Saturday, October 17, 2020

These Are the States to Focus on to Flip the Senate

Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both wearing masks, speak to supporters who are seated in their car.

In the final few weeks of the election, with Joe Biden looking strong (fingers crossed!), winning the Senate is a critical imperative in terms of rebuilding this country and reversing the damage caused by Trump. For the average activist, the best way to help in these final few weeks is to focus on Georgia and Texas, in particular the voter mobilization work happening in those states, as they are among the winnable races that could use the most help.

From both a qualitative and quantitative standpoint, the conditions are favorable for Democrats to win back control of the Senate.

Qualitatively, all indications are that 2020 is shaping up to be a negative referendum on Trump’s presidency, with a gathering wave of resistance and revulsion that looks like it is poised to sweep him out of office. In such an environment, which can render harsh judgment, Trump’s enablers and apologists in the Senate run the real risk of being tossed out along with him.

Quantitatively, Democrats need a net gain of three seats (plus winning the White House, since the vice president is the tie-breaking vote in the Senate if that body is split evenly between parties) to take control of the chamber. With Alabama incumbent Democrat Doug Jones facing long odds to hold on to his seat in that heavily Republican state, that means at least four of the 23 Republican incumbents up for re-election must go down to defeat. Fortunately, 11 of those 23 races are highly competitive, and analysts such as Nate Silver and his team at give Democrats a 69 percent chance of taking control.

In January, I worked with the data scientist Dr. Julie Martínez Ortega to create an index to rate the winnability of each competitive Senate race. This index incorporated multiple predictive data points, including several typically ignored by many political analysts. The folks at FiveThirtyEight, for example, do an excellent job of aggregating polling and other data to generate a probabilistic model of an election outcome. Others, such as The Cook Political Report, use the Partisan Voter Index to compare a state or district with national election outcomes.

While all of the main analysts help fill in the picture of what is happening electorally, I have yet to see much reliance on Democratic vote potential, as measured by the relative size of the infrequent voting population, and analysis of demographic and election trends in terms of how a diversifying population steadily erodes Republican margins. The analysis Martínez Ortega and I conducted incorporates those additional factors, and we also look to see if there is an effective in-state voter mobilization infrastructure that can manifest the Democratic vote potential. These additional factors were critical components in the political transformation of Virginia from a red state to its current situation, in which Democrats hold all of the statewide offices and a majority of the legislature; and they helped forecast the competitiveness of the statewide races in Georgia, Florida, and Texas in 2018.

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