I received a bunch of feedback about the “tease” yesterday about today’s story. I simply thought your weekend news digesting before college football would be piqued by a few minutes away from the political fray we’ve all been immersed in for so long. Even though this story today is about the midterm elections, it’s outside of the hype of polls and polling data.
In our non-stop research I uncovered an interesting entity called FairVote. What is SO intriguing to us about them is that they are NOT pollsters, NOT political hacks, really are “non-partisan,” and a scientific analysis entity with no “dog in the hunt.”
As you go through the data, explanations of how they operate and look at their projection record, remember this: the political landscape of America is changing dramatically. In the last decade, in fact, it has morphed from something that is honestly a mundane practice of democracy to something that closely resembles a Barnum-and-Bailey circus! (At least it is certainly a sideshow) In way of explanation, all one must do is look back a couple of years at the 2016 presidential election and all the hoopla leading up to it to understand this: election projections are apparently NOT a science — even if there is science to enable reasonable and realistic outcomes. Why is that?
Does anybody reading this today not yet realize the zoo we call elections is without question an economic boon for every media company in America, whether that company is an actual news broadcast or reporting entity, a political lobbying firm, political party or Political Action Committee (PAC), or any entity in a support capacity for any of these. “Follow the Money!” Realizing that makes it a bit easier to understand why political polls, analysis, and projections are always all over the place: dollars drive results.
FairVote is a not-for-profit entity that uses scientific analysis methods (detailed below) that have resulted in some mind-boggling accurate results in Congressional elections — only in the House of Representatives. I found it curious they focus primarily on just House races, and not the Senate or presidential elections. But in their computations, they do use all previous federal election results to set a pattern that factors heavily in their calculations.
Enough of my drivel! Meet FairVote.
I’ll see you back here for a wrap-up.
FairVote and How it Works
FairVote’s methodology projects with high confidence only the very safest seats. With 435 seats elected every cycle, you might think that means 50 or 60 incumbents. Think again. This year they are projecting 374 seats with high confidence – that’s nearly 86% of House seats. Almost every incumbent seeking re-election can feel very confident about victory in November 2018, no matter who their opponent is, how much is spent, or what kind of partisan wave there might be.
To underscore our level of confidence, they made similar projections going into 2012, 2014 and 2016 in a total of 1,062 House races. They missed only one seat – that means their high confidence projections have an accuracy rate of more than 99.9%. The 2018 report shows the most ossified electoral landscape yet, being the first year they have projected more than 370 seats at this degree of confidence. The following map shows each congressional seat as an equal area. Only the yellow seats are in play; the purple seats are all safe enough to be projected with high confidence.
In addition to the 374 high-confidence projections, FairVote also projects favorites for the other 61 seats, though at a lower level of confidence. There are an additional 40 seats that clearly favor one party over the other, but not enough to warrant a projection. That leaves only 21 true “toss up” seats that only very slightly lean to one party. When they projected all 435 seats in 2016, they were remarkably accurate, even in the lower confidence projections. Of the 56 seats FairVote did not project, but which favored one of the parties, they were right in 50 (89.3% correct). Of the 18 seats that were true “toss-ups” with only a very slight lean toward one of the parties, they were right in 12 (66.7% correct). That means the full projections were correct in 423 out of 435 districts (97.2% correct). Those projections were made more than two years before the 2016 elections.
What makes this all the more disturbing is that FairVote’s remarkable accuracy ignores all polls, all demographic characteristics of the districts, and ignores the incumbent’s voting record and any scandals. They use only the presidential election results (both in the district and nationally) from 2016, and the incumbent’s performance in prior elections. The only updates they make after receiving have that data is to remove incumbents when they announce that they will not seek re-election and to recalculate projections if a state redraws its district lines. FairVote explains their methodology in the report in detail, but the overwhelmingly important factor is a district’s partisanship, measured only by the relative presidential vote in that district.
The two-party preference has varied over the years from 54.3% for Democrats in 2008 to 53.5% for Republicans in 2010; in 2016 it was 50.51% for Republicans. The “incumbency bump” that shows the extra percentage points earned by an incumbent in a given year has ranged from a high of 7.7% in 2000 to a low of 2.8% in 2014; In 2016 it was 3.3% percent.
Their state-by-state analysis drives home the entrenchment of incumbents under the current system, underscoring why it was no surprise that more than 98% won re-election in 2016. In more than half of the states, FairVote project every single House seat. Every incumbent seeking re-election is projected as safe in a total of 27 states. Many of these are large states with multiple seats, including Ohio (all 16 seats safe), Georgia (all 14 seats safe), and North Carolina (all 13 seats safe). They project a majority of the seats in every state except Delaware and New Hampshire, which only have one and two seats respectively.
The way we elect representatives in Congress does not create a fair reflection of the voters who elect them. There are 19 states where FairVote has already called more seats for one political party than that party should earn according to its statewide partisanship. In fact, there are three states where they can already safely project that one party will earn at least three seats more than the state’s partisanship suggests they should win (North Carolina and Ohio for Republicans, and Massachusetts for Democrats). If using projections for every seat, fully 32 of the 50 states would disproportionately favor one party over the other in a 50-50 year.
As a whole, the national landscape tilts in favor of Republicans, with Republicans sitting on 208 safe seats, only 10 away from a majority, and 22 additional unprojected seats favoring Republicans. Looking at the “tipping point” median district, FairVote projects that Democrats would need to earn more than 55% of national two-party preference among voters to earn even a one-seat majority. That imbalance creates a core problem of accountability. Power is exercised most responsibly when those in power believe they might lose if they cannot keep majority support.
Before anyone gets emotional distraught or hillariously happy, please understand that these projections are based on logical facts derived from various scientific and historical events. They do NOT have any basis other than the past. They have no basis drawn from polls, campaign ads, current political events like U.S. foreign policy, the economy, or even on the immigration issues and policies now front-and-center because of the Central American caravan headed to the U.S. southern border.
Will there be a blue wave as Democrats have declared? Will there be a red wave that shocks most of America? Will Nancy Pelosi as she has famously declared in the last 48 hours take back possession of the House leadership gavel? NO ONE knows for sure — not Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell, Paul Ryan, FOX News, The New York Times, or any candidate, not even President Trump.
So what can you do about election results? There’s only one thing that matters, and one thing only: VOTE. Americans — both those Americans who vote and those who do not — will determine the outcome of this election as they have in every election.
The constitution of the House of Representatives is not the only political institution or office that is stake in these midterms. The U.S. Senate, governorships, and many local and state elections are at stake. The best shot for every American to have a say-so in the outcomes of each of these races is to VOTE.
And if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about the results of these House and Senate races or any other race in your state or municipality.
Will the House race results prove to be another successful analysis by FairVote? Tune in Tuesday evening, November 6. We’ll all know for sure!