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2018 Midterms

MIDTERM ANALYSIS: The Logic Gap Between Polling & Reality

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Just this week, a poll came out—I won’t mention the polling company—that had U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D) ahead in his Florida senate race against Governor Rick Scott by (hang on) . . . 17 points.

Now, even if you think (and I don’t) that Nelson is ahead, this is one of those whoppers that stands up there with Hillary Clinton winning the Michigan Primary in 2016 (when Bernie Sanders drubbed her by double digits) or every single one of the pollsters getting Wisconsin wrong. The average error was six points. Some were off by as many as nine points to achieve that stunning error. Only two pollsters, Trafalgar and People’s Pundit Daily, had Donald Trump winning Pennsylvania or Michigan. Every single “major” pollster had him losing both.

Now comes Drudge with a scare headline about a Florida “wipeout!” Well, he’s right in part. There will be a wipeout, but not of the Republicans.

To review: Florida’s voting pattern in the past has always been that Republicans dominate absentee mail-in voting (Trump had a 114,000 lead here). Then “walk-in early voting” begins and Democrats rapidly take the lead, erasing the entire absentee advantage by election day. Then, on election day, Republicans storm back. (Both Romney and Trump won Florida election day, but Romney lost due to the massive early walk-in vote deficit).

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So here comes Nelson with a 17 point lead, right? Ahhh . . . where, exactly will that come from? As of today, with four days of walk-in voting, the Florida Republicans have expanded their lead to over 61,000, putting them way ahead of 2016 levels in early walk-in voting. In fact, Republicans have won two days’ worth of walk-in early voting, despite the fact that in 2016 they didn’t win a single day.

Moreover, all the Florida voting right now is heavily biased toward Democrats, because the Panhandle—a deep red Republican stronghold—has been affected by the hurricane. It wasn’t until two days ago that early walk-in stations were opened in four counties there, and many other counties remain “down.” Analysis of absentee votes from this zone suggest the requests were down 65% from 2016.

Will these Floridians vote? My guess is, yes. They will “vote shift” to either later walk-ins, or later absentee returns (a new batch of absentee requests came into the SecState’s office two days ago, with Rs leading the requests by nine points), or on election day itself—-which Republicans usually win.

Only one poll has had Ron DeSantis winning, and only a few polls have had Rick Scott leading by a couple of points. That’s “polling.” Here is reality, at least as the numbers spell it out for me:

Gillum’s Island is gonna need both Ginger and Mary Ann to get voters to the polls to have a hope of winning. Nelson is finished.

“But,” you say, “even some Republicans appear to be worried.”

Lemme tell ya little story ’bout a man named Jed . . .wait, wrong story.

Let me tell you a little story about election day, 2016. (This is all in my book with Joel Pollak, How Trump Won). I was working numbers on Ohio with my Ohio guys and separately on Florida numbers with a fellow I’ll call “Deplorable Drew.” Drew was an associate of Steve Bannon’s. We separately and independently came to the conclusion Trump would win Florida by about two points, me mostly based on the absentee/early-vote numbers.

On election day, I was in Arizona walking my dogs, while Drew was in NYC with Team Trump and was three hours later in time zones. I got a panicked call: “We’re getting killed in Florida! It’s across the board.” I said, “You’re nuts.  All you are seeing is the Democrat walk-in votes being actually posted on the Secretary of State website. We already knew these numbers.”

Then I asked, “What do your numbers tell you?” Drew said, “Trump will win by two.” I said, “Trust your numbers.” A couple of hours later, I got a follow-up. “Hey, you were right. Those were only the early votes and it’s looking good.” But then he added, “But we’re getting killed in Ohio! Even David Bossie, who is from Ohio, is walking around with his head down and he knows Ohio.” I said, “Well, he doesn’t know Ohio that well. You’ll win by four.” (Actually, we were way low. Trump won Ohio by more than nine).  Sure enough, later I get the “Ohio call,” saying “You were right.”

What’s my point? The point is that sometimes even experts in the campaigns can get so caught up in the weeds that they fail to see the big picture of the numbers. Yes, it’s “possible” that all the Republicans voting in Florida are voting for Gillum or Nelson. It’s also “possible” I could play drums for Meghan Trainor.

You are seeing a vast chasm between “polling” and numbers now in virtually every state. The numbers point to GOP senate victories in Arizona, Nevada, Indiana, North Dakota, Florida, Tennessee,Texas, and tentatively to gains in Montana and Ohio. But the overall “wave” picture of these numbers suggests there will likely be at least one or more surprises on election night in New Jersey, Michigan, and Minnesota. The latter two are extremely difficult to track because they do not collect ballots by party ID as do Florida, Arizona, and Ohio.

Without doing another Big League Politics class on the perils of polling, let me remind you that pollsters appear to still be operating on 2012 party ID assumptions (which were already wrong in 2016 and which have shifted even further to Republicans everywhere but California and Northwest and Northeast coasts). Moreover, pollsters are still expecting a “youth vote” similar to that of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

Except: in Florida so far, 18-29 year olds are voting at the rate of a mere 4.4%. This couldn’t elect Ed Sheeran as a judge on the Voice. Voters over 70 are crushing it. Whites in FLorida and North Carolina are up big, while the black vote in Florida languishes at 6%—well below the level Gillum needs, for example.

Furthermore, polls in Florida have not adjusted for a massive segment of red voters displaced by the hurricane; they have not adjusted for party registration shifts (which appear to be raising hell in Nevada with Democrat turnout).  In short, one world—that of votes—appears to be painting a picture of a near-wave election for Republicans. Another, polls, paints a picture of selective Democrat victories. It’s up to you readers to decide which is more believable.

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