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History Predicts The Midterms

In my previous piece, I wrote about the various storylines that are happening for this year’s midterms. But now with us on the cusp of election day, I was wondering what history has to say.

Why? For one, while there are outlier years, historic trends exist and are used by various models, forecasters, and even pollsters in making decisions on turnout and party weights. I myself use historical trends over at my monthly updated forecasting website when trying to forecast odds for who wins control of congress or predicting other elections.

To show you how much weight history can have to helping predict an election’s results, in 2016 while pollsters and forecasters were falling over themselves in missing Trump’s big upset victory, historical models were much more bullish on him in comparison when looking at him as just a “Generic Republican”. Case in point, Alan Abramowitz’s “Time for a Change” model and Allan Lichtman’s “Keys to the White House” forecast. The former also included a successful historical model using generic ballot numbers to predict control of the house. (For the record, this year that model predicts a Democratic takeover of the house).

So, I do think it’s worthy to try and look at historical trends to watch out for when November 6th, 2018 plays out. One by one, I will look to historic trends to show us what may come to past this year regardless if the trends agree or disagree with professional pollsters and forecasters.

Now for the purposes of this article, I will only be looking exclusively at the midterm races that match up with this year’s situation – a first midterm for a President just directly elected into office two years prior. And so we don’t go too far back, I’ll be looking at modern era post-WWII situations – basically starting with President Eisenhower’s time in office to present day. To clarify, that means we’ll be looking at the midterms of 1954, 1962, 1970, 1978, 1982, 1990, 1994, 2002, and 2010.

Trend #1: The Party Out Of Power Tends To Do Well In Modern First Midterms

You’ve heard this many a time before – the party that does not have control of the White House, is the party that does better during the midterms. So why not put that claim to the test? I went back and charted the results for the house, senate, and governors’ races during a situation like this year and found that while there are some exceptional outliers, this is generally true as the table below shows.

History Predicts The Midterms

As you can see post-WWII, the first midterms for a President elected into office two years prior have not usually been good years for their party. Granted there are outliers such as the out party actually LOSING seat(s) for the house in 2002, in the senate in 1962, 1970, and 2002, and in the governors’ races in 1990. But later when we investigate other factors it may explain what lead to those outliers.

What does that mean for 2018? Well, with the consensus being that Democrats will flip the house, come up short in the senate, and make some major gains in the governors’ races, this table shows us that’s about what to expect in this type of situation. On average, it’s the house where the out party makes major gains and the senate is where the party in power seems to limit their damage (the GOP tsunamis of 2002 and 2010 notwithstanding). For the governors’ column, the out party seems to make a good amount of gains with some years producing big numbers.

So, historically the trend of the out party doing good during the first midterm of an elected President goes along with what we’re expecting on election night.

Trend #2: The Party Out Of Power Tends To Escape With Control Of Either Chamber In A Modern First Midterm – Especially In The House

Of course, gaining seats is one thing, actually gaining enough to take control of the chambers in congress is another. So, I decided to look at the final result of who controls what in these midterms we’re putting under the microscope. I found that not every midterm resulted in the party out of power flipping or even keeping control of either chamber, but most times at least one chamber goes to the party not in the White House as the table below shows.

History Predicts The Midterms

So, in a situation like 2018, 67% of the time the house has ended up in control of the party outside of the White House. But the Senate has been a completely different result with only 44% of the time first midterms for a post-WWII President producing the outside party in the White House having control. In total, that’s lead to only full control of congress for the out party a similar 44% of the time.

Historically that once again shows trends for a first midterm matching with the expectations for 2018, as a split congress is the most likely result as it’s happened at least 67% of the time in these first midterms. So, there’s nothing strange in Democrats having a good night but not getting control of the senate even if they didn’t have such a tough map to deal with.

Obviously, there’s been outliers like 1962, 1978, and 2002, when not even one chamber would flip to the party outside of the White House. The GOP is hoping 2018 joins that minority list but there’s something regarding those three years that pops up at anyone examining the historic trends that doesn’t bode well for the red team. The next trend we’re going to be looking at – Presidential Approval.

Trend #3: The Party Out Of Power Takes Advantage The Most When The Sitting President Is Under 50% Approval – As Trump Is

Midterms tend to be change elections that are referendums on the White House. Historically, Presidents have suffered with their popularity two years into office, either falling from an inauguration peak in approval or being outright unpopular with the public. The more unpopular the President is, the more the party out of power can beat up on them to gain in midterm elections. Therefore following the President’s approval rating can be just as important when looking towards midterms as when the President is up for re-election.

I’ve decided to use Gallup’s numbers to examine where a President likely was in approval come election day. Keep in mind other individual polls may differ. Using Gallup, the table below shows very clearly that while the party outside of the White House tends to do well in midterms regardless, the party in power having an unpopular President seems to compound their midterm problem.

History Predicts The Midterms

As you can see, the party out of power does worse than the average post-WWII first midterm year when the sitting President is above 50% approval. And inversely the party out of power does better than the average post-WWII first midterm year when the sitting President is below 50% approval. 1982, 1994, and 2010 pop out of the table as the year where an unpopular President cost his party some big losses. And yet notice out of these three only one of them resulted in control of both chambers of congress.

What does this tell us? It tells us that once again history is teasing and agreeing with the expectations for November. President Trump may be experiencing a slight bump in approval of late, but he remains under parity as he has been in the average of polling since the day he took the oath of office. That puts the red team having to deal with a likely worse than average midterm year because of that, but still a split congress is likely even when taking that historic trend into account.

It makes sense. If the public is unhappy with the sitting President, they’re going to punish the party in power more than they usually would do in a midterm, an election cycle already tough for the White House partisans to begin with. Trump’s consistent unpopularity is historically an anchor to the GOP come election day.

Trend #4: The Party Out Of Power Tends To Do Well In Modern First Midterms Regardless Of The Economy, Though A Good One CAN Help Limit Damage

One measure of economic health (though there’s other factors that should be looked at) is the unemployment rate. With the economy doing well this midterm cycle, many have wondered if this will lead to the party in power actually limiting the damage. However, history tells us in the table below that regardless of how good or bad the economy is the party out of power can have a good to great year regardless.

History Predicts The Midterms

Obviously, the party out of power has done very well when unemployment is above average for a post-WWII first midterm. But when unemployment is lower than average – as of this writing unemployment is under 4.0%, better than any year we’re researching – the party out of power still makes gains, albeit just matching or doing slightly worse than the average midterm losses.

Note that in years like 1954, 1978, 1990, and notably 1994 the unemployment rate being below average for a modern first midterm didn’t stop gains from across the board for the out party. It seems the economy being bad logically hurts those in power, but the results are a tad mixed when the economy is more positive.

So, history shows us that as good as the economy is right now, it may not be enough to help the GOP save their house majority. However, the fact the economy isn’t incredibly bad like in 1982 or 2010 probably should worry any Democratic partisans hoping for a truly historic tsunami type of result. But expectations aren’t for a massive tsunami, it’s for a great year for the blue team yet nothing as massive as say a 1994 either – though it’s worth bearing in mind that the 1994 midterm was also a year where unemployment was better than average for a modern first midterm.

Trend #5: Turnout Tends To Go Up From The Previous Midterm For A Modern First Midterm

The final historical trend to look at is not about how the party out of power will do as much as what we should see with turnout this year. As you can see from the table below, turnout tends to go up from a previous midterm to the first post-WWII midterm for a new President even if that previous midterm was also a President’s first (and in their case only) midterm. Since the 1980s this seems to have become more of a consistent rule than a majority pattern.

History Predicts The Midterms

There’ve been a lot of interesting signs from voting statisticians and pollsters themselves that this midterm will not see just an increase in midterm turnout, but that we may see a turnout not seen for ANY midterm since Nixon was in office. History seems to agree that turnout will likely go up, but we’ll have to wait to see how much higher it actually does if at all.

Note however that turnout went up significantly by 3 whole points from the previous midterm in 1982 and 1994. The first was a great year for the out party and the second a fantastic year for them. So, if turnout goes up significantly it might mean those angry with the party in power are more motivated to come out? But 1962 saw nearly as much of an increase in midterm turnout and the party in power did okay behind a popular sitting President…Trump isn’t currently popular though.

What Does History Tell Us To Expect?

So, after going through just a couple of historical trends we can look at and compare, what does it predict for 2018?

What history seems to tell us is that this should be a good year for Democrats one way or another, as they should have a good chance to take control of at least one chamber especially the house. Thus, history agrees with many that they should flip the house this year. However, it also shows us that the senate is the hardest for an out party to take control of during a modern first midterm, and thus the GOP keeping the senate is something both history and the forecasters agree on as well. History also says Democrats, as the party out of power, should have good to significant gains in the governors’ races, something forecasters foresee as well right now.

History further tells us that an unpopular President causes his party worse pain than even a normal midterm already promises to the party in the White House. Trump’s consistent approval issues will help Democrats, something that flows with what forecasters and pollsters expect. However, history tells us that a good economy may just help the Republicans from suffering a massive tsunami, but that it doesn’t mean Democrats can’t still have a good year either. Something that again many expect.

And finally, an apolitical issue – turnout. History tells us we will see a higher turnout this year than we saw in 2014. Again, history and those studying likely turnout numbers agree on this as well.

Basically, if in 2016 history disagreed some with forecasters and pollsters, in 2018 they seem to be more in agreement. Everything we expect from a Democratic takeover of the house, to Republicans keeping the Senate, to Democrats having gains in gubernatorial seats, to a wave but no tsunami, to even the predictions of higher turnout – both history and expectations are aligned.

But keep in mind while history does repeat itself, it doesn’t have a perfect record either. Note not one trend was 100% consistent, so there are outliers and some trends have disagreed with one another in certain specific years. Not to mention we only looked at first midterms for post-WWII Presidents, maybe the trends look different if we expanded our research to ALL midterms and not just the ones that match this specific situation?

Regardless what history claims, the voters will be the ones who decide how 2018 goes. 2016 showed us expectations be damned in some respects after all; voters will get the last word, not pollsters, statisticians, or even historians. However, history did warn Trump could win, and in 2018 it’s telling us our expectations for this year of a good but not historic Democratic year may be more in line with reality. Let’s see if history keeps being right on election night. Or maybe it’ll throw us a curveball.

Guest Author
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When he’s not writing supernatural stories, Luis Mendez is obsessively following public opinion trends and gauging likely election outcomes. He has written about the subject for various publications and runs a monthly updated website trying to predict coming elections.

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63 thoughts on “History Predicts The Midterms

  1. Given the last 4 elections, I would expect the Democrats to do very well this year based on nothing but regression to the mean alone.

    This makes me see the baseline not as being up against what the Republicans have now but up against regression to the mean. If regression to the mean indicates that the pendulum is going to swing in such a way that Democrats will win 33 seats in the House, Democrats getting 28 seats in the House ought to be disappointing even if we can yell “HURRAY! DEMOCRATS WON THE HOUSE!”

    (On the flipside of that, if we could reasonably expect Democrats to win 33 seats in the House and Democrats win 38, then we can not only yell “HURRAY! DEMOCRATS WON THE HOUSE!” but “BLUE WAVE! SUCK IT!”)

    If it’s the former, Democratic Leadership needs to sit back and ask “Jeez Louise, folks. How in the hell are we shooting ourselves in the foot here?” and, if it’s the latter, Democratic Leadership can finally say “Okay… maybe we figured it out.”


    Well. At least they’ll have won the House, I guess.


    • So to recap:
      If the Dems don’t take the House, they need to:
      Do some soul searching and figure out why they suck.

      If the Dems take the House but don’t cover the spread, they need to:
      Do some soul searching and figure out why they suck.

      If they take the House and beat the spread, but get overly exuberant about it, they need to:
      Do some soul searching and figure out why they suck.

      Aside from the obvious silliness here, notice (once again) how the Republicans apparently don’t “need” to do anything at all, really even though they are undergoing a radical and astonishing transformation into a white nationalist party.

      Murc’s Law is a harsh but fair mistress I guess.


      • I’ll post what I said back between 2008 and 2010 to the Republicans.

        The question isn’t whether the Democrats want to win elections. The pendulum will swing back and forth as pendulums do.

        It’s that if the Democrats aren’t healthy, they’ll find themselves a hollowed out shell that is easily taken over by someone who will be easily analogized to Trump. (Perhaps even including in their ability to win elections.)

        Is it merely about winning elections, Chip? If it is, well, I imagine that you’ll be delighted one week from today no matter what happens.


        • What does that even mean, a “hollowed out shell”?
          And how does this pendulum work? What “center” does it pivot about?

          And of course it isn’t about just winning, which is why I criticize the horserace/Superbowl stuff.


          • What does that even mean, a “hollowed out shell”?

            I was thinking of the Republican Party when I said that.

            And how does this pendulum work?

            I’ll refer you to this post. Please note the graphics in the post that detail the numbers for presidents who win big in an election and what happens to the House and Senate in the elections that follow the next 8 years.

            What “center” does it pivot about?

            It seems to swing between “Republicans” and “Democrats”. I guess the “center” is whatever exists between those two parties. People who might vote for either, I guess.

            And of course it isn’t about just winning, which is why I criticize the horserace/Superbowl stuff.

            I tend to agree. I think that there are some serious policy and process questions that need to be hammered out over the next however many years and I have serious preferences for the outcomes.

            But I also know that winning helps with establishing preferred outcomes.


            • In this context, the pendulum metaphor doesn’t tell us anything meaningful.

              Swinging the balance of power between Republicans and Democrats changes meaning, because the parties themselves change.
              So this mysterious “center” doesn’t really exist.

              This is one reason why I get so cranky about the BSDI/ bipartisan/ centrist narrative because it continually redefines the imagined center so as to stay equidistant between whatever voices exist.

              It assumes that the equidistant point is morally good and sensible, regardless of where it happens to fall. Which is to say, that this narrative is wholly agnostic about any sort of values of justice.


              • Oh, I’m on record for seeing “centrists” as always wrong.

                So when I say “pendulum”, I am referring to the thing where the party in power loses it to the other party, and then the other party loses it to the first party.

                And it’s regular. Like, it happens every 8 years or so.

                And it swings back and forth.

                Like a pendulum.

                I’m not trying to imply any morality whatsover.


      • Is Murc’s law the law that says a team that sucks can win elections and still suck?

        ‘Cause that’s how it works for Team Trump.

        Team SuckA won’t vote for Team SuckB, but some on Team SuckB might vote for Not-SuckA and some on Team SuckA might vote for Not-SuckB.

        At some point (may it be soon) the trick will be Not to Suck.


        • I don’t think everyone has to agree with the Democrats ideologically. That will never happen.

          But it seems like a lot of people here and elsewhere find it incomprehensible that people like being Democrats and do like the party agenda.


          • I don’t think that.

            I do, however, think that the people who like the two parties current agenda overestimate the number of fellow believers vs. fellow travelers.

            There’s a gap there that will be exploited by one or both sides.


      • Oh, one thing I also feel the need to point out.

        You say:

        If they take the House and beat the spread, but get overly exuberant about it, they need to:
        Do some soul searching and figure out why they suck.

        But here’s what I said:
        On the flipside of that, if we could reasonably expect Democrats to win 33 seats in the House and Democrats win 38, then we can not only yell “HURRAY! DEMOCRATS WON THE HOUSE!” but “BLUE WAVE! SUCK IT!”
        if it’s the latter, Democratic Leadership can finally say “Okay… maybe we figured it out.”

        That’s what I said. Scroll up. It’s right there.

        I don’t think that you accurately summed up my argument, there.


  2. O/T but only sorta-
    While everyone acknowledges that the birthright citizenship idea was just one of a flurry of nonsense antics to troll the American public, it will continue to reverberate long after the election.

    As I predicted, we are seeing the first “Well, Actually” trial balloons from the right.


    • Hmm… based on the argument there, Ted Cruz is not only not natural born but not even a US citizen, having been born in another country which counted him a citizen because he had been born there.

      So, can we deport him? lol


      • Ted Cruz either has a certificate of citizenship issued by the US State Department or he is not a US citizen. All those born abroad, except to diplomats, are naturalized. Natural born citizens don’t have any such State Department documentation, as no such extra paperwork is required.

        Interestingly, Superman is a natural born US citizen even though he was born on Krypton. Under US law at the time, any foundling younger than seven is considered a natural born citizen unless someone comes forward to prove otherwise prior to the foundling turning 21. Nobody outed the young Clark Kent, so he is qualified to be President, whereas Ted Cruz is actually not, despite contrary rulings in several state courts.

        I was corresponding with the lawyer who was filing those lawsuits, and unfortunately he’s one of the “birther” types who holds that to be a natural born citizen, both parents must be US citizens at the time of birth, based on some Swiss book on citizenship from the mid-1700’s that one of the Founder’s owned, but probably nobody else had read.


      • In all honesty, I’m not sure what “credible” means given that Jim Hoft has the President’s ear and Mike Cernovich is given media exposure.

        I cal this a “trial balloon” because this is the process we’ve seen before with the birther stuff, were the fringers begin the drumbeat, then it gets picked up by more and more mainstream outlets.

        This idea is not new- its been a staple of Federalist Society who have been debating it (in the most civil and polite tones of course) here in 2011; and again in 2015 here;

        I could go on, but you get the idea, that this isn’t just some zany thing we should dismiss with a laugh.

        The goal is to move this from “unspeakable” to “debatable” and to cleanse its proponents from “radical racists” to “reasonable centrists”.


        • The hope is that you start small on the fringe and go up in respectability over the years. Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were both considered nuts during the early 1960s but in a few years, what they advocated became mainstream on the Right at least. By this method what used to be considered ludicrous and ridiculous becomes mainstream thought. Rightists and leftists have used this strategy but the Right tends to be more effective with it.


              • It doesn’t matter when or how they started, their purpose was to make a respectable intellectual case for conservatism.

                Nothing nefarious about that! There are equivalent organizations on the left.
                But as the battle for the soul of the conservative movement has raged, the intellectual case has become progressively more hollow and corrupt.

                We’ve discussed most of these here on this blog.

                Federalism, free markets, moral values, patriotism…all the high minded things that one might once upon a time have read about in National Review have been pushed aside in favor of grifting hitched to white supremacy.


                • If you say so, maybe I’m just not looking in the right places because I don’t go looking for crap. Heritage is the Republican’s version of the Center for American Progress. They’re mainly there to get policy ideas in front of Hill Republicans. I don’t care much about legal issues so I don’t pay too much attention to the FedSoc.

                  However, one of my regular podcast listens is EconTalk by Russ Roberts of George Mason and the Hoover Institution. I’ve been listening for some time and I’ve yet to encounter any white supremacy or even anything particularly Pro-Trump. It’s mostly conversations about economics from a right-of-center, broadly libertarian-ish perspective. But as I said, you tend to find the quality of conversation that you go looking for.


                  • Honestly, I would be interested to hear what “right of center” economics looks like, that isn’t just a grift intended to funnel wealth upward.

                    But first they need to come to grips with the utter trainwreck of what the contemporary Republican policies have wrought.


                    • Honestly, I would be interested to hear what “right of center” economics looks like, that isn’t just a grift intended to funnel wealth upward.

                      Like I said, you’ll usually find just what you’re willing to look for.


                        • The economic policy of the Democratic Party as actually practiced when in power by Democratic Majorities under Obama, Clinton and (to a more modest degree) Bush Senior is pretty much right of center when looked at globally. It certainly isn’t some kind of repainted communism or socialism as portrayed by right wingers, their media apparatus or the tiny powerless minority of the left wing fringe that those former players hold up as emblematic of the Democratic Party.


                        • Within the world of people who study, research, and write about economics, public policy, political science, sociology and every other social science, the number of people interested in “owning the kind” or interested in owning the people trying to “own the libs” is quite small.

                          There are lots of people writing about economics as economics and not from the perspective of retail politics. They’re not hard to find. But like I keep saying, you have to actually want to find them.


                          • Sure, but since the only connection those people have with the actual political or policy apparatus of political conservationism is that the republican politicians sometimes incoherently steal some of their verbiage what is the point of that?


                            • Sounds like you’re reasoning backwards to try and support Chip’s initial claim. Politicians use economic theories to support questionable political claims; therefore, economics only exists to support shitty politicians.

                              This is a demonstrably false claim. I’m not sure that there is much more to it.


                              • Certainly not. But right wing economics that have some resemblance to rational economics pair up with libertarians, not modern Republicans. So I’d revise your summary to Republican politicians use faux republican-economic “theories” to support ludicrous political claims; therefore, republican-economics only exists to support shitty republican politicians.”


        • I’m listening to the podcast you linked. Prof. Eastman, arguing the anti-birthright side, seems eager to ignore the text of the amendment, and substitute congressional debate instead. It seems to me that the wording is exactly what the Congress wanted it to say. They definitely could have been more precise if they had wanted to.


            • The history and meaning of birthright citizenship is clear and well understood, with an extensive body of law, including Calvin’s Case in 1608, and of course Blackstone’s Commentaries and American updates to Blackstone’s undertaken by legal scholars who knew the Founders, such as St George Tucker.

              One of the keys to it, cited in case after case by the Supreme Court, is allegiance and jurisdiction.

              Tucker, interestingly, maintained that states retain the right of denization, which is a status in between an alien and a citizen, since they had exercised as British colonies and under the Articles of Confederation and did not surrender the power to the federal government in the Constitution.


  3. Nate Silver came out with an essay today that said no one should be surprised if the Democrats take the Senate and/or the Republicans retain the House while maintaining the probability is Democrats take the House and Republicans retain the Senate. There are lots of GOP held seats that are not as safe as they thought but the races are still very close.

    In more personal observations, I can see how my cohort of voters have changed since we started voting. My first election was in 1998. My first Presidential was 2000. My campus did not have a Bush v. Gore debate but we did have a lot of very heated Gore or Nader arguments. A plurality of the students were for Nader and disliked Gore. This same cohort went for Dean or Kuninich in 2004 instead Kerry in the primaries.

    My cohort is now in their mid-30s to early 40s. We are still on the left but more realistic. This article came out this week to many eyerolls:


    My cohort is now saying “Listen kids, there is no such thing as a perfect politician. They will always believe and do something that you don’t fully support. This is okay. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”


    • My cohort is now saying “Listen kids, there is no such thing as a perfect politician. They will always believe and do something that you don’t fully support. This is okay. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

      Are they? I was still under the impression that stuff like disagreeing on anything in the Performatively Woke platform was evidence of some kind of -phobia.


    • Nate Silver came out with an essay today that said no one should be surprised if the Democrats take the Senate

      So I went to Nate Silver’s site and I didn’t see that essay. I did see this one, though:

      The divide between the House outlook and the Senate outlook continues to widen. Democrats’ chances of winning a majority remain at or near their all-time highs in our House forecast — ranging between 78 percent (7 in 9) and 85 percent (6 in 7) in the various versions of our model. But they’re at their lowest point yet in the Senate. All three versions of our forecast give them only about 1 in 7 shot (about 15 percent) of taking over the Senate from Republicans.


      • Oh, I see what you’re focusing on…

        This is normally the point at which you might expect us to give you a throat-clearing “well, actually” about how 1 in 7 chances happen all the time. Indeed, they do. One in seven days of the week is a Thursday. None of us woke up this morning screaming “Oh my gosh, I just can’t believe it’s a Thursday!” And nobody should really be that surprised if Democrats win the Senate next week, or if Republicans keep the House.

        Well, polls have systematic errors all the time. Maybe this one will work in Dems favor.


        • That’s a really strange analogy. I mean, it works if we collectively spin a wheel of days of the week, but not in a sequence of 7 days. We are in fact *never* surprised by Thursday. Well, almost never…

          I think the proper response to a 15% occurrence is definitionally… surprise. As in, huh, was darn near certain (85%, in fact) that this thing that happened wasn’t gonna happen. Color me surprised.

          What it oughtn’t be is existentially crippling.


              • *doesn’t.

                8/9 throws will establish the point… or win.
                2 out of 3 throws establish the point only… win or lose is the other 1/3

                So you definitely shouldn’t be surprised if you win or set a point.

                The first throw is mostly safe from a non-losing perspective. Like a California primary if you are a Democrat.


                  • Has Nate Silver explained why he shifted to fractions from percentiles? Because I find that more confusing and less informative.

                    I suspect he either thinks his readers don’t have a good grip on percentages (and distributions) or he is trying to minimize the false certainty of percentages (14.29% versus one-in-seven).


                    • Your second reason is right, but your read on things is thought to be uncommon. It’s thought that most people have an easier time understanding “1 in 6” than they do “16.66%.” So part of it is trying to communicate better, and part of it is also that he was annoyed that there was substantial misunderstanding about the degree of certainty his forecasts were intended to convey. (That, however, seems to me to be a problem of people not understanding the difference between polling and forecasting.)


            • Makes me wonder if 1 in 6 is really an accurate assessment of the odds.

              Have we calculated how many times the 1 in 6 odds turned up the 1?

              I’m not really surprised when I lose on the come out, but I’m kinda *more* surprised when the 1 in 6 candidate wins. Might just be a frequency thing…but might also be interesting to chart the odds to the results and see how that correllates? C’mon, someone on the itntertubes has done that somewhere, right?

              Maybe 1 in 6 is shorthand for 1 in 36…


              • Variance is a son of a gun, ain’t it?

                Anybody who plays D&D can tell you that some nights you throw 20s. Some nights you throw 1s.

                I’m sure that there’s a hell of a lot of “counting the hits, ignoring the misses” going on in there but, as a D&D player, lemme tell ya: Some nights you throw 20s.


              • The essential problem with these forecasts is that they’re not repeatable events, so no matter what the results, giving something a 1 in 6 chance beforehand can always be ‘correct’

                The prediction markets try to solve for this by giving the predictions some stakes, but they are hampered by a lack of deep enough liquidity and real earnest money. And they’re probably more subject to black swans than either the sports book or ‘real’ financial markets.


            • We had a local high schooler who died after playing Russian roulette with a semi-automatic. The policeman who was being interviewed at the scene by one of our local TV stations actually giggled about it on camera. All the other teens at the party were careful not to pull the slide all the way back so as not to chamber a cartridge. Our story’s hero was not quite so astute.


      • That’s the essay:

        This is normally the point at which you might expect us to give you a throat-clearing “well, actually” about how 1 in 7 chances happen all the time. Indeed, they do. One in seven days of the week is a Thursday. None of us woke up this morning screaming “Oh my gosh, I just can’t believe it’s a Thursday!” And nobody should really be that surprised if Democrats win the Senate next week, or if Republicans keep the House.


    • My cohort is now saying “Listen kids, there is no such thing as a perfect politician. They will always believe and do something that you don’t fully support. This is okay. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

      When I was younger, I remember seeing a lot of movies/TV that followed a particular form: big fish in a small pond gets the chance to come and kick it with the big boys. Could have been an elite academic institution or a sports program or dance company, but the basic plot trajectory was the same. Kid gets recruited in a process that makes him feel special, then gets to the show and has to realize that he’s not special at all. He’s just another cog in a big machine. The hero eventually prevailed and made the game winning shot or danced the big finale or whatever, but to get there they had to lose the ego and submit to the process and learn to be a team player.

      I don’t know if they make many movies like this anymore. In most of the movies that I see now, the young people get to be very important from jump. This probably comports to some part of the millennial ethos

      I say all of that to say that I have more than a little sympathy for “the kids these days.” They came of age in the era in which the media and educators continually pushed the narrative of transformational leadership. They lived through the Obama presidency, with his Nobel prize and international popularity and giving us all health care and everything. In general, this was a style of politics that implied that what was good was what made you feel good. And then, almost on a dime, the kids had a bunch of people in their face telling them that it wasn’t actually all about them and that they should shut up, hold their noses and vote pragmatically. Maybe it’s true, but it’s going to take them a minute to unlearn all that other stuff.


  4. Yeah basically the historical evidence all points at Dems doing extremely well. The only serious modern blip is 2002 and we have NOT had anything that remotely resembles 9/11 in the last few years so 2002 definitely goes into the outlier bin.


  5. Here’s a thought: We’ve tracked Presidential approval versus results, but what about Presidential disapproval?

    They’re not quite the same thing, and Trump seems fairly far off the standard here in one particular way: His disapproval number is above 50%. I think the latest 538 aggregates have it around 52 or 53%, and it appears to be slowly trending up.

    I don’t know if “underwater” or “negative approval ratings” really captures the exact same thing as “the majority disapproves of you”. I’ve often seen things like 42 approval, 46 disapproval — that leaves a full 12% of the electorate on the fence going into an election. It’s a really bad spot to be, because the underwater President needs 3/4s of the “undecided” to swing his way when they have to vote.

    But it’s possible, and a systemic (if very lopsided) break of the neutrals/undecideds/whatevers could mitigate the damage. Converting 75% is real unlikely.

    But “unlikely” is different than where we are now. 53% disapproval means there is no path out. There is no way the undecideds (about 7 or 8% of the electorate, given the roughly 40% Trump approval) can break enough towards Trump to bring him even to parity, much less to a positive rating. His best possible outcome, with 100% of undecideds breaking his way, is roughly -4.

    Now Trump isn’t up for election, and while the mid-terms are seen as a referendum on the President and it does color the voting, I doubt sincerely there’s a 1 to 1 correspondence. Trump at 52% disapproval doesn’t make Ted Cruz at 52% disapproval, you know?

    But in terms of Trump’s drag on the ticket, has any President gone into a mid-term election with a majority disapproval? In recent history, I mean? (Last 40 or 50 years)?

    I can’t help but wonder if that might be a tipping point of some type, that might impact the polls more heavily than historical models suggest, because it’s not “Trump is 12 points underwater” (which is bad, bad news for the mid-term chances of his party. It’s “Trump is 12 points underwater and has a full majority against him. And it might be it sorta scales normally — where 40/52 is no different than 30/42.

    But I dunno. I can’t help but think “No percentage of undecideds gets him to 50%+1”. And maybe something odd happens there, when the majority disapproves of you. Maybe it tips the outcome more one way or the other. Maybe a lot, maybe a little.

    But I can’t help but wonder.


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