Two Midterms At Once

There are two houses of Congress — and this year, that means that there are two different midterms.

I think that Tom Jensen has a point here:

Candidates matter- but they matter a lot more in Senate elections where voters really get to know them than in House elections that are much more likely to be determined by the national tide. We’ve seen time and again in Senate races this year that the better voters get to know the Republican candidates the less they like them. But unfortunately for Democrats I don’t know that voters ever get to know the House candidates well enough for that same effect to occur.

Jensen’s Public Policy Polling has a clear ideological sympathy for Democrats, but it is a highly respected outfit. When it talks, I listen, and I think he’s making sense.

I see no reason to believe that the Republicans will fail to take the House in this cycle, and as the New York Times reported the other day, the GOP is expanding its field.  But over the last few days, Senate polls have started to tilt back toward the Democrats: Manchin either slightly up or tied in West Virginia, Bennet closing fast in Colorado (and even up in a PPP poll), Reid and Giannoulias climbing back into dead heats in Nevada and Illinois, Murray beginning to cruise in Washington.  Now, we even have a poll reporting a small lead for Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania (caveat emptor: that poll is a DSCC internal).  Update: yet another Democratic internal shows this race as a toss-up, with Sestak in a statistical tie.  As the piece says, certainly the NRSC sees it that way: after ignoring this race for months, it has launched its first ad against Sestak.

Jensen’s logic makes sense.  Most House races are not high on anyone’s radar screen: the GOP candidate might as well be the proverbial “generic Republican.”  And that means he’ll win.  But in Senate races, the voters are actually finding out something about Republicans — and they are running away from what they see.

Keep that in mind next time the Villagers say that the electorate has endorsed Republican policies.  They haven’t.  The economy is terrible, and voters are angry.  End of story.

In the meantime, you can keep the pressure on by providing money to key races here.

Pundits are double-counting voter enthusiasm.

Ed Kilgore points out that a lot of the predictions of a rout in November rely on double-counting voter enthusiasm.

Ed Kilgore’s post on the November Congressional makes a lot of good points; the whole thing is worth a read.

But what struck me most was this:

much of the “overestimation” of Democratic strength in past generic polls has involved early tests with no “likely voter” screen. As we get closer to Election Day, the Gallup generic ballot is usually quite accurate (as shown some years ago by TDS contributor Alan Abramowitz of Emory). So it’s not a good idea to just mentally add a few points to Gallup’s number for the GOP and assume that’s close to reality.

This is worth more stress than Ed gives it.  Likely voter screens try to figure out who will vote in November so as to poll only them.  (Rasmussen, which uses a stringent screen, polls incessantly and is therefore overrpresented when sites like pollster.com or RealClearPolitics take poll averages.)  But the well-known finding that Democrats had to be leading in the generic Congressional ballot to hold the house was based on past Gallup polls, which didn’t use a screen.  Democrats needed a big edge to overcome their historically lower turnout in midterm elections.  But likely voter screens, if they’re working as advertised, already control for lower Democratic turnout.

Pundits are routinely double-counting greater Republican enthusiasm.