Fingernail Biting Time

And now for a disturbing look into the mind of Chris Bowers...

For about eighteen months now, I have kept a private checklist of conditions and metrics that I believed were necessary for a Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives. Since we are so close to election time, I see no point in keeping it private anymore. So, here they are:
  • 1. Bush's job approval below 42.5%, either averaged across the last five polls or averaged across polls from the previous seven days (whichever one means more polls). Check
  • 2. At least forty-five more Democratic challengers to Republican-held seats than Republican challenges to Democratic-held seats within the margin of error or better in independent polling. Check
  • 3. Democratic lead in the generic ballot of at least 8.0%, either averaged across the last five polls or averaged across polls from the previous seven days (whichever one means more polls). Check
So, at least for now, we have met the basic conditions I laid out for myself to tell whether or not we were likely to retake the House of Representatives. It is a pretty extreme set of conditions, but I felt it was warranted given the horrors of 2000--2006. Beyond these requirements, I had an additional checklist that I used to let me know whether or not our chances of retaking the House were virtually 100%. Here is that checklist:
  • 1. Democrats were actually ahead, even if by only 1%, according to independent polling, in thirty more Republican-held districts than Republicans were in Democratic-held districts. Check
  • 2. None of the polls used in the Bush approval average showed him at 43% or higher. Check
  • 3. None of the polls used in the generic ballot showed the Democratic margin lower than 8%. Requirement not fulfilled
As long as all of those conditions were met, I would have been 99% convinced that Democrats were ready to take the majority in the House of Representatives (no condition would have ever led me to being 100% convinced). I doubt that any pollster, consultant, or election forecaster would have disagreed with me on this front. Meet all six of these conditions, and there is basically no way we can lose. Now, while every condition on the basic checklist has been met, meaning that Democrats should be favored to take control of the House of Representatives, two polls resulted in a failure to meet all of the conditions in the "just to be sure" checklist. All of the conditions in both lists had been met for four straight weeks prior to today. That is why I was starting to feel relaxed and confident last night. And thus, at least personally, that is why the door to our failure creeks open a tiny bit today.

All I can say is, since this is a personal post, at least we are still meeting all of the conditions on the primary checklist, and most of the conditions on the secondary checklist. That still means, in my mind, that the odds still heavily favor a Democratic takeover of the House. However, it also means that such a takeover is no longer a 99% chance.

While the Pew and ABC / WaPo polls are directly contradicted by the Time and Newsweek polls, the former two polls present the possibility of a political landscape where Republicans could keep extremely narrow control. Not a very good possibility, but a possibility never the less. And so our odds for taking the majority drop from, I don't know, 99%, to between 80% and 90%. If the polls released between now and Tuesday morning show more evidence backing up the Pew and ABC / WaPo polls than they show backing up the Time and Newsweek polls, the odds will drop further.

Still, as long as we meet all of the conditions on the primary checklist, the odds for control will never drop below 50%. As long as we meet most of the conditions on the second checklist, the odds will never drop below 75%. As prepared as I thought I was for Republicans to close the gap, a seed of doubt has been firmly planted in my mind, and won't go away unless every generic ballot poll released between now and Election Day, with a minimum of four new polls, shows a double-digit Democratic lead. Even though I still see the odds heavily in our favor, that is about all that could calm me down before the House is actually called for Democrats. The door has creeked open, and I will remain nervous until the end as a result.

One thing is for certain, however. Democrats will make noticeable gains in the House, the Senate, in Governorships, and basically everywhere else in this election. Even our worst case scenario yields progress, as well as the majority vote of the nation. Our fight has most definitely not been for nothing. And if this doesn't work well, then fine, we will try something new shortly. Even if our victory is narrow, a win is a win is a win. A change in power in the House of Representatives is the most difficult achievement in American politics, and not to be taken lightly, no matter how narrowly it is achieved.

Update: New Gallup poll shows Democrats ahead 51%-44%, exactly the same margin Republcians led by in 1994. I remain both nervous and clearly favoring Democrats.

Tags: election forecasts, House 2006, polls (all tags)



Re: Fingernail Biting Time

Dude,  chill the hell out.

by LordZoltar 2006-11-05 05:14PM | 0 recs
Generic ballots are virtually worthless

That's why they have so much variance. The Bush approval numbers are much more reliable because they are specific.

The Kerry flap was Rove and the Republican noise machine working up the base. It got their "likely voter" numbers up. They would have found something, but Kerry played the fool for them nicely.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....the House and Senate votes are local so go back to the real polling numbers and forget the generic nonsense.

by FishOutofWater 2006-11-05 05:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

  If we don't take the House back, we need to make sure it's not blamed on Howard Dean. Because you know they'll try.
by Master Jack 2006-11-05 05:31PM | 0 recs
Don't worry

Pelosi and Kerry will get the blame.  The one for being "too liberal" the other, well for the obvious.

by scientician 2006-11-05 05:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

Blame the bloggers.  Thats the best way to quash netroots oppostion to their authority.  

by Winston Smith 2006-11-05 05:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

The real polls will close soon enough. At this point, no other polls matter. Pew, Gallup, CNN, et al. may or may not reflect the present and recent past, neither of which we can change. We can only affect the future.


by ATL Dem 2006-11-05 05:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

If we don't take the House back, Howard Dean won't be the issue.  We need to figure out some special level of Hell for John Kerry.  True, Rove did unfairly use him as a rallying point, but Kerry could have killed the story hours after it began by just apologizng.  Now "botched joke" will ring in voters' ears instead of "stay the course."

I don't agree that Kerry helped us.  He hurt us terribly.  He sacrificed us on the alter of his ego.  Kerry needs to know that if we lose this thing given what a mess the Republicans have made of this country, he's earned the hatred of many who have sweat and cried for this cause.  If there is a Republican House in January, Deval Patrick should appoint Kerry's successor by February.

by Lassallean 2006-11-05 05:43PM | 0 recs
I'm with you

The level of ineptitude displayed by Kerry leaves me speechless.  How much more can one man do to screw up, spread over three years?

by tuffie 2006-11-05 05:52PM | 0 recs
Re: I'm with you

My partner and I, both rabid Kerry supporters in the general in 2004, have come to the realization that we hate Kerry.  Both politically and even PERSONALLY, we hate the man.

I never much liked people who are out of their league, not realizing it, thus being a poseur.  Kerry may be a wonk, but he has zero charisma, sense of humor, or ability to think on his feet or improvise.  Such a man has NO business being in politics, at ANY level...especially the congressional level or (GASP) national level.

This loser fuck should have never been elected to the Senate.  I would like to never see his ugly face again.

by jgarcia 2006-11-05 06:14PM | 0 recs

   Fucking media.  I can't believe with all the problems that have been created by the current administration in six long years, that they decided to focus on Kerry's botched joke for 96 hours straight.  The media can't handle one party dominating the other - it doesn't make for an interesting narrative.  The media is doing everything it can to make this a race.  Republicans say crazy shit all the time, and it never gets reported.  Burns thinks Bush has a secret plan for Iraq that he won't tell anyone.  Katherine Harris wants to convert Jews.  Steele thinks that stem cells = the Holocaust.  But when Kerry makes a bad joke, it becomes national news.  

by cilerder86 2006-11-05 06:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

Kerry shouldn't have had to apologize.  If Republicans hadn't taken the mangled line out of context and made a big deal of it, and if the media hadn't been their loyal stenographers instead of thinking for themselves, the soldiers who supposedly were insulted by it never would've known about it in the first place.  Why should he apologize for Republicans being asses?  Blaming him is just blaming the victim.  If Democrats had stood united behind Kerry and said Republicans were just spewing b.s. as usual, it would've shown Democrats knew how to stand their ground and fight back.  Instead, we had the spectacle of Claire McCaskill, Harold Ford, and Jon Tester back-stabbing Kerry and telling him to apologize.  Screw that.

This was the same b.s. the Republicans pulled during the '04 campaign, what with the "global test," "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," and other bogus flaps.  Kerry shouldn't have had to apologize until Bush apologizes for his tasteless "where are the weapons of mass destruction?" comedy routine before the National Press Club two years ago.  At any rate, Republicans would've made a huge stink about it even if he had apologized immediately.  

If Democrats don't win control of the House this year, or even if they win only a narrow majority, I have no doubt that Kerry will be made the scapegoat.  He deserves better.

by Comic Book Guy 2006-11-05 06:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

I understand how unfair the situation is.  But we are dealing with bullies.  The Republicans are bullies, and they are better at being bullies than we are.  So, we have to out-smart them rather than trying to play their game on their terms.  That old adage about hitting the bully back just doesn't work here.  Hitting the bully back keeps the story alive, and whether it's fair or not, keeping that lame-ass, Republican manufactured story alive was the worst possible thing carry could have done.  Bush and the Republicans dared Kerry to flip his top, and he did.  He played right into their hands.

It doesn't matter how shitty the media is or how horrible the Republican tactics are.  We know these things, so we have to act, not react to them.  Kerry reacted.  He played their game on their terms because his ego was hurt.  That was his mistake.  Pride.  I'm not sure whether he is the exact cause, but the poll numbers turned on a dime right after his gaffe.  Look at the dates of the polls.  

by Lassallean 2006-11-05 06:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

Yep, his ego cost us, bigtime.

Every race that is lost by a point or two, is his fault.  Seriously.  If Tester loses by a point, that goddam egomaniacal boring jerk Kerry did it.  

I fucking hate him.

by jgarcia 2006-11-05 07:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

Bush's "jokes" were not taken out of context.  They were understood exactly as intended.  It demonstrates Bush's narcisisstic personality.  To him, not finding WMD was a funny little gaff.  (Oops, my bad)  There was no recognition of the devastation to the US and the Iraqi people that this caused.  

To be fair to Bush, WMD was never a serious justification for the invasion of Iraq.  It was just a ploy to shut up critics.  (you oppose the invasion of Iraq?!  then you want them to attack us with nukes!)  I dont think it is big deal when the commander-in -chief jokes about not finding any.  The real scandal is so much bigger.  

Kerry's comments were just misspeaking.  He should have simply released the original text as intended and apologized for misspeaking.  The controversy here was never real.  

It actually made me feel pretty confident when the WH seized on this and began scheduling addresses specifically to "counter" it.  The anti-democratic orgy this inspired on FOX was just silly.  To me it meant that the republicans truly had no other secret hidden plan to swing this election.  

by Winston Smith 2006-11-05 06:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

And remember Bush's joke about Letterman's open-heart surgery on Letterman's show when he was campaigning in 2000.  The really stuck with me.. it was so disturbing.  Bush with his shit-eating grin, and Letterman just sitting there like.. "I cant believe you just said that."

by Winston Smith 2006-11-05 06:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

Have you seen the internals for these polls?

Is there a real, sudden shift in the composition of the electorate,   and in the perceptions of the republican and democratic parties?  

These things don't turn on a dime.  The trends have been going strong for months,  and these polls are "contradicted" by other recent polls that show a stronger lead.

It all comes down to two factors:

How much more energized are Ds than Rs?


Do independents turn out at all?

Right now, that's all that's left.

And it's the difference between +17 in the house +3 senate, and +35 in the house, +6 in the senate.

by LordZoltar 2006-11-05 05:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

Three polls, back to back, of 4%, 6%, and 7%, is a little much to ignore, and makes me nervous, too.  I sure hope all the LV models are out of whack, but I'm not holding my breath.  Thankfully, this is a macro poll, and less important than polling between two actual candidates, especially now that all candidates have the best name recognition they're going to get.

Part of me wants to pull a Kos and not forecast a dem win, if nothing else than to avoid the possibility of a horrible sinking feeling on Wednesday.  But I still think our chances are 95%+ of a takeover.  Cmon, 13 seats in the bag, and 23 tossups, where we need 15 total?  I wouldn't go down to 80% or even 90%.

But let's hope the news cycle the next two days is in our favor, with the Saddam verdict continuing to highlight the Iraq madness rather than a phony "success".

by aip 2006-11-05 06:10PM | 0 recs
Don't worry about Pew

Their likely voter model had a 39-16 edge between conservatives and liberals. In 2004, exit polls had 34/21 edge in the vote. Recalibrate and the Dems are up 11.

by elrod 2006-11-05 06:00PM | 0 recs

   Isn't the electorate usually more conservative in midterm elections than in presidential elections?  The turnout model could be wrong, but it might not be either.

by cilerder86 2006-11-05 06:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

Chris, I can prescribe you some Valium.  

by Winston Smith 2006-11-05 06:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

And I can put on a George Michael CD for you.

by HellofaSandwich 2006-11-05 06:40PM | 0 recs
Don't worry about Pew

"Their likely voter model had a 39-16 edge between conservatives and liberals. In 2004, exit polls had 34/21 edge in the vote. Recalibrate and the Dems are up 11."

Which tells us all how arbitrary the polling is, and how inexact when they all use different criteria for deciding who a "likely voter" is. None of them are really accurate. The averaging may give us a hint about trends but just look at the volatility when comparing what's come out in the last two  days. This is science??
Gen U.S. House
51/44 LV USAT/Gallup
47/43 LV Pew
51/45 LV ABC/WPost
55/40 LV SRBI/Time
54/38 LV Newsweek

by cmpnwtr 2006-11-05 06:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Don't worry about Pew

no longer science when put in the hands of a reporter. margin of error is probably understated too because of likely voter criteria, and interpreting changes over time is blurred by subtle changes in sample composition.

so people hear "Republicans gaining ground" when all it could be is GOPers being more likely to say they're gonna vote (USA Today actually points this out). of course, according to Pew, the gains have been among Indies who have not changed in likelihood to vote.

MOE on interpretations like these is far higher than what they use for the whole sample, and its a big problem in the media. the way they spin this stuff is part of the persuasion war.

by Chris G 2006-11-05 06:40PM | 0 recs
Chris, I want to take a moment to compliment you on setting a high bar and then comparing progress against it in an uncompromising fashion.  Yes, there are all sorts of positive trends that people can point out in the comments, but, we've either met them or not.
Whatever happens in a couple days, keep the attitude of setting goals, measuring success, and trying new things when the old ones are working.  As you noted, you have made progress and falling short of perfection is only to be expected.  There is no 100% guarantee about a complex future, but you are taking the right path to try to make it better.
by PghArch 2006-11-05 06:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

One actor- I don't remember who- maybe it was Carol Burnett? Anyway, the before every performance she said she would throwup. It didn't matter that she was famous. It didn't matter she had accolades. She still would throw. I imagine because she always doubted that she should be there. What would her audience think? She didn't know. The point of this story is this: just because you feel it doesn't make it so. You probably know this. I just think the story is a nice story to tell on a more visceral level of how know amount of number crunching is going to convince you no matter what because it's not about the numbers. It's about that fear that given all that we know- the voters may in a democracy decide another way. There is nothing you or anyone else can do about this. No number cruching is going to help. The only thing that can be done is what Carol Burnett (or whoever it was who said that story) did- she went out, and gave the best performance she could give. She didn't fare so bad, and I suspect despite all this last minute recrimination, the Democrats will not either. I don't have any polls to back that ups. In fact, I am nervous too, but what I do have is instinct that we reached a tipping point this year.

by bruh21 2006-11-05 06:14PM | 0 recs
Try this

I just called three acquaintances of mine who live down the road from me in San Ramon (Pombo's District 11 - I live in Tauscher's District 10).

Two of them already voted, but one wasn't going to vote since Arnold was going to win anyway. I told her that she just might be in the tightest race for control of the House - that it was like being in Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004 - and if I lived in San Ramon I would sure the hell vote. Anyway, she voted on the spot! Sent in her absentee ballot.

Everyone has to know someone in one of these tight races. Make some calls - check the polls later.

by mo 2006-11-05 06:23PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

I think this report from Stu Rothenberg posted at his Blog today (11/5) gives a nice summary of where we are and maybe we can look past the numbers game and the blame game. -

Sunday, November 05, 2006
Just Hours Until Democratic Gains
By Stuart Rothenberg

This column first appeared in Roll Call on November 2, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

With less than a week to go before Election Day, we now know the GOP's October surprise: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). And you wondered why White House political guru Karl Rove sounded so upbeat and certain that Republicans would hold both chambers of Congress?

Kerry, who already destroyed one election for his party, apparently is trying to make it two in a row. It will be a tough job for the Massachusetts Democrat, but he's doing his best, first by saying something silly and inappropriate, then compounding it by going on the attack instead of apologizing immediately.

Alas, the die is cast, and at this point, even Kerry can't cost his party control of the House. But the louder he complains about the president, and the more names he calls White House aides, the more he could energize Republicans, which would help the GOP hold another seat or two.

In most respects, the national political environment has changed little since the beginning of the year. Yes, there have been bumps along the way -- President Bush's job approval has gone down, then up, then down again -- but the fundamental elements of the election cycle remain unchanged.

The news from Iraq has not improved -- in fact, it has gotten worse -- and Americans have become increasingly pessimistic about the president's policies. A majority of Americans believe the United States made a mistake in invading Iraq, and only about one in three Americans believe that we are winning the war against terror. That shouldn't be surprising, given that Bush often has repeated that Iraq is the front line in the war against terror.

Congress' already bad reputation was made worse by the page scandal surrounding former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and by the way GOP leaders handled it. All of that has played into the Democrats' message of "change," making the 2006 elections a classic referendum on the party in power and the president.

Democrats didn't "nationalize" these midterms -- events and circumstances did. When the news is bad, voters naturally look for someone to blame. And when one party controls all of the levers of government, that party gets 100 percent of the blame.

Still, even if the Democrats didn't create that wave, they have done a good job riding it.
GOP prospects in the midterm elections have been further damaged by inept Republican behavior, from the disastrous campaign of self-inflicted wounds by Sen. George Allen (Va.) to a messy Republican Tennessee Senate primary that enhanced the chances of Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in what had seemed like an almost impossible race.

And over in the House, the behavior (or alleged behavior) of a number of current and former Republican Members-- former Reps. Tom DeLay (Texas) and Foley and Reps. Bob Ney (Ohio), Don Sherwood (Pa.) and Curt Weldon (Pa.) -- have put otherwise safe seats into play.
The greatly expanded playing field makes it quite obvious that these midterm elections are a Republican nightmare. Few Democratic seats are at any risk, while normally safe Republican districts are endangered.

At least a couple of dozen Republican incumbents trail in polling or hold narrow leads and are well under 50 percent of the vote -- a dangerous position this late in an election cycle. In many ways, this situation mirrors 1994, the most recent major partisan wave in a midterm election. A dozen years ago, Democratic incumbents were well under 50 percent of the vote in trial heats against their GOP opponents. Most of them lost.

In district after district, undecided voters disapprove of the president's performance, think the country is on the wrong track and generally fit a demographic profile that suggests they are more likely to vote for Democratic challengers than for GOP incumbents, if they vote at all.

Quality Republican incumbents who began the cycle well-liked and viewed as thoughtful and effective, as well as strong campaigners -- including three relatively moderate House Republicans in Connecticut, plus Reps. Anne Northup (Ky.), Clay Shaw (Fla.), Jim Walsh (N.Y.) and Heather Wilson (N.M.) -- could find themselves drowning in a Democratic wave.

But I remain skeptical that large numbers of GOP candidates in solidly Republican districts are likely to lose. In 2004, Nebraska's 3rd district gave Bush 75 percent of the vote, while Indiana's 3rd went 68 percent for Bush. The president won Idaho's 1st with 69 percent, Wyoming with 69 percent and Colorado's 5th with 66 percent. Democratic Congressional candidates will come close in some of those districts, but any Democratic victories still would constitute major upsets.

Few Republican voters will vote for Democratic candidates, and the GOP's "micro-targeting" get-out-the-vote operation could well result in an electorate that is more Republican than some GOP strategists fear.

Luckily for Democrats, their nominees don't have to knock off Republicans in such solidly Republican districts to net 25 or even 30 seats.

Over in the Senate, recent polling in the Virginia Senate race has brought more bad news to Republicans. New public and private polling suggests that Democrat Jim Webb has pulled ahead of Allen. Again, given Allen's incumbency and his inability to find wedge issues to portray his Democratic challenger as an unapologetic liberal, the Republican Senator will have real problems making Webb unacceptable to undecided voters.

The outlook for Republicans is a little brighter in Missouri, where some private poll numbers last week had showed state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) opening up a significant lead over Sen. Jim Talent. Newer numbers suggest that the race remains competitive. But even so, Talent continues to face a very difficult bid for re-election.

by cmpnwtr 2006-11-05 06:42PM | 0 recs
Buyer's Remorse

We're catching some backwash, no doubt.

Carry it on.

by stevehigh 2006-11-05 06:43PM | 0 recs
Everything drifts back to the beginning

Much less stressful without the ping ponging when you accept that. No such thing as a double digit lead in a national ballot, generic or presidential. In a polarized era I ignore any number above 6 or 8 and will continue to. Only the 45 seat gap in contested races could push Democrats above a +6 or +8.

Charles Franklin had the best quantitative assessment a few days ago on, that it was a "wind assisted" year for Democrats, an average of +5 in senate races and +6 in the house. That needs to be accepted also, looking back at this cycle, a second term midterm.

John Kerry should have windsurfed and kept going. Explore the Bermuda Triangle.

That was an incomparable gaffe, reminding Republicans and independents of the most recent Democratic candidate who they didn't like, and who lost a national race. They had zip traction ripping Nancy Pelosi because the name doesn't summon an image or anything specific. Now you've got conservative pundits telling the audience to remember Kerry's words and vote, and that resonates.

Republicans wanted to localize the races and were flopping big time with moronic charges like the Man/Boy Love Association, then John Kerry nationalizes it for them, at least to minor benefit. I heard several Kerry jokes and ridicule in casinos this week, and those are regular Joes, the type of thing I listen to regardless of what pundits are saying in terms of impact or lack of impact.

It's going to be a big night and boil down to the split among close races, particularly the ones involving GOP incumbents. Again, drifting back to the beginning. That's what we were saying months ago and it holds.

by Gary Kilbride 2006-11-05 07:06PM | 0 recs
Less of an assist

I was reading and Charles Farnklin dropped the win aided number down to 3.5.

by Gary Kilbride 2006-11-05 07:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

For what it's worth:

Gallup/USA polls out late tonight show Tester up by 9 in Montana, McCaskill up by 4 in Mo.

The rumor about the race tightening in Tenn. is apparently true, Gallup shows Corker up by only 3.

Va. shows Allen up by 3 as well.

by bandini 2006-11-05 07:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time
Gallup also shows Menendez up by 10 in NJ,
Whitehouse up by 3 in RI>
by bandini 2006-11-05 07:58PM | 0 recs
Re: Fingernail Biting Time

The Dems will win the House.

The odds are in the favor of Dems. With more than 60 races with incumbent Repubs within the margin of error the probability that the Repubs can win 75%+ of those races is so low that it would be considered statistically not possible.

And we'll know pretty early on Tue night as races in IN,KY,OH and upstate NY get called. I am not concerned at all about winning the House.

To get a senate majority on the other hand the odds are not very good. The Dems will have to win several close races that include MO, MT, VA, TN, RI, MD. That's why I hope for a wave to help the Dems also get the senate.

Then we can get some serious checks and balances to the runaway Bush administration.

by ab initio 2006-11-05 08:14PM | 0 recs


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