A few thoughts about the elections 77 days out

By Dave Andrusko

Just for fun, since we are still 77 days away from the November 6 mid-term elections, I thought we’d talk about an interview CBS News pollster Anthony Salvanto gave to the New York Post.

Naturally we have to take everything he says with more than a few grains of salt; he is, after all, out on the hustings promoting his new book, “Where Did You Get That Number?,” which is about how pollster completely missed the outcome of the 2016 presidential election , and, supposedly, how they’ve learned their lesson.

Mary Kay Linge’s New York Post story focuses exclusively on the House, although obviously the battle for control of the Senate is very, very intense.

Here are a few considerations that you come away with from reading her story. For starters (and this is hardly revolutionary but so often gets forgotten), the “horse race” metaphor often pulls up lame.

Too often pollsters “predict” outcomes when the contestants are in the Club House turn which does not take into account the final stretch– last minute deciders.

That’s what happened in 2016. Mr. Trump did exceptionally well among them in key states. To take just one example, “10 percent of Pennsylvanians made their choice in the campaign’s closing week, netting Trump 97,000 votes — more than twice his margin of victory there,” Linge writes.

So for 2018 CBS News is using what it calls its “Battleground Tracker.” The theory is simple. You gather a panel (in this case of nearly 5,700 registered voters) almost all of whom “live in the 50 to 60 districts that might switch from Republican to Democrat, or vice versa, in November — the only races that matter, when it comes to control of Congress.”

(Of course it would not take a large net loss for Republicans to lose control of the House. “The GOP holds a slim 43-seat House majority, with six vacancies,” Linge writes.)

Over time you go back to these registered voters over and over. This ongoing tracking poll, Linge reports, “lets pollsters discern the factors driving voter decisions — and gauge how attitudes change as the campaign wears on.”

Couple of thoughts. First, supposedly there is an emerging consensus among pollsters (which is almost always bad news for pollsters) which districts make up the 15 % that could flip in either direction.

But as we approach November 6, some will prove not likely to change hands at all and others will be added. So any “predictions” made now are silly.

Second, whatever are the dynamics driving public sentiment today could change radically by election day. That’s just the way politics works.

Third, here is the nub of Salvanto’s argument:

“Right now I think this election looks like a toss-up,” Salvanto said. “We see a Democrat pickup in the House of Representatives in the 20-odd seat range, but Republicans could certainly hold on to the House.” …

“Even though Republicans have not fared well in special elections so far this cycle, it does look like they will be turning out for the midterms,” Salvanto said. “So far we do not see a large number of Republicans saying they will flip and vote for a Democrat.”

GOP voters in the past have been much more likely than Democrats to turn up and cast ballots in midterm elections, regardless of each party’s enthusiasm level ahead of Election Day.

So Democrats are literally betting the House on their ability to capture large numbers of voters who don’t normally vote in midterm elections. “They have to bring new voters in,” Salvanto said.

Fourth and last, Democrats are counting on anger at President Trump to bring out voters who otherwise would skip the off-year elections. Maybe, but maybe not.

One of the interesting items that is coming to the fore is that voters are asking Democrats what it is they stand for, besides hating President Trump. Voters are “asking, ‘What are they arguing we’ll get if they take the majority?’ ” Salvanto tells Linge.

Interesting piece. You can read it in its entirety here.