November 1, 2010


5 Reasons Republicans Could Do Even Better Than Expected (NATE SILVER, 10/31/10, NY Times)

Throughout this election season, I’ve tried to stress that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the outcome. Not necessarily uncertainty in individual races: people probably overestimate that. But uncertainty, rather, in where the House and the Senate will finish over all. People probably underestimate how strongly polling and forecasting errors are correlated from district to district. If Republicans tend to overperform expectations in some races, they will probably also overperform in many, most, or maybe even almost all races. The same holds true for Democrats. (The most recent time something like this occurred was 1998, when polls underestimated the standing of Democrats by 4-5 points nationwide and in almost all individual races.)

If a scenario like the one I described above transpires, it’s going to catch a lot of people by surprise. It really shouldn’t; it’s well within the realm of possibility. If Republicans fo turn out to do even better than expected — and mind you, expectations are pretty lofty — here are five explanations that we’ll want to think carefully about on Nov. 3 and beyond.

(We’ll do this same exercise for Democrats at another point between now and Tuesday. Both of these pieces are intended to be devil’s advocate cases, so I’m going to raise the arguments, without necessarily giving as much voice to the counterarguments as I might ordinarily.)

1. Downballot and cross-ballot effects. Republicans are poised to win somewhere between 22 and 28 of the 37 United States Senate races on the ballot. There are also 37 gubernatorial races; the picture there is a bit murkier, but Republicans will almost certainly win a clear majority, and could conceivably win as many as about 30.

With a few exceptions, gubernatorial and Senate races are higher profile than races for the U.S. House. They’re what get people in the door. Once a voter is in her polling place, however, she’s usually going to vote the rest of her ballot.

Say a Republican-leaning independent turns out in La Crosse, Wis. to vote for Ron Johnson for Senate and Scott Walker for Governor (both candidates are likely to win). She hasn’t thought much about the House race there, which is between the incumbent Democrat Ron Kind and Republican Dan Kapanke. If a pollster had asked her who she was going to vote for, she would probably say she was undecided.

It’s going to be a lot more natural for her to vote for Mr. Kapanke, however, the Republican, after having voted Republican at the top of the ticket.

Arguably, you can already see some of these effects in the polling. In New Mexico, for instance, Republican Susana Martinez has run a very strong campaign for governor and seems likely to win. This morning’s Albuquerque Journal poll, in addition to showing Ms. Martinez ahead, also has Republicans gaining ground in key House races in the state’s 1st and 2nd congressional districts. Perhaps these are enthusiastic supporters of Ms. Martinez who are now coming along for the ride on the rest of the ballot.

Likewise, in Iowa, The Des Moines Register poll, in which Republicans Chuck Grassley and Terry Branstad have a clear lead in the Senate and gubernatorial races, suggests that Republican candidates for the House are also strongly positioned, although they did not break out results for individual districts.

Grim Dems await huge House losses (Alex Isenstadt, October 31, 2010, Politico)
“It sucks,” said Dave Beattie, a Florida-based Democratic pollster who is working on a slate of competitive House races and who acknowledges that the lower congressional chamber is lost. “I’m resigned to the fact that it sucks.”

While there was optimistic talk within party circles early this month that the electoral environment was improving for the party, the operatives said those conversations don’t take place anymore.

“If some Democratic consultant told you they are feeling better, they must have dropped some heavy drugs,” said a senior pollster who is working for candidates in competitive races. “It’s hard.” [...]

[A]mong those in the Democratic consulting class, there’s a gloomy acknowledgment that many of the incumbents the DCCC has spent millions of dollars to protect won’t be coming back to Congress.

“Everybody that is tied will lose, and everyone that is ahead by a few points will lose because of the GOP wave,” said one party media consultant who is involved in a wide array of House races. “There are going to be some surprises.”

Some strategists have resigned themselves to an election night that will bring an early end to the promising careers of Democrats they shepherded to victories in 2006 and 2008.

“In a wave election, part of the problem is that you feel powerless. Everything I feel I know how to do, that I’m trained to do, I can’t do. And that feeling is pervasive,” said the pollster. “There’s a sense that there’s nothing you can do about it. When you know your friends are on the chopping block, it’s hard.”

“There’s nothing worse than talking to an incumbent member of Congress who’s been cut off by the DCCC and who has no money,” said another Democratic consultant who has worked on crafting some of the party’s TV ads this cycle. “It’s like talking to a dead man walking.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at November 1, 2010 6:19 AM
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