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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: 2022 senate races

Republicans Flood Media With GOP Polls, Slanting Averages In Midterm

As former Trump aide Kellyanne Conway once suggested, if you don't like the facts, just create alternative facts.

That's exactly what Republicans and their pollsters are doing in several of this cycle's most hotly contested races.

Take Georgia, for instance—until about October 21 or 22, Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock had been holding a pretty steady three to four-point lead during October over his GOP rival Herschel Walker in FiveThirtyEight's aggregate. Then the gap suddenly narrowed to about one point in the final week of October, Warnock 46.7 percent - Walker 45.4 percent.

FiveThirtyEight.com/screenshot


What exactly happened to nudge Walker into contention to take the lead? A whole bunch of GOP-slanted polls, that's what.

Of the seven aggregate polls taken since October 21, five of them were conducted by either GOP-aligned groups or pollsters that use friendly GOP modeling: Trafalgar Group, Rasmussen Reports, Moore Information (Walker poll), co/efficient, and InsiderAdvantage. All of them put Walker in the lead by anywhere from two to five points.

The two other polls—one conducted by The New York Times/Siena College and the other for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution—found that Warnock had a three-point advantage and the two candidates were tied, respectively.

Perhaps the most deceptive polling outfit is InsiderAdvantage, which polls for Fox affiliates across the country, giving the surveys the veneer of being even-handed media-sponsored polls. But a quick google search of the pollster finds their handiwork generating GOP-friendly headlines in several of the key contests they have polled:

  • FOX 5 Atlanta: Kemp, Walker hold leads in major Georgia races in new InsiderAdvantage/Fox 5 poll
  • FOX 29 Philadelphia: InsiderAdvantage/FOX 29 poll: Fetterman, Oz neck and neck as Shapiro’s lead over Mastriano narrows
  • FOX 10 Phoenix: 2022 Arizona Election Poll: Lake leads governor's race, Senate race tightens

Wow, Republican prospects are really improving across the board. Amazing.

The red mirage, as it were, is also evident in Pennsylvania's Senate race: Three of the five aggregate polls taken since October 20 are from GOP-friendly groups, all of which give Republican nominee Mehmet Oz a two to three-point advantage over Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

The other two surveys show Fetterman maintaining a lead. NewYork Times/Siena put Fetterman up 5 points, 49 percent -- 44 percent, and CBS News/YouGov gave Fetterman a slimmer 2-point edge, 51 percent -- 49 percent.

As TargetSmart CEO and data analyst Tom Bonier, noted, "After a flood of GOP outlier polls in all of these races designed to create stories about an impending red wave and digging into why Dems are losing ("is it crime/inflation?"), New York Times/Siena suggests not much has changed in these races in the past two weeks."

Here are the top lines of the New York Times/Siena polling from four key Senate contests released Monday:

Arizona: D+6
Sen. Mark Kelly (D), 51 percent
Blake Masters 45 percent

Georgia: D+3
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D), 49 percent
Herschel Walker, 46 percent

Nevada: Even
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D), 47 percent
Adam Laxalt, 47 percent

Pennsylvania: D+6
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), 49 percent
Mehmet Oz, 44 percent

Pro-GOP polls have also made their mark on FiveThirtyEight's congressional generic ballot aggregate, as I noted last week.

As demonstrated above by the FOX affiliate coverage, the GOP-aligned polls have become part of a Republican feedback loop that is inspiring a disproportional amount of pro-Republican horse-race stories both locally and at the national level.

And yet, the latest round of New York Times/Siena surveys in individual races suggests Democrats are very much both holding their own and even beating expectations in some cases in both the House and the Senate.

The coverage hyping a GOP surge this cycle isn’t only misleading, it’s dangerous—particularly since it exists in an amped-up environment where most MAGA Republicans already believe they were cheated in the last cycle. Sure, Republicans might have a good night next week—that’s completely plausible. But most surveys taken by legitimate outfits suggest a very competitive landscape where Democrats could just as easily outperform expectations.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Praying For Rain: Why The Democrats Can Do Better Than Expected

Before getting to the encouraging news for Democrats, I want to stipulate a couple of things:

First, while it’s too early to know the full political impact of the violent attack on Paul Pelosi, the vicious MAGA conspiracy-mongering that was present in the assailant’s social media account is certain to change the national conversation in the ten days before the midterm elections. The depressing incident — a reflection of the dramatic increase in violent threats against members of Congress and other officials since Donald Trump’s election — will likely generate pressure on Republicans to denounce the violence on January 6 and explain their blind allegiance to Trump, who has retweeted dangerous QAnon lies for years. And it may highlight Nancy Pelosi’s reminder that “democracy is on the ballot” this fall. But right now, we have no idea if any of this will affect the outcome.

Second, even accounting for the Worrywart Gap — macho Republicans are always more confident about their chances than Debbie Downer Democrats (who use fears of losing to raise money in annoying emails) — holding the House seems increasingly out of reach for Democrats. The only question is whether it’s a blowout or closer-than-expected. The latter — which I anticipate — would put Democrats in a good position to regain control in 2024, after two years of the antics of Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and the other creeps and fools who will be in charge of the House.

Why do I think we’ll see a mixed bag on November 8 instead of the full fruitcake? The short answer: Bad GOP Senate candidates, unreliable polls, and a stupid GOP turnout strategy.

I’m betting on Mark Kelly to beat Blake Masters in Arizona and Raphael Warnock to prevail over Herschel Walker in Georgia. Catherine Cortez Masto could go down in Nevada because her opponent, Adam Laxalt, isn’t crazy, though early voting there looks decent for Democrats. If one of those Democrats loses, holding the Senate would require John Fetterman and/or Tim Ryan flipping seats in Pennsylvania and/or Ohio, and I think at least one of them will. I’m not sure Mandela Barnes is going to make it, but don’t underestimate the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s legendary ability to turn out the vote. Cheri Beasley is within striking distance in North Carolina and Mike Franken has a bit of momentum against 89-year old Senator Chuck Grassley in Iowa. Utah is a wild card, with challenger Evan McMullin uniting independents and Democrats against Senator Mike Lee. To recap in a way I haven’t seen in the press, Democrats are having trouble defending seats in Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada, while Republicans are having trouble doing so in Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah. Sounds to me like a recipe for continued Democratic control of the Senate.

It’s hard to know for sure, but I’d argue that many polls are over-estimating Republican strength. Like any political junkie, I need my fix of Nate Silver and Real Clear Politics but these numbers we obsess over are nearly useless for any race where the results are within the margin of error. And the MOE is often twice what most people assume. As Pew Research, a reputable name in the survey industry, explains:

To determine whether or not the race is too close to call, we need to calculate a new margin of error for the difference between the two candidates’ levels of support. The size of this margin is generally about twice that of the margin for an individual candidate.

In other words, the true margin of error when you look at polls is not three or four points, but six or eight. Then there’s the dirty little secret of the polling business — that response rates are down from 36 percent at the turn-of-the-century to about six percent in 2020, which means that polls with fewer than 1000 respondents (the experts can argue over that number) are likely to be skewed.

It gets worse: Many “junk polls” with small samples or partisan connections are nonetheless included in the ubiquitous polling averages that so many readers rely on. Cycle after cycle, Rasmussen, for instance, over-estimates support for Republican candidates by as many as 10 points. But that poll remains in the Real Clear Politics average. Garbage in, garbage out.

Even venerable polls have problems. Polls sponsored by news organizations — like the New York Times/Siena College, Wall Street Journal/NBC News and ABC News/Washington Post — are at least partially branding exercises, where the incentive to promote the results can lead to hype. (I know, because for nearly 30 years I had a front-row seat on the Newsweek Poll, administered by the Gallup Organization, which was responsible for the infamous 1988 poll showing Michael Dukakis with a huge lead over George H.W. Bush after the Democratic Convention).

Of course these polls are among those hiding their response rates, which may be even lower than six percent, given rightwing dislike for the mainstream media. But it’s not just press-haters who don’t answer or hang up. For its June survey, the NYTimes/Siena poll reported that 63 percent of respondents were reached on cell phones.

Who answers calls from unknown numbers on their cell phones? Nobody I know. Younger people don’t even talk on their phones to friends. (They text). That should give us some idea of just how low the response rates are on those calls.

And how about the 37 percent with landlines? Do you know anyone under 40 who still has one? My wife and I are in our sixties and even we recently got rid of ours. That helps explain why raw polls —before pseudo-scientific adjustments — often skew old and thus Republican. Not surprisingly, polls publicly disclose only an overall sample size, not the sample size of each cross-tab (sub group). This suggests that results from younger respondents are based on shockingly small samples.

Given the limitations of both landlines and cell phones, many pollsters are transitioning to online polls. Their claims of success with this relatively new method might be true, but I’m suspicious. By their very nature, participants in online surveys are self-selecting, and not weighted for demographics. When they think their results are unreliable, pollsters make a series complex adjustments to get a representative sample, adjusting for party affiliation and other factors that might help. Of course this “weighting” of polls is as much art as science — junk science.

And small shifts in the samples can render a poll meaningless. After the 2020 election, Pew did a study that showed that a shift of a mere 36 votes out of a survey of 1,000 shrunk Biden’s 12-point lead to the four points he actually won by.

Let’s look at how far off the final polls were in recent elections. They weren’t bad in the 2018 midterms, which Democrats — riding a wave of anti-Trump feeling — won by 8.4 percent, slightly better than predicted by the Real Clear Politics average (which was hampered by a Rasmussen survey showing the Republicans winning by a point). Democrats picked up 41 seats in the House but Republicans won two in the Senate, which suggests (not for the first time) that national trends aren’t especially relevant in Senate contests.

The 2020 presidential election was a disaster for the polling industry, which avoided intense scrutiny only because of all the attention paid to Trump trying to steal the election. The final Real Clear Politics averages had Biden winning by 7.2 percent; he won by 4.5 percent. Quinnipiac, a well-respected poll, had Biden up by 11 and NBC/Wall Street Journal had him winning by 10. Does that mean Republicans have a bigger lead now than it seems from the polls? Maybe, but it also could be that pollsters this year have overcompensated for their 2020 failures by weighting their surveys in favor of Republicans.

I feel sorry for the pollsters assigned to build “likely voter” turnout models. It’s complicated, of course, but I’d argue for an Occum’s Razor approach. The simplest and most telling data point is that overall turnout surged in the last two elections, and it wasn’t a coincidence that Democrats won them both comfortably. The key midterm statistic for me is that youth turnout (18 to 29-year-olds) went from 20 percent in 2014 (a bad year for Democrats) to 36 percent in 2018 — a 79 percent jump. Two years later, new voters (those who voted in 2018 but not in 2016) backed Biden over Trump by about two-to-one.

Which brings us to this year, when early voting is way up from the past. Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network has been consistent — with me and others. No red wave, just a very close election. He thinks the early voting is looking good so far for Democrats:

But could it be that Republicans are just waiting for Election Day, when their anger over inflation and crime and President Biden will send them streaming to the polls? Maybe. In a Suffolk poll, inflation beats abortion by 16 points in the head-to-head matchup over which issue “matters more” in 2022—a disturbing finding for Democrats. Worse, about 60 percent of independents worry more about inflation.

But the Suffolk poll also shows that roughly half of women say abortion matters more, and neither this poll nor any other can truly measure how intensely these voters feel about it. The election could turn not on whether inflation or abortion is a bigger issue, but on which is a bigger motivator.

My sense is that while sporadic voters (the 50 to 60 million Americans who usually avoid midterms) are most concerned about inflation, more than a few may accurately (if cynically) conclude that no politicians in either party have any convincing plans to curb it — so they might as well follow their normal patterns and go to the gym or wherever instead of to the polls. By contrast, women voters most concerned about abortion know exactly where both parties stand and— if high turnout in this year’s special elections is any indication — will have a high likelihood of voting Democratic. My guess is that worries among younger men about their girlfriends getting pregnant could be an under-the-radar motivator. All it takes for Democrats to do well is for their numbers with younger voters to be close to those of 2018 than 2014.

Finally, I find it strange that there hasn’t been more commentary about the self-destructive GOP preference for Election Day voting. Tom Bonier, a Democratic consultant and CEO of TargetSmart, which does a great job tracking early voting, makes a good point about how Republicans will suffer because Trump made them abandon vote-by-mail, which is popular across the country for its convenience.

And that’s not even mentioning the weather. Everyone in politics knows that rain or snow dampens turnout. That maxim should now be revised to: Bad weather on Election Day hurts Republicans. Democrats can adopt the old line of Boston Braves fans about the great pitchers Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain:

“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”

Jonathan Alter is a bestselling author, Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, and a contributing correspondent and political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. His Substack newsletter is OLD GOATS: Ruminating with Friends.

Reprinted with permission from OLD GOATS

GOP Fears Its Mediocre Senate Candidates Will Ruin Midterm Campaign

After months of sharpening their knives in anticipation of the midterms, Republicans' glee has turned gloomy as the election cycle's contours shift.

That is particularly true in the Senate, where a several-point post-Roe bump for Democrats in the generic ballot is perhaps the least of Republicans' worries. The main problem is that Republicans are saddled with subpar, Trumpian candidates in the most critical Senate races at a time when Donald Trump's star appears to be falling.

On background, one GOP strategist warned of "massive problems on the candidate front.” On the record, veteran GOP operative Kevin Madden offered a more tempered view: “There are warning signs that some of these candidates are not as strong as they could be given the opportunity at hand."

Take Trump's hand-picked candidate in Georgia, the verbally challenged former football star Herschel Walker, where the National Republican Senatorial Committee is already trying to perform an intervention, according to The Washington Post.

The Senate GOP campaign arm recently installed several trusted Republican operatives to help right Walker's ship, including veteran strategist Gail Gitcho as a senior adviser, Chip Lake as a consultant, and Brett O’Donnell, the party’s "most celebrated debate prep strategist," according to the Post.

O'Donnell's in for a treat with Walker, who is making a strong bid for the most consistently incoherent candidate on the trail in modern memory.

Walker's latest triumph was dumbing down the climate change debate by 'splaining how America is cleaning up China's air quality.

"Since we don’t control the air, our good air decide to float over to China bad air. So when China get our good air, their bad air gotta move. So, it moves over to our good air space. And now, we gotta clean that back up," Walker clarified. Got that?

It doesn't help that Walker's staff was reportedly blindsided by the discovery that the candidate fathered three children he had never publicly acknowledged. But Walker's biggest deficit appears to be that his campaign doesn’t trust him to ... well ... talk.

When Georgia conservative radio host Erick Erickson invited Walker on his show for a one-on-one, hour-long chat, the campaign declined because aides didn't want him going "free form" for an entire hour, per the Post.

“I don’t know anyone who has confidence in the campaign including people on the campaign. He doesn’t have standard candidate discipline,” Erickson said. “He just doesn’t have a deep grasp of the issues nor really the desire to learn those issues."

Senate Republicans are also haunted by flashbacks from the 2010 and 2012 cycles, when wackadoodle GOP candidates doomed their chances of regaining control of the upper chamber.

In Ohio, Trump-backed GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance has compared abortion to slavery, saying they had both "distorted" American society.

“There’s something comparable between abortion and slavery, and that while the people who obviously suffer the most are those subjected to it, I think it has this morally distorting effect on the entire society,” Vance said in an interview with the Catholic Current last October. “I think that’s one of the underappreciated facts about abortion," Vance added.

Vance's Democratic challenger, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, called the comparison "absolutely disgusting" in a tweet about the remarks.

“We cannot let him anywhere near the Senate," added Ryan, who has pledged to end the filibuster in order to codify abortion protections into federal law. On Friday, the Ryan campaign announced that it hauled in an eye-popping $9.1 million in the second quarter.

In Pennsylvania, TV huckster Dr. Mehmet Oz quickly fell behind the Democratic Senate nominee, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who has been recovering from a stroke he suffered in mid-May. Early polling last month showed Fetterman leading Oz by 9 points.

Fetterman is expected to return to the campaign trail within weeks. In the meantime, Fetterman has been pounding Oz for being a carpetbagger from New Jersey.

Even GOP incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin isn’t exactly on a glide path to reelection this fall.

Though some election analysts have just begun to recalibrate their predictions in this post-Roe environment, Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg doesn't view abortion as the only driving force favoring Democrats.

For the past two cycles, he says, nothing and no one have galvanized a coalition of voters to vote against Republicans more than Trump and the MAGA movement have. Rosenberg expects November to follow in similar fashion.

“The question is, are there forces in the election more powerful than the disappointment in Biden?” posited Rosenberg. “The answer is yes, and that is opposition and fear for MAGA, which is the thing that has driven the last two elections.”

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

How Trump Is Ruining McConnell's Plan To Regain Senate Majority

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu dealt a serious blow to Senate Republicans Tuesday when he took a pass on running for Senate against one of the GOP's top targets—Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.

But Sununu is no exception to the rule, and he could very well be the canary in the coal mine for Senate Republicans. While Republicans had been eyeing New Hampshire as a serious pick-up opportunity, they had also dabbled with the idea of making Democrats at least squander some resources on playing defense in blue states like Vermont and Maryland. But as NBC News points out, that GOP aspiration is contingent on one of those state's popular Republican governors showing any interest at all in signing on to be part of the Senate GOP caucus.

"Vermont Gov. Phil Scott won re-election by 15 percentage points in 2018, the same year his famously progressive state overwhelmingly handed independent Sen. Bernie Sanders a third term," writes NBC. But Scott—really the only Vermont Republican who could pull off an upset against incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy—didn't even vote for Trump and has no interest in running for Senate.

Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is in the same boat—popular but uninterested in running.

In short, it appears no moderate, sane-ish Republicans are jumping at the chance to join Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's caucus, particularly because Trump is so clearly calling the shots. Sununu's very public rejection of the Senate GOP also isn't going to make joining the caucus seem any more appealing to the kinds of candidates who would likely fare better in a general election.

So as moderate Republicans decline to run while fringe GOP candidates dominate the field, the entire Republican line up is getting more extreme.

That has Brian Walsh, a former Senate GOP campaign operative, hearing "echoes of 2010," when Senate Republicans failed to seize a majority despite the pro-Republican political environment.

"Arguably, Republicans lost five seats between 2010 and 2012 because of bad general election candidates," Walsh told NBC. "I'm not saying that's necessarily going to happen here. We don't know that yet. But broadly, candidates matter."

Here's the GOP scorecard so far:

In New Hampshire, which Republicans had slated as a top target for a pick up, they're now scrambling for a candidate.

In Georgia, another GOP pick-up opportunity, Republicans will likely be saddled with Trump pick Herschel Walker, who has a violent and allegedly abusive history.

In Nevada, which Republicans also hope to flip, the state party is in the midst of an epic meltdown. At the same time, they appear to be rallying around former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who made stoking Trump's Big Lie his life's mission.

Laxalt sued to stop the ballot counting in the state's largest county (which Trump lost), sued to overturn Biden's victory, baselessly claimed votes of dead people had been counted, baselessly claimed votes from undocumented immigrants had tipped the state to Biden, and again filed a post-certification lawsuit alleging the GOP secretary of state had allowed non-citizens to vote.

In Arizona, another GOP flip opportunity, the four-person primary is headed hard right and nasty negative as state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, energy executive Jim Lamon, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mick McGuire and Blake Masters duke it out. Brnovich (aka nunchuck guy) likely has the highest statewide name recognition outside of GOP Gov. Doug Ducey (who Trump hates and has declined to run). But Masters runs billionaire Peter Thiel's investment firm and just this week Trump announced a fundraiser for him (because Trump also faults Brnovich for failing to overturn the state's 2020 results).

In Pennsylvania, one of Democrats' best pick-up opportunities, the GOP primary for the open seat has turned downright embarrassing. Trump endorsed Army vet Sean Parnell, who is embroiled in an ugly custody battle in which his estranged wife testified that Parnell abused her and one of their children. Senate Republicans are dodging questions about the race as Parnell's candidacy spirals.

In North Carolina, which also has an open Senate seat, Trump complicated the race with an early endorsement of a lesser-known GOP congressman, Rep. Ted Budd, while former Gov. Pat McCrory has a higher profile and a likely edge among Republican voters. If McCrory triumphs, it remains to be seen whether he can win over Trump voters in the general election.

Other potential Democratic pick ups include Florida and Wisconsin, with incumbent Sens. Marco Rubio and Ron Johnson, and on the outside edge, open seats in Ohio and Missouri, where Republicans just might manage to put the seats in play despite their considerable advantages in each state.

Notably, Trump is playing the key role in nearly every one of those Senate contests. In almost every state, Trump has done at least one of several things: repelled a top-tier candidate, made an endorsement, radicalized the GOP field, or become a complicating factor by incessantly pushing his election fraud lies and demanding absolute fealty.

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