With midterms a few weeks away, the rule this year is that there are no rules. And the analytics political prognosticators use to predict elections are proving maddeningly unreliable.
An unpopular president. Domestic abuse and other scandals. A deeply unhappy electorate displeased with the direction the country is headed.
All of those things would once have been defining factors in races for the House and Senate, almost ensuring a contender’s defeat. But with the midterms just a few weeks away, the rule this year is that there are no rules, and the analytics political prognosticators use to predict the outcome of the elections are proving as maddeningly unreliable as the statistics that lead sports coaches and managers to choose the wrong play or pitch.
Nothing Scandalous About This Scandal
Democratic presidential contender Gary Hart had an affair (and lied about it) in 1984, effectively killing his once-promising campaign. Voter anger over the 1992 House bank “scandal” – lawmakers were allowed to write checks against pending deposits from a non-chartered House bank – led to early retirements and election losses for some of the hundreds of involved lawmakers.
But now, such cases seem quaint, with candidates retaining the support of their bases despite damaging revelations. Georgia Republican Herschel Walker, running against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, has been accused of holding a gun to his former wife’s head, lying about his business, his academic record and being an FBI agent, and paying for an abortion for a former girlfriend. Walker, an adamant foe of abortion, has denied the allegations.
Still, Walker is running neck-and-neck with Warnock, with the GOP rallying behind the man whose victory is likely essential to a Republican takeover of the Senate. Scandals don’t appear to be moving the needle much.
What a Drag. Not!
There’s little more annoying to a down-ticket candidate in the president’s party than having to run alongside a president unpopular with the public. When the president’s approval rating is low, candidates in the same party either have to run away from the commander in chief – providing ad copy for gleeful opposing party candidates – or attach themselves to someone not much liked by the voting public.
Unpopular presidents have typically been a drag on their parties’ ticket, since voters in the opposing party are more motivated to vote, and voters in the president’s party just don’t feel like making the effort. President Bill Clinton’s approval ratings were in the high 30s and low-to-mid 40s in 1994; his party lost 54 House seats and eight Senate seats that year. President Barack Obama, facing a public angry about the then-unpopular Affordable Care Act and the economy, suffered what he acknowledged was a “shellacking” in 2010, with Democrats losing 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate. President Donald Trump in 2018 saw his Republican Party lose control of the House, with Democrats picking up 41 seats.