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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

What could happen

Three words talk about the US election tomorrow, and the punctuation used determines so very much. If it’s with a question mark, "What could happen?", then the person is like every sensible person, meaning, they don’t know. If it’s said with a colon, they’re about to tell you what they think will happen. The truth is, NO one knows what’s about to happen. It’s all a question mark.

There are two polar opposite possibilities: Democrats win a landslide and take control of both houses of Congress, as well as state offices. Or, Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress. Pundits mostly agree that the truth is somewhere between those two. Here are the factors that favour both.

Factors that favour Republicans

Gerrymandering. Republicans fought hard to gain control of state legislatures in 2010 in order to be able to draw the boundaries of state legislative and Congressional districts. This ensured Republicans would win and retain control, even when winning fewer votes than Democrats did, as happened most recently in the 2012 Congressional elections. The maps Republicans created favour them so much that Democrats need to outperform them by at least 5% (more in some areas) to be in with a chance of winning. Gerrymandering also helps keep the number of seats that Democrats win far lower than it should be, which could determine if they win control of the US House.

Voter suppression. Republicans have also been busy writing laws to make it harder for people to vote, especially black and brown people who—purely coincidentally!—vote overwhelmingly Democratic. This year there’s been a surge of active and baldly racist attempts to stop non-whites from voting in states from Georgia to North Dakota. Most of those efforts will succeed, though mainstream people are organising to fight back.

Money. Republicans have virtually unlimited money to help them through Super PACs and other dark money. Democrats just don’t have anything that compares.

Lethargy. Historically, Democrats can't be bothered to vote in Midterm elections. Eligible younger voters now outnumber eligible older voters, but they vote in far lower numbers.

Loyalty. Republican voters can be counted on to turn out and vote, and the hardcore base of the current occupant is by far the most likely part of the Republican voter bloc to turnout and vote. They’re far more reliable than any similar sized group of Democrats.

The Senate map. In the Senate, which isn’t affected by Republicans’ gerrymandering, Democrats are defending more seats, and they’re defending many of them in states they lost to the current occupant in 2016. This gives Republicans a head start and a strong wind at their back.

Factors that favour Democrats

Historic candidacies. Florida and Georgia have popular black Democrats running for governor, and Texas has a popular, charismatic progressive running for US Senate. There are more women and more people of colour running as Democrats than ever before, and many candidates who are young (compared to the norm). [See also: “The candidates in the midterm elections are among the most diverse set to run in the history of the United States.”New York Times]

Enthusiasm. There is measurable enthusiasm among ordinary Democrats that’s lacking among ordinary Republicans (as distinct from the current regime’s base). All of that is meaningless if people don’t actually vote, of course.

History. The party controlling the White House usually loses seats in the US House in the Midterm elections—but, not always. In 2006, this was enough to give Democrats control of the House, and in 2010 it helped Republicans take the house amid the teabagger wave. There have been years in which the party controlling the White House picked up seats, but the norm is for that not to happen.

Youth. Younger voters back a progressive agenda, and are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans—if they vote, of course. But they also use their energy and enthusiasm to drive campaigns, and this year the ground game is critical. Youth could be the deciding factor in this year’s elections—or not.

A factor that’s uncertain

Early voting. The news media has been reporting on how there has been a dramatic increase in early voting, a couple hundred percentage points in some cases, 700% in another—it’s all very impressive. But they combine increases from 2016 with increases from 2014, and those are vastly different things. 2014 was a Midterm election with low voter turnout, as usual. 2016 was a presidential election, and although they, too, have low turnout, they’re significantly higher than in Midterm years. An increase is likely, though not certain, to help Democrats, however, if it’s an increase from 2016, that suggests more votes than if it’s an increase on 2014.

I saw a report from MSNBC where they were talking to an election official in California who will oversee the counting of results for four toss-up Congressional Districts in that state. He said that early voting was up some 130%, and when asked if that favoured Democrats or Republicans, he said that in-person voting favoured Democrats, while mail-in voting favoured Republicans, something that’s in line with history.

The problem here is that when we hear about early voting totals being up, we don’t know if it’s mainly in-person, mail-in, or across the board, and that matters because which one dominates will influence which party will benefit the most from the upsurge. Put another way, we ordinary news consumers just don’t have enough information to evaluate what this all means for the two parties.

A factor that’s not terribly useful

Polling. Political polling in 2016 was a disaster, and we have no reason (yet) to believe that the industry has learned from the disaster and improved its methods. That means the polls MAY be totally accurate, or they MAY undercount Democrats, or they MAY undercount Republicans. We can’t know until actual votes are counted.

• • •

All of which means that we have NO one knows what’s about to happen. What will happen? It’s all a question mark.

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