Mid-evening, on November 6, Obi Wan went to Yoda and other members of the Jedi Council.
He laid out what he thought were some interesting indicators: Three major polls, all showing the generic ballot lead for the Democrats cut in half. His pollster of choice, Andrew Kohut at Pew (formerly with Gallup), wrote a summary of findings that has a fascinating tone:
The narrowing of the Democratic lead raises questions about whether the party will win a large enough share of the popular vote to recapture control of the House of Representatives. The relationship between a party's share of the popular vote and the number of seats it wins is less certain than it once was, in large part because of the increasing prevalence of safe seat redistricting. As a result, forecasting seat gains from national surveys has become more difficult.
The Republicans also have made major gains, in a relatively short time period, among independent voters. Since early this year, the Democratic advantage in the generic House ballot has been built largely on a solid lead among independents.
Moreover, Republicans have gained ground in recent weeks on measures aimed at assessing a voter's likelihood of voting. So while Pew polls in early October and mid-October showed virtually no change in the Democratic advantage between all voters and those most likely to turn out, the current survey shows the Democrats' eight-point lead among all registered voters narrowing considerably among likely voters. In this regard, the current campaign more closely resembles previous midterm elections since 1994, when Republicans also fared better among likely voters than among all registered voters.
As the New Republic editors noted, the poll showed a particularly surprising drop in the Democratic generic ballot advantage in the Northeast, from a 26 point margin to a 9 point one. Where are the House seats the Democrats want to pick up? Yes, some in Indiana and Kentucky, but quite a few are in Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania (and, apparently at one point, New Hampshire).
[Jim’s observation/question: If the bottom fell out for Democrats in blue states like these, how likely is it that their candidates are holding their ground in red states like Indiana and Kentucky?]
If a professional pollster like Kohut looked at the numbers, concluded the GOP had a good chance to hold the House, but didn’t quite want to trash his earlier numbers, wouldn’t one write something like this? Something cautious, like the latest result “raises questions about whether the party will win a large enough share of the popular vote to recapture control of the House of Representatives”? As much as we mock pollsters, these people are professionals – well, okay, there’s Zogby – and they want reputations for accuracy. No one wants to be the one who runs the headline, Dewey Defeats Truman.
Obi Wan continued laying out the case – the fact that DeWine is within 6, and Kyl is up 12 or so suggests that this late surge for the GOP is deep and broad, affecting races nationwide, even with very different candidates.
But he said on Monday, he was anxiously looking for some signal that would interrupt the momentum, some bit of bad news for the GOP suggesting that shift was a pendulum effect, not an accelerating shift. For a moment, he thought the Survey USA poll showing Webb up big over Allen was that sign. And then he read thorough dismantling of it by Greg Pollowitz and Riehl World View.
Finally, he suggested that the GOP has actually had a week to ten days of good, or at least motivating events in the news – New Jersey’s gay marriage ruling, the President has looked much better on the stump, Kerry’s comment about the military, low unemployment numbers, and then the death sentence for Saddam.
[Observation by Jim: Yeah, I kept waiting for another batch of Foley IMs to dominate the headlines.]
Obi Wan said, the entire Democratic campaign has harsh, negative, relentless, and focused on the president — “Bush is so terrible,” – at a time when the troops are in the field. Americans still have reverence for that office
[Jim’s interjection – we stand when the President enters the room; the only proper address to him is, “Mr. President”; the band plays “Hail to the Chief” when he arrives. The Marines salute him as he steps off of Marine Force One. He sits in an office where Reagan devised a way to beat the Soviets without firing a shot, where Kennedy faced the Cuban Missile Crisis, where Roosevelt managed the U.S. entry into World War Two and Truman finished it, where Lincoln struggled to keep the union together. It is a ‘holy place’ in a secular sense; so many decisive moments of our country have occurred in that office; a big reason why our nation is what is it is today because of the leadership of the men who occupied it. Americans don’t take that lightly, and a majority of them will pull for the president because he is, in the end, their guy, even if they didn’t vote for him.]
and he wonders if the Democratic ads and message provoked a backlash. “Hey, he’s still our president. Knock it off.”
Yoda and the other members of the Jedi Council prodded him. (No, I won’t do the Yoda voice or syntax.) “So, are you predicting this, or are you just offering this as a theory?”
Obi Wan rubbed his chin. He lamented the lack of data for what was happening Monday.
And then, as the night wore on, he received three very interesting pieces of data.
1) Kathryn’s posting that Democratic governor Ed Rendell’s internal polls have Santorum within 5. [Jim thought: Again, if the wave is affecting races from Rhode Island to Maryland to Ohio to Montana to Arizona, why wouldn’t it sooner or later show up in the numbers in Pennsylvania?]
2) The pollster for the Detroit Free Press who put Bouchard within 4 in Michigan and gubernatorial candidate DeVos within 2. Rove said on Hewitt’s program:
And then there’s something odd going on in Michigan. There has been, over the last week, a strong push for the Republicans in Michigan. There’s a pollster named Steve Mitchell, who does polling almost exclusively in Michigan, the Epic Poll, and he called the 2000 Presidential race on the button, he called the 2002 gubernatorial race on the button. He called the 2004 Presidential race on the button. And he’s shown in the last week a dramatic close by the Republican candidates for both governor and Senator. Gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos is down only two, and Michael Bouchard down, as I believe, three points in the Senatorial race, which are dramatic cuts in the Democrat lead.
3) Democracy Corps - Carville, Greenberg – polling completed Sunday night shows a 5 point margin in the generic ballot.
[Jim observation: Their memo, while certainly pointing out all the polling questions that the Democrats are still doing well on and have leads in concludes, “Democrats should have a very good day on Tuesday.” That’s it? Wouldn’t one expect Carville and Greenberg to say, “A Democratic House is all but certain, and the question is how large the gains are in the Senate”? No projection of how large the Democratic House majority is going to be? Isn’t “a very good day” kind of… well, no pun intended, generic?]
4) Chuck Schumer saying he expects Democrats to gain three or four seats in the Senate. I understand trying to lower expectations, but why now? Did he see something in the past 24 hours that suggested the usual line – “we’re going to take back the Senate!” will look foolish on Election Night? And not just a little we-missed-by-one-seat foolish, but by we-fell-apart-at-the-end-and-didn't-meet-expectations foolish?
So... Obi Wan emphasizes that we can't completely rule out the possibility of the Democrats still winning the House and having a good night. But there is a big, clear wave breaking the Republicans' way in just about every competitive race coast to coast, and it could mean results very, very different from what the Washington crowd expected.
One last point – I spent much of the day before Election Day in the air, but before I did, I addressed a group of South Carolina Republicans; Mike’s America blog has a summary.
Whatever your stand, whatever your candidate, whatever your issue, get out and vote.
UPDATE: And yes, I covered my bases, predicting a 218-217 Democratic House majority on NRO, and predicting a 218-217 Republican House majority in the Washington Examiner. (Either way, I can say I predicted the correct party in print ahead of time!) Seriously, I think it will be that close.
ANOTHER UPDATE: What the heck! Here's my down-the-line gut feeling on Senate races:
Rhode Island: I'll pick Whitehouse, but it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if Chafee pulled off a successful comeback. His family name still carries a lot of weight up there.
Connecticut: Joe-mentum over Ned-renaline. If the margin of victory is wide, you're going to see me get very mean, very fast.
New Jersey: After Corzine's win by 3 points in 2000, McGreevey's win in 2001, the Torricelli switch and Lautenberg's win in 2002, and the governor's race in 2005, I just can't pick a New Jersey Republican to win. I pick Menendez, but Kean is still in it. I wonder if Kean could be another John Thune - come close one year, run and win the other Senate seat the following cycle.
Pennsylania: Casey, but I'll bet Santorum makes it closer than anybody in Washington (except Kathryn) expected. (And if Santorum successful completes one of the all-time upsets, I will never doubt Kathryn again.)
Ohio: I'll pick Brown, but it's like Santorum - I think it will be much closer than expected. If I were really feeling gutsy, DeWine would be my upset pick, but I'm not that gutsy.
Maryland: Steele. This went from an upset pick to a conventional wisdom pick really fast. If a nonentity like Cardin can win against a flawless campaign by a charismatic candidate, it's very depressing for Maryland Republicans.
Virginia: Webb, although I wouldn't be surprised by an Allen win at all, either. I guess I just feel like Allen's campaign has been snakebitten, and he's had to fight Webb and the Washington Post at the same time.
Missouri: Talent. The proposed constitutional amendment may eventually be seen as a blunder by the Democrats, because of the degree it revved up turnout among Christian conservatives.
Montana: Burns. It's a tight one, but I think the state remembers its Republican roots and decides they fear Tester raising their taxes.
Tennessee: Corker. Dear Newsweek: I will be mocking you for putting Ford on the cover two weeks from Election Day from now until... oh, the end of time.
The other races, I admit, I haven't followed as closely - Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Nebraska. It's not inconcievable we could see some big upset there, particularly Michigan, which has been off the radar screen of the inside-the-beltway crowd. Anyway, I think this puts the GOP at -3 in the Senate, and I said 51-49-Lieberman in my print predictions, so maybe one of these Republicans falls just short.