How Likely Is Republican Control of the U.S. House In 2022?

On March 31, 2021, nearly five months after Election Day 2020, Democrat Rita Hart finally conceded to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District (“CD”), dropping her challenge to her six-vote loss. This was a net win for the Republicans, as United States House of Representatives (“House”) Member Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, had not sought reelection to an 8th term.

Overall, Democrats lost a net of 13 House seats relative to Election Day 2018, going from a 235-200 majority to a 222-213 majority. This double-digit seat loss occurred despite Democrats winning a 3.1-percentage-point (“point”) majority in all votes cast for U.S. House – 50.8 to 47.7%; notably, this was a 5.5-point decline from 2018

Returning to 2020, though, political observers were shocked at the number of House seats Democrats lost, especially because they won the presidency and netted three United States seats, giving them a 50-50 tie broken by Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris. Anyone following this website since at least June 2017, however, should not have been at all surprised.

Figure 1, using data from the 26 House elections from 1970 (vs. 1968) to 2020 (vs. 2018), shows that change in national House vote percentage accounts for an astonishing (for social science) 83% of the variance in House seat gain/loss. Reassuringly, the ordinary least squares (“OLS”) regression fitted to the data crosses the y-axis very close to the origin: a 0-point change in vote percentage essentially equates to no change in seats, which makes intuitive sense.

Figure 1: Change in % Democratic of Total House Vote vs. Net Change in Democratic House Seats, 1970-2020

Removing the 2018-20 data point from the OLS regression, suggests a drop in the Democratic share of the total House vote of 5.5 points yields an estimated loss of…

Dem Seat Change = 3.21 * (-5.5) – 1.19 = -18.8

Based on election data from the previous 50 years, Democrats should have lost 19 seats I 2020, with a 95% confidence interval (“CI”) of 18-20 seats. Yes, Democratic leaders expected to pick up seats, but history presents a compelling counter-narrative: Democrats were extremely lucky to maintain their House majority, however slender.

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But what about 2022, the first midterm election of the Administration of Democrat Joseph R. Biden, Jr., when Republicans only need to net five seats to regain the majority? Figure 2 shows how poorly the first House elections after a new president is elected go for that president’s party – and getting worse over time. Granted, there have only been nine such elections starting with the 1962 midterms of Democratic President John F. Kennedy. Still, excepting the first post-9/11 midterm election – when Republicans under President George W. Bush in 2022 gained eight House seats – the party controlling the White House has lost an average of 53 House seats in the last 30 years. The overall average since 1962 is a net loss of 24 House seats…which would give Republicans a 237-198 edge going into 2023; the median is only -15, which would give Republicans a 228-207 edge.

Figure 2: 1st Midterm Seat Loss by Newly-Elected White House Party, 1962-2018

Based on the OLS regression equation in Figure 2, meanwhile, Democrats would be expected to lose 47 seats in 2022, dropping them to a 175-260 minority. However, because there are only nine data points, there is a great deal of “wobble” in this estimate – the 95% CI is a nonsensical -4,002 to +3,909.

In other words, all we really know from these nine 1st-term midterm elections is that anything between a loss of 61 seats and a gain of eight seats is historically plausible, with something in the 15-25 loss range most plausible.

Maybe.

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This brings us full circle back to my model…and the question of what the margin in the total House vote will be in 2022. A little algebra reveals that to maintain a slender 218-217 House majority going into 2023, Democrats need to win the total House vote by at least 2.1 points – and likely at least 3.1 points (no net change) to account for a +/-1 seat 95% CI.

For comparison, political scientist Alan Abramowitz just published a model of net Democratic House seat gain. The two independent variables are 1) national House vote total (as opposed to change from previous election) and 2) number of House seats currently occupied by the president’s party. Those two variables account for 83% of the variance, as much as my single independent variable does. That said, Abramowitz’s model uses data from 1946-2018, giving him an additional 11 data points: 37 vs. 26. According to this model, Democrats would need to win the national House vote by about 6 points to maintain control, which equates to an increase of about 2.9 points from 2020.

Neither model is wrong, per sé. We are both trying to model a relatively infrequent occurrence while zeroing in a very precise outcome – the difference of a few seats – leading to the magnification of what really are small differences in outcomes. A 3-point lead and a 6-point lead are relatively close, and we agree Democrats have an uphill battle to retain the House, even without taking into account changes in CD lines due to reapportionment following the 2020 Census.

Technically, Abramowitz models Democratic lead on the “generic ballot question,” a variation of the poll question “If the election in your CD were held today, would you vote for the Democrat, the Republican, or some other party – or not vote at all.”

I recently compiled the results of the 20 generic ballot polls released publicly in 2021 then used the following steps to calculate a weighted-adjusted polling average (“WAPA”):

  1. Adjust raw margin – Democratic % minus Republican % – for “pollster bias,” as calculated for 538.com Pollster Ratings. Essentially, this is how much the pollster missed the final margin, on average, in recent polls of the same race.
  2. Average adjusted margins by how far the poll was conducted from Election Day 2022 – using midpoint of poll field dates – and 538.com pollster quality.
    • Time weight: (677 – days to Election Day)/677
    • Pollster weight: Numeric value of letter grade (A+ = 4.3, A = 4.0, etc.) divided by 4.3.

For example, the most recent generic ballot poll was conducted by Quinnipiac University from May 18 to May 24, 2021; it shows Democrats leading 50-41%. Quinnipiac has a historic Democratic skew of 0.5 points, meaning that 9.0-point lead is effectively an 8.5-point lead. The field midpoint was May 21, 2021, or 536 days until November 8, 2022, giving the poll a time weight of (677-536)/677 = 0.208. Their A- rating equates to a 3.7/4.3 = 0.860 pollster weight. Overall, this adjusted Democratic lead of 8.5 points has a weight of 0.208 * 0.860 = 0.179 – which, while not especially high, is highest among the 20 polls.

The raw average of these 20 polls is Dem+4.1, though mean Democratic bias of 0.5 points means this average is effectively Dem+3.6. Two polls without a 538.com pollster rating/bias were clearly conducted on behalf of Republicans, one in early April by PEM Management Corporation and one in late February by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. I traditionally used 1.5 as the bias for such polls, but I chose to match the most Democratic leaning poll in the 20: 3.5 for RMG Research. I also somewhat arbitrarily assigned these polls a letter grade of C; overall average was B-.

The initial WAPA I calculated was Dem+3.9, though it treated the multiple polls from RMG Research (2), McLaughlin & Associates (3) and Echelon Insights (4) as statistically-independent, even though polls conducted by the same firm are likely related. I thus calculated a second WAPA, which was the pollster-quality-weighted average of the bias-adjusted, time-weighted WAPA for each pollster. Basically, it is WAPA adjusted for pollster. This value was Dem+3.1

Averaging these WAPAs yields my best estimate of the November 2022 generic ballot as of June 2021: Dem+3.5. This is astonishing because it means support for Democratic House candidates increased 0.4 points since November – when, historically, support for the “out party” should be increasing.

If, in fact, Democrats win the national House vote by 3.5 points in November 2022, I estimate they would gain 0.3 seats, albeit with a 95% CI of -4.1 to +4.8 – which means they would have approximately a 94% chance of retaining the House. The Abramowitz model, however, estimates a 9-seat loss in this scenario – losing the House in the process.

It is not at all clear, of course, how well a 3.5-point lead in June 2021 translates to actual voting in November 2022. My poli-sci-sense suggests this lead – fairly robust since January, mind you – will slowly fade over the next year-plus due to a traditional complacency on the part of infrequent voters, in this case Democrats who may reason that as long as Biden is president, they do not need to vote in 2022, and a renewed enthusiasm on the part of out-party voters. This differential in voting enthusiasm, I suspect, is what leads to lopsided out-party victories in midterm elections.

Another reason for extreme caution is that this Dem+3.5 margin equates to Democrats 44.6%, Republicans 41.1%, Other/Undecided 14.3%. If Other earns the same 1.5% it did in 2020, that leaves fully 12.8% of voters up for grabs. It is not unreasonable – given voting enthusiasm differences – they split 2-1 for Republicans: roughly 8.5-4.3. This would actually give Republicans a national House vote lead of 49.6-48.9% on Election Day, a Democratic vote decrease of 3.8 points and a loss of 13 House seats (+/-2), very close to the recent median of -15.

Of course, if those undecided voters split evenly, Democrats are back to +3.5; a break toward Democrats seems extremely unlikely. So, let’s split the difference: a Democratic national House vote lead of 1.4 points, which equates to a loss of 6.3 seats, albeit with a 3.1 to 9.5 95% CI, giving Democrats something like a 15-20% chance of retaining their majority. This is as close to a “forecast” as I am willing to come in June 2021.

The bottom line is this: Republicans are favored to win back the House in 2022, though whether extremely narrowly or lopsidedly is far from clear. Historic trends in 1st midterm elections – of which there are only nine since 1960 – suggest Democrats could lose anywhere from 15 to 47 seats. Models with more data points – though still only 26-37 – suggest the shift is likely to be much smaller, anywhere from Democrats essentially holding serve – even netting a seat – to a Republican seat gain in the low double-digits.

Basically, keep an eye on the generic ballot numbers – if they stay close to Democrats ahead 3-4 points, they could be on the verge of defying decades of recent political history. If it drops closer to even, or Republicans pull slightly ahead – it will be a long night for House Democrats on Election Day 2022.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy – and if you have not already been vaccinated against COVID-19, please do so!

The Not-So-Changing Geography of U.S. Elections

On November 3, 2020, Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected president and vice president, respectively, of the United States. According to data from Dave Leip’s essential Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, the Biden-Harris ticket won 51.3% of the nearly 158.6 million votes cast. Turnout shattered the previous record of 137.1 million votes cast in 2016: 15.6% more votes were cast for president in 2020 than in 2016. The incumbent Republican president and vice president, Donald Trump and Mike Pence, won 46.8% of the vote, with the remaining 2.0% going mostly to the Libertarian and Green tickets

While the 4.5 percentage point (“point”) margin for Biden-Harris over Trump-Pence—7.1 million votes—was solid, it is the Electoral College which determines the winner of presidential elections. Despite objections to the counting of the votes from individual states and an armed insurrection aimed to stop the Congressional certification of Electoral Votes (“EV”), the Biden-Harris ticket was awarded 306 EV—36 more than necessary—to 232 for Trump-Pence.

In many ways, the 2020 presidential election was a near-perfect encapsulation of recent presidential elections. Between 1992, when Democrats Bill Clinton and Al Gore were elected president and vice president, ending 40 years of Republican White House dominance, and 2016, the Democratic presidential ticket averaged a 3.6-point winning margin and 313.7 EV, very close to 4.5 points and 306 EV.

Biden-Harris improved on the 2016 Democratic margin in the national popular vote by 2.4 points, winning 16.4 million more votes than the ticket of Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine; Trump-Pence won 11.3 million more votes, while third party candidates won 5.2 million fewer votes. Moreover, across the 50 states and the District of Columbia (“DC”), the Democratic ticket improved by an average of 3.1 points! In the EC, as Table 1 shows, Biden-Harris carried five states Clinton-Kaine lost in 2016: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; no states flipped the other direction.

Table 1: States with Presidential Election Margins <5.0 Points in 2016 and/or 2020

StateEV2016 Margin (Dem-Rep)2020 Margin (Dem-Rep)2020-2016
  %#%#%#
Florida29-1.2-112,911-3.4-371,686-2.2-258,775
North Carolina15-3.7-173,315-1.3-74,483+2.4+98,832
Arizona11-3.5-91,2340.3+10,457+3.8+101,691
Georgia16-5.1-211,1410.2+11,779+5.3+222,920
Wisconsin10-0.8-22,7480.6+20,682+1.4+43,430
Pennsylvania20-0.7-44,2841.2+82,166+1.9+127,450
Nevada62.4+27,2022.4+33,596-0.03+6,394
Michigan16-0.2-10,7042.8+154,181+3.0+164,885
Minnesota101.5+44,5937.1+233,012+5.6+188,419
New Hampshire40.4+2,7367.4+59,277+7.0+56,541
Maine43.0+22,1429.1+74,335+6.1+52,193
Colorado94.9+136,38613.5+439,745+8.6+303,359

Clinton-Kaine won Virginia by 5.3 points in 2016; four years later Biden-Harris won the state by 10.1 points, a 4.8-point jump. The shift in Texas was similar, from a 9.0-point loss to “only” a 5.6-point loss, a 3.4-point improvement. In fact, Biden-Harris did better than Clinton-Kaine in every close state except Florida, losing by 258,775 votes more than in 2016. Overall, the only other states where the Democratic margin was at least 0.1 points worse in 2020 were Arkansas (-0.7), California (-0.8), Utah (-2.4) and Hawaii (-2.7). By contrast, Biden-Harris improved by at least 6.0 points (roughly double the state average) in the close states of Maine (6.1), New Hampshire (7.0) and Colorado (8.6), as well as Massachusetts (6.3), Connecticut (6.4), Maryland (6.8), Biden’s home state of Delaware (7.7) and Vermont (9.0).

Had Clinton-Kaine flipped just 77,736 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2016, Democrats would have retained the White House, 278-260. By the same token, had Trump-Pence flipped just 65,009 votes in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, and the 2nd Congressional District of Nebraska (“NE-2”), they would have been reelected, 270-268—while still losing the national popular vote by 4.5 points. Wisconsin, which shifted only 1.4 points—43,430 votes—toward the Democrats, was a key pivot state in both elections, with Pennsylvania right behind.

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To better understand the relative partisan leans of each state, I developed 3W-RDM, a weighted average of how much more or less Democratic than the nation as a whole a state voted in the three most recent presidential elections. Basically, it is what I estimate the state-level margin between the Democratic and Republican nominees would be if they tied in the national popular vote. Note, however, that 3W-RDM (plus national popular vote) has missed the actual state-level result by an average of 5.3 points in recent elections. Figure 1 and Table 2 show current 3W-RDM for every state, based upon data from the 2012, 2016 and 2020 elections. Table 2 also lists 3W-RDM based upon data from 1984-92 and 2008-16.

Figure 1: Current State Partisan Lean, Based Upon 2012-20 Presidential Voting

Table 2: Current and Historic State Partisan Lean (3W-RDM), Sorted Most- to Least-Democratic

State2020 EV1984-922008-162012-20Ave. Change 1992-2020
DC375.382.082.71.0
Hawaii49.834.329.02.7
Vermont36.627.728.93.2
Maryland108.022.626.22.6
Massachusetts1114.222.126.11.7
California555.623.224.92.7
New York2910.821.620.21.3
Rhode Island415.118.016.60.2
Connecticut70.712.813.91.9
Washington126.912.113.71.0
Illinois207.114.713.30.9
Delaware3-0.512.512.81.9
New Jersey14-4.012.012.02.3
Oregon77.38.710.10.4
New Mexico52.06.56.30.6
Colorado9-2.42.25.71.2
Maine4-0.55.94.50.7
Virginia13-10.41.53.92.0
Minnesota1011.01.51.8-1.3
New Hampshire4-11.60.11.21.8
Nevada6-8.52.0-0.51.1
Michigan160.72.2-0.7-0.2
Pennsylvania205.3-0.4-2.3-1.1
Wisconsin104.70.7-2.4-1.0
Florida29-10.7-3.4-5.50.7
North Carolina15-7.0-6.0-5.80.2
Arizona11-10.9-9.7-6.10.7
Georgia16-7.0-9.6-6.50.1
Iowa68.0-4.7-9.8-2.6
Ohio18-3.0-5.8-9.8-1.0
Texas38-7.7-15.3-12.0-0.6
Alaska3-15.7-19.2-15.80.0
South Carolina9-13.9-15.7-15.9-0.3
Missouri103.2-15.9-19.0-3.2
Indiana11-10.9-16.3-19.6-1.2
Mississippi6-12.6-18.5-19.7-1.0
Montana3-1.6-18.6-20.8-2.7
Kansas6-9.8-23.4-21.3-1.6
Louisiana8-2.0-22.2-22.3-2.9
Nebraska5-19.7-25.8-25.1-0.8
Tennessee11-3.0-25.8-27.2-3.5
Utah6-26.2-33.1-27.6-0.2
Alabama9-10.7-28.4-29.2-2.6
South Dakota3-5.5-25.8-29.6-3.4
Arkansas63.3-28.2-30.3-4.8
Kentucky8-2.9-28.7-30.3-3.9
Idaho4-20.3-34.2-34.8-2.1
North Dakota3-12.7-29.4-35.4-3.2
Oklahoma7-13.4-38.1-37.8-3.5
West Virginia59.2-35.5-41.4-7.2
Wyoming3-14.5-45.7-47.5-4.7
AVERAGE -1.3-4.6-5.1-0.5

The core Democratic areas are primarily where they have been for 30 years: New England (average 3W-RDM: D+15.2), the Pacific Coast minus Alaska (D+12.4), the mid-Atlantic minus Pennsylvania (D+22). These 15 states and DC contain a total of 183 EV. Add the Midwestern states of Illinois (20 EV) and Minnesota (10), and the southwestern states of New Mexico (5) and Colorado (9), and the total rises to 226 or 227, depending upon Maine’s 2nd Congressional District (“ME-2”). This is the current Democratic presidential baseline, 44 EV from 270.

The core Republican areas are also primarily where they have been for 30 years: Mountain West plus Alaska minus Colorado (R+29.2); the six states running south from North Dakota to Texas (R+26.9); the five states in the western half of the Deep South (R+25.8); the border states of Missouri, Kentucky and West Virginia (R+30.3); and the Midwestern states of Iowa, Indiana and Ohio (R+13.1). Add the southern Atlantic states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, plus Arizona, and the total is 258 or 259 EV, depending upon NE-2. Each of these 27 states is at least 5.5 points more Republican than the nation, making it the current GOP presidential baseline, just 12 EV from 270.

Two states totaling 22 EV would be balanced on a knife’s edge: Michigan and Nevada. In 2016, they split, with Republicans winning the former and Democrats winning the latter. Biden-Harris won both in 2020.

That leaves two states totaling 30 EV—Pennsylvania (R+2.3) and Wisconsin (R+2.4); they lean more Republican than the “core” Democratic states of Minnesota and New Hampshire. Add them to the “core” Republican 258 EV, and Republicans enter a presidential race tied in the national vote—or even a point behind—with a minimum of 288 EV, 18 more than necessary. Michigan, Nevada, NE-2 and ME-2 would get them to 312.

I made this same point here, when I used a simple ordinary least squares (“OLS”) regression model of EV and national popular vote margin to show that in a dead-even national election, Republicans would—on average—be favored to win the EC 283-251, with four EV going to third-party tickets. Adding data from 2020 does not materially alter this estimate, which is essentially Republicans winning their 258 EV plus Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: 288 EV. Democrats then win their core states plus Michigan, Nevada, ME-2 and NE-2: 250 EV.

Here are the updated OLS regressions:

Democrats:               Electoral Votes = 1232.9*Popular Vote Margin + 250.98

Republicans:            Electoral Votes = 1229.2*Popular Vote Margin + 283.04

Simple algebra shows Democrats need to win nationally by 1.5 points to be on track to win 270 EV, while Republicans could lose nationally by 1.1 points and be on track to win. Put another way, Republicans could theoretically lose the national popular vote by 2.3 points and still win 288 EV, given the imbalance in the Electoral College.

Paradoxically, however, Democrats have won the EC in five of the last eight presidential elections, because they win the national popular vote by large enough margins. The 3.5-point average margin in those eight elections translates to an estimated 294 EV, on average: winning their core 226, plus Michigan, Nevada, ME-2, NE-2, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania (280 EV total) plus one of North Carolina, Arizona or Georgia. As we saw, the Biden-Harris ticket won all but ME-2 while adding Arizona and Georgia, losing North Carolina by just 1.3 points.

This imbalance has been getting worse over time. In the mid-1990s, after the Republican ticket won by landslides in 1984 and 1988 and Clinton-Gore won by a slightly smaller landslide in 1992, the average state was only 1.3 points more Republican than the nation, far lower than the roughly 5.0 points of recent elections. In a dead-even national election—essentially what happened in 2000—Democrats would have had a slightly higher base, ~230 EV from 18 states plus DC at least D+2.0, with the ~30 EV of Michigan, Connecticut, Maine and Delaware within 1.0 points either way. Democrats would start closer to 250 than 230 votes in this scenario, though there would still be ~275 EV from 27 states at least R+2.0; throw in Montana (R+1.6) and the total increases to 278. Still, Democrats were far closer to parity in the EC in the mid-1990s than they are now.

What changed?

Figure 2: Average Change in State Lean Since 1984-92

As Figure 2 clearly shows, the strength of state-level partisanship sharply increased over time: Democratic states become somewhat more Democratic, while Republican states became dramatically more Republican. Not only did the average state shift 3-4 points more Republican, relative to the nation, but the variance widened. After the 1984-92, the standard deviation—a measure of how narrowly or widely values are spread around the mean—increased from 14.4 to 23.4 after the 2012-20 elections. Moreover, consider states at least 3.5 points more partisan than the nation. In the mid-1990s, those states averaged D+12.8 and R+12.0; today, those values are D+19.5 (213 EV) and R+22.4 (259 EV).

The biggest pro-Democratic shifts, based upon the average three-election-cycle change in 3W-RDM since 1984-92, occurred in Vermont (average: D+3.2), the Pacific states of California and Hawaii (each D+2.7), and the mid-Atlantic states of Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and Delaware and New York (mean: D+2.0). Colorado, Nevada, and the remaining New England states except Maine also shifted noticeably more Democratic. At Colorado, Nevada and Virginia even switched from core Republican states to core Democratic/swing.

But these shifts are miniscule compared to two blocks of Republican states. The first block I call the “upper interior Northwest”: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. These five states became an average 3.2 points more Republican every cycle since the mid-1990s. The second block I loosely call “Border,” though I could also call them “White, Culturally Conservative”: Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and, most extremely, West Virginia. These six states became an average 5.3 points more Republican every cycle since the mid-1990s. West Virginia, in fact, is almost in a category by itself. Following the 1992 presidential election, when Clinton-Gore won it by 13.0 points, it has become an astonishing 7.2 points more Republican each cycle since then; Trump-Pence won it in 2020 by 38.9 points, a 51.9-point pro-Republican shift!

In fact, seven states—Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming—shifted further Republican over 28 years than any state shifted Democratic over those years. West Virginia is also joined by Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as states that shifted from core Democratic to core Republican/pivot states.

As for why states shifted strongly Democratic or Republican, I wrote here about the growing partisan divide between white voters with (Democratic) or without (Republican) a college degree. Other explanations include self-sorting by geography (Democrats to the coasts, Republicans to “flyover” country) and information (Democrats from traditional media, CNN and MSNBC; Republicans from right-wing media and Fox News).

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Thus far, I have only looked at presidential elections. Table 3 lists the percentages of United States Senators (“Senators”), Governors and Members of the United States House of Representatives (“House Members”) who are Democrats in the core Democratic, swing/pivot (Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin) and core Republican states. Data on the partisan split of each House delegation, based upon the results of the 2020 elections, may be found here.

Table 3: Democratic Percentage of Senators, Governors and House Members in Three Groups of States

GroupSenatorsGovernorsHouse Members
Core Democratic (n=19)97.4%*78.9%76.9%
Swing/Pivot (n=4)75.0%100.0%50.0%
Core Republican (n=27)13.0%14.8%27.8%
* Includes two Independents, Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucus with Democrats.

While not a perfect overlay, these percentages tell a simple story: states that lean Democratic at the presidential level strongly tend to elect Democrats to statewide office, while states that lean Republican at the presidential level strongly tend to elect Republicans to statewide office. Thus, only five of 57 (8.8%) Democratic-state Senators and Governors are Republicans: the indomitable Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and the governors of Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. By the same token, only 11 of 81 (13.6%) Republican-state Senators and Governors are Democrats: all four Senators from Arizona and Georgia; one Senator each from Montana, Ohio and West Virginia (political-gravity-defying Joe Manchin); and the governors of Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina. In other words, only 16 of 138 (11.6%) Senators and Governors from these 46 states are from the “opposition” party. Curiously, in the four swing/pivot states, every governor and Senator except Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin—the pivot states—are Democrats. The House percentages are a bit murkier, reflecting Republican pockets in “Democratic” states and Democratic pockets in “Republican” states, but it is still the case that roughly ¾ of the House delegations from these 46 states “match” their state’s partisan lean; swing/pivot states are split literally down the middle: 22 Democrats and 22 Republicans.

Pick your cliché. “All politics is local.” Clearly, not any more, as elections become increasingly nationalized. “I vote the person, not the party.” Apparently no longer true, given how closely voting for president/vice president, Senate, governor and House track. “Vote the bums out.” Well, voters seem to prefer bums from their party to anyone from the other party. As I noted with gerrymandering, these trends, if they continue, may be far more damaging for our two-party democracy than for either political party.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…

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.

Dispatches from Brookline: Home Schooling and Social Distancing VI

I have described elsewhere how my wife Nell, our two daughters—one in 4th grade and one in 6th grade—and I were already coping with social distancing and the closure of the public schools in Brookline, Massachusetts until at least April 7, 2020. Besides 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.

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When I came downstairs to eat what I continue to call breakfast—despite it being closer to 2:30 pm than, say, 8:30 am—this is what was in the “classroom.”

March 26

Nell appears to have discontinued the “Word of the day” for now. She also left the title of my afternoon classes to our younger daughter’s discretion. However, the press of the latter’s still-active social life kept her from formulating a suitable name, so I stepped in to fill the void.

And, in fact, when the girls and I convened, closer to 3 pm than 2:30 pm, we began by reading aloud from the Constitution of the United States:

  • Article I, Section 7, Paragraph 1
  • Article I, Section 8

US Constitution–Congress Roles

The rest of the lesson may be found here: March 26

The traditional processes by which the United States House of Representatives (“House”) passes legislation was met with a metaphorical yawn, but the workings of the United States Senate (“Senate”) generated a bit more enthusiasm. Our younger daughter, in particular, was quite interested in the twists and turns of getting the Affordable Care and Patient Accountability Act—better known as Obamacare—passed, and she was riveted by the pivotal role Arizona Senator John McCain played in saving it. I did my best to act out McCain’s dramatic “thumbs down” vote.

Nell and I are continuing to learn how best to structure what, when and how we teach our daughters—when they are not working and learning on their own. Seeing how fragile our younger daughter—who has attention deficit disorder and a not-yet-formally-diagnosed learning disability—is by 5 pm, I mixed things up a bit.

I also wanted to avoid snapping at them for the third time this week.

Rather than discuss American politics for an hour, have an hour-long break, then reconvene for another hour-long session on applied math, I divided my discussion of the House and Senate into two parts: roles and elections. The break was only 20 minutes long, and we were finished for the day by 5 pm.

As you see, I spent some time discussing gerrymandering. Our older daughter was appalled at my drawing of a salamander—calling it a “giant worm”—and my rendition of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She took it upon herself to fix the latter, adding her own personal touches.

Gerrymandered

I am pleased to report this was one of our best classes thus far—and that includes both halves.

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Even with the altered routine, however, our daughters began sniping at each other as they ate their dinners and watched some television. The proximate cause was a tussle over who would hold the remote control; our older daughter usually does, but tonight her sister really wanted it. As a result, our older daughter called her sister a “brat,” something she has been admonished many times in the past for doing. In return, our younger daughter used the parental trick of calling an obstreperous child her first, middle and last name—but she used a shrill and piercing tone of voice.

They were sitting just outside of my home office—a converted sun room which Nell wistfully calls “the nicest room in the apartment”—when I heard the outraged cry of “Blanky Blank Berger!” Not in the best frame of mind, I came out of my office to express my displeasure at the younger daughter’s tone and to make clear she is not the parent, Nell and I are.

And, wow, did I lay it on thick. I reminded them in my firmest and harshest Daddy voice how we were in this for the long haul, and we needed to do this all together, and I do not even remember what all else. Younger daughter was now crying—but mostly because of the injustice that I had not tumbled to the fact her sister had called her a brat. Once that penetrated my skull, though, I reprimanded our older daughter. Walking in from the kitchen, Nell reinforced my disapproval. When I suggested the older daughter had earned a consequence, her mother suggested loss of the ChromeBook for the rest of the evening. However, once the defendant correctly pointed out the usual consequence for calling her sister a brat is to cough up five dollars to that sister, Nell realized she could not arbitrarily change the rules like that; a few minutes later, our younger daughter had a five-dollar bill sitting on the table in front of her. And the entire episode, which had lasted barely ten minutes, was quickly forgotten.

This small slice of family drama reveals that, after two weeks, sheltering in place is beginning to take its toll. Thus, when the Amazon Fresh order she had placed very early Tuesday morning arrived Thursday evening, Nell thoroughly scrubbed the black-marble-topped “island” in our kitchen before placing any grocery bags on it. She washed all the berries in a colander then put them into a large Tupperware container. She also wiped down every package of food prior to our putting them into their respective storage places. Later that night, meanwhile, as I set up the kitchen for its nightly cleaning so I could watch with Nell the second episode of season one of Broadchurch—which Nell has been asking me to watch for years, if only because of how many actors and actresses who have appeared in Doctor Who are in it—my frustration level boiled over into a series of angry “Oh, for f—k sake!” expulsions. For the record, I am loving the series—its leisurely-unfolding murder investigation and emphasis upon revealing the darker secrets of a supposedly idyllic small town compare favorably to the first season of Twin Peaks.

It does helps tremendously that the weather has been relatively warm and sunny the last few days, and we have three porches opening off our two stories; climbing multiple flights of internal stairs on a regular basis is a good aerobic workout—really, it is. Throwing a stick in our smallish back yard for our soon-to-be-six-year-old golden retriever over and over and over again works as well.

We also have a breathtakingly spectacular view of downtown Boston. Three weeks ago, if we looked through our kitchen window, we would routinely see three or more moving dots of white light as planes took off from Boston Logan International Airport. Now, it is unusual to see even a single plane in the air. That said, I cannot decide if there are fewer lights visible at night in downtown Boston’s office buildings or not.

I think there are fewer lights at night these days.

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When I came downstairs on Friday afternoon, there was no schedule on the flip chart—it was a quiet morning in Nell’s classroom—but our younger daughter had livened up that room in our unique way.

White board March 27

Earlier that day, Nell had ventured to our preferred CVS to pick up some prescriptions. This was the first time she had driven her car in 15 days, though I had moved it onto the street a few times so I could use my car—we have tandem parking—and the outing significantly improved her mood. As often as she and the girls go for runs in our neighborhood, sometimes you need actually to go somewhere.

Meanwhile, I was wicked excited to start class at 3 pm because I had prepared what I hoped would be a genuinely fun exercise—one that did not involve coin flipping, die rolling or card shuffling: a 30-question, multiple-choice quiz game.

Quiz Game 1

My heart sang when our younger daughter came out of the disordered cavern she calls a bedroom, took one look at my computer screen—I had again lugged my desktop computer into the classroom—pumped her right arm and exclaimed, “Yes!” Her sister reacted positively as well.

The rules were simple. I alternated which daughter would answer the question— older daughter went first based upon the scientifically-rigorous method Eenie Meenie Minie Moe. The questions covered everything we had discussed in the previous two weeks—political theory, American politics, statistics and the history film noir. Each question was worth one point and had four possible answers, though one answer was deliberately patently absurd; they had the desired effect of making the quiz feel less like work and more like a game. Finally, if one daughter did not answer a question correctly, her sister had the opportunity to answer it.

In the end, after a boisterous 45 minutes of laughter, our older daughter won 16-12, with two points going to Daddy because neither daughter answered two questions correctly. Her “prize,” besides bragging rights, was a giant box of Cheerios I had recently discovered in the revolving cupboard in the kitchen. Huffily reminding me, “I no longer eat cereal, I eat OATMEAL,” she declined her prize, which now sits discreetly on the kitchen counter next to my coffee maker.

There is just no pleasing some people.

And with that our second week of home schooling came to an end.

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As I said, we are still figuring out how best to home school our smart and curious daughters. After two weeks of political science and math—not coincidentally, my initial choices for my Yale major—I have settled upon the following tentative weekly schedule:

Monday: Using a single story to illustrate some aspect of American political history/economy

Tuesday: Using the book I am writing to learn about our daughters’ and my Jewish-American heritage

Wednesday: Discussing the history of jazz and rock using my personal collection of DVDs and online tools like Polyphonic  videos.

Thursday: Learning more applied math by examining a wide range of interesting datasets

Friday: Film history and, most likely, additional quizzes.

Onward and, you know, forward we go.

Until next time…please stay safe and healthy…

Organizing by themes I: American politics

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

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

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

I Voted sticker

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

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

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

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

How having (or not) a college degree impacted voting

An alternative argument about gerrymandering

An early foray into what I call “Clinton derangement”

The only statistic from 2016 that really matters

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

Be careful interpreting President Trump’s approval polls

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

Ossoff and the future of the Democratic Party

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

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

An alternative argument about gerrymandering

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

I debut my simple forecast model (June 2017)

Making more points about polls and probability

A March 2018 update

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

…then the United States Senate

The view from May 2017

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

The view from December 2017

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

The view from June 2017

A tangentially-related post may be found here.

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

September 4

September 13

October 23

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

September 16

These culminated in…

My Election Day cheat sheet

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

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

And I carefully examined some polling aggregation assumptions here.

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

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

April 2019

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

April 2019

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

With a post-Labor-Day update. Which I followed with an October update.

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the 2020 general election:

I also weighed into the question of who former Vice President Joe Biden should name as his vice-presidential running mate.

Shortly after the elections, I wrote a comprehensive summary of the elections, including assessing my own projections.

I then analyzed the not-so-changing geography of U.S. Elections.

And three assessments of Emerson College polls (one, two, three).

And one comparison of Emerson polling to that of Quinnipiac University.

As for the 2022 elections:

  • I took a very early look at Republican likelihood of regaining the House here.
  • I took a wicked early look at 2021 and 2022 governor’s races here.
  • I took a wicked early look at 2022 Senate races here.

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

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

I delineated issue differences between Democrats and Republicans.

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

I argued for the abolition of the Electoral College…then observed the advantage Republicans have in it.

I mourned the deaths of John McCain, George H.W. Bush and Walter Mondale.

Until next time…

2018 Election Cheat Sheet: How did I do?

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State 3W-RDM Actual Difference

(Projected – Actual)

AV Difference

(Projected – Actual)

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

(all projected elections)

 

-1.7

 

-1.9

 

3.1

 

3.7

Average Difference

(both projections only)

 

-1.7

 

-2.5

 

3.1

 

3.6

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

      November 27, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State 3W-RDM Actual Difference

(Projected – Actual)

AV Difference

(Projected – Actual)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

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

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

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