The New York Times and the Siena Polling Institute have joined forces to conduct extensive polling about the midterm elections and have completed 31 competitive House districts across the country, from Maine to New Mexico, to California, Iowa, Minnesota, and all around the diverse parts of the American nation.
The results of these polls demonstrate vividly what Americans are seeing and reading: the midterms are intensely competitive, and appear to validate predictions that the Democrats have a very solid chance of winning a majority in the House of Representatives. Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight agrees.
Thirty of the thirty-one House seats polled so far are currently-held Republican seats. The Cook Political Report, the reputable election rating firm, has rated six of the thirty Republican seats polled as already leaning Democratic, and another 19 of the Republican districts are rated as Toss-Ups between the two parties. I compare these poll results to Cook’s Rating System, which includes Toss-Up districts, districts that Lean Republican or Lean Democratic, as well as ratings with less competitive categories.
But don’t think for a second that a ” solid ” chance for the Democrats is a done deal. Many of these polls show the races to be extraordinarily close.
The polling is ” live ” on a NY Times Live Polling website, meaning the public can follow the results in real time, up until completion, usually after the sample has reached about 500 voters in each district. It can take up to 35,000 calls and several days to get 500 responses. More interesting than watching the calls is the wealth of political and demographic data in the narrative about each district, as well as how Donald Trump is faring in each district. There are new districts being polled daily, even as I write this on the evening of October 1, 2018, which means that by the time you read this, the results of more polls might have been completed.
The Democratic candidates lead in all six completed polls of the ” Lean Democrat ” districts ( all of which are Republican-held now), and these leads are substantial, tending to confirm Cook’s Ratings. There are 20 Toss-Up districts (19 Republican-held), and the Democrats have leads in three. There are a remarkable eleven dead heats in these Toss-Up districts ( by which I mean either a tie or a lead of just one point by either candidate), and ten of these dead heats are in Republican hands. There is only one Democratic district among the 20 Toss-Ups and the 31 polled altogether, and that one was a dead heat in a district in Minnesota.
The Republicans are holding their own in many districts. In the six remaining Toss-Up districts Republicans have leads, but some are small, like in California’s 25th. There, Republican Steven Knight leads his Democratic opponent Katie Hill by two points, 47-45, while Trump is underwater there, with his approval rating 42% and disapproval 53%.
Five of the districts are rated “Lean Republican,” and Republicans are leading in all five. In one, the Florida 26th, Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo only leads his Democratic opponent, Deborah Mucarsel-Powell by three points, 47-44, in a district Hilary Clinton won by sixteen points and where Trump’s approval rating is underwater, 39% to 54% . In the remainder of the Lean Republican districts, the Republican leads are stronger.
In several cases the polls have changed the ratings. The Colorado Republican Mike Coffman, who has survived several serious challenges, is losing to his Democratic opponent Jason Crow 51-40, and Cook changed the rating from Toss-Up to Lean Democrat as a result. In another case, a rural New Mexico, majority-Hispanic district just vacated by its Republican incumbent, Steve Pearce, who is running for Governor, was rated Lean Republican. But the poll showed a dead heat, with Democrat Xochitl Torres-Small leading Republican Yvette Herrell, 46-45. Cook moved the district to a Toss-Up.
Will voters’ feelings about President Trump affect the outcome for Republican incumbents or in the open seats?
In six Republican-held Toss-Up districts where the poll results showed dead heats, President Trump was underwater by at least six points. The Illinois 6th Congressional district, a well-off suburban area represented by Republican Pete Roskam, the poll showed Roskam ahead over the Democrat, Sean Casten, by one point, 45-44. Donald Trump was underwater in the same district by 21 points, with an approval rating of 36% and disapproval of 57%. In a number of districts where the polls were showing dead heats or Republican leads, Trump’s approval ratings were holding up.
One thing is clear: while the Democrats are doing well, they must win many of the districts where the polls are showing dead heats in the Republican-held districts, as well as the ones where they are currently leading. And not all of the competitive districts across the country have been included in these polls yet. There are ten Toss-Up districts (9 held by Republicans) that have still not been polled by the NYT/Siena team recently. The Democrats must also win the 13 current Republican districts that Cook has rated as Lean Democratic, as polls in 6 of those districts have shown so far. If they can meet all these challenges they will break past the 23 seat margin they need for the majority.
Caveats: Each of the polls is just one poll of 500 voters in a district with hundreds of thousands of voters; other polling firms are polling these districts too, and narratives embedded on the website for each of the districts disclose the other pollsters showing the races competitive too. The turnout models for the polls contain assumptions built by the NYT political statistician Nate Cohn, along with his Times-Siena team, and their results are weighted to reflect a turnout of likely voters, not all registered voters.
As Election Day comes near, more and more of the districts will have the publicly available reports of their internal political dynamics and their snapshots of America.
So far, it looks like the 23 seats Democrats need to win for the majority are within their grasp.