The Crosstab Weekly Newsletter 📊 October 28, 2018

The (Unlikely) Path to a GOP House

Welcome! I’m G. Elliott Morris, data journalist at The Economistand blogger of polls, elections, and political science. Happy Sunday! Here’s my weekly newsletter with links to what I’ve been reading and writing that puts the news in context with public opinion polls, political science, other data (some “big,” some small) and looks briefly at the week ahead. Let’s jump right in! Feedback? Drop me a line or just respond to this email. 

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This Week's Big Question

House-keeping: What is the path to a Republican House majority?

At this point, we know almost everything we’re going to know about the national environment in 2018. There is a slight chance that polls can change in the final 9 days of the campaign — see: 2016 election — but likely no more than a point or so, according to the distribution of historical error. That means that Democrats are going to lead in the polls by as few as 7 and as many as 9 percentage points on November 6th. Moreover, combined with other indicators, the actual chance in forecast national votes will likely fluctuate no more than 0.5 points in the next week and a half. So, the race is basically set where it currently lies. 

Of course, Republicans are still holding onto hope that the latest cultural issues — Trump is campaigning on a caravan of migrants that are “approaching” the US-border (they’re 1000 miles away) and promise to invade our borders (most will legally apply for asylum at a port of entry, and ~80% of them will be denied) — can spur voter turnout at the last minute, rescuing close suburban and ancestrally Democratic seats from the “blue wave.” Credit where credit is due: Trump and Republicans are campaigning on an issue that stokes fears and resentment among their mostly white base, possibly increasing turnout. But with historical data saying that polls are unlikely to change this late, what they’re really relying on is the chance that those polls are off again. Maybe they don’t catch the late movement. Maybe they underestimate the share of non-college educated white voters. But there’s no way to know. 

What remains now of Republican prospects to hold onto their House majority is almost solely correlated polling error. That is, if the generic ballot and 500+ district-level polls are consistently overestimating Democrats, then we’re in for a wild election night. GOP operatives might have hoped to be in a better situation right now, but with little room for shifts in the national environment and observations for 90% of plausibly competitive House districts, this is all that remains — “this” being a roughly 20% chance that Democrats pick up fewer than 23 seats on election night.

This path runs through Republican-held districts in the suburban northwests, Orange County, CA districts, and the whiter Obama-Trump districts in the midwest. If we are overestimating a shift toward Democrats among whites by putting too much weight on the college-educated, the tossup districts in these areas could end up staying red.

So, this is the threat, but how likely is the chance of correlated polling error this extreme? The easy answers are (A) that we can’t know until election day or (B) about 20%, given that that’s the chance our models say the Republicans have of holding the House. But by my best estimate, the polls that *are* properly weighting samples to avoid such an error — high quality live-caller national polls like those conducted for Pew Research Center, NBC/WSJ, CBS News, Economist/YouGov etc. and district-level polls from the NYT Upshot/Siena College — are about as Democratic-leaning as those that aren’t — small outfits fielding district-level polls and internet pollsters practicing bad weighting of national samples. But in both, Democrats have big enough leads — about 6 to 9 percentage points in any given average — to be favored to win the majority of House seats.

TL;DR This has been a long, in-depth, slightly rambling opening to this week’s newsletter. Here’s the takeaway: Democrats have imposing leads in both the high- and low-quality polls of the 2018 House midterms. The chance that Republicans hold the House has come down to the chance that these polls are wrong. If so, we currently have no clues as to what that would look like. Even so, in House elections, prediction error isn’t nearly as correlated as it is in presidential elections. The bottom line: a lot of things have to go right for the GOP to pull off a House majority on November 6th. That could very well happen.

Political Data

Trump’s Approval Rating Is Up. Republican House Chances Are Down. Does That Make Any Sense?

Just in time for the Nov. 6 election, President Trump is posting some of the best job approval numbers of his presidency. His approval rating is currently 43.1 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight average, the highest it’s been since March 2017. His disapproval rating is 52.  •  Share

Does residential sorting explain geographic polarization?

Full text views reflects the number of PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.  •  Share

Election-Crazed ‘New York Times’ Expands Poll Coverage To 18.5 Million More Races In 371 Additional States

NEW YORK—Touting its mission to advance the interests of democracy by keeping Americans informed ahead of the Nov. 6 vote, an election-crazed New York Times announced Tuesday an expansion of its poll coverage to 18.5 million more races in 371 additional states.  •  Share


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How ActBlue is trying to turn small donations into a blue wave

Care about freedom of the press? Support independent investigative journalism.  •  Share

The geography of voting — and not voting

People around the country can pass judgment on their government Nov. 6 in the first national election in two years — if they’re registered to vote, and cast a ballot. Many will not, if recent history holds true. Only about 60 percent of U.S.  •  Share

What voter files can tell us about trends in party registration

Commercial voter files hold great promise for studying certain aspects of American politics.  •  Share

Where states and prospective governors stand on infrastructure in the 2018 election

States play a central role in overseeing America’s infrastructure. They own roadways and many other transportation assets. They regulate a wide assortment of transportation, water, energy, and telecommunications systems.  •  Share

Even If Turnout Among Young People Is Higher, It’ll Probably Still Be Low

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Democrats have invested big in turning out young voters in 2018 in the hopes that they could help swing some key races. After all, young voters largely lean Democratic.  •  Share

5 Takeaways From the Latest Campaign Finance Reports

National Democratic Party committees and super PACs outraised their Republican counterparts this month, but the Republican committees had more money in the bank as of last week.  •  Share

Election Update: Romney-Clinton Districts Are Overrated. Obama-Trump Districts Are Underrated.

This year’s midterm hasn’t really featured the “model wars” we saw in 2014 or 2016 — heated arguments between different election forecasters, whose projections sometimes showed very different results.  •  Share

Many Possible Paths to a House Majority for Democrats, None Guaranteed

Democratic strength in mostly white, well-educated suburbs has stretched the Republican House majority to the breaking point. The good news for Republicans is it’s not clear that their majority has actually broken yet.  •  Share

Millions Have Voted Early in the Midterms. Here’s What That Means — and What It Doesn’t.

Early voting for the midterm elections has begun in states across the country, and enthusiasm — and voter turnout — both appear to be high, with hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots arriving in Florida and voters lining up around the block in Texas.  •  Share

Other Data and Cool Work

Younger Americans are better than older Americans at telling factual news statements from opinions

While some say wisdom comes with age, younger Americans are better than their elders at separating factual from opinion statements in the news, according to a new analysis from Pew Research Center. In a survey conducted Feb. 22 to March 4, 2018, the Center asked U.S.  •  Share

Political Science & Survey Research

Christopher 'The Dead Walk' Federico


Science recently asked me to review @LilyMasonPhD's Uncivil Agreement...and I did so enthusiastically, as it is a great book! Check it out... (1/2)

2:17 PM - 22 Oct 2018

What I'm Reading and Working On

I’ve got a lot going on this week, which I’ll share online when it’s ready. If you want a window into my week, pick up a copy of Identity Crisis by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck.


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