5 Scenarios That Could Help Democrats at the Polls Today

Unless you've been living under a political rock, you know the GOP is widely expected to take control of Congress in today's midterm elections. But as FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver points out, significantly larger or smaller gains by Republicans are both totally possible. Republicans could, for instance, end up with a 77-seat gain, and the Dems couldtheoretically hold the House.

While the latter is certainly unlikely, there are several reasons to believe that Democrats could at least do better than predicted.

1. Cellphones: As many as a quarter of U.S. adults have gotten rid of their landlines and now rely exclusively on cellphones, which many (though not all) pollsters do not call. Cellphone-only voters tend to be less white, more urban and younger -- i.e., left-leaning voters. According to a Pew Research Center study, the "cellphone effect" is significant enough to sway polls by some 4 points against Democrats, and other examinations of the phenomenon put the difference at 5 points. In a close race, an unexpected 4 to 5 points could change everything.

2. "Robopolls":Automated surveys, or "robopolls," are skewing 3 to 4 points in favor of Republicans this election, compared to polls conducted by human interviewers. In part, this is because of low response rates, which can bias a polling sample. Also, most robopolls don't call cellphones, so there's a lot of overlap with the "cellphone effect."

3. Polls "crowding out" voters: This is particularly true for the Gallup poll, which has consistently predicted terrible results for Democrats in the midterms. Gallup has Dems down by about 15 points on the generic ballot, which could translate to them losing 80+ seats, though there's strong reason to believe they're wrong about that. As Silver puts it, "The Gallup poll and the Gallup poll alone is probably responsible for much of the sense of impending doom that Democrats feel and the...sense of triumphalism that Republicans are experiencing."

4. Look outside the polls: That "sense of impending doom" is almost entirely rooted in polls, and which assumes, of course, that the polls are accurate. The consensus view of Democratic doom is not on such sound footing as it seems

5. Voter turnout:With all the list-building and infrastructure established during the Obama campaign, Democrats probably have an advantage in the "get out the vote" department this year. Granted, Republican voters are charged up, as we have seen, but the Dems still could grab a point or two just by virtue of having a better grassroots network.

So the rather unsexy bottom line of all this is:

The case that Democrats could do better than expected -- not well, by any means, merely better than expected -- rests a little more in the realm of what artists call negative space: not what there is, but in what there isn’t. There aren’t 50, or even more than about 25, districts in which Republican candidates are unambiguous favorites. There isn’t agreement among pollsters about how the enthusiasm gap is liable to manifest itself. There isn’t any one poll or one forecasting method that is clairvoyant, or that hasn’t made some pretty significant errors in the past. Instead, the case for Democrats is basically: yes, the news is bad, it just isn’t exactly as bad as you think, or at least we can’t be sure that it is.

AlterNet / By Lauren Kelley

Posted at November 2, 2010, 4:46am

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018