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.
Last fortnight, I discussed Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court. On October 6, following a one-week FBI investigation of sexual assault allegations that was criticised as a whitewash by Democrats, the US Senate confirmed Kavanaugh by a 50-48 margin. One Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, voted for Kavanaugh, and one Republican, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, voted “present”, though she was opposed, to cancel out the absence of another Republican. Maine’s Susan Collins, who is up for election in 2020, was the critical vote to confirm Kavanaugh, as a tie would have been broken by Vice President Mike Pence.
As of last week, the fight over Kavanaugh appeared to help Republicans – see my Conversation article. While Kavanaugh was unpopular, he was more popular than Trump and Republicans, and lifted their ratings. The Democrats’ lead in FiveThirtyEight’s aggregate of the race for Congress was 8.7 points last fortnight, 7.7 points last week, and is back to 8.4 points now. Democrats probably need to win the House popular vote by six to seven points to win the House. The FiveThirtyEight Classic model currently gives Democrats a 79% chance of winning the House (80% last fortnight, 74% last week).
In the Senate, there have been bad recent polls for Democrats in North Dakota and Tennessee, with Republicans leading in those states by double digit margins. Trump won North Dakota by 36 points in 2016, and Tennessee by 26 points. Democrats also trail in Texas and Nevada. If the Democrats lose North Dakota, they will need to run the table in all the close states and win Texas to gain control of the Senate.
The FiveThirtyEight Classic Senate model currently gives the Democrats just a 19% chance to win the Senate, down from 22% last week and 32% last fortnight. The hope for the Democrats is that most Senate polls were taken when the Kavanaugh fight was at its peak, and that they regain ground as it fades as an issue for most voters.
Trump’s ratings are currently 41.8% approve, 52.5% disapprove, for a net approval of -10.7 points. His approval rating is well up from 40% in mid-September, but down from its peak of 42.5% on October 8, two days after Kavanaugh was confirmed. The strong US economy continues to assist Trump and Republicans, though Trump should be doing much better given economic conditions. A key risk for Trump and Republicans is the stock market: US shares had large falls on Wednesday and Thursday, though they recovered some ground on Friday. Stock market falls are likely to be partly blamed on Trump’s tariffs, and could undermine his economic credentials.
As well as US House and Senate elections, 36 of the 50 states hold gubernatorial elections on November 6, and there are also elections for state legislative chambers. Republicans are defending 26 governors, Democrats just nine, and Alaska has an independent governor. The Senate map is tough for the Democrats, as they had a great year in 2012, the last time those seats were up. The governors’ map is tough for Republicans, as they had a great year in 2014.
State elections are important not just for state politics, but because they affect federal boundaries. Every ten years a Census is carried out, and Congressional Districts are required to have roughly equal numbers of people. However, in most states politicians draw the boundaries. If a party has complete control of a state (governor and both chambers of the state legislature), that party can gerrymander that state’s federal districts to its advantage.
The last Census was conducted in 2010, and that was a great year for Republicans. Partly due to gerrymandering, Republicans retained control of the US House in 2012 by a 234-201 margin despite losing the popular vote by more than 1% – see my 2012 election report for The Green Papers. If Democrats have a great year this November, and again in 2020, they could do their own gerrymandering after the 2020 Census, or at least force neutral maps.
Far-right Bolsonaro likely to win October 28 Brazilian Presidential runoff election
I previewed the Brazilian presidential election on my personal website. At the October 7 first round election, the far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, won 46.0% of the vote, while the left-wing Workers’ Party candidate, Fernando Haddad, had 29.3%. Another left-wing candidate won 12.5%, and a centre-right candidate won 4.8%. As Bolsonaro did not win over 50% in the first round, a run-off will be held on October 28 between Bolsonaro and Haddad. The three runoff polls taken so far give Bolsonaro a seven to fifteen point lead over Haddad. Bolsonaro has made comments sympathetic to the 1964-85 Brazilian military dictatorship.