Kornacki: The NY special election is the best evidence yet that the red wave has been canceled

Source: Hot Air

Saying that the red wave is canceled isn’t the same as saying that the House won’t flip. Record inflation and presidential job approval in the low 40s strongly favor the out-party in the midterms, especially when the in-party’s House majority is as narrow as Pelosi’s.

But after last night’s result in NY-19, I think we’ve officially reached the “temper your expectations” stage of the cycle. The House will likely flip, but it might be time to let go of those dreams of a 250-seat GOP majority. And, maybe, those dreams of any sort of GOP majority in the Senate next year.

I agree with Ed’s argument in this morning’s post. We can’t read much into the results of a single low-turnout special election held in the summer doldrums of late August. It may be that Democratic voters are unusually engaged right now due to the Dobbs decision whereas Republican voters have tuned out temporarily, planning to re-engage this fall as the midterms approach. They’ve been planning for many months to cast a “Let’s go, Brandon” ballot — but in November. Last night’s special election between Democrat Pat Ryan and Republican Marc Molinaro might not have been important enough to them to disrupt those plans by turning out for Molinaro.

That’s the optimistic view for the GOP.

The eeyorish view comes from Steve Kornacki, who makes the crucial point that the Ryan/Molinaro result isn’t the only evidence we have that the red wave has abated. It’s the strongest evidence, but there’s other data that suggests something meaningful has changed about the electorate.

Harry Enten of CNN broke down last night’s result by placing it in the context of other special elections held this year. Before the Dobbs ruling, he noted, Democratic candidates were running six points worse than Biden ran in their districts in 2020. Since the Dobbs ruling, they’re running five points *better* than Biden. You can look at the numbers below and comfort yourself if you like by noting that Republicans won three of the special elections listed, but I wouldn’t focus on the outcomes. I’d focus instead on the margins, which show GOP candidates have consistently underperformed Trump’s margins from 2020 lately.

If Dems end up running ahead of Biden’s 2020 margins in swing districts by three or four points, they’re going to win more House seats in November than anyone expected. And remember, although they underperformed expectations in 2020, they still did well enough to win the House. The possibility that they might run stronger this fall means bad vibes for the GOP.

The special election results also line up with the shift in the generic ballot that we’ve written about many times here. Republicans went from a three-point lead before Dobbs was decided to being effectively tied with Democrats today. And that sort of polling shift this late in the cycle is unusual, says Bill Scher:

Typically, over the course of a midterm election year, “the out-party gains in the polls and ultimately at the ballot box,” according to a 2010 political science research paper from three professors at different universities, based on data from the 16 prior midterm elections.

The RealClearPolitics averages in the 2010, 2014, and 2018 midterms largely bolster that analysis…

There are a couple of examples where the president’s party made late gains in the congressional generic ballot test: 1998 and 2002, which just happen to be the two most recent midterms when the president’s party bucked history and gained seats in the House.

An ominous detail about last night’s outcome is that the polls uniformly expected a Molinaro win. And I do mean uniformly:

The most recent poll came from a progressive outfit that had him winning by eight points, exactly what you’d expect in a Republican wave year. Molinaro was a good recruit too — well-known locally, moderate, not a wild-eyed election truther. There’s no obvious reason he should have underperformed Donald Trump in a 50/50 district.

What sunk him was Democratic turnout. *Big* Democratic turnout in key counties:

No one can say for certain what drove that turnout but we can take an educated guess based on Pew’s latest national numbers:

Is it possible that the generic ballot polling is underestimating Democratic turnout for once? Pollsters who were burned by their terrible performance in underestimating Republicans in 2020 may be overcompensating in their midterm models, failing to detect the degree of lefty upset (and center-right upset?) over the end of Roe. It may also be that as Democrats become a party of high-turnout college-educated voters and Republicans become a party of lower-turnout working-class voters, Dems may now enjoy more of a “natural” turnout advantage than they have traditionally.

Nate Cohn, the NYT’s data guy, put Ryan’s victory into perspective:

One other point last night caught my eye, just because it cuts so strongly against expectations:

Can that be true? Republican engagement has dimmed since last year?

I don’t know. In Pew’s poll, more Republicans say they’ve given a lot of thought to the midterms than Democrats do — although it’s possible that fewer are thinking about it now than were thinking about it last November. Falling gas prices, slowing inflation, and a blockbuster jobs report may have taken a little turnout fuel out of the GOP’s tank. And there *is* reason to believe that the “Let’s go, Brandon” juice that was driving righty voters for much of 2022 has slipped a bit:

If Wasserman’s right that GOPers are less engaged than they were, abortion is the likeliest culprit. Remember, the pro-choice side won the abortion referendum in Kansas by a landslide and there simply aren’t enough Democrats in a state as red as that to produce landslide margins. There must have been a meaningful number of pro-Roe Republican votes, commensurate with polling that shows around 30 percent of GOPers oppose the overturning of Roe. Maybe some righties who were otherwise inclined to vote GOP have gotten spooked by abortion bans, especially the prospect of a national ban if Republicans retake the federal government in 2024, and are either voting Democratic now or are staying home. Like I said up top: Bad vibes.

I’ll leave you with this Ryan ad, which wasn’t subtle but proved to be effective judging from last night’s results. Every Democratic candidate in America is going to stick something about abortion in their ads after this.