2010 Elections, 10/7 edition – House/Senate/Governors polls

2010 Election Predictions – How we rank individual races

We are now in the thick of election season.  Early voting is now underway in about 15 states.  Accordingly, the volume of polling data released has accelerated. Therefore, starting with this analysis, we are basing our calls of individual races on a composite of polls conducted over the last 7 days. Our rankings are based on the following criteria:

(1) Safe Democratic (dark blue on the map)/Safe Republican (dark red on the map) – either a candidate leads by 10 or more points, or a candidate has over 50% in polls;

(2) Lean Democratic (light blue on the map)/Lean Republican (light red on the map) – a candidate leads by 3-9 points;

(3) Tossup (yellow) – a candidate leads by less than 3 points;

(4) No data available/primary has not been held (gray) – In the Hawaii Senate race, polling data has not been publicly released, so we have nothing to analyze there.

(5) No Senate/gubernatorial race in 2010 for this state (black)

2010 Election Predictions – Senate Races 

Senate Projections

(10/7 projection: 50 Democrats/50 Republicans, or Republican gain of +9)

(9/30 projection: 53 Democrats/47 Republicans, or Republican gain of +6)

(9/24 projection: 52 Democrats/48 Republicans, or Republican gain of +7)

In both House and Senate races, this has been a breakthrough week for Republicans. Not only (for the first time) has the Kentucky Senate race moved from “leans Republican” to “solid Republican”, but Democratic held seats in Nevada (which Harry Reid has held for 24 years), West Virginia (the seat held by the late Robert Byrd), and Washington are for the first time “leans Republican.” Sharron Angle’s lead in the polls is noteworthy because she withstood months of heavy attacks from Harry Reid after she clinched the party nomination in June. The change in Republican fortunes in West Virginia is even more astounding, because West Virginia has not elected a Republican senator in decades, and the Republican challenger is running against the popular Democratic governor. However, President Obama’s policies, particularly with regards to coal, have been positively toxic for Democrats in the state, and the Republican challenger has caught fire with his unambiguous promise not to be “a rubber stamp for Obama.”

Even though the Connecticut Senate race was the one bright spot for Democrats this past week (the Democrat has an average poll lead of 53-42% in the last few days, and has been reclassed to “safe Democratic” from “leans Democratic”), the fact is that Republican Senate control is numerically a possibility now. Our projection of 50 GOP held seats is based on the fact that they have a lead in the polls of 3 points or more.  In Barack Obama’s old Senate seat in Illinois, the Republican leads by 41-40%. If there are no major political shifts, we believe that heightened GOP enthusiasm will tip that seat to the Republicans, particularly since the Illinois race has a Green Party candidate on the ballot. In California, Barbara Boxer’s heavy spending has kept her in the lead, but has not lifted her above 50% – she leads by an average of 47-42% as early voting commences in California. A GOP victory in either of those two seats will give them numerical control of the Senate.

After those races, there are three more races where the Democrats lead, but with 53% of the vote – with less than four weeks to go, any GOP headwind can bring the Democrats’ vote total towards the 49% mark. Thus, Democratic leads in Connecticut (53-42%) and the Hillary Clinton seat in New York (53-41%) are close to, but not entirely, insurmountable. In Delaware, while we are not yet convinced that Christine O’Donnell can win – she has consistently trailed by double digits, and her current poll average is 36%, compared to 53% for the Democrat – she is now running a series of ads plaintively telling voters that “I’m you.”

Because we are making our calls on 7 days of polling data now, we expect some fluctuation in the weeks to come, but for now, our projection of 50 Republicans in the Senate is the highest Republican performance to date.

2010 Election Predictions – Governor’s Races  

Governor Projections

(10/7 projection: 33 Republicans, 17 Democrats, or Republican gain of +9) 

(9/30 projection: 32 Republicans, 18 Democrats, or Republican gain of +8) 

(9/24 projection: 34 Republicans, 16 Democrats, or Republican gain of +10) 

There was a lot of movement this past week in the governors races. While the net effect of the changes benefitted the Republicans a little, revelations that the Republican candidate for governor employed an illegal alien (albeit one who used her sister’s social security number) as her housekeeper have caused that race to shift from “tossup” to “leans Democratic.”

In specific state races, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Georgia are now “solid Republican.” Florida has, for the first time, moved from “tossup” to “leans Republican.” And the “solid Democratic” classification in Hawaii and Rhode Island is now a “tossup”, while Maryland moved back from “solid Democratic” to “leans Democratic.”

In several states, the trends have been slightly towards the Democrats. In addition to the movement in California from “tossup” to “leans Democratic” (the lead, however, is only 46-42%), the New Mexico Governor’s race moved from “solid Republican” to “leans Republican.” In Illinois, what was “leans Republican” is now a “tossup.” Finally, in New Hampshire, the Democratic incumbent can now be classified as “safe Democratic.”

There are several things worth noting: (1) Three of the four Democratic candidates with a “solid Democrat” classification only lead with 51% of the vote or less. Any additional Republican headwinds in the next four weeks can send these numbers south, (2) Democratic leads in the polls in several states are due to third party candidacies. In Colorado, the Republican and Constitution Party candidates are getting a combined 49% (as opposed to the Democrat ‘s 46%), while the Republican candidate’s support is now down to the mid teens. In Massachusetts, the embattled Democratic incumbent leads in the polls with an anemic 47%, while the Republican + Independent total is 48%. In Rhode Island, the Democrat “leads” with 31%, while the Independent (a former Republican) and the Republican candidate have a combined vote of 47%. Finally, the Democrat in Minnesota “leads” with 39%, while the Republican + Independent numbers are 51%.

2010 Election Predictions – Generic Congressional Vote

(10/7 poll composite: 48.4% Republican, 41.7% Democrat, or +6.7% Republican) 

(9/30 poll composite: 47.1% Republican, 42.1% Democrat, or +5.0% Republican) 

(9/24 poll composite: 47% Republican, 41.7% Democrat, or +5.3% Republican) 

We had noted above that this was a good week for Republicans in Congressional races. Accordingly, we saw an uptick in Republican support for Congressional candidates, including two Gallup polls showing astonishing double digit leads for generic Republican candidates when looking at more motivated voters.

It’s worth noting that in the past week, the House narrowly voted to adjourn without taking action on extending the Bush era tax cuts; the current thought is that the legislation will be brought up in a lame duck session after the elections. In the short term, this Congressional inaction leaves all Democrats open to the charge that they will be raising taxes come January.

To put the “Generic Congressional Vote” question in perspective, when Republicans retook the House (and Senate) in 1994, the popular vote in the 435 House districts was 52-45% Republican. If we were to split the undecideds equally between both parties, you would have a 53.4% Republican vote, which equates to a 232 seat Republican majority – a net gain of 53 Republicans, or 14 more than needed to regain control of the House. We also believe at this time that the 232 seat figure is a conservative estimate, since it doesn’t consider voter intensity, which has consistently favored the Republicans.

2010 Election Predictions – Individual House Races

(10/7: 251 Republicans/184 Democrats (+ 72 Republican, “Watch list” of 32 Democrats/3 Republicans)

(9/30: 244 Republicans/191 Democrats (+ 65 Republican, “Watch list” of 36 Democrats/3 Republicans)

(9/24: 244 Republicans/191 Democrats (+ 65 Republican, “Watch list” of 37 Democrats/2 Republicans)

One of the things we have repeatedly noted in our discussions of the “Obama plunge” and its effect on the fall elections is that actual poll results (and in the case of Washington state, “open primary” election results) take precedence over the theoretical criteria used to determine whether a seat is vulnerable. 

This past week, polls have been released for 36 House races. And with this batch of polls, the bottom has begun to fall out for the Democrats in several ways: (1) seats thought to be “safe Democratic” seats have lately become competitive – in Minnesota, 36 year Democratic incumbent James Oberstar has never fallen below the 59% he achieved in his 1992 re-election, yet only leads his Republican challenger 45-42%  in a recent poll. In Connecticut, 12 year incumbent John Larson wasn’t even on our radar until today – he was re-elected with 72% in an urban district that gave Obama 66% of the vote – yet in a recent poll, he only leads 52-45%, (2) Washington Democrats are cutting their losses by pulling out or reducing their ad buys in several districts, effectively pulling the plug on Betsey Markey in Colorado, Chet Edwards of Texas, Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Dennis Moore’s vacated seat in Kansas, Harry Teague in New Mexico, and Brad Ellsworth’s open seat in Indiana. That money has been reallocated towards “last ditch” stands in Bill Owens’ seat in New York (where he trailed 37-51% before a conservative third party candidate withdrew) and John Salazar’s seat in Colorado (where he trailed 43-51% a month ago), (3) in Massachusetts, the wife of a 14 year Democratic incumbent pled guilty to tax fraud; we are therefore adding his once safe seat to the list of vulnerable Democrats as a “Congressmen behaving badly”, (4) the White House has quietly given up hope on getting the support of crucial independent voters – the New York Times noted that “….Assuming that many independents are out of reach, White House strategists are counting on Mr. Obama to energize, cajole, wheedle and even shame the left into matching the Tea Party momentum that has propelled Republicans this year….”, and (5) on a smaller scale, Republican fortunes improved markedly in a New York Congressional race when Conservative Party challenger Doug Hoffman not only dropped out of the race, but he endorsed his Republican challenger. Even before the withdrawal, polls showed the Republican challenger leading the Democrat 51-37%.

We would like to point out several unmentioned things about polling in the House races: (1) we have not yet seen polling data for 67 Democratic held seats (including 47 we currently have classified as “safe”) – for there to be no information on this many races this late in the game is bizarre; (2) this past week alone, three safe Democratic seats nevertheless show the Democrat with less than 54% of the vote – these seats could still flip if there is any additional Republican headwind.

All in all, while we foresee a net gain of 72 Republicans, 32 more Democrats are on the “watch list”, 47 “safe” Democrats have not had publicly released polls (as we saw above, Jim Oberstar of Minnesota was thought to be safe until a poll was released several days ago), and three “safe” Democrats lead in the polls with less than 54% of the vote. This means the playing field could actually go as high as an 154 seat GOP gain.