US mid-terms minus zero days

One last overview of the US mid-terms situation, and a thread for discussion of events as they unfold.

As the big day dawns (if that’s the right way to put it, taking time differences into account), here is a thread for discussion of the US mid-terms – and a piece I wrote for Crikey yesterday that proved surplus to their requirements. I will possibly supplement this post with live coverage tomorrow, depending on how I go. Also find at the bottom of the post a guide to when polls close, repasted from Adrian Beaumont’s previous post.

On the eve of America’s mid-term elections, all signs point to a dramatic upsurge in turnout compared with four years ago – something that would ordinarily be seen as a sign of robust democratic good health. However, the last few years of American politics have made a mockery of the word “ordinarily”, and this circumstance is no exception.

The high pitch of interest can instead be seen as a symptom of the dangerous polarisation that increasingly defines American society – one effect of which has been to raise the stakes as Republicans and Democrats vie for control of Congress. Unhappily for liberal America, the dice are loaded against the Democrats tomorrow, for reasons fair and foul.

Among the latter are the efforts of state Republicans to test the limits of what courts will allow in limiting the franchise and placing obstacles before pro-Democratic constituencies in the name of fighting “voter fraud”.

Other problems for the Democrats are more intractable – such as the allocation of two Senate seats per state, an incontrovertible constitutional reality that privileges conservative rural and small town America over the liberal metropolises. This is illustrated by two of the states with seats up for election tomorrow: Wyoming, the least populous in the union (less than 580,000), and a Republican lock; and California, the most populous (nearly 40 million), and a similarly sure bet for the Democrats.

The other difficulty for the Democrats in the Senate is that the seats up for election, accounting for around a third of the total, are mostly those whose six-year terms began in 2012. That was the year of Barack Obama’s re-election, and thus of strong performance by the Democrats, in contrast to the drafts of Senators elected in the 2014 mid-terms and in 2016. This leaves the Democrats and their independent allies defending 26 seats against just nine held by Republicans, from which they need a net gain of two to boost their representation from 49 to a bare working majority of 51.

In the House of Representatives, the Democrats are handicapped by dramatically unfavourable boundaries, owing to a combination of bad luck and bad design. The first of these refers to over-concentration of Democratic support in big cities, where its members enjoy wastefully large majorities. The second involves the distinctively American blight of gerrymandering, of which there has been an outbreak since Republicans seized state legislatures as part of their mid-term sweep in 2010.

Such are the challenges the Democrats face tomorrow, at elections in which they are sure to do well by normal standards – but in which normal standards are not the ones by which they will be judged.

Democratic Senate incumbents are favoured in the states where presidential elections are usually decided, including the mid-west rust belt states that famously tipped the balance to Trump: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. However, they must repeat seemingly unlikely victories from 2012 merely to break even, in such unpromising states as West Virginia, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana.

If a path to a Democratic majority exists, it most likely runs through the tricky terrain of Tennessee and Texas – the later presenting the most intriguing contest of the election, with Republican heavyweight Ted Cruz only slightly favoured to hold out against Democratic upstart Beto O’Rourke.

The House, being freshly elected in its entirety every two years, is greatly more promising for them, despite a consensus that their national vote will need to be fully 7% higher than the Republicans if they are to score a majority. Forecasting models suggest they are more likely to make it than not, partly reflecting the decisiveness of suburbia and the city fringes – places where the Republicans are vulnerable to the allergic reaction to Trump among better educated voters, female ones in particular.

As ever, everything depends on the demographic balance of turnout, and here the Democrats are encouraged by signs that the younger generation is at last shaking off its apathy. However, they will also know from bitter experience how elusive pre-election portents can prove when the scores start to go on the board.

Poll closing times

All times listed here are Wednesday November 7 AEDT. Some states straddle two time zones. In this case, networks will not call a state, and exit polls will not be officially released, until all polls in the state are closed. I will concentrate on poll closing times for the key Senate races below. Source: The Green Papers.

10am: Indiana Senate, eastern zone. Most of Indiana is in this zone, while a small part closes at 11am.

11am: Florida Senate, eastern, and Virginia. The part of Florida that closes at 11am is relatively Democratic-friendly. The deeply conservative “panhandle” closes at noon, and will assist Republicans. Several House races in both Virginia and Florida are contested.

11:30am: West Virginia Senate, where Democrat Joe Manchin is expected to win in a state that vote for Trump by a crushing 42 points.

12noon: Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan (eastern) and Tennessee, Missouri and Texas (eastern) Senate. New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania have many contested House seats. Most of Michigan and Texas are in the eastern zone. Republicans are a long shot in New Jersey Senate, and Democrats are a long shot in Tennessee and Texas Senate. Missouri Senate is expected to be close.

1pm: New York, Minnesota, Colorado, Wisconsin and Arizona Senate; many House races are contested in these states, and the Arizona Senate is close.

2pm: Nevada and North Dakota (eastern) Senate. Republicans are favoured to gain North Dakota, while Nevada is expected to be close. Polls in the trailing part of North Dakota close at 3pm.

3pm: California and Washington State, where many House seats are contested.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

719 comments on “US mid-terms minus zero days”

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  1. @Matt:

    “Overall, even if it was heartbreaking watching the Senate move further into the red, Election Night was a very good one for Democrats – it just wasn’t perfect.

    What more would you have of them?!”

    Other than the senate races the night was a “on par” effort by the democrats for an opposition party for the mid terms against the encumber party of an extremely unpopular president. Not “very good” but ok.

    Now, I’m not blaming the democrats but the truth is that unless late counting can reverse the current standing in Arizona (which was an open race) and Florida then the outcome is a strategic disaster for the democrats for the reasons that Michael and I have articulated above.

    Further, again for the reasons I articulated above the republicans were surprisingly competitive in certain areas that will hold the key for the 2020 election. Specifically Florida, Arizona, Indiana and Missouri.

    Add in Ohio and one can easily War Game a senerio where The Donald gets less than 40% of the National popular vote in 2020 and yet squeaks over the line on the electoral college if he holds all of the above states AND holds onto Wisconsin – which given the narrow lose that the republican governor suffered there must leave open the real possibility that the Donald will be able to mobilise the rural voters in that state in huge numbers to hold on – easpecially if the urban blue collar voters of Madison etc don’t turn out in large numbers. If that happens then it’s also likely that the republicans will hold on to the senate so when 90yo Notorious RBG finally vapourlocks he’ll be able to further stack the SC. …

    Your haliography for the Dems can’t disguise the disaster in the senate or the real risks that they face in 2020 against a potent populist.

  2. Nate Silver at 538 transposed the popular House vote across each State in these midterms, minus 6% to account for the pro-Democrat nationwide lean this year, onto an ECV map, to see how such a hypothetical vote pattern would translate into an ECV in the 2020 Presidential election.

    Nate explains:

    “This is a benchmark for what things might have looked like in a roughly neutral year:
    [This map projects an ECV of:
    Democrat 278
    Trump 260
    Nate continues:]

    “This is certainly not a great map for Democrats, but it’s not a bad one either. There are 217 solid Democratic electoral votes on this map, as compared to 225 solid Republican ones; the other 96 are tightly contested, but Democrats trail in Florida while narrowly leading in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If 2020 were contested on this basis, you wouldn’t say that either side had a clear Electoral College advantage.

    “What is clear, though, is the importance of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan (although you could also add Minnesota to the mix). Win all three of them — let’s call them the Northern Path — and Democrats don’t need Florida, assuming that they hold the other states. Lose all three, and even Florida wouldn’t be enough. Instead, they’d have to win Florida plus at least one of North Carolina, Arizona, Texas and Georgia as part of what you might call a Sun Belt Strategy.”

    Clearly, the Rust Belt has abandoned the 2016 Trump pattern and returned to a 2012 Obama pattern. The Rust Belt was decisive in 2016 and will likely prove so again in 2020.

    No wonder Trump has been behaving more irritably than usual this past couple of days.

  3. A_E, you know we concur in a lot of our judgements on the significance of this midterm result. But can you explain how Indiana or Missouri will be important in 2020? Neither have Senate races in 2020, and both are well and truly in the Republican half of any list of States ranked by partisan lean. There are many pathways to Democrat Presidential victory that do not include either IN or MO.

  4. Well, well, well…. CNN now has has Sinema (D) leading McSally (R) by 8859 in Arizona, with an estimated 83% counted. And in Florida, Nelson now trails by 15514 – with over 8 million votes counted, and an unknown (but apparently large) number of votes to come

  5. If Sinema can get up in Arizona and by some miracle Nelson can nab Florida… returns it to 52-48 or at least 53-47 if one of the two dems can get up… i would then for sure retract a good chunk of previous handwringing over the senate nightmare. Regaining senate control in 2020 from 52/53 down is difficult but at least possible.

    Somehow Ruth Bader G has to hang on for another 18 months. If taxidermy or a body double is necessary i’m that desperate!

    F*&^ing Anthony Kennedy. From being almost always the swing vote, decides “nah i’d rather the psycho right take the majority” – couldnt even wait for like 3 more months to give a new Senate a chance of going Dem and preserving balance. May he rot with the fishes etc.

    After refusing to consider a SC nomination in the last pres election year, i wonder if McConnell will stick to same principles and not do so if a vacancy were to come up in 2020. FAT CHANCE. At least if they gave Garland a vote and voted him down in 2016 – mind you Mitch couldnt take that risk as he probably would have been confirmed by a few Repubs. He’ll find some bogus basis of distinction to absolutely get another Gilead judge up in 2020 if the chance presents itself.

  6. Expat, it will give me great pleasure to join you in the retraction of my own Senate hand-wringing if AZ & FL break Democrat.

  7. Extraordinary developments in the Arizona race

    In other “only in Florida” news, and in a tale reminiscent of the infamous 2000 butterfly ballot, it has come to light that a bizarrely designed ballot form in one of the Dem-leaning counties has led to a substantial ‘undervote’ in the Senate race (ie where voters for example vote on the ballot propositions and Governor but skip one of the races), much higher than any other county. There are of course always some undervotes but this county was an outlier. Many voters apparently missed the box – not only that there are also reports that the optical-scan voting machines missed some of the votes even when the boxes had been filled in correctly, due to the layout of the form !!

    Honestly you couldn’t make it up 🙁

  8. @Ray (UK):

    Honestly you couldn’t make it up

    Why not? In Florida, a teacher has reported finding an entire box full of ballots left behind at the polling site, in plain view, labeled “provisional ballots*. This happened in Broward County, which just happens to heavily favour Democrats, as well as having a population of around 1,900,000 people. Meanwhile Broward County’s ballots – and only Broward County’s ballots – were designed uniquely badly, hiding the Senatorial election voting space under a long list of instructions, leading to Broward County’s undervoting rate (the rate of people voting for Gov. but not for Sen.) being easily triple that of any other county in Florida.

    Incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) currently trails Gov. Rick Scott (R) by around 18,000 votes.

    *Provisional ballots are cast by people who fall afoul of one or more of the arcane restrictions on voting in Flori-duh (i.e., don’t have the correct form of ID from the list which changes year to year, their signature doesn’t precisely match the one on file, they moved address and the elections office “lost” their notification, etc. etc.) – then “lodged” and mostly rejected in the counting process every election. Since the people made to cast them are mostly lower-income and/or nonwhite people, it follows that provisional ballots would favour Democrats…if they were counted properly.

    In Georgia, it has emerged that over 1,000 voting machines were left in storage across metropolitan Atlanta – while dozens of precincts across Atlanta, a Democratic stronghold, reported up to five-hour-long queues to vote for lack of machines, with many would-be voters leaving unable to commit indefinite lengths of time to the process. Naturally.

    TL;DR – Republicans are literally stealing elections in two key States, and some people here are blaming Democrats for ‘not doing well enough’. Oh, and the White House is now literally doctoring videos to justify revoking the press credentials of reporters they dislike.

    This is what Australian conservatives look up to. This is what they want Australia to become, by slow inches.

  9. Matt @ #710 Friday, November 9th, 2018 – 3:56 pm

    This is what Australian conservatives look up to. This is what they want Australia to become, by slow inches.

    An excellent post. Perfectly explains why some people keep pushing for optional voting and electronic voting. Optional voting makes voter suppression much easier, and electronic voting makes the outcomes much easier to rig (for those occasions when you can’t suppress enough of your opponent’s votes).

    Both of these anti-democratic initiatives must be resisted every time they rear their heads. Which (not surprisingly) happens here around every election time.

  10. Since I last looked, Nelson’s position has improved slightly in Florida – Scott’s lead is down to 15074. Meanwhile in Arizona, Sinema has increased her lead to 9610. The trend in both States looks very promising for the Dems – but I know nowhere near enough about outstanding vote numbers and late voting trends in Florida and Arizona to confidently predict the outcome. But here goes: I predict the Dems will win both Senate seats!!! (So we will probably see a final 52-48 split, assuming the Rs win the run-off ballot in Mississippi). We may know a lot more by lunch time tomorrow, when the Friday counting figures are known.

  11. Matt – above

    I concur entirely with your conclusion of ‘stealing’ elections

    In Florida, as I understand it, the Senate race is now within the margin that calls for a hand recount rather than a machine recount. If there really is a technical issue with the machines not counting valid Senate votes in Broward then that should be picked up. Of course nothing can be done where the voter ‘missed’ the relevant boxes 🙁

    I would, however, expect some shenanigans from the Rep-dominated state courts (a-la Bush-Gore) to frustrate the recount. In fairness though I doubt any recount will overcome a five-digit margin.

    In Arizona there is still some confusion about where the uncounted votes are concentrated in the various counties, there may be areas of McSally (R) strength yet to count

  12. @Ray(UK)

    In fairness though I doubt any recount will overcome a five-digit margin.

    Perhaps, but perhaps our provincialism (because I’m skeptical of this also – it is a lot of “accidental wrong-counting”!) is showing. Floridian elections routinely feature 8 million-plus votes, and their voting procedures, tabulation procedures and ballot access procedures are…arcane, to put it kindly.

    Frankly, I doubt it’s by accident at this point – Florida is a rich State in a First World, wealthy nation. They have heaps and heaps of resources to apply to this, if they so choose. If they still can’t conduct elections fairly, honestly and transparently by now, it’s because they don’t want to!

  13. Sinema (D) now leading by 20203 in Arizona. Scott’s lead in Florida now under 15,000, with 8,175,0000 votes counted. (In relative terms, thats equivalent to a 170 vote lead in one of our HOR seats)

  14. I didn’t think right wing parties were into creating universal healthcare, or creating needs based funding for schools, or creating government run companies (NBN), or creating an ambition renewable energy target, or supporting a wage rise, or scrapping tax cuts for the wealthy, or having almost half of it’s mp’s as women. and the vast majority of its members supporting things such as gay marriage…

    Or is it because labelling Labor as a right wing party really dishonest?

  15. Florida and Arizona are by no means settled. In usa they need electoral reform .

    state govts cannot set electoral boundaries…….. need fair independent boundary commission
    does usa have a provision for a disputed election result… like a court of disputed returns
    voter suppression….. in all its forms is a violation of human rights and there should be a uniform law that sets voting rights
    paper trails should exist and be available to all in the case of disputes

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