Democratic Loss in the Senate Was Not Exceptional or Unexpected

I noted earlier that the Democratic losses in the House were less than expected given what usually happens during the midterms. It is harder to make such a statement with the Senate because of the lower numbers, with fewer than a tenth of the total number of elections at stake when compared to the house. But, there is a pattern that makes the loss of a few seats in the Senate not unexpected. As is the case with the House race, the null model — what is expected despite any other political factors — is that this particular year for Senate races would favor Republicans when a Democrat is in office.

President Obama mentioned this just before the election, as I recall, but the press ignored it, possibly because it is a little hard to explain.

There are 100 Senators, each elected for a 6 year term, and some are up for election every two years. The Senate is divided into three classes, about one third of the Senate in each, distributing them evenly across these two year intervals. This year, Class 2 was up for election.

Apparently a sample of 100 Senators divided into three parts does not produce even and identical results. The following table indicates the average percent of the vote among Democratic and Republican voters that went to Obama-Biden for the states represented by each Senate Class. The values are similar, but not identical. The mean for Class 2 is slightly lower, as is the maximum.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 9.50.42 PM

This graph shows the data in more detail. Class 2 is not an Obama-Biden friendly set of states, as a sample, because it lacks a peak representing a small number of strongly supportive states. Class 3 has other problems; it has a few very unsupportive states. Clearly, when it comes down to just a few races (which is what happens when there is a close Senate) Class 1 is likely to be friendliest to a Democratic executive (both high maximum and lack of low support) while Class 2 and 3 are less friendly, with Class 2 possibly being the least friendly (we can assume the low value states would be Republican anyway; it is probably the upper part of the curve that matters more).
Obama-Biden_Friendliness_for_each_Senate_Class

The total number of Senate seats lost was low, and the chance of losing some were relatively high. So, as is the case with the House losses, what happened this year was more or less expected, and not exceptional. This was not an historic loss.

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9 thoughts on “Democratic Loss in the Senate Was Not Exceptional or Unexpected

  1. Without all the graphic chart business, it was predicted almost a year ago. No real funding went down to the regional races. Go ask people around southern states about the normal candidate literature that they’d get in any year (mid-term, presidential), and they’d all say that 2014 was an odd year because you got marginal mailings. Other than a Sheriff here, and a county commissioner there….Democratic funding just didn’t ever come and result in information campaigns. Various failed campaign efforts have commented on this, and it’s obvious that it was a known fact….and they simply didn’t want to waste funding on failed elections.

  2. This was not an historic loss.

    Unless you’re a large media organization trying to maximize the horserace aspect of elections. And/Or someone with a hand in the $3.67B election spending pie.

  3. Ripley, I do wonder about the funding thing. It appears from some news stories that the amount spent was unprecedented. I’ve not seen breakdowns that are meaningful.

    I disagree with the notion that the loss could have been predicted…unless one factors in the “I give up” status of nearly every Dem comment on the subject. They were bracing to lose this time and, for the House, last time out. I don’t understand the value of publicizing a self-fulfilling negative prophesy. The masses tend to want to “win with a winner” and the best way to do that is to tell them in advance who that winner ought to be. Voila!

    Add to that the stupefying timidity on the part of Dem candidates and you have what we’ll have. Casey Stengel (or was it a Cubs fan) who said said it…”Wait ’til next year!”

  4. My understanding is that the amount spent was actually on the low side in a lot of races.

    The point, though, is that a loss for both houses is totally predictable based on the available information. There is an important difference, though, between predictable and inevitable.

    This is not a self fulfilling prophecy. It is simply a statement about how these things work, what the conditions are out of the starting gate. This is the stream up which one must swim.

    The reason for discussing this now is to counter the incorrect statements being made in the press that the losses were unprecedented and huge. If they are pretty much as expected then they can be neither.

    Also, it can’t be a self fulfilling prophecy if it is being made after the fact!

    “… the stupefying timidity on the part of Dem candidates…” That is exactly the problem. And, some voter apathy issues. And the funding problem. But yes, this is it.

    Nothing I’ve said in either post is unknown to Democratic strategists, by the way, so your point is very valid; they took an expected loss with a duck and cover rather than a fight. And that is very annoying, unless there is an argument that I’m missing.

  5. First point, the spectacularly low turnout was a sign of Democratic apathy.
    Second, the passage of many liberal bills shows the public holds liberal positions.
    Third the defeat of Dems who ran away from the positions their party supports shows the obvious…
    If you are a Dem who ran as a Republican you lose. Dems desert you and Republicans were never going to vote for you.

  6. The still make the same error everyone else is doing:

    “But the shock was mainly caused because, purely and simply, the polls were wrong across the board. They overestimated Democratic turnout by almost twice as much as they underestimated it in 2012. (Midterm elections are notoriously hard to poll.) In fact the turnout this year—just 36.6 percent of eligible voters—was the lowest since 1942, when many Americans went off to war. David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report termed it an “epic turnout collapse.” The Democrats’ much-vaunted turnout operation worked extremely well in 2008 and 2012, when there was an appealing, to millions even exciting, candidate at the head of the ticket. An unpopular president cannot work the same magic.”

    Inappropriate comparison between presidential year and midterm, and getting Obama’s popularity rating wrong. His was average low for year six.

    What is different this year is Congress’ rating, lower than any congress ever for the last few years. Not sure if that accounts for the turnout, but it is real, as opposed to shit people make up to account for it.

    This however is very true and I think the main problem:

    “Nor did the Democrats have a persuasive message to sell. They had no message at all. They feared any association with Obama, which included mentioning his achievements, and they worried that any boasting about the improvement in the economy since he took office would make them appear out of touch, since the recovery’s positive effects have done little to improve the situation of much of the middle class. The unwillingness to tout the benefits of the Affordable Care Act despite its clear success was a major missed opportunity: exit polls showed that people listed health care as the second reason they voted for a Democratic candidate.”

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