Quick Hit Friday: The Four Midterm Scenarios and Their Ramifications

What’s this? A Friday post?

You’re darn right it is. It’s that time of year. This week’s main post was historical, but with under 20 days until the 2018 Midterms, I can’t let a week go by without weighing in on the election. I’ll have another formal, data-driven breakdown of the race for the Two Weeks Out mark. For now, accept this short one. Like otherQuick Hit Fridays,” I’ll do my darnedest to keep it under a thousand words.

Today’s post considers the four possible results and ramifications of the November 6 midterm elections, ranked from least to most probable. I’ll list FiveThirtyEight‘s implied chances (by multiplying together its percentage chances of each party winning the House and Senate) but also weigh in with (the more definitive) PPFA percentages. (You know, the kind where I think about it for about six seconds then write down whatever comes to mind.) Then, I’ll briefly analyze such a hypothetical result.

Oh man, that’s already 160 words! Let’s get to it.

The least likely scenario: Republicans keep House, Democrats win Senate
538’s implied chances: 3% (16% chance Republicans keep House X 19.3% chance Dems win Senate)
PPFA’s chances: <1%

Breakdown: FiveThirtyEight’s feels this scenario is next to impossible. I feel it’s even less probable than that. For reasons I’ll get into below, if one party wins the chamber they’re not expected to win, they’ve surely won the other chamber, too.

Ramifications: If this scenario occurred, it would be the most embarrassing moment in polling history since Dewey Defeats Truman.

The third most likely scenario: Democrats win both chambers
538’s implied chances: 16% (84% chance Dems win House X 19.3% chance Dems win Senate)
PPFA’s chances:

Breakdown: FiveThirtyEight and I split on the rankings for second and third most likely result. They think a Democratic sweep is more likely than a Republican one, but I reverse them. (More on why I ranked them differently in the next scenario.)

At the same time, however, I think each scenario is more likely than what FiveThirtyEight predicts. Here, the generic ballot and presidential approval numbers suggest the Dems are in strong position. We also have to consider that the GOP is fighting against a history that suggests a sitting president’s party is extremely vulnerable in midterm elections. (On that, the last 50 years of presidential administrations speak in near unison.) For that reason, the Democrats are heavily favored in the House, where all 435 seats are up for grabs.

Though the Senate map is much more difficult (for reasons elaborated on in earlier posts), it’s not that improbable that election day turns a blue wave (which should win the House) into a tsunami (which might surprise in the Senate) thanks to non-Republicans feeling some mixture of anguish, rage, and incredulity over Donald Trump’s presidency. Historically, many people tell pollsters they’ll vote but, particularly in midterms, they don’t make the time, a pattern prognosticators consider with their polling projections. Perhaps, however, these new, powerful motivations will actually convince normally apathetic midterm voters to actually take the time to cast ballots at the rate required to take back the Senate in normally Republican states. I’d say there’s a 1 in 5 chance of that happening.

Breakdown: A Democratic takeover of both Congressional chambers would almost certainly mean President Trump’s impeachment in the House (particularly if the Mueller Investigation finds egregious offenses), but since there’s no chance the Democrats can get the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate to remove Trump from office, he’ll finish his term a wounded president who will look to convert Democratic witchhuntery into a base mobilizer in 2020.

The second most likely scenario: Republicans keep both chambers
538’s implied chances: 13% (16% chance GOP win House X 80.7% chance GOP keep Senate)
PPFA’s chances: 25%

Breakdown: FiveThirtyEight implies there’s a 1 in 8 chance of this happening, but I see it more like 1 in 4. That’s not that improbable. More likely than the blue wave that drenches senatorial campaigns in dark red Texas, North Dakota, and Tennessee is that support of Trump is again undercounted in political polling, and the House is much more within Republican reach than the pollsters predict.

We just can’t forget the President’s 2016 surprise. Since he outperformed live polls in his primary contests and the general election, why not throw his first midterms onto the growing body of evidence? It seems more likely that a purple country turns light red than a terrible Senate map for Democrats colors the requisite number of red states into any shade of blue. Yeah, 1 in 4.

Ramifications: If President Trump and the Republicans successfully fight off the polls and a long pattern of presidents’ parties struggling in midterms, especially when the President is under water with his polling, not only can we expect unprecedented gloating from our Boaster-in-Chief, but he’ll continue to execute a conservative agenda. Moreover, the Mueller report will be rendered toothless, as the Republican-held Congress will back their President and the devoted voters that follow him.

The most likely scenario: Democrats win House, GOP keeps Senate
538’s implied chances: 68% (84% chance Dems win House X 80.7% chance Dems win Senate)
PPFA’s chances: 55%

Breakdown: As of now, FiveThirtyEight believes that there is about a 2 in 3 chance that this scenario unfolds on election night. PPFA, however, believes it’s closer to 1 in 2. The last two scenarios, as unlikely as they are, each work off a not-too-unrealistic premise. In one, a powerful blue virus infects red states; in the other, Trump overperforms his polling. Combined I think their likelihood almost measures up to our most likely scenario: that the polls are generally right.

Ramifications: Nothing will get done for the next two years. House Democrats will blame Trump. Trump will blame House Democrats. It’ll be a painful tie.

And then 2020 will be the tiebreaker.

3 thoughts on “Quick Hit Friday: The Four Midterm Scenarios and Their Ramifications

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