The PJ Tatler

Nate Silver On Potential GOP Wave Tomorrow: Maybe, Maybe Not

A definitive “meh.

If the polls are right, Republicans will take control of the United States Senate when it reconvenes next year. They’ll retain the majority of the nation’s governorships, although perhaps with a net loss of one or two seats. FiveThirtyEight hasn’t issued a House projection this year, so here goes nothing: Republicans will keep it. (Want more detail? The Cook Political Report thinks Republicans will gain a few seats, probably a net of 6 to 12, from Democrats.)

Sounds like a pretty good night for Republicans? It would be. But there are a few apparent complications.

Complication No. 1. Some prominent Republican incumbents are likely to lose. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas is no better than even money to keep his seat against independent Greg Orman. Incumbent Republican governors are underdogs — some by slim margins — in Alaska, Florida, Kansas, Maine and Pennsylvania, while Rick Snyder of Michigan and Scott Walker of Wisconsin are likely but not certain to survive.

Complication No. 2. Republicans are largely playing on home turf. The average Senate race this year is being held in a state where Barack Obama won just 46 percent of the vote in 2012. In the House, meanwhile, the median Congressional district is Republican-leaning. (Democrats tend to be packed into geographically compact, urban areas; this tendency is sometimes enhanced by gerrymandering.) A method of assessing the score probably needs to account for this.

Complication No. 3. The House, Senate and gubernatorial results seem to tell different stories. Polls project major Republican gains in the Senate but modest ones in the House and perhaps a net loss of Republican governorships. How to reconcile this evidence?

The third part is the easiest to resolve — and probably the most important to a macro-level understanding of Tuesday’s outcome. Most Senate seats on the ballot this year were last contested in 2008, an extraordinarily strong Democratic year. House seats were last contested in 2012, a pretty good Democratic year. Most governorships were last on the ballot in 2010, an awful Democratic year.

So if the election goes about as polls predict, it would suggest that 2014 was way worse for Democrats than 2008 and somewhat worse than 2012 but somewhat better for them than 2010.

Well, duh.

After 2012, I swore that I would never doubt Nate Silver again, as he was the only one telling us that all of the polling pointing to a Romney win wasn’t representative of reality. In that light, I was hoping that he would have a more definitive take throughout this season but variables are bouncing off the walls all over the place in this election.

As Politico says today, this election is probably still the GOP’s to lose. For those of us who have watched the Republican party do just that for so many years, that is rather ominous. Throw in the fact that Silver, who was so clear on what the polls did and did not say in 2012, is now talking about what happens “if” the polls are correct and I wouldn’t be surprised at this going either way.

If the GOP were better at Get Out The Vote efforts I wouldn’t be sweating this one at all. However, it is the Achilles heel that we bare and present to the Democrats every election, and it wreaks havoc in races where the Republican candidate is within only a couple of points.

I have never been much on election predictions but I do have a gut feeling (and that is all it is) that if Scott Brown wins in New Hampshire, and it can be called relatively early, it could be an awful night for the Democrats.

Bug every like-minded person you know to vote tomorrow. Then get them to bug people they know.

We can’t leave everything up to Nate Silver’s Big If.