How worried should you be about November

That is, presuming you believe in accountability and democracy and therefore understand just how important it is for Democrats to take back a majority in the House.  Donald Trump’s approval is still extremely low for a president with low unemployment and decent economic growth, but it’s come back up a bit to average around 40%.  And the Democrats’ lead on the generic ballot has been shrinking.  Harry Enten analyzed all this last week:

Everything seems to be going the Democrats’ way on their march for House control in November. Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, are retiring left and right. Democrats continue to overperform in special elections. Nonpartisan handicappers, including CNN, continue to move more races in the Democrats’ direction.

And yet, the Democrats’ position on the generic congressional ballot seems to have worsened since the beginning of the year. Just this month, four “gold standard” pollsters (i.e., live interview surveys that call cell-phones and are transparent about their data) show an average lead for the Democrats of just five percentage points on the generic congressional ballot. That’s down considerably from 14 points in December among gold standard polls.

So what is going on, and should Democrats be worried?…

Perhaps an even bigger reason not to make too much of a change on the generic ballot is history tells us that sizable shifts at this point may not mean that much come November. I collected generic ballot data from the last 20 midterms (since 1938) at this point in the cycle. Polling at this time in the campaign is telling of the November result, but only to a point.

We expect two trends to occur in voter behavior between now and November based upon previous campaigns. The first is that there is a reversion towards a tied result. That is, big leads tend to become smaller. The second is that the president’s party tends to do worse in the actual result than the generic ballot suggests at this point. These two forces sometimes compete against each other, such as this year, given Democrats held a big lead but are also the opposition party.

Past campaigns suggest that a 14 point lead on the generic ballot at this point for the opposition party like the Democrats held in December forecasts about a 9.8 point win in November. A five point lead, however, translates to a 6.4 win for the opposition in November. That’s a difference of just a little over 3.4 points in the forecast final result, even though the polls differed by nine points.

Forecasting the Democrats to win by 6.4 points versus 9.8 points is an important difference if those were the final results. Projecting a November result from polling at this point, however, has a wide margin of error associated with it. A 6.4 point margin forecast versus a 9.8 point margin forecast based off the generic ballot are not significantly different projections statistically at this time.

The generic ballot still points to a national environment that is going to be strongly Democratic in November. That’s in line with the special elections and individual House race ratings. Whether that translates into Democrats falling just short or exceeding the bar necessary to gain control of the House is simply unknowable at this time.

So, don’t be worried.  No worry.  This election is too important not to worry.  Just don’t be disheartened.  And, also, I would suggest that there are far greater known unknowns about this midterm election than most.  We know that Trump will say/do more stupid things before November– just now what and what their impact will be.  And, we have a pretty good idea some substantially negative news– whether from Mueller or the Southern District of NY– are going to come out about Trump and his key associates.  That’s going to hurt Republicans.  But, maybe a little and maybe a lot and that is the all-important difference between Democrats taking back the House or not.

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