Year after year, Democrats run the same election strategy. It starts with the phony polls intended to demoralize the Republican base.
Sometimes it works and the GOP destroys its own candidates (as with Todd Akin, Roy Moore, etc.). Media predictions become self-fulfilling.
But when Republicans don’t give up, as in 2016, the dishonesty of the polling ultimately becomes apparent.
So, here’s my prediction: Control of the House will be tightly contested, with the GOP more than likely to hang on.
What makes polls biased? And how do the newspapers judge the facts?
1. Sampling Bias
Obviously, the centerpiece of biased polling is biased sampling.
And this year’s polling models presupposed that classes of Democrats that usually don’t turn out in the midterms will vote in historically disproportionate numbers.
For example, one poll that found Democrat “Beto” O’Rourke two points ahead of GOP incumbent Ted Cruz sampled 463 Republicans (47.4%), 423 Democrats (43.3%), and 90 independents (9.2%) -- even though Texas had gone for Trump 52%-to-43%.
Sampling biases are driven by national party preference polls. But it is foolish to make inferences based on these polls.
To begin with, a lot of this energy will be sucked up by “super-blue” districts such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Hence, the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that Americans preferred Democratic control of Congress by a 50%-to-41% margin. But in “competitive” districts, that gap vanished to a “dead heat.”
And, although there are a high number of GOP retirements, those that remain have high name recognition and are liked by constituents who hate Congress and the GOP in general.
This year, the polling sampling may be even more erroneously slanted toward the Democrats than the sampling in 2014 and 2016.
And the reason is that the pollsters have made a huge assumption.
And it now appears from early voting that that assumption is wrong.
The assumption is that Hispanics and young people will turn out to vote in historic numbers.
And the reality is that Hispanic and youth turnout in early voting has fallen far short of expectation.
In fact, on the same day that the Associated Press reported the disappointing early turnout from these demographics, the Wall Street Journal released the results of a poll in which Hispanics told pollsters in record numbers that they intended to vote.
It’s possible that Election Day voting will be stronger than historical projections would suggest.
But the greater likelihood is that telling a pollster you intend to vote is different from actually voting.
2. Other Forms of a Polling Bias
A. The “Closet-Trumper”
The New York Times published a piece on October 14 about the reemergence of the “Republican white male” as a formidable voting bloc in Columbus, Ohio, and the Midwest.
With the exception of party officials, GOP interviewees asked that their last names not be used, for fear of damaging their businesses. Democrats had no such qualms.
B. Differential treatment comparable polling outcomes
Organizations which categorize races (such as the Cook Report) take already-biased polling data and categorize similarly situated races as tossups “or leaners” based on their “blue wave” expectations.
For example, Mia Love (R-Utah), in Utah-4, was classified as a “tossup” even though Love was ahead by high single digits in some polling.
Yet polling showing New Hampshire-1 closing within 8 points hasn’t brought that race into the “tossup” category.
C. The Anecdotal Outlier
When the news isn’t good for Democrats, they fall back on anecdotal articles about GOP outliers whose first-ever support for a Democrat supposedly presages some huge demographic shift.
This year, the New York Times chose the only two “Beto” bumper stickers in an evangelical mega-church parking lot. (Oct.10)
Four days later, the Times dredged up a Montana rancher who felt that liberal Jon Tester was “a Montanan who understands Montana.”
In 2016, the Times had massively misjudged the Florida results because it got its assessment of South Florida Cuban-Americans from the South Florida representative of the SEIU.
3. So Where Are We?
Well, we’ve reached the crescendo of another campaign to use misleading data to suppress Republican votes—an odd strategy for a party which whines incessantly about “suppression” of its own voters.
The New York Times informs us that there is an 85% chance that Republicans will lose the House—a figure as large as the 85% chance that Clinton would win the presidency in 2016.
The Times had also predicted that Republicans would lose the Senate in 2014. This particular gaffe led the newspaper to conclude, in retrospect, that pollsters had overestimated Democratic strength by 3.4%.
The Times seeks redemption by claiming that polls were biased toward Republicans in 2012. But that was the year of Todd Akin and Robert Mourdock—Republican Senate candidates who were abandoned by their party.
4. Is This 2012 or 2016?
The answer is a little of both.
The RNC and NRCC have reportedly triaged 10-15 seats—many of which looked winnable. Candidates losing support (like Mike Bishop of Michigan) have been ahead in some polls.
Black GOP conservative Eddie Edwards, in New Hampshire, is only 8 points behind in the wildly biased WMUR poll. But he doesn’t seem to be getting much national support. “Beto” O’Rourke, on the other hand, has less of a chance of winning. And, yet, Democrats haven’t given up on him.
If, as is the case with the House GOP, you can only afford to lose 22 seats, it is probably a mistake to blow off 10-15 of them.
The good news for the GOP is that, through no fault of their own, a national mood swing may save them from their own defeatism.
Are the pollsters’ “blue wave” expectations justified? Even the polls are throwing doubt on this.
October’s NPR/PBS News House/Marist poll found the percent of Democrats and Republicans who view this as a “very important” election had closed to 82% and 80% respectively. Quinnipiac showed the party preference over the GOP for Democrats had closed by 50% in one month. And the Wall Street Journal found that it didn’t exist in “competitive” races. This, as I said, even though the numbers fail to take into account voters who hate Trump, but like their congressman.
And, although the media never mentions this, control of the House may pivot around a small number of seats.
A recent Real Clear assessment gave the GOP 201 seats firm or leaning, 205 seats to the Democrats, and 29 tossups. If the tossups broke evenly, the Democrats would have one to two seats more than needed to take the House.
But note this, a switch of only one or two seats would retain Republican control.
And, if polling is as pro-Democrat as it was in 2016 and 2014, those 1-2 GOP seats are probably there. This is particularly true if polls are moving in Republicans’ direction.
5. Living in a “Blue” echo chamber has its disadvantages.
In fact, the single most important factor in determining the outcome of the 2016 election was Democratic over-optimism, fueled by Democrat-biased polling.
Had Clinton focused her energy on backing up support in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida, the outcome would have been different.
Instead, she was led to believe that these states were secure, and Utah, Arizona, Texas, and Georgia were “doable.”
Is the same thing happening now?
Pollsters are encouraging Democrats to believe that the electoral battlefield is expanding dramatically – into very red jurisdictions.
As a result, “Beto” O’Rourke is sucking $38 million in funds in an effort which is probably futile.
In West Virginia, Democrat Richard Ojeda collected $1.3 million in a district which went for Trump by 50 points.
In Kentucky, Democrat Amy McGrath pulled in $3.25 million in a tough district for Dems in which Incumbent Andy Barr is still ahead.
Which leads to the final issue.
Democrats have been really successful in raising money this year—both from small donors and billionaires.
They have been somewhat less successful in channeling it in ways that it could do the most good.
Certainly, illusory polling suggesting that the Senate could be flipped did a disservice to contributors. My guess is Republicans will end up with at least 53 seats—and could easily reach 58.
There’s a fine line between clever and stupid. You can’t be unrealistic about your prospects. Neither can you capitulate merely because your enemy tells you to.
Republicans, if they work hard, have reason to be cautiously optimistic about holding the House. Failure to do so will bring the MSNBC circus right into the Capitol.