As the punditry–memorably described by Molly Ivins as “the chattering class”–continues to forecast the 2020 election, I want to engage in a bit of confirmation bias. A recent Salon article reports on the predictions of a scholar who “nailed” the 2018 results, but–more importantly, from my perspective–offers observations that confirm my own.
The author, Paul Rosenberg, introduces the scholar thusly:
In July 2018 the most widely-respected analysts were decidedly uncertain whether the Democrats could retake the House—they were favored, but not by much. On July 6, Cook Political Report, for example, listed 180 seats as “solid,” and 21 “likely/leaning” Democratic, plus 24 “toss-ups” — meaning Democrats would have to win toss-ups by more than 2-1 (17 to 7) to take the House. In mid-August, 538’s first forecasthad “only 215 seats rated as favoring Democrats — ‘lean Democrat’ or stronger — which is fewer than the 218 they need to take the House.” And on August 30, 2018, Sabato’s Crystal Ball published a model prediction, based on 3000 simulations, with an average Democratic margin of 7 seats. Editors noted this was close to their own assessment: “Democrats as modest favorites but with Republicans capable of holding on to the majority.”
But on July 1, 2018 — preceding all this cautious uncertainty — newcomer Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policyat Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, released her prediction of a 42-seat “blue wave,” while also citing the Arizona and Texas U.S. Senate races as “toss-ups.” Her startling prediction was numerically close to perfect; Democrats will end up with a gain of 40 or 41 seats, depending how the re-run in North Carolina’s 9th district turns out. (Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won the Arizona Senate race, in a major historical shift, and Beto O’Rourke came close in Texas.) Furthermore, she even strutted a little, writing on Nov. 2 that she hadn’t adjusted her seat count, but that “the last few months have been about filling in the blanks on which specific seats will flip.” Her resulting list of those was also close to perfect.
Bitecofer’s predictions for 2020 require dismissing widespread–but erroneous–beliefs, especially the belief that a number of Democrats won in 2018 because they made inroads with previously Republican voters. Not only does the data rebut that interpretation, but Bitecofer warns that the mistaken belief that Democrats won in 2018 by winning back “Trump voters” fuels what she calls an “illusory search for an ill-defined middle ground” that could actually demobilize the Democratic voters who did drive the 2018 blue wave.
Today’s polarized hyper-partisan environment is the product of long-term historical processes that can’t simply be wished away, Bitecofer argues. Her case is similar to the one described in detail by Alan Abramowitz in his 2018 book, “The Great Alignment: Race, Party Transformation, and the Rise of Donald Trump,” as both scholars confirm….
The good news is that so long as Trump is in office, negative partisanship gives Democrats an edge, as electoral realignment continues. Rather than fearing Trump’s ability to repeat his 2016 upset, on July 1 of this year Bitecofer released her 2020 projection, which shows Democrats winning 278 electoral votes versus 197 for Trump, with several swing states too close to call. Bitecofer also isn’t worried about the Democrats losing their House majority. On Aug. 6, Bitecofer released a preliminary list of 18 House seats the Democrats could flip in 2020, nine of them in Texas. The most significant threats that concern Democrats are actually golden opportunities, according to her model.
The 2018 election generated a giant turnout of voters who favored Democrats. It wasn’t a pool of voters who changed their minds and voted Democrat after voting Republican. Thanks to negative partisanship, Republican turnout also surged, which probably saved a couple of Senate seats, but Democratic turnout overwhelmed it.
The entire article, explaining Bitecofer’s analysis is fascinating and worth reading in its entirety. But the take-away is simple: turnout is the name of the game.
We aren’t going to convert “reasonable” Trump supporters–there aren’t any. We have to outnumber them.