Carolina (67.1%) are now toss-ups, though Democrats would still be the slightest of favorites in both. But Iowa would now lean Republican (29.0%), with Democrats no more than an 8.5% favorite (Montana) anywhere else. Meanwhile, Democrats would still be favored in Minnesota (84.0%), but it would not be a comfortable lead.

Bottom line: Democrats could net zero seats, or they could net three seats, with a gain of one or two the likeliest outcome; summing the probabilities suggest a 2.3 seat gain, making Democrats modest underdogs to win back the Senate.

  • All polls are underestimating Democratic margins by 3.0 points.

While Alabama is still very likely to flip Republican, Democrats would be at least a 94% favorite to win Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina—and an 88.6% favorite to win Iowa—for a minimum net gain of four seats. Montana (65.3%) and the Perdue race in Georgia (53.4%) would be toss-ups, with Democrats the slightest of favorites, albeit by 0.2 points, suggesting long recounts in both states. Should Democrats prevail in both, that increases the net gain to six seats. And Democrats would now only be modest underdogs in toss-up races in Kansas (32.5%) and South Carolina (32.2%), with the difficult-to-assess Loeffler race in Georgia (27.2%) just beyond that. However, they would still be unlikely to win in Alaska (14.3%) or Texas (4.5%).

Bottom line: In this scenario, Democrats net four to eight seats, with five or six the likeliest outcome. Summing the probabilities, though, suggests a Democratic net gain of 6.1 seats, making them very strong favorites to win back the Senate.

**********

Flying well under the radar are 11 states holding gubernatorial elections in 2020. Democrats are defending four of them; John Carney, Jay Inslee and Roy Cooper are all-but-guaranteed to be reelected in Delaware, Washington and North Carolina, respectively. The latter is somewhat surprising, given Cooper’s 0.2 point upset win over Republican incumbent Pat McCrory in 2016; the fundamentals suggest a 6.9-point lead, while the polls have him up 11.8 points—something in between these two seems likely.

The other governor’s mansion Democrats are defending is in Montana, where Bullock is stepping down after two terms (and running for the Senate). Montana leans 18.6 points more Republican than the nation, and Democrats Bullock and Brian Schweitzer have governed the state for 16 consecutive years, making it ready for a Republican flip; the fundamentals say House Member Greg Gianforte should win by 11.4 points. And while Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney is “only” trailing by 5.8 points, that is not close enough to give Democrats more than a 2.8% chance of winning.

Six Republican governors, meanwhile, are running for reelection—and all are expected to win by at least 9.3 points. This includes heavily Democratic Vermont, where Phil Scott leads Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman by 31.9 points, and partisan-neutral New Hampshire, where Chris Sununu leads both State Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes and Executive Council of New Hampshire member Andru Volinsky by more than 30 points. The other four are Eric Holcomb in Indiana, Mike Parson in Missouri, former Democrat Jim Justice in West Virginia and Doug Burgum in North Dakota. In Utah, finally, Gary Herbert is stepping down after eight years; Republican Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox is a near-lock to hold the governor’s mansion against Democratic law professor Christopher Peterson.

Bottom line: Even if one assumes polls are over- or under-estimating Democratic strength by three points, Montana is still the only state likely to flip partisan control—from Democratic to Republican. In fact, across all three scenarios, the range of “summed probabilities” is -0.50 to -0.76, with only the strong Democratic lean of Vermont keeping it even that close to no net change.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…


[1] That is, some variant of “If the election for United States House of Representatives was held today, would you vote for the Democrat or the Republican in your Congressional district?”

An update on Emerson College polling

In two essays I published in November 2019 (here and here), I addressed differences between polling results obtained by highly-respected Emerson College and those from other pollsters in the same race. Emerson College has an A- rating from FiveThirtyEight.com, and their analysts calculate that, on average, Emerson College polls are about 0.3 points more Democratic than other pollsters in the same elections.

Emerson College recently released new national and state-level polls, renewing interest in their work. I therefore decided to update my assessment by comparing Emerson College polls to those released by other pollsters in the same races, using all publicly-available polls released since January 1, 2019.

I Voted sticker

I begin with national polls of the 2020 presidential election between Democrat Joseph R. Biden, Jr., the former Vice President, and Republican incumbent Donald J. Trump. The 18 polls Emerson College has released of this race, weighted by time, average to a Biden lead of 3.6 percentage points (“points”) over Trump; this increases to 3.9 if I do not adjust for Emerson’s calculated Democratic lean. By comparison, the other 370 polls of this race—using my weighted-adjusted polling average (WAPA)—give Biden a 7.4-point lead, with essentially no partisan lean. That is, relative to other polls assessing Biden vs. Trump nationally, Emerson College polls are 3.5-3.8 points more Republican.

Table 1 repeats this comparison for every state in which Emerson College has polled the presidential election at least twice since January 1, 2019; the month of the most recent Emerson College poll is also listed. States are sorted by number of Emerson College polls and poll recency.

Table 1: Comparing state-level WAPA, Biden vs. Trump, Emerson College to all other pollsters

State # Emerson Polls Emerson College All Other Pollsters Emerson minus Other
Iowa 4

(12/2019)

-1.8 -2.2 D+0.4
Texas 3

(5/2020)

-1.4 -2.1 D+0.7
New Hampshire 3

(11/2019)

6.7 4.7 D+2.0
Massachusetts 2

(5/2020)

34.4 30.6 D+3.8
Ohio 2

(5/2020)

-0.4 1.0 D-1.4
California 2

(5/2020)

29.3 27.6 D+1.9
Michigan 2

(11/2019)

11.0 7.0 D+4.0
Nevada 2

(11/2019)

-0.4 +4.6 D-4.2
TOTAL/AVERAGE 20 9.7 8.9 D+0.8
Weighted by # polls 20 7.8 7.0 D+0.8

These eight states tell a very different story. On average, these polls show an average 0.8 points more support for Biden than all other polls in these states, irrespective of the number of polls Emerson College has conducted in that state. One major caveat is that Emerson College has yet to conduct a presidential horse race poll in calendar year 2020 in four of these states. If anything, though, state-level Emerson College polls of Biden vs. Trump have become more Democratic leaning: the four states with no calendar year 2020 polls show a Democratic lean of 0.45, broadly similar to the FiveThirtyEight estimate of 0.3, compared to 1.25 for the four states with a May 2020 Emerson College poll. Remove Massachusetts (home to Emerson College), however, and the difference vanishes.

I will post my assessment of polling in 2020 election for United States Senate (“Senate”) and governor around Labor Day; this assessment will only use polls released since January 1, 2020. At this point, though, Emerson College has released only two polls, in total, of any of this year’s 35 Senate and 11 gubernatorial elections. Both were conducted in Montana with 531 likely voters between July 31 and August 2, 2020. In the Senate race, Democratic Governor Steve Bullock trails incumbent Republican Steve Daines 44-50. The other six polls of this election give Bullock a narrow 0.9-point lead, for a pro-Republican lean of 6.9 points. Similarly, in the open governor’s race, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney trails Republican United States House of Representatives member Greg Gianforte 41 to 50; three other polls have Cooney down by 5.2 points, for a pro-Republican lean of 3.8 points. With all necessary caveats for small numbers, the average pro-Republican bias in these two polls is 5.4.

Curiously, while Emerson College presidential election polls force respondents to choose only between Biden and Trump—meaning their vote shares sum to 100%–in the two recent Montana polls, an average 7.5% of respondents chose an option besides the named Democrat and named Republican.

Still, this does not explain why, at the national level, Emerson College 2020 presidential election polls lean 3.5-3.8 points more Republican, while the sparse state-level polling leans 0.8 points more Democratic. Splitting the difference implies an Emerson College pro-Republican lean of about 1.4 points, but I would like to see far more state-level polling to have any confidence in that value.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…

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 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).

John_Bel_Edwards

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].

BeshearAndy_320

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

2020

3W-RDM INC Nat

Lean

Total Last margin First elected
DEMOCRATS
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
 
REPUBLICANS
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

3W-RDM INC Nat

Lean

Total Last margin First elected
2019 DEMOCRATS
John Bel Edwards LA Yes -22.2 5.7 6.0 -10.5 12.2% 2015
2019 REPUBLICANS
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
2020 DEMOCRATS
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
 
2020 REPUBLICANS
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.