The Corner

Politics & Policy

How Will The Senate Break?

I had a lot of success projecting the Senate races in 2014 by looking at the likelihood that the overall environment – low Obama approval ratings, high GOP scores on the generic ballot – would lead undecided voters to break Republican at the end (or stay home if they were leaning the other way). It’s harder to do that this year with the influence of the Trump-Hillary race on turnout, and down the stretch we have strong approval ratings for Obama (who recovered abruptly in the polls the instant Trump started winning primaries in February, after low approval ratings from early 2013 through January 2016), but recovering GOP status in the generic ballot at the end- a decidedly mixed message. Still, let’s take a quick look before the polls close at the Senate races, using the RCP polling averages:

What jumps out here is that, despite the absence of major third-party candidates in most of these races, there are a lot of what appear to be undecided voters all the way to the end – double figures in seven races, including the hotly contested Pennsylvania and Indiana races (due to state law restrictions on robopolls, Indiana polling tends to be sparse and unreliable). Presidential turnout and the last minute decisions of voters will have a big footprint in those races.

But if the polls are on target – a question all its own – we see that Marco Rubio, Richard Burr and Kelly Ayotte would each need to win less than 40% of the undecideds to win, whereas Joe Heck and Ron Johnson are in the deep-trouble zone where they’d need over 60%. My gut instinct is that the Heck race will be heartbreakingly close, maybe even a recount, but that he’ll end up losing it. I hate to see Pat Toomey go down, and Election Day turnout could surprise us, but the Democrats just have a better ground organization, traditionally, in Pennsylvania, so his prospects are perilous.

If the RCP averages hold, the GOP keeps the Senate 51-49. I think the end results will come close to that, but that we’ll get an upset of either Burr or Roy Blunt, and end up 50-50, with Tim Kaine having to break ties to run the Senate.


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