As part of its pre-election analysis, JMC Analytics and Polling has been examining verifiable election data (like polling and primary election results) to make assessments of Congressional races. However, what goes on at the statewide level is important as well, since governors have the ability to help shape policy. And given that this is generally the last statewide election before Congressional/legislative redistricting in 2021-2022, whoever gets elected governor is crucial from this perspective as well, since major Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms put Democrats at a nearly unilateral disadvantage during 2011-2012 redistrictings.
In a sense, the governor’s races are the polar opposite of the Senate races. There are 36 governor’s races up for election this fall, and there are a lopsided (26-9-1) number of Republican held governor’s seats up for re-election (as opposed to the 3:1 exposure Democrats have in the Senate races being held this year). It also makes life more challenging with 13 open Republican governor’s chairs (compared to four Democratic seats) to defend this fall. To properly assess the state of these statewide offices, let’s talk about the criteria JMC uses to score each of the 36 Governor’s races on the ballot this year:
JMC examines polling data as published on RealClearPolitics for all Governor’s races for the previous 14 days (as we get into later October, this “lookback” will be compressed to 7 days) and get an average for each race. Once the averages are obtained, here is how JMC rates each race:
(1) Safe Democratic or safe Republican (dark blue/red) – A candidate either has a polling average of at least 50% and/or a 10-point lead in the polls;
(2) Lean Democratic or lean Republican (light blue/red) – A candidate has a 3-9 point lead in the polls;
(3) Tossup (yellow) – A candidate’s lead is less than 3 points in the polls;
Given those criteria, this is the “state of the states” as of the writing of this article:
Aggregate Dashboard statistics
Trump job approval: 51-46% Disapprove (52-46% disapprove last week)
Direction of country: 54-39% wrong direction (54-39% wrong direction last week)
Governor’s race statistics
Current: 33 Republicans, 16 Democrats, 1 Independent
Polling average: 26 Republicans, 19 Democrats, 5 Tossups (4 Republican seats, 1 Democratic seat)
Commentary: Currently, the political climate (unlike the Senate races) favors the Democrats for two reasons: (1) Republicans have nearly three times the seats up for re-election this year than Democrats do, (2) states holding Governor’s races encompass the vast majority of the American electorate, which means that in a year with challenging ratings for President Trump, such public opinion will be felt more acutely at the state level.
More specifically, Republicans are generally doing well in Southern governor’s races (and, curiously, several Northeastern/New England states, where their incumbents have successfully established their own political identities). It’s the swing states (or even Democratic ones) that swept in Republican Governors in 2010/2014 that are the most challenging. Republicans are running behind in Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. They are also in a tough open seat race in closely divided Florida, where the Republican nominee quickly shot himself in the foot upon his primary victory for using racially tinged language to describe his black opponent.
As this article is being written, absentee and early voting activity has begun to accelerate: last week, best available estimates (courtesy of Dr Michael McDonald of ElectProject) showed that 91,700 had early or absentee voted. As of the writing of this article, 234,400 have. And with states like Arizona, California, Iowa, and Ohio commencing with early voting this week (early voting in Louisiana begins on October 23), that number will easily double by this time next week.