Friday, April 9, 2010

The Numbers Crunch Back

A lot of sturm und drang is evident about the generic ballot numbers for November's election, that is how many people would vote for a generic Democrat or a generic Republican in November when given a choice. Normally the Dems have a slight lead on this because Republicans traditionally come in at the last moment, and that the generic ballot question has traditionally been asked by Gallup, which asks likely voters rather than registered ones.

The most recent Generic Ballot has the two parties tied at 46%. That's not good news for the Democrats, as Nate Silver notes.

So, for example, if the House popular vote were exactly tied, we'd expect the Democrats to lose "only" 30 seats on average, which would be enough for them to retain majority control. It would take about a 2.5 point loss in the popular vote for them to be as likely as not to lose control of the chamber. So Democrats probably do have a bit of a cushion: this is the good news for them.

Their bad news is that the House popular vote (a tabulation of the actual votes all around the country) and the generic ballot (an abstraction in the form of a poll) are not the same thing -- and the difference usually tends to work to Democrats' detriment. Although analysts debate the precise magnitude of the difference, on average the generic ballot has overestimated the Democrats' performance in the popular vote by 3.4 points since 1992. If the pattern holds, that means that a 2.3-point deficit in generic ballot polls would translate to a 5.7 point deficit in the popular vote -- which works out to a loss of 51 seats, according to our regression model.
That's...not good news. Even a few percentage points in the generic ballot swings the model from a 20-30 seat loss to a 50+ seat loss. And it gets even worse over on the worst-case scenario end: Rasmussen polls.

And what if, for example, the Rasmussen case comes into being? Rasmussen has the Democrats losing the generic ballot by 9 points (and has had similar numbers for awhile). A 9-point loss in the House popular vote would translate into a projected 65-seat loss for Democrats. Or, if we adjust the Rasmussen poll to account for the fact that the Democrats' performance in the popular vote tends to lag the generic ballot, it works out to a 12.4-point loss in the popular vote, which implies a loss of 79 seats!

The point is not necessarily that these are the most likely scenarios -- we certainly ought not to formulate a judgment based on Rasmussen polls alone, as the jury is still out on whether the substantial house effect they've displayed this cycle is a feature or a bug. But these sorts of scenarios are frankly on the table. If Democrats were to lose 50, 60, 70 or even more House seats, it would not totally shock me. Nor would it shock me if they merely lost 15, or 20. But their downside case could be very far down.
80 seats would basically give the GOP the same margin in the House the Democrats have now. It would basically be a catastrophe. I really don't understand how the Dems could have fallen that far, that fast. It would be unprecedented, if not record-setting.

I don't see how America would be ready to give back the country to the Republicans and overwhelmingly so, given them an even larger margin than they had in 1994, in just two years after the disaster that was the Bush administration. But that's the danger of the "enthusiasm gap" and the inherent danger to Democrats right now. Nate is right when he says this scenario is plausible and on the table.

So how do Democrats prevent this, rather than having this turn into another Martha Coakley scenario writ large? The clear path, as I've been saying for some time now, is to close the enthusiasm gap and give Democratic voters a reason to turn out in numbers to vote for Democratic candidates. Running towards the center is not going to close the gap. Ask Bart Stupak how that works out for you.

The conventional wisdom is that tacking to the right will attract more moderates in the middle, and that Democrats in the base will continue to turn out at the same rate no matter how far to the right a Democrat is just to keep a Republican out of the seat. It's what the Democrats tried in Congress after 1994, and it failed miserably. What happens is that Democrats no longer see a difference between the two parties on most issues, the issues themselves are pushed further to the right as a result, and progressives on the left simply stay home.

But this also highlights the dangers of that latter demotivation. If your response to your belief that the Democrats are not progressive enough on issues and your intent is to withhold your vote this November, keep in mind that is exactly what the Republicans and especially the Tea Party wing of the GOP is counting on you to do.


Eric said...

They've fallen so low because they passed crappy legislation that doesn't help anybody but insurance companies, not to mention making themselves look like perfect tools in the process.

In Ur Blog Eatin Waffles (Accept no fail imitations) said...

I like that more people are coming about and realizing the Dems cannot be left in total control.

If they are they will continue to force garbage down the American people's throats. I don't care if they have a majority as long as it's not a super majority.

They have proven they do not care about their constituents wishes and therefore do not deserve the seats they have.

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