Election Day Approaches, But Is the Republican Victory Really Assured?

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

With November 4 just around the corner, the Senate race is closer than ever. But like previous days, weeks, and months worth of analysis, the outcome is still uncertain. The consensus seems to be that while, yes, Republicans have the lead, there still seems to be a chance that either party can take the majority if certain key races throw any unexpected wrenches in the works. The issue is that with elections so close to the wire, which races matter most — and how much –is a debatable question.

Also up for debate is how reliable polling is for states in predicting elections. Some argue that polling tends to be a pretty good indicator, but others, like Politico, point out that in 2010 and 2012, for the case of Colorado’s elections, there were inaccuracies, which Democrats are likely hoping to see once again for the sake of incumbent Sen. Mark Udall (D). However “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” considers the Colorado election likely to go to Republicans as polling mistakes of that sort could well have been corrected for. Still, even that debate is questionable given that the polling misjudgements weren’t fixed after 2010.

Des Moines Register shows Iowa leaning towards the right, with Joni Ernst (R) looking likely to take the seat, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid arguing that “If we (Democrats) win Iowa, we’re going to do just fine. Iowa is critical, there’s no other way to say it,” he told the Register, emphasizing the work Democrats need to do to turn things around — which suggests he believes this is still a possibility.

NBC/Marist polls weigh in favor of Republican candidates in Kentucky, Georgia, and Louisiana. The polls shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kent.) ahead of Alison Grimes 50% to 41%, and Georgia’s David Perdue (R) ahead of Michelle Nunn (D) by 4 percentage points from 44 to 48%. Finally, it puts Senator Mary Landrieu at the front of two other main candidates with 44%, but head-to-head behind both Republican candidates — not exactly a certainty, but indicative of party loyalty within the state. Splitting Republican voters could end up working in the Democrats’ favor in that state, though. However, ultimately, most who follow the elections and look closely at the polls know that if you look hard enough, there’s a poll that will tell you almost anything you want, in direct contradiction to the certainties of other polling groups. As the Christian Science Monitor points out, when looking at Alaska’s polls, odds on the chances that Sen. Mark Begich (D) or Dan Sullivan (R) taking the seat are entirely different depending on who you ask, reporting that one poll shows Sullivan up by 5 percentage points, and another shows Begich up by 6%. This makes it difficult to take either seriously, and makes some individuals’ lack of trust for polling groups an understandable position.

I don’t agree with the oddsmakers,” said Vice President Joe Biden in an interview with CNN. “I predict we’re gonna … keep the Senate.” While his prediction may not be one supported by the numbers, FiveThirtyEight points out that in the past the numbers haven’t been particularly accurate. While there’s certainly a strong predictive trend with polling and elections, there’s no question that different polls have different biases and skew left and right to different degrees, as FiveThirtyEight’s table below demonstrates rather well.


As the statistical breakdown shows, this only has positive implications for Senate races in Colorado and Iowa, where the average trend has been to underestimate the success likelihood of Democrats. For all other states considered key, the trend has been toward overly positive polling for Democrats. Yet as FiveThirtyEight points out, it’s debatable whether or not these trends are reflective of what will be seen this year, and correlation of the consistency of state poll bias was low, with bias running in the same direction for important periods in only 35 of 50 states. However, in agreement with nearly everyone aside from Biden and the most die-hard of Democratic hopefuls, the breakdown suggests that “senate fundamentals” just aren’t right for a Democratic win, and even if polls are skewed somewhat, it’s quite possible they’re actually skewed too far in favor of Democrats, rather than too far in opposition as many have suggested. In the end, we’ll know which way the majority falls in only a few days as votes come in and election day passes. Even if runoff elections go late — as they are likely to do in a few states — it’s likely we’ll have some idea through this coming week.

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Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS