The New York Times polling guru breaks the news to the Upper West Side: The Democrats are heading for a mini-disaster in November unless something changes very soon. Josh Katz lets on that his “forecast is . . . at its most Republican-leaning point yet this cycle.” This comes as no surprise to those of us watching the polling and some fairly awful Democratic Senate campaigns in states once thought to be safe blue seats or potential Democratic pickups. Katz sums up the bad news:
As we discussed last week, the latest evidence from Georgia has been favorable for Republicans. In West Virginia, polling continues to suggest that Natalie Tennant, the Democratic secretary of state, is a long shot to win. In Alaska — an important state for Democrats to hold — a Rasmussen poll released on Monday suggested the race was close. (Polls from Rasmussen were Republican-leaning in 2012, but these house effects are not very consistent between cycles. This cycle, we estimate Rasmussen polls have been perhaps a little more Republican-leaning than those of the typical pollster, but not by much.)
Another reason for the Republican gains in our model is the mere passage of time. Every day that passes with things remaining roughly as they are will gradually increase the leading candidate’s forecasted probability of winning. This is simply because there are incrementally fewer opportunities for a campaign-changing gaffe, or some other event that could swing the polls.
Indeed, given the number of states in play and the more secure footing for Republicans in Georgia and Kentucky (where Sen. Mitch McConnell seems much less vulnerable than a few months ago), it is not difficult to imagine that the GOP would not only match but also exceed the six seats needed to gain the majority. Republicans in the RealClearPolitics average now hold commanding leads in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. Republicans are tied or ahead narrowly in North Carolina, Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana and Arkansas. Republicans are within single digits in New Hampshire, Michigan and Colorado.
Republicans aren’t going to win all 11 seats, but having 11 seats in play greatly increases the chances of winning six to eight. The potential for so many pickups unsurprisingly heartens Republican voters, which in turn increases turnout and the potential for large gains. A self-fulfilling cycle sets in when both polling and anecdotal evidence confirm Democrats’ woes.
Pew reports: “With just over two months before the midterm elections, Republican voters are widening the ‘expectations gap’ with the Democrats. About six-in-ten (61%) Republican and GOP-leaning registered voters think their party will do better than in recent elections — roughly double the share of Democrats (32%) who feel similarly about their party’s chances.” The poll notes that on a nationwide basis, the GOP advantage is not as great as it was in 2010. However, I’m willing to wager based on polling earlier this year that the GOP gap is as strong, if not stronger, in the 11 states mentioned above.
Republicans should be wary of overconfidence and should shun exaggerated claims of what they can accomplish in the final two years of the Obama presidency. Suggesting that a GOP-controlled House and Senate will bring on face-offs in the vein of the shutdown is, well, a dumb political move. But as Labor Day, the unofficial beginning of the home stretch, approaches, you have to figure that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should prepare for smaller offices and far less influence. That in and of itself is a boon to those seeking an end to his induced gridlock and hyper-partisanship.