Coming Into The 7th Inning

I thought I’d use a baseball metaphor to illustrate a political point today. When baseball mangers enter the seventh inning they think in terms of nine more outs. We are in the equivalent of the seventh inning of the 2018 elections. One of my pet peeves in politics is how people sloppily interpret polls. Their two big mistakes are failure to take timing and the margin of error into consideration. Let’s explore how that effects what the 2018 Senate races look like today.

We are inside a month of Election Day. Less when you consider the early voting that is allowed in many states. There are very important races for the House of Representatives in every Congressional district, races for Governor in many states along with countless state and local races (including judicial). I want to concentrate on the United States Senate because since my youth that has been close to an obsession with me. There are a total of 35 seats on the ballot in 33 states (Minnesota and Mississippi both have two due to retirements/resignations). The Democrats are defending 26 (including the two independents that caucus with them) and the Republicans are defending 9. Going into the election the Senate currently stands at 51-49 in the Republicans favor. Since Republican Mike Pence is the sitting Vice President the Democrats need a net gain of 2 or more to take control of the chamber.

Many races are polling within the margin of error. That means that while a certain candidate may lead by a point or so the poll is really telling you that it cannot predict the winner with any certainty. In reality a one or two and perhaps as much as 5 point lead means nothing! With that in mind I reviewed all the races. The net result is that even a Senate junkie like me, armed with the best polling available cannot tell you who will control the next Senate with any degree of certainty.

I am conceding Heidi Heitkamp’s seat in North Dakota to the Republicans. Despite the closeness of the polls I went with my gut and am figuring Democrat Joe Manchin holds on in West Virginia. Those were the two somewhat flyers I took.

There are four seats currently held by Republicans that I feel are too close to predict. On the Democratic side I feel there are 5 such seats. The Republican seats are in Arizona, Tennessee, Texas and Nevada. Those are the Democrat only legitimate pickup possibilities and some are certainly stronger than others. The toss ups currently held by Democrats are in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and New Jersey. I have to admit my New Jersey decision was based as much on gut as on numbers. Again all toss ups are not equal. I like Jon Testor’s chances much better than I like Bill Nelson’s. In reality both may win or loss or we may have a split.

Here are the best case scenarios for both parties based on my conclusions. The Democrats have a potential net gain of 3 seats which would result in a 52-48 Democratic Senate. The Republicans have a potential net gain of 6 seats which would leave them in control at 57-43. I don’t think either of those outcomes is likely. It is rare, but not unheard of, for everything to break your way in politics. Despite what I still anticipate to be a blue wave I think the most likely outcome is that the GOP maintains the Senate by a small margin. Keep in mind that we are a month out and I certainly wouldn’t be willing to wager on it.

The map favors Republicans with many races in red states. In some states a small blue wave will be sufficient to decide the race. In others it will take a tsunami. While we are at it, let’s be clear what we really mean when we talk about a wave regardless of color; we are talking about a significant increase in voter turnout.

What stories will dominate the political news between now and when voters decide to get off the couch (or not) to cast a ballot is impossible to predict. One thing experience has taught me is that anger and political motivation are most often synonymous. The example I use is the community meeting (i.e. municipal or school board). Few citizens attend them until something that they are vehemently against comes up.

Today’s article has two morals. The less important is to look at the margin of error in polls and remember that even the best polls are simply a snapshot in time. The imperative one is that getting angry is insufficient; do something(s) about it and that must include voting. You determine the score at the recording of the 27th out.

Note: My research was done over last weekend so it fails to take the effect of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation into account (assuming there will be one of significance.) Also, any data I was dealing with was at least several days old at that time.

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