Predictions from The Bull Elephant – and a Few of My Own

Contributors and staff at The Bull Elephant have predicted the outcome of today’s elections and they deliver about what you’d expect from true believers.  Most think the GOP will hold the House and some think Republicans will pick up 3 or more seats in the Senate, with one suggesting a 60-seat majority.  Many argue that Corey Stewart will outperform polls and one thinks he could have won with more help from the Republican national and state parties.  Almost all think Barbara Comstock will lose, but few think any other Democrats will win Virginia House seats they aren’t heavily favored to win (e.g., Don McEachin [D-4]). 

Most of this is pretty standard-issue political prognostication from activists with a particular agenda. One predictor stands out, however: Catharine Trauernicht.

“I believe that America experienced Divine intervention on November 7, 2016, to breathe new life into our Republic.  And it’s not going to evaporate next Tuesday.”

Donald Trump has demonstrated racist viewsand a minimal respect for women (some would suggest he hates all women save his own daughter).  He has no connection of any kind to Jesus Christ, His teachings, or religion in general except a new interest in banning abortion if it will secure evangelical support (this was not always his position on reproductive choice).  Yet Trauernicht believes that God Himself placed this man in the White House and will continue protecting the man who in a Biblical context resembles no character more than he does the Antichrist.  I’m not sure what to say about this.  I will however comment on another reason Trauernicht predicts a red tide: “the astonishing energy” at Trump rallies.  I have not attended any so cannot speak personally to whether these rallies actually reflect voter enthusiasm.

But I did attend a Corey Stewart rally in Mechanicsville on Sunday and was not that impressed.  Only about 60 people attended, including staff and videographers (presumably from a local TV station).  Almost this many showed up to hear me give a lecture on the Electoral College to an Indivisible group two months ago and I must admit surprise that Stewart could not generate a larger crowd in arguably the most conservative county on the East Coast. This was moreover not exactly an enthusiastic crowd – they cheered when Stewart predicted a shock to the political world when he upsets Kaine, but body language revealed their pessimism. Interestingly, no Republican state or local politicians joined Stewart at the event that I know of (with the exception of one Board of Supervisors hopeful).  No Rob Wittman, no Ryan McDougle, no Chris Peace.  This stood in stark contrast to events I’ve attended featuring Tim Kaine, where local officials line up to get selfies with him.

In any event, I wonder whether any of the analysis offered by Bull Elephant staff relies on actual data and how much on wishful thinking like Ms. Trauernicht’s.  To the extent it’s data I wonder how much of it comes from inside the Fox News bubble.  Historically, for example, we know that Democrats do well in elections when voters show up in larger numbers.  This appears to happen because the Liberal coalition is broad, but perhaps not as deep as Democrats would like.  The Democratic Party has more voters, but they are less committed to ongoing political activity and don’t show up for mid-terms.  Conservatives depend on a smaller and mostly white but deeper coalition, at least in terms of enthusiasm.  They reliably show up to vote in off-year elections.  Since it’s very clear that Democrats have bumped up their enthusiasm and activism levels a few notches, do the Bull Elephant folks think Trump so effectively motivates his core white base that they can overcome high Democratic turnout?

Early voting is off the charts, and it seems to me that the makeup of these new early voters is a key independent variable in this analysis.  If these are new voters registered by energized liberals, especially women, I would expect a blue wave – and a relatively large one.  This goes double if many of these early voters are first-timers.

I see no evidence of Republican efforts to expand their coalition.  Indeed, most Republican candidates seem to have relied on electoral strategies (immigration fears) that energize the base at the risk of turning off previously dependable GOP constituencies (e.g., white women with college degrees).  The one policy issue they can claim effectiveness on, the economy, seems largely missing from their stump speeches.  Republicans also seem to have placed a lot of eggs in the voter suppression basket, and the vote does not look very suppressed so far. More than twice as many voters under 29 have voted early as in 2014, for example.  If true, this probably reflects an expansion of the Democratic coalition that the polls do not capture.

After missing the Trump win so completely in 2016 I’m reluctant to make specific predictions.  Historic fundamentals suggest a huge shift in the political center of gravity which gerrymandering can’t stop and could even make worse.  Polling of quite a few races has not often strayed outside the margin of error, and I’ve become convinced that most pollsters make too many incorrect assumptions about the makeup of the electorate to get very close. I think this is particularly true this cycle – the high rates of new voter registration we’ve seen this year suggest models could be off with respect to who they project will actually show up.

With so many close races, extreme results are possible depending on how things break.  I happen to think most will break toward the Democratic candidates in both House and Senate races.  They don’t have to break much.  So I predict generally that the Democrats will take control of the House and fall just short in the Senate unless Heidi Heitkamp can pull it out.  I actually think Beto O’Rourke will win Texas by the skin of his teeth and Bill Nelson will pull it out in Florida.  If both of these come true and Dean Heller goes down in Nevada we could be looking at a 50-50 Senate – close but no cigar if you’re a Dem.

The House is easier to scope out.  I don’t see Republicans holding on to seats in any of the GOP incumbent districts Clinton won in 2016.  I also see Virginia Democratic candidates doing well, largely because of Tim Kaine’s popularity and a general distaste for Corey Stewart’s Trump impersonation. I’ll resist the urge to make predictions about specific seats except to say that I think Abigail Spanberger will win against Dave BratVangie Williams can win the First if she turns out minorities in high numbers on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula while racking up majorities in Northern Virginia precincts.  But sadly I suspect she’ll fall just short.  Conservatives I’ve spoken to have issues with Rob Wittman, but I don’t see them splitting their tickets Stewart/Williams.  Kaine/Wittman split tickets seem more likely to me.

Of course I told everyone who would listen that Trump had no chance in Hell of winning the Presidency. I got that one badly wrong because I just couldn’t believe any Obama voters would make that switch.  So the odds are high that I don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ll know soon enough, for good or ill.

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