Examining the Democratic claim that the race is tightening.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 4 2010 7:39 PM


Examining the Democratic claim that the race is tightening.

(Continued from Page 1)

What accounts for the movement? Strategists offer a lot of theories. Unenthusiastic Democrats are finally paying attention and deciding to vote. Ads marking a clear contrast between candidates are sinking in, and so is the president's message about this election being about a "choice" between two parties instead of an up-or-down vote on the Democratic agenda. There is no single, compelling GOP leader, and what people know about those leaders that do exist, they don't like. In a recent National Journal/ Pew Research Center poll, 60 percent said they disapproved of GOP leaders. (Fifty-three percent had the same view of Democrats.).The GOP message—we're not Obama—has penetrated all whom it will. In sum: The Republicans peaked too early.

Now that Congress has gone home, it can't help but improve the situation for Democrats. The public does not like Congress or its leaders. There's no more chance for them to bicker on television about stalled legislation and who is to blame for it.

But now for a reality check: How much does all of this good news get the Democrats? About 10 seats, says one longtime Democratic strategist involved in the races. Which is to say, they may lose 10 fewer seats than they expected. The math still looks bad for Democrats. The economy is still terrible, and people are still extremely glum about the country's future. That bad atmosphere, plus Democrats defending seats in historically Republican territory, plus Obama's low approval rating, means more than 20 or so seats currently held by Democrats are all but certain to go to Republicans. This tracks with the lowest possible prediction of GOP gains among political scientists who have made a study of making this guess. (The highest guess in the group of political scientists was a 51 seat gain by Republicans.)


After those certain victories, Republicans need 19 seats to take control of the House. If Democrats win a few GOP-held seats, maybe that number increases to 25. There are 40 to 50 Democrat-held seats, from which Republicans could take that number. The GOP doesn't have to run the table. It just has to win about half the available seats. Nate Silver puts that probability at 67 percent, based on historical trends.

There are two pieces of data that may temper Democratic hopes. The first is that independents have been breaking away from the president and Democrats. How much stock you put in this group depends on how many actual moderates and independents you think there are. If you're a Democrat and you think a lot of so-called moderates and independents lean Democratic, then you think they're yours to get. If not, you believe that they're gone, that it's too late to convince them, and that it's going to be a bad year. Third Way, a centrist Democratic group says that turning out the Democratic base won't be enough to avoid a bad wave (PDF).

But for Democrats, the biggest bucket of cold water comes from looking at voters most likely to vote. In that group, the GOP has a big advantage that can't be dented by the Democratic Party's superior turnout model. With the election less than a month away, Gallup has now refined its methodology: Instead of looking at "registered voters," where Democrats and Republicans are roughly even, it looks at "likely voters." Among that group, and under two different turnout scenarios, Democrats are down by 12 percentage points. Gallup's final likely-voter model has been historically accurate. If it is this year again, then a huge splash of water is heading straight for the Democrats.

Become a fan of Slate and  John Dickerson on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.


Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?


Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 3:53 PM Smash and Grab Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?
Oct. 20 2014 5:39 PM Whole Foods Desperately Wants Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 5:03 PM Marcel the Shell Is Back and as Endearing as Ever
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.