Midterms 2022: Final Predictions

Happy Election Day, dear readers! No matter who you vote for, make sure you vote. A healthy democratic republic relies on input from the public. Plus, maybe more importantly, if you don’t vote you don’t get to complain for the next two years. I swear I will enforce this moratorium.

This afternoon I’ll be voting for two Democrats, two Republicans, one Libertarian, three independents, and writing in someone with my last name. As crazy as partisans think I am, know that I think they’re just as crazy.

Many of you have suffered through a flurry of recent activity from Presidential Politics For America: PPFA Learns From Its Mistakes (Maybe), Six Days Out: Closing in on a House Prediction, How the Democrats (Might) Win, Two Days Out: A Senate Deep Dive, and yesterday’s Election Night Viewing Guide. That makes today’s post my sixth in nine days. The things I do for you.

What follows is my final column of this election cycle, so there are four parts to address:

Let’s get to it.

Part I: Final House Prediction

I can keep Part I brief. Since Wednesday’s “Six Days Out” prediction, nothing much about my three big indicators has changed. President Biden’s approval rating is still about 42. The generic ballot still has Republicans up about 2.5 points, although an intriguing NBC News poll just had the Democrats up 1 among likely voters, which might reflect their stabilization and be retroactively identified as the canary in the poll mine. (I couldn’t be prouder of that pun.) Meanwhile, the Cook Report’s district breakdown has barely changed.

I’ll lock in a prediction of Republicans winning 235 seats to the Democrats’ 200. I’d guess a House popular vote win of about 5 points for the GOP as well.

And that’s the end of Part I. If you feel shortchanged, just go back and read Six Days Out.

Part II: Final Senate Prediction

Okay, now this part will take more time. Recall that on Sunday, I used 270 To Win’s “consensus forecast” to produce a starting point equation:

  • Democrats: 36 returning senators + 8 safe seats = 44
  • Republicans: 29 returning senators + 14 safe seats = 43
  • Remaining: 13.

From that starting point, I tacked on four more “PPFA locks” and four more “PPFA likelies,” bringing us to this new starting spot for today:

  • Democrats: 44 + 2 PPFA locks + 0 PPFA Likelies = 46
  • Republicans: 43 + 2 PPFA locks + 4 PPFA Likelies = 49
  • Remaining: 5Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.

To earn a Senate majority, Democrats need four of the five to get to 50 plus the Vice President. Republicans need two of the five to get to 51.

It’s time to lock in those final five states. Below are the races, the candidates, and the average margin between the candidates as of Monday night, according to Real Clear Politics:

  • Arizona: Mark Kelly (D) vs. Blake Masters (R) — Kelly +1
  • Georgia: Raphael Warnock (D) vs. Herschel Walker (R) — Walker +0.6
  • Nevada: Catherine Cortez Masto (D) vs. Adam Laxalt (R) — Laxalt +2.4
  • New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan (D) vs. Dan Bolduc (R) — Hassan +1.0
  • Pennsylvania: John Fetterman (D) vs. Dr. Oz (R) — Oz +0.1

Those are five tight races! You can see why most prognosticators now say Republicans are on track for 51 or 52 seats, but with low confidence. Since they’re likely at 49 already, that would entail winning 2 or 3 of those 5 toss-ups, the statistically most likely result, but theoretically either party could also sweep all five.

Meanwhile, for rose-colored Democrats hoping to win 4 of the 5 to get to 50, it’s easy to see that path as well: just take all but Nevada. Democrats lead by a full point in two and are within a half-point in another two. If the polling is off just a liiittle bit in the right direction, Democrats wake up as winners.

Of course, the polling might be off in the other direction, too, which I think is the more likely scenario. I actually believe the above polling underestimates Republicans, not Democrats.

For context, we should set those polling averages against the considerable redshift of the month. I’ve charted their RCP polling average as of October 8 (one month before the election), October 22 (halfway since then), and their current polling average. I also show the shift in support between each point before finally listing the shift over the entire month.

Notice any pattern? I sure do.

“I don’t think the last month will be good to the Democrats,” I said with my first autumn post. Two weeks ago, back when Democrats still led all individual polls from Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, I said, “I fully expect all three Republican challengers to lead some polls, if not the polling average, before election day. If would be Walker’s first lead since Labor Day, and the first polling leads from Masters and Oz period. It’s going to happen.”

Well, it happened. Democrats started October with good polling leads in four of these five states. In all four, Republicans have since either taken the lead or nearly pulled even. The one state where a Democrat has put up a decent fight, Nevada, is also the state where the Republican has been leading all month and now enjoys his largest lead of the contest. Even better for Republicans, a lot of the polling used in these averages factors in polls from days or even weeks ago. More time has probably meant more days of Republican gains.

Despite these bad trends for Democrats, there are still reasons to like Democrats’ chances to be competitive in all five these states. Mark Kelly’s numbers climbing from 46.5 to 48.2 over the last two weeks is a good sign that he’s stabilized his lead as voters make final decisions; he’s closer to 50% than all five Republicans in question, each of whom average 47-point-something. In Georgia, they’ve had a nearly three-week early voting period, so many Warnock votes were cast before the state’s swing toward Herschel Walker. At the very least, Walker looks unlikely to get to 50%, so Democrats will have a month before the state’s December 6 runoff election to regain momentum. We already addressed Cortes Masto staying close in Nevada, and both Arizona and Nevada polls undercounted Democratic support at the 2018 midterms. Plus, yesterday the Nevada Whisperer Jon Ralston looked at all the data and picked Cortes Masto to hold on. As for Hassan in New Hampshire, a New England Democratic incumbent actually losing feels far-fetched, particularly with a couple late polls showing her ahead, including from a right-leaning pollster. And in Pennsylvania, its 50-day early voting period allowed plenty of votes for Fetterman to get locked in even before that debate, and the early turnout lead of registered Democrats in the state has been enormous, not only outpacing registered Republicans 70.9%-25.1%, but outpacing Democrats at the same point in 2020 (70.9% to 62.5%), relevant because in 2020 a Democrat, Joe Biden, won the state.

So can Democrats hope? Sure. If they keep the Senate, I wouldn’t be shocked.

But I would be surprised. To me, with the kind of late momentum we’ve seen from Republicans, it looks like there aren’t enough parkas in Washington to protect the Senate from the red tsunami that has built up across the country. While I think all of the above pro-Democrat variables should help them find one win somewhere, I don’t think it’ll be much more than that.

I’m not repeating past mistakes. When it comes to these five tossups, I think the GOP wins at least three — and maybe all five. Pressed to pick state-by-state, I’ll keep New Hampshire blue, but that’s it. I’ll pick against the polls in Arizona, against Jon Ralston in Nevada, and against that unfortunate debate in Pennsylvania. Walker will lead in Georgia, but even in a runoff, deflated Democrats will be so depressed over the next four weeks that Walker wins anyway.

PPFA final Senate prediction: Republicans 53, Democrats 47

Part III: If I’m wrong, what happened?

As always, there’s a margin of error in my predictions. In 2018, I went 32/35 in the Senate. In 2020, I went 33/35 in the Senate and 55/56 in the presidential election (if you count Washington DC and the five Congressional districts in Maine and Nebraska, which I most certainly do). I likely will be off by at least a little. Full refunds are available at the box office.

But let’s say I’m wrong by a lot, an arbitrary threshold that I’ll demarcate at Democrats keeping control of either chamber. If that occurs, where did I go wrong?

Well, my Friday post got into the likely explanations, one being that Republican-affiliated pollsters skewed the polls. As you’ve likely noticed, PPFA relies a great deal on the work put in by Real Clear Politics to average prominent polls. I’ve always preferred looking at an average of the polls rather than over-reacting to single polls (unless it’s Ann Selzer‘s, obviously), so RCP has proven to be a tremendous tool.

If, however, RCP has been corrupted by conservatives — a common accusation from the left, I assure you — then the data off of which I work is flawed. First, however, RCP needs to lead me astray. To this point, it’s been great. Remember that in all five of my misses over the last two Senate cycles, all five were in states where I predicted a Democrat but a Republican won. If polling has misled me, it’s not been the fault of Real Clear Politics or its conservative bias.

It’s also worth noting that some of these Republican-affiliated pollsters, like Trafalgar and Rasmussen, have actually done a pretty good job. FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings gives Trafalgar an A- and Rasmussen a B. I generally trust pollsters to do the best job they can, because big polling errors get catalogued by FiveThirtyEight and others, which would damage a pollster’s reputation moving forward, which means less money and fewer contracts to do polls. There’s a reason there weren’t a bunch of Democratic-affiliated pollsters producing enough Democratic-favorable polls to negate what right-leaning polls were doing. I’d guess it’s because such data didn’t exist.

Is it possible there’s been a concerted effort by conservative pollsters to mess with the averages to depress Democratic turnout, create favorable news cycles, and set up potential challenges to election results? Yes, it’s possible. But that’s conspiracy theory level stuff coming from a group of voters that decry conspiracy theories. After all, it wasn’t too long ago where Donald Trump talked about rigged polling and Democrats made fun of him for it. Now it’s Democrats blaming screwy polling as a cause of their own struggles? I don’t buy it.

No, if I’m wrong, I think the more likely explanation is the “new, hidden Democratic voter” theory from Friday’s post. It’s become difficult for pollsters to get a good sample, and perhaps Likely Voter surveys have missed those intending to vote Democrat. Evidence of that might be Democrats’ success in Registered Voter surveys over the summer, before pollsters filtered some of them out in their Likely Voter surveys, which shifted averages toward Republicans. I also used Democratic successes in the summer’s special elections as potential evidence that Democrats might be stronger at the ballot box than they are in the polls.

But we shouldn’t be totally sold on those datapoints either. The Registered Voter surveys and special elections took place during the summer, when Democrats were on a heater. The post-Dobbs political climate had a lot of people politically engaged at a time when gas prices were falling and it appeared inflation was leveling. That was good for Democrats. Since then, however, the abortion issue faded and the economy returned to paramount importance, particularly when gas prices once again ticked up and inflation proved more stubborn than the Federal Reserve had hoped.

In other words, my working theory is that Democrats looked good in these key metrics because the key metrics took place during the summer. But we don’t hold elections in the summer. We hold them now.

The final tea leaf that could give Democrats hope is that early vote data I shared on Friday. It showed Democrats way up on the early vote, and they still are, even when compared to the early vote in 2020 and 2018, two elections where the party did well. Over 42 million votes have already been cast, and registered Democrats hold a 50%-39% lead over registered Republicans.

The reality remains, however, that early vote data has fed a biennial tradition of overreaction. Simply, early vote data doesn’t help predict all that much. It can almost always be spun in either direction. Democrats should know. Back when early voting was just the absentee ballot, Republicans used to be regular leaders of the early vote, even when Democrats won.

We truly just have to wait for all the votes to get counted. Many of those registered Democrats who have voted may have actually voted Republican. Furthermore, this year I expect Republicans will win by more on election day than Democrats won by in early voting. The day-of voting turnout will be enormous. I’m predicting it’ll be the highest midterm turnout since the turn of the last century.

Most of that turnout will be Republicans and independents frustrated with the party in power. History and thermostasis win again.

Part IV: What happens next?

What happens next, of course, is that the 2024 election begins almost immediately. The tenor of that election will very much be impacted by the results of this one.

If Democrats beat the odds and keep Congress, the biggest beneficiary will be President Biden. He’ll get to keep working with a friendly Congress, appoint left-leaning judges, and build a legacy, all of which combines to make him a heavy favorite for the 2024 Democratic nomination and a coin flip away from re-election, even at the age of 106 or whatever he’ll be by then.

Conversely, in that scenario, Republicans will be pressured to abandon Trumpism. It’ll have been their third consecutive defeat in the House, and presumably the Day After story will be that Trump’s Senate endorsements helped nominate bad general election candidates. Meanwhile, Democratic control of Congress can keep the pressure on investigations into January 6 and Mar-a-Lago documents. All these developments will work in concert to hurt his nomination chances as Republicans consider turning the page and fast-tracking Ron DeSantis and others.

Of course, as I’ve laid out in Parts I through III, this scenario is unlikely. Much more likely is that Republicans take at least the House, wherein they can block all Democratic legislation, and they’ll probably take the Senate as well, so there goes Biden’s judges. Although a pivot to the center, like Bill Clinton after his own 1994 midterm failure, is on the table and could resuscitate his presidency, more likely is that Biden’s cascade of political failures will continue. Revenge impeachment, an increasingly popular political fetish, also feels realistic.

Dogged by inflation and his dead presidency, Biden’s chances at re-election will plummet, and so, too, will his chances as re-nomination. If Republicans with both chambers of Congress, I expect Biden, early in 2023, will announce his decision to not run again. Democratic lawmakers and voters will be all too happy to hear it.

Who are the contenders to replace him as the party’s nominee? For now, I’ll let Saturday Night Live explain the situation.

On the Republican side, a win in Congress will be followed by two years of easily spinning all political and economic developments. If the economy improves, it’ll be because Republicans took Congress. If the economy doesn’t improve, it’ll be because the White House still has a Democrat in it. That then becomes a main talking point as we head to 2024: to erase the damage caused by the Democrats, we need to unify the political branches under Republican control.

Trump should be considered the heavy favorite for the nomination. A Republican Congress will call off investigations, undermine AG Merrick Garland and the Justice Department, and clear the lane for Trump to run again. We know Republican voters remain smitten with him, as has been confirmed by 2024 polling. The only potential candidate even close is DeSantis, but the logic I shared back in February still applies: it makes no sense for DeSantis to challenge Trump and lose the support of the former President’s voters. If DeSantis takes on Trump, Trump will break out a nickname (he just took Ron DeSanctimonious out for a spin) and work on destroying him like he has so many Republicans who dared stand up to the party’s Dear Leader. Instead, DeSantis, just 44 years old, will wait for a post-Trump election to make his run. (There is also speculation of a Trump-DeSantis ticket. I don’t see it, but that’s for another time.) Some Republicans will try to stand in his way — his former Vice President Mike Pence, Liz Cheney, Chris Christie, maybe Larry Hogan — but their fates will be similar to that of the bugs on your windshield.

Republican momentum will continue to build. A quick peak at the 2024 Senate race should bring the DNC to DEFCON 1. The party has to defend 23 seats to Republicans’ 10, and that includes vulnerable Democratic seats in Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. If Republicans play their cards right, there’s a very real possibility of a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate starting in 2025.

That is no inevitability, however. Republicans playing their best cards isn’t really a thing, it just so happens that this time their low pair beats Democrats’ jack high. The specter of another Trump term, a Republican House, a filibuster-proof Republican Senate, and six conservative justices controlling the Supreme Court will loom large over the American electorate. If the Democrats can nominate the right candidate — someone who offers an articulate contrast to Trump — then the party can hold the White House and ride some coattails back into a Congressional majority. I have an idea of who that can be.

But I may be getting a bit ahead of myself.

Thanks for reading PPFA this election season. Now go vote.

Today’s featured image of the Capitol building is courtesy of David Maiolo from Wikimedia Commons, although I did crop out a lonely person on a Segway who may have mixed up the date of the January 6 insurrection.


3 thoughts on “Midterms 2022: Final Predictions”

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