Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian’s work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives are up for election on November 6. Owing to natural clustering of Democratic voters and Republican gerrymandering, Democrats probably need a six to seven point popular vote margin to win the House. Democrats currently lead in FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate of the race for Congress by 8.7 points, down slightly from 9.1 points last fortnight. However, individual seat polling, such as from the New York Times’ live polls, suggests Democrats are in a better position than the overall generic ballot implies. FiveThirtyEight’s Classic House model gives Democrats an 80.5% chance to win the House, down from 83% last fortnight.
Thirty-five of the 100 Senators are up for election on November 6, including two by-elections. Democrats hold twenty-six of the seats up for election, and Republicans just nine. In the FiveThirtyEight Classic Senate model, Democrats currently have leads in fifty-one seats, but have much less margin for error than Republicans. Since last fortnight, Democrats have pulled ahead in Florida, with not much other change. The classic model uses “fundamentals” to predict what the polls are likely to do as election day approaches. In North Dakota and Tennessee, the fundamentals are reversing the current poll leads. In the classic model, Democrats have a 32% chance to win the Senate, down from 33% last fortnight.
Trump’s ratings are currently 41.5% approve and 52.8% disapprove, for a net approval of -11.3%. This is a recovery from a net -13.8% approval last fortnight. This recovery may be due to the Hurricane Florence natural disaster, the strong US economy or a “rally round the flag” effect from conservative voters in the early stages of the Brett Kavanaugh allegations. If Trump’s ratings recovery persists, it is good news for Republicans in the House and Senate.
On July 9, Trump nominated hard-right judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retiring centre-right judge Anthony Kennedy. The right currently has a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, but Kennedy and John Roberts have occasionally voted with the left. If Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, it will give the right a clearer Supreme Court majority. Supreme Court judges are lifetime appointments. Although Kavanaugh is a polarising figure, he looked very likely to be confirmed by the narrow 51-49 Republican majority Senate until recent sexual assault allegations occurred.
The first sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh was made on September 16, four days before the Senate Judiciary Committee was to hold a vote to favourably report Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. There have since been two more sexual assault allegations on September 23 and 26 that you can read about on Wikipedia. In the most serious case, Kavanaugh, when a high school student, is alleged to have participated in spiking teenage girls’ drinks at parties to enable them to be gang raped.
The gang rape allegations against Kavanaugh were made on September 26. On September 27, both Kavanaugh and his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On September 28, without calling additional accusers, the Committee favourably reported Kavanaugh by an 11-10 majority, with all eleven Republicans – all men – voting “aye”. However, after pressure from two Republican senators, the full Senate confirmation vote was delayed for a week to allow an FBI investigation. These recent developments have not yet been factored into the polls.
Despite the allegations, Republicans and Trump are so far standing behind Kavanaugh. If Kavanaugh were to withdraw, or be defeated in a Senate confirmation vote, Trump would nominate another hard-right judge. But if Democrats win control of the Senate at the mid-term elections, there may not be enough time to process the new nominee before the new Senate takes its place in early January 2019. A new nominee could still be confirmed in the “lame-duck session” in December even if Democrats win the Senate in November.
At least forty-eight of the fifty-one Republican Senators were willing to confirm Kavanaugh without even an FBI investigation into the allegations. Republicans have become extremely right-wing since Obama’s election in 2008, and have not paid for this extremism electorally — they won the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the Presidency in 2016. Trump’s ratings are well below where they should be given the strong US economy, but the economy, gerrymandering and the tough Senate map for Democrats are all helping the Republicans avoid massive losses at these mid-term elections.