The midterm election is coming to its conclusion, and the importance of this election and the tightness of so many races has only reinforced the addiction to polls I developed in 32 years as a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly. I know, as we all do, that polls can be wrong; sometimes, however, they can be very close to right, and this year a new framework for looking at polls has been offered.
A unique new comprehensive effort by the New York Times and the Siena Research Institute has polled 55 competitive House districts across the nation, 21 of them twice, with Live Online Polling, in which the digital viewer can observe as several individual districts are polled simultaneously. Each individual district takes a few days to finish at about 500 responses.
This effort to provide a nationwide look at the midterms shows the Democrats have a strong chance to win the 23 seats they need to gain control of the House of Representatives.
The results of the in-depth effort seem to confirm another kind of poll that I wrote about several times earlier this year, the National Generic Congressional Ballot, which asks voters across the nation which party they will vote for in the midterms. An online publication, fivethirtyeight.com, analyzes the nation’s politics, and has averaged the dozens of the Generic Ballot polls and the result shows the Democrats lead the Republicans, 50.3% to 41.8%, among the many thousands of voters surveyed on this question. An eight-point or more lead is considered by experts to be in the range of what the Democrats need to have a chance to win control, because so many individual districts are not competitive between the two parties.
As I write you, two new districts are being polled, 7 more districts are undergoing a second round, and two districts in New York State previously polled twice by Siena on a stand-alone basis are being polled a third time by the NYT/Siena team. This article is being written the night of Nov. 1, so some of the final polls may be complete by the time you read this.
I have organized the results of the NYT/Siena live polling around the Cook Political Report’s House District Ratings, which rate by categories including Lean Democrat, Lean Republican, and Toss-Up. There are other less competitive categories, like Solid Republican or Solid Democrat, or Likely Democrat and Likely Republican.
Here are the results for the Cook House Districts Rated Toss-Up, which included 28 Republican districts and 1 Democratic district. Twenty-five districts were polled, and I added the two done by Siena (stand-alone without the Times). Only two districts were not polled.
The 27 districts polled show an extraordinary 16 dead heats, by which I mean either a tie or a 1-point difference. Where the district was polled twice, I show the final result. The New Mexico 2nd Congressional District, a mostly rural, majority-Hispanic district whose incumbent Republican,Stephen Pearce, left to run for Governor of New Mexico, polled a dead heat twice between Democrat Xochitl Torres Small and Yvette Herrell, the Republican. The Democrats lead in five districts by margins of 2-8 points, the Republicans lead in six districts by margins of 3-6 points.
Cook rates 15 House Districts across the country as Lean Democratic, including 13 Republican and two Democratic seats. All 13 Republican seats were polled, four of them twice. The Iowa 1st district’s is nearing completion for a second round. Here are the results.
The Democrats hold leads of seven points or more in 12 of the 13 districts, and the Iowa 1st is 90% complete and the Democrat, Abby Finkenauer, has a seven-point lead over Republican Rod Blum. One district, the Illinois 6th, Democrat Sean Casten held a two-point lead over Republican Peter Roskam in the second poll; the first one was a dead heat. Two Democratic districts in Nevada were not polled.
Cook has 28 Republican and 1 Democratic district rated as Lean Republican. Fourteen were polled and here are the results:
In ten of the districts the Republican candidates have leads of 5-15 points. There is one dead heat, the Virginia 5th district, where Democrat Leslie Cockburn had 46% and Republican Denver Riggleman 45%. Charlottesville is in the Virgnia 5th District. In one district, the Pennsylvania 10th, Republican Scott Perry has a 2-point lead, and in two New York districts the Republicans have 4 point leads, including a district where the incumbent, Chris Collins, is under indictment. Collins won the district by 35 points in 2016. The Minnesota 8th District is an open Democratic seat, but Republican candidate Pete Stauber led by 15 points in the 2nd round of the polls in this district. Two new Republican-held seats are being polled, the Georgia Sixth( described as the Ossoff district without Ossoff), and the Iowa 4th, where an independent poll showed right-wing Republican Stephen King in a dead heat, moving NYT/Siena to take a look in the closing days.
There are two Cook Political Report Rating Categories, Likely Democrat and Likely Republican, where there was little polling. In the Likely Democrat category were 8 Democratic seats and 4 Republican seats. In the likely Republican category, there are 27 Republican and 1 Democratic seats. Three Republican seats were polled in the Likely Republican category and the Democratic candidates were not competitive there.
Nate Silver, fivethirtyeight’s founder and political statistician, has pointed out that: 1.) many districts have not been polled, and 2.) there will be surprises election night going both ways. I should also point out that there are dozens of pollsters doing House polls and there have been hundreds of polls. But at least the New York Times/Siena Live Online Polling enables an opportunity to look at the nation comprehensively; whether it will be more accurate or less accurate than others will be seen.
The issue for the Republicans is the sheer number of districts that appear to be in play with well-funded Democratic candidates of quality. There are four Republican seats rated likely Democratic (3 in Pennsylvania where a Court-ordered redistricting has changed the equation), 13 Republican seats rated Lean Democratic with 12 solid results for Democrats in those polls, and 28 Republican seats rated Toss-Up with 16 dead heats and 5 Democratic leads in the NYT/Siena Polls. There are 14 Lean Republican seats polled with one dead heat, three Republican candidates with leads of just 2-4 points, and only one Democratic-held seat in the group rated Lean Republican.
Seems like the Democrats can get to 23 in this mix; but, of course, polls can be wrong. We’ll find out very soon.