Two Weeks To Go

[ Posted Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 – 16:55 UTC ]

Two weeks from today the 2018 midterm elections will happen across America. For most voters, this will be the first time since Donald Trump was elected president to register their approval or disapproval in the voting booth. Many voters have, in fact, been eagerly waiting to do so.

We won't know until then what kind of message the electorate will send to Trump. Will it be a big blue wave, as many have been predicting for months? Or will it surprisingly be a red wave, as Trump has been predicting for months? Or perhaps something in between -- a more nuanced result that has some wins and losses for both sides? As always, at this point it's really anyone's guess.

Pundits this time around (myself included) have been a lot more wary of predicting any result, because of what happened last time. When you look at exactly what happened last time, it is a little instructive for why there is so much caution this time around. I personally have never put much stock in "prediction models" (sorry, Nate Silver) which attempt to mathematically predict odds to a precise percentage. I discount them because they are essentially meaningless. The odds are far against any one person winning the record lottery tonight, but lightning does occasionally strike, so everyone rushes out to buy a few tickets anyway. "There's a one-in-four chance Republicans will retain control of the House" is pretty meaningless for similar reasons -- because that one time out of every four, the odds will be beaten. These predictions have an almost quantum mechanics flavor to them, because what they are really predicting is "if the universe splits on Election Day into every possible outcome, the odds are that you will wind up in one of the universes where X gets elected rather than Y." Which, at times (see: the entire Trump era), leads to everyone walking around feeling like they've slipped into an alternate universe (where meeting a bearded Spock on the street wouldn't surprise me a bit, at this point).

So, percentages and odds aside, what happened last time around was that the national polls were essentially correct, while the state-level polling was nowhere near as accurate. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by pretty close to what most national polls were predicting. Unfortunately, national polling can't predict the distribution that the Electoral College relies upon, so she didn't win. State-level polls are almost always weaker than national polls, and several of them were far off the mark (while many of them did turn out to be accurate, to be fair). National polls are usually run by bigger polling organizations with better methodology and they usually take a much larger sample size, which leads to a much smaller margin of error. State polls are more inconsistent -- some of them are just as good as the national polls, but many of them fall far short of the national standards. Their sample sizes are smaller, their margins of error larger, and their methodology can be problematic (in terms of who gets polled and how the results are ultimately weighted). These problems get even more pronounced when attempting to poll a single House district rather than a whole state, as well.

So far, the polling has been in line with a good night for Democrats, on the whole. They look poised to pick up House seats, although the Senate is a total tossup right now -- Republicans could lose a few seats, hold steady, or even gain a few seats. It's all going to come down to turnout, but then that can always be said of just about any election.

President Trump has been enjoying a slight bump in his own job approval polls, but he still hasn't had a single day as president with his polling average above 50 percent. That is generally the mark wonks use for whether his party will be in trouble in the midterms. Many are comparing Trump right now to Barack Obama in 2010, because their job approval polling numbers are now similar. At the time, Obama had just passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," and was feeling a stiff backlash from the rise of the Tea Party movement. Obama and his fellow Democrats did not do a good job of selling the plan to the public, to put it mildly. Fearmongering from the Tea Party was rampant, and Obama went on to his first midterm "shellacking" (as he put it), where Democrats lost over 60 House seats. This time around, Democrats only need to pick up 23 House seats, which is below the average loss for any modern president's first midterm.

Two weeks from tonight, we'll all be huddled around the warm glow of the television screen (or the smaller glow of our smartphones), watching the results roll in. Because there are so many individual elections to follow, it will be a complicated night to keep track of.

The first results that will indicate which way the winds are blowing will likely come from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Georgia. New Jersey will be the first indicator of a blue wave, should one be developing, as there are a number of traditionally Republican districts that may flip. One of these districts fans of Michael Moore may remember, because it is where he attempted to get a ficus plant on the ballot against one of these entrenched Republicans. He did so as a protest, because the Democratic Party didn't even bother to run a challenger in the race. This time around, that won't be a problem, as Democrats are competing across the board -- even in that very same district against that very same Republican. If Rodney Frelinghuysen is defeated by a Democrat, it could signal a very good night all around. The Virginia suburbs will also be closely watched two weeks from today, as a few of the House districts encircling Washington D.C. are some of the top Democratic targets.

Pennsylvania is even more fertile territory for Democrats, because the state's supreme court forced the heavily-gerrymandered district map to be redrawn, which will give Democrats a solid chance in at least three or four GOP-held districts. But even if the news from Pennsylvania is good, it may be less indicative of national trends (because other states did not have their maps redrawn in such a fashion).

As we head further south, two governors' races will be big news. If Stacey Abrams manages an upset win in Georgia, Democrats will be cheering from coast to coast. This may even shift the pundits' analysis of what the electorate is feeling in general, from "suburban women are going to be key" to "African-American women are key to Democratic chances." Abrams has been on an absolute crusade to sign up as many new African-American voters as possible, and this could pay off for her in the end. These voters may be the ones missed by the pollsters as well, since many polls close to Election Day only count "likely voters," and some of these polls only count a likely voter as someone who has voted in the past two elections. New voters won't be counted, in other words, but if they turn out in droves it could bode well for Democrats elsewhere with tight polling numbers.

Florida results will likely lag behind the rest of the East Coast (the panhandle is in Central Time Zone, so they won't report results until all the precincts there have closed). There is both a close governor's race in Florida and a close race for a Senate seat. Florida is always the purplest of purple states, balanced almost perfectly on the Republican/Democratic divide. So both statewide races will be closely watched. But Florida politics may not be a good general indicator of any nationwide trends, for various demographic reasons. For instance: will Puerto Ricans who left the island after Hurricane Maria turn out in big numbers for Democrats? No matter what the answer to that question turns out to be, it won't really apply to any other state's electorate.

After the first wave of results rolls in, all eyes are going to turn to the Midwest, and Texas. In the Great Lakes region, Democrats look poised to flip several governors' seats, in states that were crucial to Trump's victory. Democrats nationwide will be paying closest attention to Scott Walker in Wisconsin, because he has been such a lightning rod for so many years. But there may be something else at play here that few have so far noted. If Democrats have a strong showing across Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota it may not signal any great shift in voting patterns, no matter what the pundits have to say about it. Instead, it could signal nothing more than a return to the Democratic Party of a lot of voters who either sat out 2016 or voted for Trump specifically because of their personal dislike of Hillary Clinton. They may not have left the party, in other words, they may just have not had any enthusiasm for voting for that particular Democratic candidate two years ago. If this is true, it is good news for Democratic chances to defeat Trump in 2020, that's for sure.

As we head a little further south, though, Democrats should prepare for some disappointments. The Senate race in Tennessee looked flippable for Democrats after they nominated a well-loved former governor, but if the polling turns out to be right he may not pull a victory out. If Phil Bredesen loses to Marsha Blackburn, it may well doom any Democratic hopes of retaking the Senate this time around.

Democrats should also be prepared for bad news from Texas. Beto O'Rourke has captured the limelight in the Democratic Party nationwide, but he may be yet another disappointment in a long line of Democratic candidates who were sure that this time they'd be able to turn Texas blue. Remember Wendy Davis? If O'Rourke does pull out a surprise upset it could be the biggest news of the night, because he will have overcome a deficit in the polling of more than five percent. He, like Abrams, has been diligently trying to sign up new voters in Texas and convince them that their votes can indeed make a difference. He's had tons of money to work with and has campaigned relentlessly, so if he does manage a win it will certainly be deserved. He may even immediately start thinking about a presidential run if he wins, because he's already got the national stature within the Democratic Party to do so. But the chances are still that no matter how close he comes to defeating Ted Cruz that he'll fall short in the end.

The next races everyone will be watching will be in North Dakota and Missouri, where two very vulnerable Democrats are in serious risk of losing their Senate seats. Even if Democrats pull out surprising upsets in Tennessee and Texas, Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill may even things out by losing their seats. To a lesser extent, the Montana House race will also be one worth watching.

As we move further west, two states will be key -- Nevada and Arizona. Both states were considered prime Senate pickup opportunities for the Democrats, especially after Jeff Flake announced he was stepping down, setting up an open race in Arizona. In Nevada, Latino turnout in Las Vegas will likely be key -- if turnout is high, Democrats will probably walk away the victors. This was considered the easiest Senate pickup of all earlier in the year, so if Democrats are having a big night elsewhere then they'll probably be OK here. Arizona is a tougher nut to crack, though, even in an open race. Like Texas, Democrats always have high hopes of turning the state blue, but they're usually dashed in the end.

California could be key to whether the Democrats retake the House or not. However, if this is the case -- if nobody knows which way things will fall before California's polls close -- it may mean Democrats are seeing a much smaller blue wave than expected elsewhere. California has a lot of seats that could flip to Democratic control, but not that many. To put this another way, by the time California polls close, Democrats may already have won back the House in all the other races. If that blue wave is going to be sizeable, Democrats won't even need the California districts to regain control of the House -- they'll merely be icing on the cake, by that point. However, if the blue wave is weak-to-nonexistent elsewhere, then California will be the last best hope for Democrats to win the House. There are as many as nine House districts that could conceivably flip in the state, although chances are that even if the wave develops, Democrats won't win all of these.

The final race of the night worth watching is the bizarre Alaska governor's race. Alaska politics have always been rather wild and wooly, and this race is no exception. In the past week, the lieutenant governor was forced to resign for saying something seriously offensive to an unnamed woman, and the Independent governor announced he was pulling out of his race for re-election. Overnight, this turned a three-way race into a more traditional two-way race. The governor is hoping that by pulling out, it'll throw all his voters to the Democratic candidate who will go on to defeat the Republican. But the Republican is far ahead in the polls, so only if pretty much all of the current governor's supporters migrate to the Democrat will he even have a chance. Still, it will be interesting to look for, if anyone's still awake in the wee hours of the morning.

The midterm elections are almost upon us. For many (I know I'm not alone in saying this), they can't come too soon. A convincing rebuke of Donald Trump at the polls could be a real game-changer in Washington. Even if the Senate remains out of reach, even if beloved and scrappy Democratic contenders fail to win in every race nationwide, if Democrats decisively take back the House it will send an unmistakable message to Trump and his supporters. Many of us have waited two long years to send just such a message, in fact. And two weeks from tonight, here's hoping that message gets delivered in clear and unmistakable terms.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


26 Comments on “Two Weeks To Go”

  1. [1] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Don Harris -

    Dude, you really are becoming quite tiresome.

    More Democratic candidates than ever before are pledging to accept no PAC money whatsoever.

    How is that a bad thing? I mean, really...

    Sure there are still some entrenched in the old system, but must you really see things as "my particular way or the highway" always?

    Can't improvements towards your ultimate goal be celebrated, or at the very least applauded?

    I mean, do you foresee one giant leap forward where everyone meets your standard of purity, or can you see that there may be a path towards that goal that needs to be walked?

    Sigh. It really does get tiresome, dude.


  2. [2] 
    TheStig wrote:


    "I personally have never put much stock in "prediction models" (sorry, Nate Silver) which attempt to mathematically predict odds to a precise percentage. I discount them because they are essentially meaningless."

    I don't think the models are essentially meaningless - the message from the models is that US politics is fundamentally chaotic (in a mathematical sense)and even the best and brightest are going to be wrong a lot. Your quantum mechanics analogy is spot on.

    The fundamental problem with political prognostication isn't so much a question of "meaning" as it is of "useful." What do you do with a probability? Well, if you are of a Bayesian you might place a monetary bet, or better still hedge the future with a bunch of bets. For the average John or Jane Q voter, the only obvious means to bet money on an election is with a bookie. This is somewhat difficult in the USA and is any case unlikely to make you rich.

    However, if are a very wealthy individual you might look at your wagers differently. You give money to many political causes to hedge your bets for the next to 2-6 years, not so much to make you rich, but to keep you (and your heirs) rich. Political donations as a form of wealth and power insurance....or maybe better viewed as a "political futures market." I have no hard evidence this actually "a thing" among our mega wealthy, but I strongly suspect it is.

    The most obvious client for prognosticators offering credible (if imprecise) is politicians themselves, who need to decide whether the benefit of running for office is worth the cost. I think that this is probably what finances most of the political polling shops.

  3. [3] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    Voted and mailed my ballot over the weekend.

  4. [4] 
    TheStig wrote:


    The conversation about OD has been going on in the comments section for years now. Reader responses to your idea range from meh to very negative. You don't address specific criticisms from the community, you just keep repeating the same arguments, which boil down to:

    There is nothing wrong with your idea and everybody else is too stupid and/or craven to see its obvious appeal.

    Your ranting is tiresome. It is cuckoo.

    Your web site is dead.

  5. [5] 
    neilm wrote:

    Great column CW - it will be useful for following events on Tuesday evening.

    One of the big issues that Democrats can gain support with in the next two years is a push for a $15 minimum wage.

    When Seattle introduced their the right wing was ablaze with predictions about the economic horrors that would befall small business and impact employment. As the plan rolled out there were trumped up claims about the impact, however these same people have gone silent for a very good reason: to wit, all their predictions were wrong.

    The inestimable Barry Ritholtz skewers them (again) in an article he just published:

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    don's ranting is not cuckoo, it's just not as good as pie.


  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    pie is still better. and easier. that's why everyone who wants to say something is easy tries to compare it to pie. pie set the standard for easy.

  8. [8] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    furthermore, anyone who wants to participate in pie need only visit their local grocer's bakery section. and then possibly a polling booth, but mostly the bakery.

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    Interesting moment on Washington Journal this morning with Ralph Nader as the guest.

    A man from New Jersey called in and explained how he had been trying for three years to get Ralph to address an idea the man had without getting through to Ralph.

    Ralph apologized and asked the man to send the information again and said that anyone with the determination the man has demonstrated deserves to have their idea heard.

    Then when the program concluded, Ralph phoned law enforcement to let them know there was a fucking lunatic who had admittedly been stalking him for multiple years. Sounds like you, Don. #Pathetic

  10. [10] 
    Kick wrote:


    The inestimable Barry Ritholtz skewers them (again) in an article he just published:

    Great article. I used to genuinely believe that a $15 minimum wage could be darn near catastrophic in certain areas of the South, but the more time passes and inflation goes ever higher, it's becoming a darn near necessity. :)

  11. [11] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    And you somehow completely missed comment 4 where Ralph Nader said that my idea should be heard.

    So it was you... well, I rest my case. Also, just to state the obvious: In your "comment 4," you don't exactly say that you were the fucking lunatic stalking Ralph Nader, but it sure did sound like you.

    Oh wait. This where you say who listens to Ralph Nader anymore after he cost Al Gore the 2000 election?

    Oh, wait. This is the part where Don provides further proof that he is a fucking lunatic by claiming to read the mind of TS, and I rest my case yet again. :)

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    does ralph nader like pie? i bet he does.

  13. [13] 
    Kick wrote:


    Your ranting is tiresome. It is cuckoo.

    Hey, pal: "You somehow completely missed comment 4 where Ralph Nader said that my [Don's] idea should be heard." Why aren't you hanging on Don's every comment? /sarcasm off

    Your web site is dead.

    Yes, sir... in the exact same manner as the proverbial dead horse that he keeps flogging and expects that he is owed something for his "determination" (his term)… also known as near daily trolling.

  14. [14] 
    Kick wrote:


    does ralph nader like pie? i bet he does.

    Stalk him until he answers.

  15. [15] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    if ralph nader says that he in fact likes pie, can i then use that information to convince others that pie is the way forward politically? if someone says ralph nader once said it, it must be true.

  16. [16] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    most people who eat pies buy them. carl sagan said that if you want to make a pie from scratch, first you have to invent the universe. inventing the universe is a tall order for any voter, but not all politicians are for sale, and there's no proven correlation between corruption and the size of the maximum donation one's campaign is willing to accept. some politicians can't be corrupted by millions, while others could just as easily be corrupted by pie. possibly moreso.


  17. [17] 
    Kick wrote:


    if ralph nader says that he in fact likes pie, can i then use that information to convince others that pie is the way forward politically?

    Anyone not already smart enough to know that pie is the only way forward politically shouldn't be allowed to eat or vote.

    if someone says ralph nader once said it, it must be true.

    That's "King Ralph" to you, Little Jack Horner! ;)

    (check your history on that one)

  18. [18] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    While we waste time discussing Don's nonsense, we're not discussing a boatload of actual news.

    While the election has already distracted Americans with its quadrennial orgy of navel-gazing, enemies of the US (including some Trump administration officials) have been using Trump's naiveté and distaste for formal internationalism to wreak havoc on the current world order.

    Saudi Arabia is poised to get away with murder of a citizen overseas without any incurring any significant sanction, pretty much the same as Russia did last year.

    And speaking of Russia, Putin got good news recently when Trump announced that the U.S. would be pulling out of the IMF treaty, the last remaining hurdle that Putin had to deploying Intermediate Missiles to threaten Europe with.

    Putin was positively giddy this week, talking about the 'end of American hegemony' and America's 'declining role' in the world, and in nearly the next sentence, about how much he liked the fact that Trump 'listens' to him. Then, adding insult to derision, he made fun of an American symbol - the 'Great Seal' that has the eagle with arrows and olive branches clutched in its talons - with John Bolton sitting right next to him.

    Did Bolton, famously quick to rage, express outrage at Putin's behavior? No, of course not. He laughed, and added later that Russian meddling 'didn't affect the election'.

    When did Bolton become a Russian toadie? About the time that Putin and Trump agreed to a renewed arms race, I suppose.

    All of this worries me, but if everyone else wants to debate Don's absurd ideas, or pie, or some other abject nonsense, then be my guest.

  19. [19] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    cw's column is about the midterm election. yes, there's plenty of global news to be concerned about, and i'm also curious to hear his take on it.


    more ad hominem insults, a transparent excuse to avoid the issue afoot. i realize it upsets you that someone came up with an idea that's more workable (and more popular) than yours currently is, but hurling insults at the competition won't win you support. pie is currently a better strategy than OD, because it can accomplish just as much in november, and it tastes a lot better.


  20. [20] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Q. How do you know a simple idea is a bad idea?

    A. Nobody tries to steal it.

    OD is like that mangy old couch you see out on the curb.

  21. [21] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    of course i didn't invent pie. you did not invent small campaign donations. however, i did come up with the idea of using pie as the primary criterion to vote for candidates for office. as it happens, my idea is more practical than yours, and in ten days has garnered more support and interest than yours has in ten years.

    you're uncomfortable with that state of affairs? okay then, change your idea to make it more practical. change your methods to make your venture more accessible. change your attitude so people who are trying to help aren't turned off by your toxicity.

    or don't. keep doing what you've done, and keep getting what you've gotten. your demands are tiresome, and pie is awesome. Enjoy!


  22. [22] 
    TheStig wrote:


    My Tamper Monkey is routinely set to filter out DH, but I will override it if a comment about something DH wrote catches my eye in the unfiltered feed. Sort of like your sarcasm switch.... And where can I get one of those .... Amazon electronics department?

    Lately, DH has been the only source of cuckoo bannas for my Tamper Monkey. It's not a very nutritious diet, mostly cheap filler and ash. I fear for my poor monkey. Off to Amazon.

  23. [23] 
    TheStig wrote:


    See 7. Thanks for vividly illustrating my take on your approach to promoting OD.

    I propose a deal. If all the regulars at declare that OD is the most brilliant political idea since The Bill of Rights and that you are a genius exceeding any founding father, will you declare victory and go away?

    As an old political pro once said, "Paris is worth a mass." Ralph says hi.

  24. [24] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    neilm [8] -

    Thanks for the link, I will check it out!

    Don Harris [10-12] -

    Blah blah blah.

    nypoet22 [13] -

    Good point: "Easy as pie!"

    TheStig [35] -


    I'm almost there, myself...


  25. [25] 
    TheStig wrote:


    "I'm almost there, myself..."

  26. [26] 
    TheStig wrote:

    CW-Sometimes you have to trust, nay embrace, your inner demon.

    Example: NetFlix has renewed Disenchantment for two more seasons!

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