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Polls Say Democrats Can be Cautiously Optimistic About Retaking Congress

© Sputnik / Stringer / Go to the mediabankMore than 5,500 calls from US citizens reporting irregularities at voting stations sites have been received by a national telephone hotline, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law said in a statement on Tuesday.
More than 5,500 calls from US citizens reporting irregularities at voting stations sites have been received by a national telephone hotline, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law said in a statement on Tuesday. - Sputnik International
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made a by-now common prediction among Washington political observers on Monday: if the election were held today, the Democrats would “handily” win the US House of Representatives. But how accurate is that claim? Depends on whom you ask.

"If the election were held today, the Democrats would handily win the House," Pelosi (D-CA) said at a CNN-sponsored event in New York on Monday. As polling statistics have come out, predictions by politicos and journalists alike all seem to point to a Democratic victory.

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Politico, for example, predicts that after Americans cast their votes on November 6, the House will lean Democratic, and the Senate will lean Republican. All 435 House seats are up for re-election, as are a third of the 100 Senate seats along with many state and local government positions.

The news outlet has divided all congressional seats into seven categories: Solid/Likely/Lean Democrat or Republican and the ambiguous Toss-Up category for those races "we think are too close to call." Of those, in the House, Politico marked 172 seats as Solidly Democratic, 20 as Likely, and 17 as Leaning towards the Democratic candidate in their races, for a total of 209. Twenty-six seats are Toss-Ups. The GOP, on the other hand, can look at 28 seats Leaning Republican, 37 Likely to become so, and 135 Solidly going to belong to the Party of Lincoln, for a total of 200 seats.

Of course, those 26 Toss-Ups could make or break either side's majority and could mean the difference between a respectable or an extremely slim majority. With no races predicted to go to a third party and no House members currently identifying themselves as Independents (as does Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in Congress' upper house), that means a tie isn't expected.

Statistics whiz Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com, a website that crunches the numbers on the statistical probabilities of election races, has similarly predicted a Democratic victory.

Silver projects that the Democrats have a 6-in-7 chance (86.1 percent) of taking the House, while Republicans have a 1-in-7 chance (13.9 percent) of maintaining their control over the House. On the bell curve spread of possibilities, potential outcomes peak at an average of 40 seats gained this election by the Democrats, with a median probability of 39 seats gained by the blues.

All in all, the site gives the Democrats an 80 percent chance of gaining between 20 and 62 seats in November.

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However, in an interview with the Washington Post published on October 16, Silver cautioned against reading those statistics as "all but inevitable" — as many journalists seem to be doing.

"Media understanding about probability, margin of error and uncertainty is very poor," Silver said, noting that he gets "nervous about how people overstate things."

"Saying it's all but inevitable should signal it's at 98 percent, not 80 percent," he told the Post. FiveThirtyEight got egg on its face in 2016 for its conclusion that Trump's campaign was a joke and that Democrat Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, but Silver said that after the mess-up, he found he was "thinking too much like a political journalist and not enough like a statistician," as the Post phrased it.

"If you were running a business, and I told you there's a 15 percent chance or a 20 percent chance that you key supplier won't make its delivery, you would treat that as a very tangible, real-world risk, and you would do things to hedge against it," Silver told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday.

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"The thing about the House is that you cannot circle 23 districts where you say, ‘Oh I know for sure Democrats will win these.' Maybe 10, 12, 15 look very likely. However you have a field of maybe 80, 90, 100 potential pickups, mathematically, probably the dice come up good enough for Democrats in those districts," he said.

Nobody seems to have told US President Donald Trump, though. Trump's hit the campaign trail hard (having in many ways never really left it), holding rallies for conservative candidates across the country.

​"The crowds at my Rallies are far bigger than they have ever been before, including the 2016 election," the president tweeted on October 15. "Something big is happening — watch!"

Could Team Trump pull off an upset in the House a fortuitous fortnight from now? Signs point to "no," but in the era of Trump, nothing is certain — that much is a statistical guarantee.

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One big reason so many seats are up for grabs is that 40 House Republicans are retiring instead of seeking re-election. Since incumbents typically have fundraising advantages compared to challengers, the mass retirement of GOP reps leaves a big hole in the conservative flank that the Democrats hope to exploit.

Two of those incumbentless contests, the race between Democrat Gil Cisneros and Republican Young Kim for California representative Ed Royce's seat, and that between Democrat Mike Levin and Republican Diane Harkey for Darrell Issa's seat, have each seen over $20 million spent by candidates, The Hill noted.

In New York, Republican Representative John Faso is challenged by Democrat Antonio Delgado in a race that's seen $19 million spent on trying to win the seat.

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Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder's district is seen as particularly vulnerable by House Democrats. Defending a district in the Kansas City suburbs that Hillary Clinton narrowly won in her 2016 presidential race, Yoder is challenged by Sharice Davids, a progressive, openly lesbian woman from the Ho-Chunk Native American tribe. Yoder's district is so imperiled, Vox notes, that the National Republican Congressional Committee cancelled a $1 million ad buy for Yoder earlier this month. Most polls place Davids about 6-8 points ahead of Yoder in November.

One of the closer races is also one of the most important, seen by the Democrats as a litmus test for the party's ability to win back districts that voted for Trump in 2016. Republican Carol Miller and Democrat Richard Ojeda are duking it out in West Virginia for Republican Evan Jenkins' seat. Jenkins tried to run for Senate but lost his primary race.

Jenkins' former district in southern West Virginia is solid Rust Belt: poor, white and working class, but it vacillates between conservatives and liberals. Vox notes that while Trump won the state by one of the largest margins of 2016, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in West Virginia. Miller is only slightly favored at the moment.

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