Come one, come all, to see the handicappers pratfall!
Beware, most understanding reader, that this is one of those columns where I throw caution to the wind, put my neck and reputation on the chopping block, tempting a lop. Yes, it’s the bi-annual pre-election prediction where public opinionists insert their priors into precognitive projections about the political pitched battle. (Enough Ps for you, politics people?) And, of course, we hedge, qualify, and generalize so that when the ballots are tallied on Tuesday, including the undated batches dropped off by unmarked vans at 3AM, and we end up with more egg on our face than a soused tramp in Denny’s, we can still say, “my congressional control number may have been off but my narrative still stands.”
Still with me? My candor has to count for something, right?
To avoid too much ritual humiliation this year, I’m taking the coward’s way out, and strapping on the commentarial equivalent of a huju. I’ll issue some electoral predictions then after November 8th, end the column with some takeaways. “But,” you may interject, “if you file this fine piece of wordsmithery after Election Day, can’t you just change your predictions post-hoc?” First off, good use of Latin. Second, yes. Third, you’ll just have to trust me. I’ve made a clean breast before. And fourth, just to calm your concern, I’ll send the editor an early version of this draft.
So enough with my inditing indemnity—on with the soothsaying!
Let’s start with the most dishy of DC rags, Politico. Compounding all the best polling in the biz, including David Wasserman’s supercomputer brain and the spergy-nerds at FiveThirtyEight, their scribes have one firm call: “Republicans have a grip on the House majority. But the Senate is firmly up for grabs.”
Someone get Lloyd’s of London on the blower, because I have a white whale of insurance policy they should see. Talk about yellow. Anyone not employed to upchuck woke verbiage on the New York Times editorial page could have predicted Republicans taking the House over a year ago. Calling the already symmetrically sliced Senate a toss-up is calling ketchup a condiment. It’s John Madden saying, “you have to score points to win the game.” No, duh!
But an even split is, more or less, depending on if you have MSNBC or Fox News blaring in your background, where we’re at. RealClearPolitics predicts Republicans not only win back the House easily, but will pick up three Senate seats, securing control of the upper chamber. However, in the last NBC News poll before the election, Democrats appear to have to caught up in voter enthusiasm. So it’s a jump ball at this point.
Here’s my prediction: it will all depend on turnout. *Artificial caryatid noises. A muttered cough.* What, 2013 Twitter jokes aren’t funny anymore?
Fine, an actual wager: given that, as pollster poohbah Michael Barone has long pointed out, polls tend to survey more wealthy, more educated voters, Republicans will win back Congress. By how many seats? Who knows.
What? You want an exact number, an even gallows-shaped 7 from which to hang my improvident cadaver from? Are you trying to coax out my kids’ college fund as bet collateral? Here you have it then: after all the ballots are cast, including those found on Friday in a sealed box within the Philadelphia Democratic Party centcom, Republicans will hold 52 Senate seats and 232 House seats.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be sending the above prediction to our lovely editor, who will no doubt deny ever seeing it and accuse me of fudging the numbers after the fact.
More to come after Election Night, assuming the country doesn’t combust in a bloody civil war over contested control of the Toledo city comptroller office. Continue on after the fold!
A splash of cold water. Being branded with a glow-orange iron. A hard slap from André the Giant. A swift kick to the groin. Or since it’s November, a football to the groin with a sharp *bloink*.
I’ll take “what are things that waking up Wednesday morning felt like?” for $500, Alex. Sorry, apparently it’s Ken now.
I won’t lie: I nearly pulled a Peter Gibbons, desperately trying to retrieve my filed prediction from beyond the transom. But prudence won out. I figured my MacBook couldn’t withstand a full-grown man diving into it.
So it’s the morning after Election Day (which is quickly turning to Election Week) and the red wave crested and crashed well before the shoreline. As of this writing, the bleakest form that can be made out is a slim GOP majority in the House and Democrats holding the Senate—assuming a Georgia runoff race rewards the incumbent.
My exact predictions were obviously wrong. I am once being forced to learn Twitter isn’t real life, and that voters aren’t automatons bending with the forces of history. It’s a tough lesson, but it comes with the added benefit of realizing real, acting humanity still exists.
If there was a running thread through all the races on Tuesday, it was the incumbent factor. This election was Fenno’s paradox on steroids. Incumbents across the board, including many young Democrats, held their own. Few seats ended up actually flipping, either to red or blue. Yet one CNN exit poll showed nearly three quarters of voters are “angry” with the country’s direction. Pair that with ongoing economic dissatisfaction stemming from historically high inflation and you have a recipe for an incumbent basting.
But Democrats outpaced the competition compared to their polling position. Why? Republicans had the best electoral arrow in the quiver: widespread dissatisfaction. Sitting presidents always lose big the first midterm cycle—it’s revenge of the loser. Joe Biden can’t finish a sentence, but his candidates can ward off challengers in a year where gas hit $5 a gallon? What gives?
To paraphrase Billy Shakes, first thing to do is kill all the pollsters—occupationally speaking of course. Either the models are all wrong, or the American people aren’t forthright about telling strangers their political predilections. (Shy Trump factor in 2016; Shy Donkey factor in 2022.) Whatever the case, opinion pollsters have besmirched their reputation beyond repair. Used-car salesmen look like anchorites by comparison.
That so many congressional seat-warmers were rewarded with another term in such a despondent year shows a deep small-c conservatism among voters. Maintaining the status quo is the definition of conservatism, even if it means pulling the lever for liberals. American voters stuck with the devil they know—debilitating inflation, high gas prices, climbing interest rates, heated disputes over school curriculum—instead of affording power to an unknown. It was millions of Mrs. Bridges voting for “the world to remain as it was.” That reticence demonstrated that, contrary to the pundit blather on TV, a vote in America is never guaranteed. America isn’t the Sunday morning roundtable, with a few wishcasting opinions on millions. The country is largely made up of what Alexander Woollcott called, “small decent people everywhere, the nameless and numberless people of good will who hold, I do proudly believe, the balance of power.”
Many more votes still have to be counted out west. Furious and familiar fault-finding and recriminations are incoming: The base! The establishment! Trump! Mitch McConnell! Mail-in ballots! Dominion machines! Populism! Racism! Abortion! Blame will be the main course this Thanksgiving. But the people have spoken, in the most surprising, incoherent, hypocritical, and mind-bending way possible. But ain’t that America?
The more important question: will I learn my lesson in tea-leaf reading? Let’s see what RealClearPolitics says about the 2024 Republican primary…