What if 2018 polls miss midterm outcomes? | Lawmakers, forecasters predict with caveats ahead of Election Day

by Jonathan Easley and Alexis Simendinger 

Lawmakers and election forecasters are warning that the midterms polls can’t be trusted, injecting fresh uncertainty into Tuesday’s outcome.

Pollsters suffered an industry-shattering embarrassment in 2016, as survey after survey cast Democrat Hillary Clinton as the prohibitive favorite and few prognosticators ventured to entertain the idea that a victory by President Trump was a possibility.

Trump loves to remind the media and pollsters of the failure to see him coming. The notion that these same experts might get it wrong again in 2018 has been a point of optimism for Republicans, who have been told for months that Democrats are primed to retake the House.

The Hill: Pence predicts Republicans will hold the House.

The Wall Street Journal: Midterms headed for a mixed verdict in House, Senate.

The polling industry is still trying to get a handle on how methodologies failed them in 2016. In 2018, that effort is complicated by the volatile electorate, a dearth of polling in key races, regional differences, an unprecedented spike in early voting, and questions about demographics and whether first time or irregular voters will show up at the polls.

“Two important variables that are driving uncertainty about Tuesday’s outcome: how many ‘new’ midterm voters will show up and how will non-white men, particularly Latinos, divide their support.” – Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray

Dan Balz and Scott Clement: Democrats lead in House preferences, but positive views of economy and concern about border security may buoy Republicans.

USA Today: Latest polls show a tighter lead for Democrats.

The Washington Post: Are worries over Latino turnout too little, too late?

Democrats need to flip a net of 23 seats to recapture a majority and there is a lot riding on the over-under here. If the House does not change hands, it will come as a party-rocking disappointment for Democrats and another massive embarrassment for pollsters.

No one should be surprised if they only win 19 seats and no one should be surprised if they win 51 seats. Those are both extremely possible, based on how accurate polls are in the real world.” – FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver on ABC’s “This Week”

In 2016, Silver was castigated by some in his industry when he was one of a few analysts to venture there was a better-than-expected possibility that Trump could win the election.

The Hill: 10 GOP House seats most likely to flip.

CBS News: House Democrats in position to gain but still face hurdles.

Polling is of course only one factor that forecasters are considering in their models. Many other factors also point in the direction of big gains for Democrats in the House – the president’s party historically loses seats; Trump’s approval rating is below 50 percent; many Democratic challengers have outraised GOP incumbents; special election outcomes over the past two years have revealed an enthusiasm gap in favor of Democrats; and Republican retirements have given the GOP more open seats to defend.

NBC News: Democrats lead final generic congressional ballot by 7 points.

McClatchy: GOP’s suburban problem gets real.

Still, Democrats won’t rest easy until the votes are counted and the House is theirs.

The Hill: Democrats are confident but haunted by ghosts of 2016.

The Hill: Lawmakers, forecasters say Election Day is up for grabs.

That same uncertainty extends to the Senate, where there could be more than a few surprises on Election Day.

To gain a majority, Democrats would have to run the table in the 10 states Trump won in 2016 where they’re on the ballot this year, and then flip two more GOP-held seats. That seems unlikely but it’s not impossible.

What we see right now is a situation that is a whole lot better than anyone would have predicted 18 months ago, when Republicans were saying that they might win another eight seats and have a filibuster-proof majority in the United States Senate. No one’s talking about that right now. We do have a narrow path to a Senate Democratic majority.”  – Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, on NBC News’s “Meet the Press”

Most forecasters believe Republicans will maintain their 51-49 majority, and possibly add one or two GOP colleagues to the caucus.

The Hill: The Senate seats most likely to flip.

NBC News: Dems have small edge in Florida Senate, gubernatorial races.

There are too many toss-ups to figure a final margin in the upper chamber, but if you’re looking for potential upsets or polling mishaps — beyond the close races — Republicans believe they have opportunities in New Jersey and Minnesota, while Democrats have their eyes on Texas and Tennessee. It’s also possible that an under-the-radar candidate, someone like combat veteran John James (R) in Michigan, fits the mood in his state and springs an upset.

William Galston, The Brookings Institution: Are the 2018 midterm election polls accurate?

Evan Horowitz, The Boston Globe: Expect the polls to get it wrong.

Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics: A look at some of the 2018 survey uncertainties.

Pew Research Center: Exit polls, election surveys and more — a guide for the 2018 midterms.

Simon Schuster, Michigan State University: Which polls matter?

The New York Times: Results of the newspaper’s 96 midterm polls conducted with Siena College.

While the polls might be suspect, a few things are certain:

Turnout is off the charts, and this will be the most expensive midterm election cycle in American history.

The Hill: Huge turnout and surge of young voters raises Dem hopes for a wave.

Reuters: Welcome to America’s costliest election.

Special thanks to the Hill…..

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