Nearly two weeks before Americans head to the ballot box on November 8th, Democratic control of the White House and GOP control of the lower chamber appear foregone conclusions. Prediction markets give Democrats an 18% chance of retaking the House but a 92% chance of winning the presidency. By contrast, the battle for Senate control hinges on a few tight races, compelling political establishments to redirect resources toward the Senate contest.
The Senate is currently comprised of 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, meaning Democrats need to win five net seats in order to gain the majority they lost in 2014. If Democrats retain control of the White House, only four net seats are needed, as the Vice President can vote to break a Senate tie. There are 24 Republican and 10 Democratic seats up for re-election.
Political analysts consider Illinois and Wisconsin to be likely Democratic gains. In Illinois, Senator Mark Kirk (R), who has recently recovered from a stroke, is in a close race with Rep. Tommy Duckworth (D). In Wisconsin, Senator Ron Johnson (R) faces former Senator Russ Feingold (D), who he defeated in 2010. Both states have historically favored Democrats during presidential election cycles.
Analysts have deemed Indiana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, and Florida toss-ups in the final stretch of the election cycle. Only one of these six pivotal seats is currently held by a Democrat; in Nevada, Democratic minority leader, Harry Reid, is retiring after five terms.
According to the Huffington Post, Democrats have a 61% chance of taking control, while Republicans have a 39% change of retaining the chamber. PredictWise gives the Democrats a 76% chance of taking control. This discrepancy lends credence to Professor Ian Shapiro’s argument that horse-race polls ought to be dismissed as an inaccurate method of electoral predictions. Shapiro cited the declining rate of survey response and landline use as key impediments to accurate sampling that mirrors a representative pool of likely voters.
Shapiro instead stressed the concomitance of the Senate and presidential races as bringing about two significant, albeit contradictory effects on down-ballot races. Assuming that Hillary Clinton will take office in 2017, anti-Hillary forces will turnout to vote for Republican congress-people so as to put a check on a Clinton administration. At the same time, however, Republican voters are deeply demoralized by their party’s supposed defeat, which may depress turnout so as to ensure a Democratic Senate. Only time will tell which factor outweighs the other.