Senate forecast: Republicans will hold 52 seats (and maintain control of the Senate) next Congress while Democrats will hold just 48. Anything between Republicans holding 48 seats and 56 seats is within the margin of error.
We’re just five days until the midterm elections, and if you’ve noticed, our forecast hasn’t really changed. Democrats are still favored to take back the House, while Republicans are still in control in the fight for the Senate.
The lack of movement may bore some people, but there’s a relatively easy explanation for it: the fundamentals remain the same. That is, the forces driving this midterm aren’t shifting.
This 8-point edge is one of the largest ever for a minority party heading into a midterm election. It’s consistent with Democrats doing well enough to take back the House (and perhaps by a sizable margin). It’s not, however, big enough for Democrats to overcome the bad Senate map, one in which they already control 26 seats and need to takeover or hold onto seats that are in deep red territory.
2. The President’s approval rating: If there’s one person who drives midterm elections more than any other, it’s the President. The relationship isn’t perfect, but when he’s popular his party manages to hold the traditional seat losses associated with the President’s party to a minimum. When his approval rating is below 50%, his party loses on average more than 35 seats in the House.
President Donald Trump has remained consistently well below that 50% threshold. His approval rating six months ago was 41%. Three months ago, it was 41%. Today, it stands at 42%. You don’t need a statistician to tell you that isn’t very good. The only president who had an approval rating this low heading into a midterm whose party still controlled the House after the election was Harry Truman in 1950. Even in that midterm though, his party still lost 29 seats. This year that would be enough to flip the House to the Democrats.
The good news for Republicans is Trump’s approval rating is higher in the red states that will determine control of the Senate. His approval rating in Tennessee, for example, stands at 56%.
3. Enthusiasm: The Republican Party’s best hope in this midterm was to overcome bad fundamentals with strong voter turnout. You might remember that Democrats suffered in 2010 and 2014 because of low voter turnout. It doesn’t seem that Republicans will get their wish.
There’s basically no difference between the average pollster’s results among all registered voters and those seen as likely to vote in the midterm elections. This has been consistent throughout this year. Back in April, the ABC News/Washington Post found an equal percentage of voters who leaned Democratic and those who leaned Republican who said they were certain they were going to vote. This past month, the two sides were equal again.
The lack of difference between the registered and likely voter results isn’t a big surprise. In midterms past, Democratic turnout tends to come close to equaling Republican turnout with a Republican president. That’s very different from when there’s a Democratic president, which 2010 and 2014 showed to the Democrats dismay.
One note of caution: Just because the polling hasn’t changed this year, it doesn’t mean it’s predictive of the outcome. The polling consistently put Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead of Trump, and she didn’t win. The chance such an error occurs again for the Republicans is unlikely.
For now, the fundamentals remain on the Democrats’ side.