Good Friday Morning! Except to the Miami Dolphins and the NFL. It’s hard to wish them anything good after watching Dolphins starting QB Tua Tagovailoa get knocked out cold on the football field, experiencing what looked like a second concussion in less than a week. How he was on the field and cleared by anyone with the NFL or Dolphins organization is beyond me. I suspect we’ll see a serious investigation. If it turns out they shoved him back on the field after a concussion, a civil lawsuit is not out of the question.
I wish a good Friday to all my Florida readers. I hope everyone made it through Hurricane Ian. Last week, I was writing about Invest 98L and how it could be bad — that turned into Ian. It’s incredible how fast that storm turned into a monster – with an eyewall 30 miles wide and a wall core even larger – in just a week. It is now headed for South Carolina as a hurricane.
This week, I’m returning to the midterm elections and polling numbers. Why? We got a deluge of LV polls this week. That will let us test whether or not I was right after one week—links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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[9/26/2022] The polls are wrong on the midterms – Conservative Institute
[9/30/2022] The economy where good news is bad news – Conservative Institute
Now, the polls are (mostly) right.
Do you know what’s fun? Being right. Being accurate on a prediction is lots of fun. What’s even more enjoyable is when a prediction comes true quickly. Last week, I told you that the polls were wrong because pollsters were using registered voter instead of likely voter polls. Polls and election models were tilted towards Democrats, and I wagered it was because RV polls were messing things up.
I doubled down on that position for my Monday CI column. At the end, I hoped that things would turn around and we’d get a bunch of LV polls starting this week. We got exactly that, and the polling shift is stark. In the RealClearPolitics average of polls, there’s precisely one RV poll showing Democrats leading by two points on the generic ballot.
All the latest LV polls averaged together in the RCP average gives Republicans a 1.4-point advantage over Democrats. If you look at only LV polls, only one poll shows Democrats with a lead on the generic ballot or a tie. Every other poll shows a GOP lead on this metric.
That’s a dramatic one-week shift in polling just by shifting to a more accurate sampling method of the electorate. Hilariously, this shift led to those on the left trying to understand what’s happened. The best example is Nate Cohn, Chief Political Analyst at the NYT, posting a thread trying to understand the election. I’m not presenting Nate as a cookie-cutter liberal – I like his analysis and try to think through his conclusions, but we disagree here. He said:
Over the last month or so, the issue environment has kept shifting toward the Republicans. Whether that continues — and whether it ultimately yields GOP polling gains — is one of the biggest questions as we head into the final stretch
There is pretty clearly a shift in the issue environment. Here, one example — interest in abortion is back down to pre-Dobbs levels on Google Searches, with the economy overtaking it. It’s quite a bit like the pre-Dobbs leak numbers
So far, there aren’t huge signs of this reshaping the race. There are a few, perhaps — Biden’s ratings aren’t going up anymore; Democrats losing ground in a few key Senate races v. August; maybe the RV/LV gaps in the polls this weekend. We’ll have to see
A lot of you don’t love the Google metric — I like it a lot — but here’s another: the share of voters citing abortion as the ‘most important’ issue fell from 8% in July to 4% in September, per Gallup
He’s approaching this from the angle that there’s been a shift in polling. The summer swing for Democrats in polling has evaporated, the Dobbs decision is in the rearview mirror, and inflation rages on with the Federal Reserve continuing rate hikes.
I have always believed that the Democratic swing would dim, and we’d see a reassertion of electoral fundamentals by fall. That’s where we are now, and the Nate Cohns of the world jumped on RV polls to give them the narrative they wanted. There has never been evidence that the Dobbs decision impacted would influence this election. On the contrary, there’s a mountain of evidence that the economy and inflation will dominate the midterms.
As I’ve said countless times: Dobbs was a single decision point, and because it got leaked, the outrage was mostly burned out by June. People see inflation and poor economic conditions every time they buy gas, go into a grocery store, or decide on buying or renting a home. If you shop, you’ve had to think about inflation this year. There’s a reason consumer sentiment is near all-time lows, and it’s not because of the Supreme Court.
My views on the election align closely with Sean Trende (shocking, I know, since I nearly always agree with him). On the polling shift to Democrats, he wrote:
I think we can understand things as a two stage process: Over the summer Dobbs/dropping gas prices/legislative success helped Biden win back Democrats who disapproved, and his job approval converged on Democratic vote shares expressed in polling.
Typically Democratic vote share converges on job approval, but Biden’s job approval was so low that there was no way voting was going to go any lower, because he was into Democrats who were always going to vote Democratic.
He’s won those Democrats back, which probably was always going to happen. Now it seems like we’re seeing the second phase of things — undecideds breaking Republican, because that group now consists of genuine swing voters and they overwhelmingly disapprove of Biden (for now)
The evidence for this second phase is still mixed. But it’s what we would normally expect in a midterm election.
I think Sean is correct on another aspect of the polls. Biden’s approval over the summer was abysmal when gas prices peaked. Some battleground state polls were showing him at or below 35% approval. In election terms, that’s historic wipeout territory. However, that loss of support was mainly from Democrats.
Likewise, the approval gains he’s made have come from the same group. Democrats like Biden better with gas prices moderating and a few legislative victories. The press is talking a big game about abortion being a significant component of the elections. Nevertheless, there’s little evidence that’s playing out anywhere.
My Democratic friends like pointing out special elections and victories they’ve made there. To which I say: good for you. Special elections do not matter. Republicans scored several special election victories in 2017 and got beat handily in the 2018 elections. The Kansas referendum on abortion is interesting, but if you’re trying to build a political science narrative around Kansas, be my guest. There are countless political theories out there that have crashed on the shores of unexplainable things in Kansas politics (for an old hit in this category, see liberal Thomas Frank try to understand how Republicans flipped Kansas in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?“).
Biden’s approvals have stalled out at 42%. Here’s why that’s important: on November 2, 2021, Biden’s national approvals were at 43% approval and 51% disapproval in RCP. Republicans won Virginia behind Glenn Youngkin and nearly won New Jersey. In Virginia, Youngkin was polling at around 43% in the averages by the end of September. During the summer, it was about 38% or less. He won with more than 50% of the vote.
Now, Biden’s approval rating is sitting near a high of 42%, and I believe it’ll drop to an average of around 41.5% soon. So he’s a hair lower than 2021. His disapproval number is 53%, which is higher than in 2021. Biden is polling slightly worse than in 2021 when Republicans shocked people with election outcomes. Gavin Newsom had to fend off a recall effort in California as well.
Special elections are special. If you’re building an election narrative around something “special” with conditions on when and how the vote occurs, it’s not bright to create a general election narrative around that.
At most, a good candidate can usually outperform the President’s approval rating by around two points. Suppose Biden is sitting at 42% come November. In that case, it will be difficult for a Democratic candidate in a battleground state to score more than 45%. To win with 44-45% of the vote, you need a third-party candidate to soak up vote share and drive down your major contender. That’s unlikely to be the case anywhere this year.
The thing to look for is not whether special elections are showing us something but look for indications that 2021 (or even 2020) trends hold. Those exist; here’s Logan Dobson looking at recent polling in Pennsylvania between Fetterman and Oz:
Pollsters that have done multiple surveys in PA recently:
FOX: Fetterman +11 –> Fetterman +4
F&M: Fetterman +13 –> Fetterman +4
Trafalgar: Fetterman +4 –> Fetterman +2
Fetterman still with a polling lead but clear where the momentum is
In the summer, like Youngkin, Dr. Oz was sitting at around 39% in the polls. He recently peaked at approximately 45%, which has drifted back to 44%. He’s narrowed the gap between him and Fetterman to around 4.5 points. Several big-name pollsters have margins of error of about 4 points. So this is getting close to a statistically tied race.
Most Democrats try to ignore that and point to Marist’s recent poll, which has Fetterman with a commanding 7-point lead. But in that poll, Biden’s approval rating sat at 46% overall and was only 40% with independents — 10% of whom are undecided. Given the election fundamentals, I can tell you which direction those voters will likely swing by election day, and it’s not for Democrats.
I’m not saying Oz is a lock for this race. But the narrative that he’s losing big is inaccurate. Fetterman’s decision to avoid debating Oz and not make many public appearances is the game plan of playing prevent defense and running out the clock. The momentum is clearly with Oz. We’ll need to see the margins that Oz runs up on election day votes, but I suspect that will seriously cut into Fetterman’s lead.
And suppose Fetterman can only manage 46-48%, which matches Biden’s approval numbers in that Marist poll. In that case, Oz has a shot of taking that race.
This is one example; I could do similar math in any battleground state in the country. I’m not guaranteeing Republican victories. Local and state dynamics can muck up expectations in either direction. I am saying that the underlying fundamentals of these midterms benefit Republicans, and that’s been clear for months. What’s now changing is that Democrats in the media have to acknowledge that reality as gravity takes hold.
If you’re going to fight the gravity of Joe Biden’s low approval numbers, you need powerful rockets. Again, a great candidate that people love can add around two points above a President’s approval rating. Can you find examples where a candidate goes well above that? Of course.
That’s an exception, not a rule. When building election expectations and models, start on the averages and work from there. Democrats are assembling on the exceptions and working from outside that.
In my lifetime, the only two elections that did not follow typical patterns have been 2002 and 2020. The 2002 midterms had Republicans benefit from their response to 9/11. It’s one of the only elections in US history where the party holding the White House gained seats in the midterm. 2020 was challenging to navigate because of the pandemic and how it scrambled absolutely everything — we’re still dealing with the ripples from COVID-19 across the global economy.
The question you have to ask is this: is 2022 an atypical year or an average year? While inflation and the economy are atypical, the underlying election fundamentals are typical. Congress is split 50-50, and Republicans hold the edge. It doesn’t take much for the GOP to retake power, and they’re on track to do that.
Margins for the GOP will likely be lower because there are fewer toss-up seats in play. Still, the underlying fundamentals are leaning to the right. Polling shows that, as does other analysis.
Can Democrats overcome these disadvantages? Certainly. Should we expect them to do that without a significant outside event scrambling the election? No. We should not.
Dobbs and abortion is not an election scrambling event, much to the dismay of liberals. There may be a few more people in the Democratic base who will vote based on that one issue. Everyone else will vote like they would before Dobbs.
One last point as we wrap up. In July, I laid out the baselines for you to track as we got closer to the midterms. Here’s what I said:
Generally speaking, Labor Day is when election fundamentals firm up, and everything after that is about testing where the data fits into the overall fundamentals of a race. The most significant factors in midterms are:
- The President’s Job Approval rating in the polling averages (RealClearPolitics & FiveThirtyEight)
- Second Quarter GDP Growth
- What is the primary macro-narrative driving the election? Is it for or against the White House?
Other factors can play a role, but these are always the most critical data points when setting election expectations. As the political landscape is getting fixed, it’s not an understatement to say that election conditions for Democrats are abysmal.
Here’s where we are now: Biden sits at 42%, Q2 GDP growth is -0.6%, and inflation/the economy is driving the storylines. None of those points is good for this White House. Looking ahead at how Q3 GDP could impact things, the GDPNow estimate from the Atlanta Fed has Q3 GDP sitting barely positive at 0.3% (date pulled 9/27).
The White House may try to spike the football over 0.3% growth (or anything positive), but that’s not a winning strategy. Republicans have the advantage for 2022. Unless something massive changes, I’d expect that advantage to carry into November.
Links of the week
Berkeley Develops Jewish-Free Zones: Nine different law student groups at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Law, have begun this new academic year by amending bylaws to ensure that they will never invite any speakers that support Israel or Zionism. – Jewish Journal
Setting Expectations for the House in 2022 Midterms – Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics
The Belt and Road Initiative Runs into Trouble – Dominic Pino, National Review
Iranian Missile Strikes Kill American Citizen, State Department Confirms – Washington Free Beacon
Does Anyone Still Care about the Lincoln Project? – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Mortgage demand falters as rates inch past 7% – Housing Wire
‘Flagrantly Illegal’: Law Firm Files Lawsuit To Stop Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness: “This isn’t how laws are supposed to be made,” says Caleb Kruckenberg, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation. – Reason
Book Review: Conservatism Remodeled – Samuel Goldman, ISI
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Why I Forgive Myself for Stealing From CVS Tomorrow – Reductress
Thanks for reading!