We are now under a month until Election Day, and you can feel the midterm campaign really taking hold. From Herschel Walker generating headlines for his troubles in Georgia to the Senate GOP campaign arm cutting bait in New Hampshire, we’re getting down to crunch time.
All of this is happening with President Joe Biden’s approval rating stuck in the low-to-mid 40s. Democratic Senate nominees, though, still seem to be holding leads in a number of important battlegrounds (i.e., Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania) that are key to determining control of the chamber.
So this got me thinking: In an era of high polarization, will Biden sink his party in these key races? A look back through recent history suggests that it may not.
And that’s where we begin our view of the week in politics that was.
Not all Senate politics is nationalized just yet
This past week, CNN released polls conducted by SSRS in Arizona and Nevada. What was notable was that Biden’s approval rating was a mere 41% among likely voters in both states.
Looking at that number, you’d think Democrats should be down considerably in both states. But in Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly clung to a narrow lead, while Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was in a close race in Nevada.
Indeed, these are not the only states where that is true. Recent polling from Georgia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania shows Biden well south of a 50% approval rating, but the Democratic Senate nominees there are polling a good deal ahead of him.
For Republicans hoping Biden’s numbers will drag the Democratic ticket into oblivion, history says to hold on for a second.
The high correlation between how people feel about a president and how they vote for the Senate began in earnest in the 2010 cycle. That gives us two midterms to analyze whether Democrats can win with an unpopular Democratic president.
It turns out there were at least eight Senate races in which the Democratic nominee won and the exit polls found the Democratic president (Barack Obama) with an approval rating below 50%.
Three of these were in 2010 (Colorado, Nevada and West Virginia) and five were in 2014 (Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia). Obama averaged an approval rating of 44% in these eight states. Democrats were able to emerge victorious in all of them.
Now some of these (i.e., Illinois and Oregon) were blue states that aren’t politically comparable to the states Democrats need to win this year to maintain Senate control.
But the other six were either swing states or flat-out red (i.e., West Virginia). Obama’s approval rating averaged 42% in these six states.
The formula to win in these six states tended to be pretty simple: a very popular Democratic nominee (i.e., Joe Manchin in West Virginia) or an unpopular Republican nominee.
Consider the three races that are probably the best analogies to this year’s races: Colorado and Nevada in 2010 and New Hampshire in 2014. Republicans Ken Buck of Colorado, Sharron Angle of Nevada and Scott Brown of New Hampshire all had negative net favorability (favorable minus unfavorable) ratings.
(It was harder to get reliable data for Minnesota and Virginia, though it seems Republicans in those states were also underwater in terms of their favorable and unfavorable ratings.)
Take a peek at recent 2022 polls from Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. They all share something in common: the Republican Senate candidate has a negative net favorability rating.
The aforementioned CNN poll from Arizona is a perfect example. Republican Blake Masters had a net favorability rating of -16 points among likely voters. Kelly’s was +6 points.
History has shown this is a recipe for success for Democrats. People vote for a Senate nominee of the president’s party when they like that nominee and dislike both the president and the other party’s Senate nominee.
And it could be the recipe that saves Democrats’ Senate majority this year.
A small polling error in the House could have big consequences
A lot has been written about how polls have underestimated Republican strength in recent years. For Senate races, that might not have as big a consequence as you might think. In fact, Democrats would still win the Senate today if every state had the same polling miss it did in 2020.
Less spoken about is the House. Even a small miss on the generic congressional ballot could have major consequences in terms of who controls that chamber.
The generic congressional ballot usually asks respondents some form of the following question: “If the elections for Congress were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican party?”
The final generic congressional ballot aggregates have differed from the House popular vote by an average of about 3 points since 2000. That may not seem like a lot, but consider this: Every extra point swing in the national House vote is worth about three to four seats. So an average error of 3 points could be worth upward of 12 House seats.
A generic ballot error like we had in 2020 (4 points) could be worth upward of 16 seats. That’s why the House forecasts in 2020 underestimated Republicans so much. The national environment was 4 points more Republican than what the polls indicated.
Right now, Democrats and Republicans are tied on the generic congressional ballot of the national House vote. One estimate from FiveThirtyEight suggests that would result in an evenly divided House in terms of seats.
So if the generic ballot ends up being off by the same margin this year as it was two years ago and if the current polling holds through the election, Republicans could be looking at a gain north of 20 House seats.
Of course, it’s worth considering whether Democrats’ position on the generic ballot underestimates their standing nationally.
Recent special elections have suggested a political environment that leans in their favor. If they were able to win the national House popular vote by a few points, they’d be clear favorites to hold on to the chamber.
That is one reason why, as a number of smart people have said, it is time to seriously consider the possibility of Democrats holding the House. It’s still not likely, but it’s realistic.
For your brief encounters: Christopher Columbus isn’t what he once was
Growing up, many of you may have marked Columbus’ birthday each year. A CNN poll from 1992 showed that 57% of Americans thought the country should be celebrating the 500th anniversary of his voyage to America.
Last year, however, only 27% of Americans told Ipsos that they planned to observe Columbus Day in the upcoming year.
The change in celebrating Columbus comes as views of him have shifted in the last 30 years. A 1991 Gallup poll found that 59% of Americans believed Columbus first discovered America, compared with 14% for Leif Erikson and 7% for American Indians/Native Americans.
In 2014, 49% of Americans said American Indians/Native Americans deserved the most credit, according to a CBS News survey. Columbus’ share dropped to 40%.
Views split on Covid-19 communication: A bare majority (51%) told the Pew Research Center that public officials have done an excellent or good job of communicating with the public about the coronavirus outbreak. A similar 49% said public officials have done a poor or only a fair job.
We’re becoming a cashless society: Just 24% of Americans had never used cash in a typical week back in 2015, according to Pew. That’s up to 41% this year.
Flying the flag: Most Americans (55%) said in a Marist College poll that they display the American flag on their property for at least some of the year. There was a partisan split: 75% of Republicans do so compared with 43% of Democrats.