Despite Democrats’ high ambitions for the Senate, a New York Times polling expert warns that they may be disappointed.
After months of polls predicting a Red wave in November, the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the minor decline in gas prices, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade have diminished the chances of Republicans in the midterm elections. FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a small edge to win the Senate, although the GOP retains its position as the favorite to win the House.
Nate Cohn writes on Monday for the New York Times that there is a single issue.
“Democratic Senate candidates are outrunning expectations in the same places where the polls overestimated Mr. Biden in 2020 and Mrs. Clinton in 2016,” Cohn says.
In Wisconsin, incumbent Republican senator Ron Johnson is competing against lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes. FiveThirtyEight classifies the election as a toss-up, while a study by New Marquette Law School Wisconsin shows Barnes leading Johnson by 7 percentage points. Cohn says that Democrats anxious to do victory laps in the state should calm down.
“The state was ground zero for survey error in 2020, when pre-election polls proved to be too good to be true for Mr. Biden.”
First newsletter post: the polling warning signs are flashing again.
Democrats are outpacing expectations in exactly the states where the polls overestimated Joe Biden in '20
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) September 12, 2022
In 2016 and 2020, pollsters overestimated Democratic victories in regions with the highest Democratic polling numbers in 2018. The least stunning poll results for Democrats in this cycle are in locations where pollsters made more accurate predictions.
“It raises the possibility that the apparent Democratic strength in Wisconsin and elsewhere is a mirage — an artifact of persistent and unaddressed biases in survey research,” Cohn writes.
According to Cohn, pollsters have made little adjustments since their 2016 forecasts were wildly inaccurate. Moreover, individuals who responded to recent surveys were more likely to be Democratic voters to begin with, according to a partner at the polling firm Impact Research.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) September 12, 2022
In reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center that there is no constitutional right to abortion, thus reversing Roe v. Wade, many Democrats projected a large blue wave. While there is evidence of a mobilized Democratic base, it will not be enough for Democrats to win the midterm elections. The Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics predicted in July that Republicans will gain seats in the midterm elections notwithstanding the verdict.
“Our topline assessment of the House picture has not really changed since the Dobbs decision. We continue to see the Republicans as very strongly favored to win the majority with seats to spare, as they only need to win 5 more seats than they won in 2020 (213) in order to flip the House,” according to the pollster.Another June poll found that inflation, the economy, and crime were top issues for 62% of voters, even after the Dobbs decision. Only 8% ranked abortion as the most important issue to them.
Thus, it is more likely that issues like crime and the economy will gift the midterms to Republicans, who are focusing on such issues. A June Fox News poll found that voters trust the GOP to handle crime more than Democrats by 13 points. An August Ipsos poll found that 32% of voters trust Republicans to handle crime, while only 21% trusted Democrats to handle the issue.
Democrats are also playing damage control after cozying up to the “Defund the Police” movement. Democrats in major cities such as New York, Chicago, Washington DC, and San Francisco have walked back their support for defunding police departments over the last year.
The January 6 commission, meant to prove to voters that Republicans were radical threats to democracy, hasn’t had the effect Democrats have hoped for. A YouGov poll conducted in June found that essentially the same amount of voters thought Donald Trump bore “a lot” of responsibility for the riots before and after the hearings. Democrats were fundraising off the hearings and a June A New York Times article revealed that Democrats were staking their midterm hopes on the outcome of the hearings.
The Left has yet to find a winning issue to coalesce around coming up on the midterm elections that sticks with voters. Abortion and alleged political extremism are only causing meager gains for Democrat support. Crime and economic issues are still top priority, and voters don’t trust Democrats on those issues. More than that, as Cohn points out, the polls showing a blue wave are running into the same problems pollsters notoriously did in previous elections.