Blog: US Mid-Term Elections: No One Trusts The Polls

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If polls were correct Hillary Clinton would be President and Donald Trump would have remained a builder. But almost all of them were completely wrong. So Donald Trump is President and Hillary Clinton is still dreaming of being President.
What has all this got to do with today? Well, the war against Trump is now in the battlefield of the Congressional elections, which will be held tomorrow. And a sudden spate of polls just before voting day are again showing a 7-15 point lead for the Democrats in generic polls.

Such a large lead should mean that happy days are here again for the Democrats, but after the fiasco of 2016, every pollster is hedging his bets with caveats that this is a poll, it depends on overall turnout, the turnout of Hispanics, young people and specific races and the problem that there are two different houses electing members with different electorates. While representatives are elected from constituencies much like India, (there are some underpopulated states that have only one rep) senators are elected by the voters in the whole state. As for the former, generic polls tend to be less useful when translating down to a constituency.

In the current battle for the House of Representatives, the Democrats are looking to overturn a Republican majority by winning at least 23 seats (net gains).
Most polls and conventional wisdom indicate a Democratic majority of anywhere from a few seats to 39, with the possibility of a blowout (if CNN is right) of 55+ seats. But the New York Times, which has been conducting constituency-by-constituency polls, says the key races are much closer and could swing either way.

The bottom line is that out of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 194 Democratic and 168 Republican are seen as solid or likely, leaving 73 seats in the battle, of which 15 are seen to lean Democratic and 29 Republican. Twenty-nine key seats are seen as tossups. For the Democrats, it is these 29 that will help them unlock the House. Wins in the " lean to Republican" would set off the possibility of a blowout.


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And while victory seems at hand in the House, the Democrats have slipped behind in the race to take the all-powerful Senate. Currently delicately balanced at 51-49 for the Republicans, at one stage there was hope of capturing this as well but conventional wisdom suggests that the Republicans could actually add a seat or two and increase their majority. The problem for the Democrats is that of 35 senate seats polling, 26 are theirs and as the gap between them and the Republicans has narrowed, hopes of flipping the Senate seem to have faded. Pollsters differ on which seats are toss-up but most assume that North Dakota has already been lost by the Democrats and five more of their seats are tossups as are two Republican.


In this conservative list of toss-ups many would like to add two Republican seats Texas and Tennessee, where the turnout in early voting has been phenomenal. At last count, Cruz was leading Beto by 5 per cent. In Texas, early voting has exceeded the total votes cast in 2014 and in Tennessee, it is at 90 per cent of that in 2014 total. In fact the surge in early voting has seen more 31 million vote, way more than that in 2014.


And yet nobody can really explain what this early voting means.
Overall, more registered Republicans have voted than Democrats, but that is normal and is unlikely to help in predictions because no one knows how independents are swinging, or whether registered party voters are crossed over. All that comes from this, seemingly, is that voter turnout is going to cross the abysmal levels of 2014 when 83 million – or 35 per cent – voted and the Democrats took a thrashing.
The one state where there is a very closer gubernatorial race, Georgia, gives more data than others and if that is a general trend, then we are looking at a very interesting election. Firstly, across the board, 33% of the early voters did not vote in 2014.
The under 40 vote is up by 55 per cent and under 30 by 80 per cent. Voting by race sees Others ( not white or black, including Hispanics, Asians etc) up by 62%. If the votes are broken down by general assumptions, we can see why the race is so close that Trump, Obama and all campaigned here in the last few days.


So if this kind of trend of higher turnout amongst minorities and younger voters is more widespread than just Georgia, then a number of Republican seats could come into play, especially Texas with its high Hispanic population but extremely low Hispanic turnout. Any significant increase in Hispanic voting could put Ted Cruz's (Republican) chances of reelection into doubt. Cruz has already had to seek the support of his nemesis Trump to galvanise the Republican vote.
And that is the story. It's Trump that is driving the Republican campaign (in many of his campaign rallies, the only name on the placards is Trump – the local candidate's name barely appears) playing on the fear of immigrants, of turning Georgia into Venezuela if it gets a Democrat Governor, making a huge deal of a caravan of immigrants that is hundreds of kilometers away. And his success in reigniting the Republican base goes back to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, which awoke his supporters to the Democratic threat. The Democrats probably recognise that in retrospect, the hearings did not help their cause.
With a booming economy, lower taxes and victories over Canada and Mexico on NAFTA, Trump should have been bringing home the Republican ship with ease. His having to resort to immigration and racism shows that there is a fear of Democratic backlash. A backlash that could disrupt his agenda. That is why he is campaigning hard to hold the Senate which controls the appointments of federal judges and senior officials.
As voting gets underway in the US this morning, the expectation is of high turnout, higher than any off year has been in the recent past. The question is who is more energised this Tuesday, the Republicans who always turn out, the Democrats who recently have turned out, or the independents, who are the key to winning. In terms of race, Democrats need big turnouts of blacks, Hispanics and women, they lead 55%-45% amongst women voters, especially college-educated women. Democrats have a 30 per cent lead among them.
Tomorrow morning, as we wake up, we should have a good idea of where the elections are headed. The House of Representatives, unless very close, should be clear by 7:30 am. If it's close then the wait may be long as California, the great Democratic bastion, will come in late. And in the Senate watch for Florida, Indiana, New Jersey and West Virginia, which should start reporting early.
If the Democrats are holding these, then the Senate majority race could be tight. Texas and Tennessee should show if Republican support is holding.
Finally, as a footnote, there are 36 elections for Governors (26 Republicans, 9 Democrats, and 1 Independent) of various states and many of their assemblies. The Democrats are hoping to gain a lot here and the two seen as very competitive – Florida and Georgia – have both been Republican for a long time and the races are toss-ups. These Governor elections are important nationally as redistricting comes up in 2020 and the Republicans who have made gerrymandering a fine art would suffer if Democrats gained.

(Ishwari Bajpai is Senior Advisor at NDTV.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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