Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day 2006

The day of the mid-term elections has finally arrived. The outcome appears genuinely unpredictable.

Speaking as a thorough non-expert in such matters, I still find the prognosis offered by Paul Krugman back in mid-October convincing and anxiety-provoking. Political polls have consistently been showing significant Democratic majorities in the nation-wide popular vote, but given the Republicans' built-in advantages, they might still be able to hold on to the House by the skin of their teeth, even in the face of this Democratic tide. The Democratic tidal wave would have to clear a formidable flood wall to have a real effect, and it might not quite manage do it. However, if the Democrats do manage to clear that flood wall even slightly, then there is a good chance that they could win a big House majority, not a small one.

=> Some polls and analysts now point to an electoral rout for the Republicans, with the Democrats taking solid control of the House and perhaps even retaking the Senate. A good example is the assessment by the generally judicious Stuart Rothenberg: "Expect a big night for Democrats" (See also 2006 House Ratings & 2006 Senate Ratings) Some highlights:
With only a few hours remaining until the votes start being counted, there is little uncertainty about the fight for the House, except for questions about exactly which Republican incumbents will be lucky enough to survive. [....]

Republican chances for retaining the House have moved from small to smaller, and public and private polling now suggests a solid Democratic win. The majority’s losses this year will be lower than during the wave elections of 1958, 1974 and 1994, but only because of structural factors: The way districts have been drawn and the relatively small number of Republicans holding Democratic districts effectively minimize potential Democratic gains.

Having said that, this fight still is taking place almost entirely on Republican turf. [....] Most GOP insiders would be ecstatic if the party held its losses to two dozen or less.

Democratic gains of anywhere from 25 to as many as 40 seats are possible. Last week, I went on record saying I expected a Democratic gain of 34 to 40 seats as the most likely range. That now strikes me as a bit high, but only at the low end. So, I am adjusting my House estimate/projection slightly, to a Democratic gain of 30 to 36 seats.

Of course, even more GOP seats could fall if all of the endangered Republicans lose and we see more than a couple of surprises.

The House results are likely to wipe out many moderate Republicans, who are taking the brunt of the wave because they represent Democratic-leaning or competitive districts.

Over in the Senate, things remain far less clear. While I have been widely credited with predicting a six-seat Democrat gain (and therefore control of the Senate), what I’ve written is that Democrats will net five to seven seats. I’d now like to widen that range to four to seven seats. [....] The outcome in the Senate remains cloudy, no matter how much I would like to be able to predict party control. I expect Democrats to gain at least four seats, and I’m more than a bit skeptical about the Republican “surge.”
Similarly, the noted pollster & election handicapper Charlie Cook saw indications of a "tidal wave election" coming up, and more recent analyses from the The Cook Political Report claim that "There is No Ebb in the Wave".

=> On the other hand, some other recent polls have shown some tightening-up in important races and and a significant erosion of the Democrats' overall advantage among likely voters. As Walter Shapiro summed it up on Monday in Salon ("Can the Democrats Stay Afloat?"):
Just when partisan Democrats were finally allowing themselves to revel in the expectation that they would sweep the House and maybe win the six seats needed for control of the Senate, two national polls released Sunday seemed to sound the first ominous notes from the theme music from "Jaws."

Both polls showed the gap between Democrats and Republicans dramatically narrowing when likely voters were asked which party they intended to support for Congress. The Washington Post-ABC News poll had the Democrats leading by a 51-to-45-percent margin on the generic ballot question. A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press had the Democrats ahead among likely voters by 47 to 43 percent. Two weeks ago the margin was 50 to 39 percent. And both surveys put George W. Bush's approval rating above 40 percent, a rare high-water mark for the beleaguered president.

"The narrowing of the Democratic lead raises questions about whether the party will win a large enough share of the popular vote to recapture control of the House of Representatives," the Pew Research Center stated in releasing the poll. Because the Democratic vote is clustered in many one-sided inner-city congressional districts, analysts believe that the Democrats need a 5- or 6-point spread on the generic ballot to translate that margin into the 15-seat pickup that would make Nancy Pelosi speaker.

What is going on here?

A lot of the difference in these polling analyses seems to turn on the question of how many of those people who tell the pollsters they are "likely voters" will actually get out and vote today. Some of them will predictably fail to do so, but the question is how many--and whether the Republicans, in the end, will be able to turn out their voters more effectively than the Democrats.

=> So if any American citizens reading this haven't voted yet, GO OUT AND VOTE RIGHT NOW!! What I said two weeks ago is worth saying again: Don't stop worrying yet! ... or, as Gerald McEntee aptly put it, "Let's Take the House Before We Measure the Drapes".

All elections are important, but this one is potentially crucial and historic. Whatever else any of us may want to see accomplished politically, a vital first step toward any kind of constructive change is to break the monolithic one-party monopoly of the national government that the Republican right has held during the Bush II administration. (I think this holds true, dear reader, even if you normally vote Republican.) Whether or not that happens depends on whether people who want to see it happen actually cast their votes.

(And then, whether or not the votes are accurately counted--but that's a topic for another discussion.)

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub