By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Let me get the pain out of the way right away and make my call: Republicans keep the Senate; Democrats win the House, with a margin closer to 23 than 30. There. I’ll explain my reasoning on the House, such as it is, in a bit. On the Senate, I’m just going with conventional wisdom. But first, via USA Today, polls that have not yet closed, as of 9:00PM EST:
Alaska: 8 p.m. (midnight and 1 a.m. Wednesday EST))
California: 8 p.m. (11 p.m. EST)
Montana: 8 p.m. (10 p.m. EST)
Nevada: 7 p.m. (10 p.m. EST)
Oregon: All voting is done by mail and must be received by 8 p.m. (11 p.m. EST)
Utah: 8 p.m. (10 p.m. EST)
Washington state: All voting is done by mail, and ballots must be received by 8 p.m. (11 p.m. EST)
So those of you in the above states who wish to vote and have not, there’s still time!
Now, we might ask ourselves what we’re going to get out of all this, should the Democrats win the House (or even the House and the Senate). This question interests me far more than the horserace, and I believe that I’ve shown the answer: “Not much.” This is true for at least two reasons: First, as I have shown, 2018’s left hasn’t got enough institutional power to force the Democrat Party to change direction; indeed, all signs point to a reactionary liberal Democrat desiire for restoration of the November 7, 2016
status quo ante ancien regime (perhaps with an admixture of new faces, as aspirational identity politicians assume new positions). This is clearly true if you make #MedicareForAll your litmus test on policy. Second, as I have shown, the composition of Democrat candidates in key districts is heavily weighted (25%) toward MILOs (Military, Intelligence, Law Enforcement, Other). Further militarizing the Democrat Party says nothing good about policy, domestic or foreign. Now, as usual given the choices on offer, gridlock is our friend, so there’s nothing wrong with Democrats controlling the House; but as far as using or even reconceptualizing government to convey universal concrete material benefits, especially to the working class…. Well, we won’t be seeing anything like that, thank you very much. Which is unfortunate, because if you wanted to arrest the country’s decades-long rightward slide, that would be the way to do it. See under Roosevelt, Franklin Delano.
So, on the House: Why do I think the Democrats will win, with a margin closer to 23 than 30? I should start by saying that I have a lot less confidence this year than I did in 2016. That’s because the data is awful. There’s plenty of national polling (“the generic ballot”) but the House races are fought out in the districts, not nationally. District polling is much harder to come by. The New York Times” Nate Cohn did a heroic job of trying to make up for this, but if you look at his margins of error, you’ll see they’re enormous, so while his polling is good directionally, it’s not at all clear how useful it is for any given race. (There also seems to be a general erosion of phone polling as a form; people don’t pick up any more, and those who do — I would urge — are almost by definition not representative.) And Cohn’s effort is, by definition, “just one poll.” Unfortunately, in many cases, that’s all we have. But nobody should ever get excited about just one poll. There is also a ton of anecdotal evidence on excitement, but it’s not clear to me that those who are excited have broken out of their own bubbles. Excitement is said to lead to turnout, and turnout generically seems to be up, but again we need to know where. If the Democrats simply rack up votes in districts they’d win anyhow, increased turnout is meaningless. Early voting is up to, but early voters tend to be affluent, so that doesn’t necessarily help Democrats.
Subjectively, then, because the data is awful, the key point seems to me to be that the Republicans have so many districts to defend that the Democrats are bound to break through in enough of them to take control. (This is in great contrast to the triumphalism of the summer, where talk of 40 or 50 seats was common. Still, if it brought in the big bucks from donors, the triumphalism was worth it!) Why do I say the Democrat margin will be on the low side?
First, we’ve seen districts turning more blue in polling. That’s not the same as having turned blue; bluer is not blue. (Again, Democrats can win. But can these Democrats — a “big tent” party that is institutionally incapable of adopting any principle at all, other than markets — win? That remains to be seen.) We also don’t know how the bombings and shootings affected voters; these “October surprises” were too close to election day.
Second, adopting for a moment the liberal Democrat frame of the “coalition of the ascendant,” and going through the canonical identities in grossly nationalized, insensitive-to-district form: Blacks (👍): Probably better than 2016. Wealthy white suburban women (👎): Will Republican women really go for the liberal? I’m guessing many, but not as many as Democrats would like to believe. Hispanics (👎): Consistent turnout problems, reported this cycle. Youth (👎): Even more consistent turnout problems, also reported this cycle. I know there’s a ton of anecdotes from canvassing, but the difficulty is that everybody, but everybody, is talking their book. (This makes sense, because there are billions of dollars being spent, and a lot of careers at stake.) If all of those thumbs were up, I’d be saying Democrat margins would be on the high side. Since they aren’t, I’m going for the low side. Finally, I should note that there’s an alternative narrative sneaking up on the outside: Democrats can actually appeal to rural votes from the left, as in Golden (ME-02) and Scholten (IA-04). The Great Slate has been working that ground. If Golden and Scholten make it, I’d expect that narrative to be drowned out, at least initially, but we’re all in this for the long haul.
So that, for what it’s worth, is a summary of my reasoning. We’ll know quite shortly whether it survives contact with reality! (Though I note that Larry Sabato and Stuart Rothenberg — they had the grace to make the call and not hedge, unlike the more PoMo handicappers — come out in more or less the same place, so at least I’m not crazy.)
And now let’s sit back and enjoy the evening, and watch the voters prove everybody wrong including me, as they so often do. Talk amongst yourselves until I arrive in an hour or two. Who’s got a drinking game?