Since we launched our electoral model in late June, it has moved entirely in one direction: toward the Democrats. Virtually every week, they have either gained ground on our forecast or been flat.
This week has been more in the “held stable” category. In the Deluxe version of our model, the Democrats’ chances of keeping the Senate are 71 percent, while their chances of keeping the House are 31 percent. Neither number has changed significantly from a week ago.
As the position of the Democrats has continually improved, I have tended to focus on optimistic scenarios for the Democrats. Frankly, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to reiterate why the Republicans could still have a pretty good midterm. After all, they are reasonably clear favorites to flip the House, and a 30 percent chance of flipping the Senate is not insignificant either. That 30 percent chance is about the same as our model gave Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton on Election Day in 2016.
But that the Republicans they could win doesn’t mean your situation is getting better. I’ve seen several recent claim (it is about the Republican push in the polls that I don’t think are justified on the evidence yet.
Let’s put aside our probabilistic forecast for now and just look at the polls themselves. Specifically, we’ll look at what our polling averages say as I write this on September 22, and how it compares to a month ago on August 22. A fair amount has happened since then: The White House Announced its student loan forgiveness program on August 24; there have been some fairly negative inflation news and other economic data; Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis sent about 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard; Russia faces important setbacks in its war with Ukraine; and campaigns are accelerating in many states after Labor Day.
First, the generic congressional ballot. Democrats currently lead by 1.9 percentage points on our average. That reflects a continued improvement since Aug. 22, when they had a 0.4 percentage point lead.
However, our generic ballot average is designed to move slowly, so if there has been a recent change in the improving electoral environment for Democrats, it may be slow to spot. Our presidential approval rating is more aggressive, on the contrary. As of September 22 at 5 p.m. ET, Biden has an approval rating of 42.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.0 percent. That’s lackluster, though similar to where several other presidents have been before their first half terms.
Those numbers, however, have improved since Aug. 22, when Biden had a 40.9 approval rating to 54.3 percent disapproval.
What about the individual races for Senate and for Governor? FiveThirtyEight publishes the poll averages in these contests once there is a sufficient number of polls. Technically speaking, these poll averages are calculated separately from the version used by our forecasting model, which makes various sophisticated adjustments to the polls (for example, our model adjusts outdated polls based on changes in the generic ballot).
However, for the purposes of the exercise in this article, the comparative simplicity of our independent survey averages should work well. So let’s take a look at all the races in which there have been a) at least two polls between the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24 and August 22, and b) at least two polls between August 22 and now. In these states, we have enough data to establish a post-Dobbs baseline and to see if there has been a significant change. Eleven Senate races meet this criteria; Here’s how the average vote has changed in each:
If you squint, you can see some movement toward the Republicans. On August 22, Democrats held an average 4.7 percentage point lead in these races and now hold a 3.8 percentage point lead.
But few individual races have moved that far. Republicans have gained at least a full percentage point in Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, while Democrats have in New Hampshire.
Interestingly, this move has often been in line with what “fundamentals” might have predicted at each run. have to expert groups he had called races like Wisconsin and Nevada thrown, even though polls had shown Democrats ahead there. So this may simply be a reversion to the mean, given that neither race had been polled very often, rather than an actual change in voter sentiment.
Finally, a look at gubernatorial races, using the same parameters we used for Senate races:
These show no shift toward the Republicans. On average, Democrats had a 1.4 percentage point lead on August 22 and now have a 1.9 percentage point lead. Some individual breeds have changed, of course, but these movements have been in either direction. Democrats have gained at least one percentage point in Florida, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, while Republicans have gained in Arizona, Michigan, Massachusetts and New York.
We could go race by race and debate which of these changes are “real” and which reflect noisy or low-quality polling. But that is beside the point, which is that there has been no systematic Republican rebound. In the 24 gubernatorial and Senate races listed here, Democrats led by an average of 2.9 percentage points on August 22, and now lead by 2.8 percentage points. Essentially there has been no change, in other words.
Of course, that may not be true in the future. It may be too soon to see the impact of recent news on the polls. I tend to think that DeSantis’ stunt by sending immigrants to Massachusetts will reduce the backlash on cable news and Twitter more than it will necessarily matter to normal swing voters. But a sustained focus on immigration could be worse for democrats than one on other issues like abortion. And as I wrote last week, our model expects the political environment to improve somewhat for Republicans between now and November.
For the most part, though, we’ve reached that part of the election cycle where you have to be careful about media narratives about which party has “momentum.” There are a lot of competitive elections this cycle, and since Labor Day, we’ve started to see a lot more polls. It’s very, very easy to choose your path to a story that fits your preconceived notions about the race. But when there’s a major national shift in the race, as happened with the Democrats after the Dobbs decision, you usually don’t have to squint to see it.