If the polls this year are as bad as they were in 2020, Republicans are favored to win the Senate

Source: Hot Air

A bit of hopeful counterprogramming for you as FiveThirtyEight’s Senate model turns increasingly grim for the GOP. In late July, that model had Republicans as slight favorites to regain the majority this fall. A month later, Democrats are now not-so-slight favorites to do so. Nate Silver gives them a two-to-one chance of remaining in power, which is a big deal even if the GOP flips the House. The House has no say in confirming presidential nominees, after all.

Unquestionably, the forecast for November has darkened for the right over the past month. But has it darkened so much that Republicans are underdogs?

Elliott Morris, data guy at The Economist, is skeptical. Yes, Democrats are favored if the polls aren’t overestimating Democratic support. Which they did in 2016. And in 2020. By a lot.

I wrote about that a few weeks ago. It would be one thing if the 2020 polling had been a black-swan fluke, since flukes do happen. There’d be no reason to assume a similar polling miss this fall. But it wasn’t a fluke: After underestimating Trump’s support in two successive presidential cycles, pollsters are left to wonder how many MAGA Republicans simply aren’t picking up the phone anymore when pollsters call. And, conversely, how many pro-choice liberals *are* excitedly picking up the phone to chatter to the pollster that they’re pissed off about abortion. You can’t get a representative sample of the electorate if Democrats are overly eager to answer surveys while Republicans want nothing to do with the process.

If this year’s national polls are overestimating Democrats by four points again, says Morris, then the odds of the party winning a Senate majority drop to 45 percent. That’s not bad given how poor the political “fundamentals” are for them this year, and no doubt it owes something to weak candidate selection by the GOP. But even so, another Trump-style polling error points to total Republican control of Congress.

If the state polls are as biased towards Dems as they were in 2020, the party’s odds of winning the Senate fall to less than one in three:

Big caveat: The polls in 2020 weren’t off uniformly in each state. For instance, the final polling average in Georgia’s runoff between Jon Ossoff and David Perdue was almost right on the mark in predicting a very narrow Ossoff win. In midwestern states like Wisconsin, however, they were wildly off in underestimating Trump’s support. That being so, we might look at the current polling showing Ron Johnson trailing Democrat Mandela Barnes by a few points and scoff, expecting a reasonably comfortable win for the Republican in November. But that shouldn’t translate into assuming that Herschel Walker, who trails by around the same margin in Georgia, will catch up to Raphael Warnock in the end. Georgia pollsters may simply have a better bead on their electorate for whatever reason than midwestern pollsters have on theirs.

And maybe that Georgia race ends up being decisive in whether one party wins a majority or not.

There’s another caveat. Given that even lefty pollsters expected Republican Marc Molinaro to win the recent special election in NY-19, the fact that Democrat Pat Ryan came away winning by three could mean that the polls are underestimating Democrats this time. That would be surprising given the industry’s chronic problem in the Trump era with capturing the full extent of Republican support, but a curveball like the Dobbs decision may have scrambled the electorate in ways that aren’t understood yet. Some pro-Roe Republicans who had planned to vote GOP this fall might be rethinking. And some younger Democrats whom pollsters normally wouldn’t expect to turn out for a midterm might have quietly resolved to do so.

But maybe we shouldn’t read too much into the NY-19 result:

Dems might be overperforming lately simply because they’re hot to broadcast their unhappiness over Roe while Republican voters don’t care about politics at the moment and are still enjoying the summer. They’ll care by November.

And if they don’t, and Democrats end up doing better than expected, it won’t be all upside for Team Blue. James Antle is right that a semi-successful midterm for the left likely means Sleepy Joe as nominee again in 2024:

If Democrats beat expectations, much less beating the Republicans, Biden will have some strong talking points for 2024. White House chief of staff Ron Klain has noted that the last Democratic president to gain seats in the Senate in his first midterm election cycle was John F. Kennedy, who remains an icon to the party faithful. If Democrats retain all their seats in the 50-50 chamber and defeat Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) or replace retiring Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) or Rob Portman (R-OH), Biden can claim this distinction for himself…

Biden is unlikely to give up the presidency lightly. Democrats who don’t want to go into 2024 with an octogenarian with diminished campaign skills, without the pandemic luxury of a light public schedule, will face a difficult choice in a short period of time…

The pattern that worked well for the last two Democratic presidents is that the voters got to take out all their frustrations with the White House in the first midterm, allowing the incumbent to recover and win reelection. An unintended consequence of Democratic resilience in the midterm elections is that this might not apply to Biden.

It’s abundantly clear from polling that Democratic voters would prefer a different nominee in 2024. But it’s also clear that Biden doesn’t want to leave and that there are no strong alternatives to him on the liberal bench. A huge red wave in November might convince him to announce his retirement in the belief that the party’s only hope to win in the next cycle is via changing its leadership. But if there’s no red wave, what will convince him then? No rival will dare try to seize the nomination by primarying him, knowing how a divided left could pave the way to victory for Trump. The only chance the party has of transitioning from Biden — apart from his own admission that he can’t do another four years for health reasons — is a drubbing in November.