In 2010, President Obama, surveying the wreckage of his Party in the midterm elections, deemed the results a “shellacking.” In November, President Biden may soon be appropriating the same term, or seeking a synonym. But Republicans will face an identity crisis in the wake of midterms victory, and that crisis could prove more dangerous to the GOP than defeat at the polls may prove to the Democrats.
Polls show Republicans poised to take control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. Granted, there are good reasons to view these polls with skepticism. But those reasons suggest that the polls, if inaccurate, are probably understating the Republicans’ prospects, not overstating them. Andrew Prokop of Vox has analyzed 48 close (within 10 points) Senate elections from 2014 to 2020, and found 40 elections in which polling understated Republicans’ margins by an average of 5 percentage points. In contrast, he found only 8 elections in which polling understated Democratic candidates’ margins, and then by an average of only 1.8 percentage points.
Nate Cohn of the New York Times notes that only 0.4% of pollster dials result in a completed interview. That means that a pollster must spend two hours making calls to obtain a single response. Republican voters, already suspicious of pollsters, are more likely than Democrats to be among the huge majority ignoring such calls.
In addition, between now and November 8, the numbers, to the extent they move at all, are likely to move favorably for the GOP. In late September, the Real Clear Politics average of polls projected Republican gains in the House in the range of 5 to 38 seats. This week, the range has grown to 12 to 49 seats. If these trends continue, the range will almost certainly be higher on election day, meaning that a Republican net gain of 50 House seats is a real possibility.
Turning to the Senate, Republican candidates are moving up in all of the toss up races. As with the House, the current crop of polling results likely understates the dimensions of the coming Democratic disaster. The Real Clear Politics website projects a net gain of 3 seats, meaning a 53 – 47 Republican majority. (We may have to wait until December to see the final numbers because neither Party candidate is likely to surpass 50% in Georgia – necessitating a runoff the following month under that state’s peculiar rules.)
Again the RCP projection may understate GOP prospects. It assumes the Democrats will hold the New Hampshire and Washington senate seats occupied by incumbents Maggie Hassan and Patty Murray. But Hassan has seen her lead over Don Bolduc shrink from 7.6 points in September to 3.4 points, and Murray has seen her lead over Tiffany Smiley diminish from 13.7 points to 5.0. Republicans have a real shot at flipping one or both seats.
To sum up, on November 8 we may well see a Republican “wave” election, in which the GOP not only secures control of Congress, but does so decisively, gaining close to 50 seats in the House and 4 or 5 seats in the Senate.