About a month before election day, the actual voting begins to occur
as each state with its own rules allows for applications for absentee
voting, gives them out, receives them, and in many cases, permits
early voting itself. Many states also allow party registration
switches. Most of this is public information, and analysts from each
political party and some individual campaigns can pour over this
data, compare it with the data from previous elections --- and then
try to glean clues, signals and patterns of what will result when the
votes are actually counted.
We are now in this curious and obviously recently created interval,
and already the number-crunching folks are busy at work, feverishly
going over each day’s data. Secretaries of state are ballyhooing their
statistics, especially if they are improving, as evidence of their work
to “get out the vote.”
At the same time, many volunteers are making campaign contact
with large numbers of voters by phone, internet and in personal
Many pundits rely on ubiquitous polling of varying reliability and
credibility, while others assess the impact of fundraising and
campaign advertising, lawn signs and the ever-increasing revelations
from opposition research.
Conventional election wisdom usually ranks polls, fundraising and
advertising very high --- primarily because they are in full view and
easily quantified. Voter ID and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts are
mostly under-the-radar, and thus more difficult to assess, as is the
impact of unpaid publicity and deeper voter psychological reactions
to events, personalities, issues and public anxieties.
In 2016, conventional election wisdom crashed because the traditional
models failed to accurately predict the outcome. Hillary Clinton
consistently led in the polls, raised and spent the most money, and had
most of the media on her side. Her opponent was outpolled, outspent
and broke virtually all of the conventional rules of campaigning and
political discourse. Yet Donald Trump won the election by winning
the electoral college votes in the individual states, not the overall
popular vote that was measured by the polls which conventional
wisdom had made a greater priority. His appeal to voters was also
judged by conventional standards which no longer applied.
In 2018, the congressional Democrats have financially far outraised
their Republican opponents, especially in contested races, and are
spending the most money on advertising. Establishment media polling
has favored them throughout the cycle, including in many of the U.S.
senate races where they are vulnerable. The poll numbers in the latter
are now, it is true, changing at the end of the campaign --- and
conventional wisdom is finally acknowledging the Republicans' clear
mathematical advantage in this cycle.
But in the U.S. house races, conventional wisdom continues to assert
that the Democrats will take back control by winning more than 23
seats net from the current GOP majority. In fact, most establishment
pundits rate 50-65 GOP incumbent seats variably “vulnerable” and
only 1-3 Democratic seats vulnerable to Republican pick-up.
Indeed, the much-touted “blue wave” could happen --- although since
the controversial Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, it would even
appear to conventional thinking that a blue “surge” might be limited
to U.S. house races and governorships.
There will now be an acceleration of speculation in the remaining two
weeks of the campaign. Airwaves, mailboxes, the internet and
billboards will be incredibly crowded with ads, propaganda and
sensational revelations from both sides. Some of it might impact the
now diminishing number of undecided voters. Conventional wisdom
will be tested one more time.
This cycle it might hold. But 2016 unleashed new forces in both
political parties --- and history suggests such forces don’t disappear
Surprises invariably happen in these circumstances. Prepare for them.
Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All right reerved.