No Really, What’s the Kavanaugh Hearing’s Affect on the Election?

So Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.


In the few weeks leading up to the Senate’s confirmation vote on Saturday and much of the national journalist coverage immediately following the confirmation, Americans paying any attention to political news and pollsters have been questioning the effect of the Kavanaugh sexual allegations and confirmation on voter turnout in the midterm elections in November.


A pervasive narrative propagated by the media is that Democrats are losing their blue wave edge during the Kavanaugh hearing. In a new NPR/ PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released on Oct. 3rd, Republicans were revealed to be in a statistical tie with Democrats, as Democrats who believe that the November midterm elections are very important outnumber Republicans who believe the same only by 2 points.


Source: NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist polls, conducted July 19 - 22 and Oct. 1. The July poll of registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. The October poll of registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. Credit: Alyson Hurt and Alice Goldfarb/NPR


Over a 3-month span, Republicans who believed that the midterms were very important increased by 12%, while Democrats only increased by 4%. It is also worthwhile to mention that Republican women had the same increase has men, and while the situation of women stating that they believe the midterms are important does not reveal ideological projections on their votes, Republican women typical casts votes that align more with their ideological identity than their sexual identities (meaning that a Republican woman is more likely to vote on a Republican issue than a woman’s issue).


Given the dynamic shift in Republicans caring about the November election, Democrats should be really concerned about turnout come November, right? Well, not necessarily.


Current projections of election polling demonstrate that the Republicans have an increased competitive edge in the Senate, and if Senate seats were the only seats up for grabs this November, then the Democrats would have to worry. The North Dakota Senate seat is a great example of this, where latest polls reflect Democratic incumbent Heidi Heitkamp trailing behind Republican candidate Kevin Cramer by double digits. The Republican party currently is favored to win this election with a 7 out of 10 chance of taking Heitkamp’s seat.


However, Republicans have always had the upperhand in keeping Senate seats for this midterm.  According to FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecasting, Republicans are now only more likely (77%) than they were back in early September (68%) to keep control of the Senate.

The story concerning the House is different. Democrats currently have nearly a 3 in 4 chance of flipping the House. In FiveThirtyEight’s House forecasting, Democrats lead the House races as Republicans roughly return to the same polling numbers they had a month ago at the beginning of September.

Republican numbers have improved since mid-September, from Republicans have a 17% to 25% chance of having House control, but the effect on current forecasting as portrayed by the Classic and Deluxe models is still about the same as early September. The Lite version of FiveThirtyEight’s forecast models can inspire hope among Democrats. As FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver writes, “the Lite version of our forecast, which heavily emphasizes district-by-district polls, tells a somewhat different story. In the Lite forecast, Republicans’ House odds are a bit better than they were last week. However, they’re worse than they were a month ago, having fallen to 29 percent from 34 percent. What that means is that district-level polls have generally been getting worse for Republicans, even if national indicators have stabilized or improved slightly.”


So what’s the effect of the Kavanaugh hearing on the election? Well, results are mixed. But as any good pollster should tell you and the most important point to heed, current forecasting projections do not always translate well into voter turnout. While news reporters and pollsters may throw out data that suggests a mighty blue wave or a major Republican upset, most of the long-term effects on voter mobilization for the election are undetermined.


The November 6th election is a little less than a month away, but a lot of people are just now starting to pay attention to political news again. One great lesson I learned from listening to a professional poller is that polls are more accurate the closer they are to an election; the farther out the poll is taken, the less accurate it will be, since people learn more about candidates and issues the closer Election Day approaches.


Additionally, any momentum that the Republican party created in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearing must be sustainable for a full month in order to have an effect on the election. Is it possible for Republicans to find new and equally politically-charging issues within the next few weeks in order to mobilize enough of their base? Who knows, at least until we get to the next breaking news coverage. As far as right now is being considered, the election is far from determined.