Wednesday, August 10, 2022

BTRTN: On Covid Data and Magical Thinking

Tom explodes the Covid myths that too many people, many of whom should know better, cling to in rationalizing their risky behaviors.

On March 14, 2020, I posted a piece on early Covid case trends. At the time there were a mere 2,144 cases in America.  But I was alarmed at what I saw and sought to convince readers, including friends and family, of the nature of the threat.  While the piece seems quaint now, and hardly begins to capture the ultimate nature of the threat as we know it, it was educational in stating that Covid was not going to be a short-term blip. (I have included a link to that post at the end of this article.)  At that time, many thought it would be over in a few weeks or months, and were hardly prepared for the behavior changes that would be required.  

We are nearly two-and-a-half years from that point now, well along the Covid road – but I find myself having similar fears today, 92 million reported cases later. 

In the days that followed, still in March, 2020, I began collecting and distributing an email “report” to family and friends.  The one-pager, basically a spreadsheet with some headline interpretations, summarized Covid new case trends by state and about a dozen selected countries.  One of the reasons I did it was, in those days, there were a number of different data sources, but none of them were terribly user-friendly or comprehensive geographically.  Apart from trying to offer that modest public service, my goals were also self-centered; my wife and I used the report to help guide our own behavior, including, ultimately, where we might travel. 

Wendy has long been interested in health care, and in time became a contact tracer for our state.  Between us, we became quite conversant, for lay people, in Covid, and with every twist and turn, that seemed to serve us well.  Between her contact tracing training and experience, her voracious appetite for Covid articles, and my data, we navigated Covid as best as we could and gave advice to others who sought it.  We kept up with an increasingly complex environment, with the politicization of Covid, new variants and offshoots; different types of testing; vaccines and boosters; and finally treatments. 

Last week I decided to stop distributing the data.  I had long thought the reported data was far from perfect, underreporting cases early on when testing was hard to come by, and then again more recently when home testing became routine.  But I felt it gave a pretty accurate sense of the trend-line of COVID in various geographies.  But this current U.S. surge, driven by the Omicron Ba5 variant, which experts believe (and wastewater data confirms) is extremely high, is not being reflected much at all in the reported data.  Obviously, the rise of home testing and the ever-diminishing frequency of state and country updates has taken its toll. 

I think that the best potential for tracking COVID now lies in wastewater data.  There are now 900+ reporting sites across the country, and growing, probably enough for good national trending, but not for more local than that (apart from the sites themselves).  Wastewater is an objective way of tracking the presence of the virus that requires no human decision-making.  Unfortunately the CDC wastewater reporting leaves a lot to be desired.  The reports on the site are difficult to interpret.  And while I have not spent a lot of time on it, I have done enough exploring to know that I cannot easily (if at all) get to the granular data that would enable me to create a more user-friendly report (which was my goal with the initial "data.")  

Without good data, we are flying blind.  We have little sense of whether Covid is prevalent in our area or not, whether the trend is going up or down, and thus no clear measures to calibrate the riskiness of activities or travels we may undertake.  And without good data reporting, those who are inclined to wish Covid away cannot be persuaded by compelling numbers. 

Thus to the real point of this article – not to bemoan the demise of solid data, but rather a far worse phenomenon that the lack of data enables:  the rise of “magical thinking” among people who ought to know better. 

Once Covid became politicized, our country quickly sorted itself out into the familiar red/blue divide.  On the one side were those who were Covid skeptics, anti-vaxxers and those who quickly shed, if they ever had it, any sense of shared sacrifice and civic duty to their fellow citizens, people who willfully ignored safe practices of any kind.  On the other side were those who respected the threat posed by the virus, followed the science, and dutifully vaxxed up, masked up and avoided the most risky of settings. 

But now the latter group is splintering, and many previously "like-minded" people are ignoring basic safety practices, thereby endangering themselves, others, and helping the virus find new hosts which give the virus a more ample breeding ground to create and sustain new variants.  The CDC has not been helpful at all in the rise of this splinter group, and has undermined itself with a truly abysmal performance in providing clear, compelling guidance.  On top of this, the leaders of the anti-COVID effort, such as Dr. Fauci (who has been a critic, at times, of the CDC), simply do not have the platform or prominence they once had.  If you want a metric that gives an indication of the impact of all these forces, consider that of the 223 million Americans who are considered "fully vaccinated" (that is, two shots, or one J&J shot), less than half (108 million) received a first booster shot.  Somewhere along the way 100 million Americans more or less gave up. 

With all this has come a rise of “magical thinking” on the part of these formerly responsible people.  It’s not that they simply ignore Covid like their red counterparts; rather, they come up with various “Covid myths” to support doing the riskier activities they now want to do, be it going to the wedding, or the play, or the concert, or the dinner – in short, resuming their pre-Covid lives.  This is a classic case of knowing the answer – “I want to do this” – and then finding the bullet points that provide the rationale.  We hear this all the time, and it is incredibly frustrating and dangerous. 

So let me shred some enabling Covid myths.

·     “Covid is going away.”  It is actually the opposite.  Covid is actually getting worse.  Every new omicron variant appears to be more transmissible, if not more dangerous, than the last.  Tons of people are getting it; the anecdotal evidence among our immediate friends and family is overwhelming and inescapable.  And the higher transmissions are leading to more hospitalizations and deaths. 

·     “Everyone is inevitably going to get it anyway, so you might as well just get it over with.”  Actually, everyone is not getting it, and if you behave reasonably responsibly, armed with the latest information, you can lower your odds markedly (though you can’t eliminate them).  And you don’t want to get this:  if you get it more than once, you are potentially weakening your body more and more each time.  It is far better to avoid getting it, and if you get it, try not to get it again, especially if you are older. 

·     “If you get Covid, you are protected against ever getting it again.”  This, too, is false.  At best you have a month, give or take, with Ba.5. 

·     “Everyone I know is getting Covid so clearly the vaccines don’t work.”  Current vaccines do not protect against getting Covid; rather they protect against the worst effects of it, including hospitalization and death.  But they are quite good at preventing those, and you should stay updated on boosters to maximize your chances of avoiding very bad outcomes. 

·     “OK, if that is true, then the worst that can happen is basically just like a bad cold, and I’m not going to sacrifice for that.”  For some people, a case of COVID is truly quite mild (or even asymptomatic).  But for others, it can be hellish (trust me, we know).  If you have some sort of compromised health status, it can put you in the hospital, even if you are double boosted. And even if you don’t have any underlying health issues, it can put you flat on your back for a week with utterly miserable symptoms (the worst headache or sore throat you have ever had, lost sense of smell, fever, nausea, day after day), and weaken you for weeks thereafter.  And that’s even if you take Paxlovid.  I can assure you this from the personal experience of a number of people I know.  Then there’s long Covid.

·     “Oh c’mon, there’s no such thing as long Covid.”  Wrong.  We still don’t know much about long Covid, and will learn more about it in the coming years.  But some material percentage of people experience long Covid symptoms, with estimates ranging from 5-50%.  These people suffer from brain fog or all-consuming fatigue months after they tested negative after a bout with Covid, and even worse things can happen to organs that have been infected with the virus.

·     “OK, OK, but as long as I’m outside, I’m protected, right?”  Not quite; it is certainly safer outdoors, but being outdoors is not a guarantee for avoiding COVID.  If you are in a reasonably crowded setting outdoors, such as a stadium or arena, or even a crowded outdoor restaurant or wedding reception, the Ba5 variant and its already identified successors (such as the new Ba2.75 from India) will find you.  Better to avoid such places, or mask up.  For outdoor restaurants, better to find one that is less crowded or has excellent spacing, and mask up when dealing with the waiter.

·     “Well, I have Covid now, but all I have to do, according to the CDC, is wait five days, and then I can go out without risk of infecting anyone else.”  Wrong!  Part of the CDC’s madness is that this statement accurately describes their advice, but their advice willfully ignores the fact that 30% of people are still testing positive after five days.  Better to follow President Biden’s example and isolate until you have two consecutive negative tests, and stop counting days. 

·     “But positive tests can linger for 90 days!  You can’t expect me to sit it out for 90 days!”  It is only the PCR tests that can linger that long; the rapid tests that you do at your home does not linger. 

Ask yourself, if you are reading this:  do I lean on these type of arguments to justify risky behavior?  If so, then heal thyself, and help others.  Recommit to the discipline we need to prevent this scourge from continually reinventing itself, and killing tens of thousands along the way. 

The future?  Who knows, but the optimist in me says that between better vaccines and better treatments, ultimately Covid will be controllable at some level that will enable a reasonably safe return to most normal pre-Covid behaviors.  But until that time, please:  avoid indoor dining, wear KN-95 masks when you are indoors with others; wear N-95 masks in airports and on airplanes; avoid stadiums, arenas and any crowded indoor or outdoor spaces.  If for some reason you decide to attend something risky, we'll wear a mask the entire time. 

It would be wonderful if we could recapture something we perhaps had for only a few fleeting moments back in early 2020, that we were all in this together, that we need to sacrifice for one another.  But if we can’t do that, then please, let’s all behave in our own self-interest.  Stay safe, be well. 

Here’s the article from March 14, 2020.  It was called, “Why the Coronavirus Numbers Scare Me”:  http://www.borntorunthenumbers.com/2020/03/btrtn-why-coronavirus-numbers-scare-me.html

 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

BTRTN: Democrats, Ask Not What Joe Biden Can Do For You…

Tom with the BTRTN July 2022 Month in Review.

Imagine this presidency.  You, the new president, came to office after a close election, with a razor thin majority in each House of Congress.  Your vanquished predecessor challenged the outcome of the election, without a shred of evidence of fraud, and, far from participating in a peaceful transition, orchestrated a coup in an attempt to overturn the result.  This delegitimized your presidency in the eyes of about one-third of those you govern.  You inherited a world beset by a runaway virus that your predecessor did little to abate, a languishing vaccination distribution program, a sputtering economy, severely damaged relations with your allies, and truly atrocious relations with your opposition party, who’s cooperation you would need in order to pass most of the legislation required to fix the problems, due to arcane congressional laws not suited for these polarized times.  Congratulations!

And yet, in less than two years, you have managed to vaccinate any American who wanted to be, nurtured the country back to some level of normalcy, and returned to productive and unified relations with our allies.  Your legislative record, even in the face of those slim margins, has been astonishingly productive:  you have signed into law several milestone pieces of bi-partisan legislation on issues (infrastructure and gun control) that vexed your predecessors; are on the verge of further breakthrough legislation on climate change (including important provisions on health care and debt reduction) and business competitiveness (particularly in the vital semiconductor industry); and kept Americans afloat during the pandemic with a jobs-driven stimulus package that helped drive unemployment to historic lows.  On top of all this, when Russia unilaterally attacked Ukraine, you formed a coalition of allies to counter the threat, by arming the Ukrainians, who performed exceptionally with those weapons to keep the Russians at bay.  Furthermore, you orchestrated sanctions that isolated Russia on the world stage, enough so that Finland and Sweden felt moved to apply for NATO membership.  American soldiers are no longer fighting and dying in Afghanistan, nor in Ukraine, nor, in fact, in any hostile theater around the globe.

Your efforts have been rewarded with, as might be expected, universal acclaim and a soaring approval rating --- wait, what?  With all this, your approval rating has actually steadily dropped -- about a point each month -- since you took office, from 55% to its current level of 39%.  Worse, you are not just losing Trump-rejecting Republicans and independents who largely voted for you.  You are losing the support of Democrats.  Your approval rating within your own party has dropped from roughly 90% to 75%, and some polls say that three-quarters of them want someone else heading the ticket in 2024. 

How can this be?  There are really two answers, one for everyone, and a different one for the Democrats.

The first answer is a single word:  inflation.  Biden is getting crushed by a global marketplace force that he did not instigate, nor can he control.  Inflation is not soaring due to the Biden Stimulus (as his opponents would have you believe).  Rather, inflation has been caused by the laws of supply and demand.  Demand is just fine, thank you.  But global supplies – food, gas, labor – have been sharply curtailed by a combination of the pandemic, which disrupted both supply chains and the availability of labor, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which caused grave shortages in energy (as the West forsook Russian oil) and food (as Ukraine grain shipments have been stymied).  The only real tools to fight inflation, now over 9%, are to solve the root cause problems of Covid and Russia – talk about a challenge – and use monetary policy to put the brakes on the “demand” side of the equation, which is the Fed’s domain, and they are on a rate-hike frenzy to achieve that mission.

So…Biden did not cause inflation, nor does Biden command the tools necessary to tame it.  And yet he shoulders the blame.  The president may be the most powerful person in the world, but the presidency is no match for global forces such as Mother Nature and the global marketplace.  And inflation is a global problem, not just a U.S. one.

Sure, inflation has not been Biden’s only problem.  He has hardly been perfect.  His communication efforts on Covid have been mixed to poor, his Afghanistan exit looked hideous, and he has made statements about inflation’s duration and Afghanistan’s Taliban threat that were as premature as Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration years ago.  But even the best presidencies have their nicks.

The second answer involves why Biden’s approval rate is dropping among Democrats.  Biden is facing a backlash from the left.  And it is all about expectations.

The Democrats are a big tent Party, a coalition built among a diverse set of white, elite liberals and various minorities who have been marginalized for centuries.  The constituencies care about an array of issues, self-organized into a loosely allied set of interest groups who are rightly demanding urgent action on climate change, gun control, immigration reform, reproductive health rights, voting rights and election integrity, police and criminal justice reform, access to health care at lower costs, student debt and much, much more. 

In order to get elected – with the existential threat of four more years of Donald Trump hanging in the balance – Biden did what he had to do to motivate everyone in the big tent to get out and vote:  he made promises.  He championed the rather quaint notion that he could revive the lost art of working across the aisle to achieve bipartisan legislation that would address these issues.  This claim struck virtually every jaded political commentator as hopelessly naïve.  The progressives, however, believed him, perhaps a little too much.  They expected Biden to act immediately on their specific cause in return for their support.

But as the month’s passed, various sticks were poked in the spinning wheels of congressional machinations to enact the Biden agenda by Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.  The media, filling the void left by the absence of Donald Trump, breathlessly tracked every twist and turn in the Manchima saga, giving the perception that absolutely nothing was happening. The progressives, rather hysterically and prematurely, felt betrayed.  The Biden Administration does not manage optics very well.

But what was lost in all of this is what the Biden Administration is actually pretty good at -- which was the actual substance.  One by one, those promises are being kept.  Maybe not when measured against the lofty ambitions of the left, but clearly material progress, adding up to trillions of dollars and meaningful progress.  FDR may have been inspiring, and LBJ knew just how to grab those lapels, but it sure did not hurt that each had Democratic supermajorities in Congress to get the New Deal and Great Society through.   Biden has exactly a four-seat edge in the House, and Kamala Harris in the Senate.  Plus he has little – no, zero – leverage over Manchin.  The left wants Manchin “punished” by stripping him of his committee chairmanship, which would simply drive Manchin to the GOP in a heartbeat, allowing Mitch McConnell to snatch the Majority Leader’s gavel from Chuck Schumer within seconds.

Congress acts in linear fashion.   You can only vote on one bill at a time.  You cannot do everything at once, and every single Democratic Senator and every House bloc essentially has veto power over everything; and congresspersons love the attention that that veto power grants them.  It is a process that requires an exceedingly large amount of patience, and the left exhausted their quota of that long ago.

Despite all this, Biden – the master of the “art of the possible” – has compiled a legislative record that is already impressive and could become historic before the midterms:  the stimulus, the infrastructure bill, and the gun control bill have been signed into law, and, quite likely, the climate change (a.k.a. “Inflation Reduction Act”) and business competitiveness bill will be passed soon.  There is an election reform bill being worked on by a bipartisan group of Senators, and action on student debt is still possible, and who knows what else.

Biden is getting little credit for this legislative record, nor for his COVID vaccination distribution program, the actual accomplishment of exiting Afghanistan, the near perfect handling of the Ukraine invasion, the near-full employment status of the economy and yes, even the sudden drop in gas prices over the past month.  Biden also just undercut one of the major critiques of his Afghan exit – that it would strengthen terrorist activity without any “on the ground” intelligence to track them – with the remarkable “over the horizon” killing of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Yes, we are safer now under Joe Biden’s leadership.

Despite all this, the majority of Democrats want Biden’s head.

Democrats are guilty of very lazy thinking in somehow completely missing the root causes of our biggest issues (Covid and Putin), the mood of our electorate (center right), the composition of Congress (nothing near a mandate for progressive action), how laws actually get passed (it’s up to Manchima), and the composition of the Supreme Court (six conservative votes).  Blaming Biden for inflation, gas prices, Dobbs v Jackson, and the failure to pass, 18 months in, every desired piece of legislation, et al, is insanity. 

This is no time to whine about legislation that does not meet the full realization of progressive aspiration, nor to complain that Biden has not addressed every issue as yet.  This is a time to celebrate our wins, and organize to hold onto the Senate and, yes, even the House, so that we can do even more in the next two years, thus laying the groundwork for four more beyond that.  Bashing Biden is not only undeserved, it serves no useful purpose.  In fact, for Democrats, it is literally self-defeating.  You want Trump back?  Keep bashing Biden.  Any Democrat who is atop the ticket in 2024, even if it is not Biden, is going to have to defend the record, and they will and they should.  You cannot beat the Republicans by criticizing your own party, not in the world we live in.  You have to motivate them to get out to vote.

Republicans have been very focused on winning elections for over a decade now.  They focused locally first, winning statehouses and state legislatures.  Then, having amassed state power, they managed to win the presidency in 2016 with Trump, despite losing the popular vote.  Trump and McConnell then captured the Supreme Court, and then drained the Federal government of power, letting it slide to the locals, where the GOP calls the shots.

What have the Democrats done in that time?  Well, we managed to win back the White House, Senate and House, because Trump was an idiot, but we failed to understand that slim majorities are not sufficient.  The progressives perhaps assumed that Schumer could reconcile our way to some wins, and kill the filibuster to secure the rest.  Somehow, no one noticed that a certain red state Democratic Senator, who might be open to support some rather substantial progress, had no interest at all in the full progressive agenda or in nuking the filibuster, and he was not alone in that.  And he had veto power over everything.  Why is that so difficult to grasp?

We shouldn’t spend our precious time, breath, energy and resource bashing Biden – instead, we should figure out how to win enough elections to do what needs to be done. 

First order of business:  let’s change the “woe is me” narrative.  It starts with backing Biden.  Let’s get behind the guy.  He defeated Trump, he’s thwarted Putin, he passed legislation that none of Bush, Obama or Trump could get through, and some that none thought possible, he’s restored our global relationships and, perhaps above all, integrity and sound decision processes to government.  On the whole, facing massive, massive challenges, he is guiding us well through extraordinary times.  He deserves full-throated support from the Democrats.

The bottom line:  ask not what Biden can do for you, ask what you can do for Biden.


MADNESS

In this section we typically highlight an incident, or a quote, or some happening that is too much to believe.  But this month, the madness is simply pervasive.

On the one hand, the January 6 committee has done a simply stupendous job awakening America to the very real threat Donald Trump – and his party – pose to democracy.

And on the other, as outlined above, the Democrats have once again organized themselves into a circular firing squad, with the man who saved us from Trump, Joe Biden, in the middle.


APPROVAL RATING

Joe Biden’s approval rating for the month of July dropped again down to 39%.   



HOW BIDEN IS HANDLING KEY ISSUES

Biden’s “key issue” ratings on average dropped another point from June levels, although there was another 3-point dip on the question of whether America was on the “right track” or not.  That particular number, now down to 19%, has to be extremely concerning for the Biden Administration, although clearly this reflects Democrats exasperation with more than Biden (note the large gap between the 19% and Biden’s 39% approval rating), and presumably that dissatisfaction is directed at the Republicans in general for some combination of January 6, SCOTUS and Congressional gridlock.







GENERIC BALLOT

In July polling, on average the GOP continues to lead the Democrats on the generic ballot, but the gap has been reduced from +3 to +1, or back to the level seen earlier in the year. 

Using BTRTN’s proprietary models (which have been extremely accurate in midterm elections), if this lead was still in place on Election Day in 2022, and adding in +4 seats for the net impact of redistricting, the GOP would pick up about 24 seats and take over the House with some room to spare.  While this would be quite a decisive move, it would be of lesser magnitude than the losses experienced by Bill Clinton (-54 seats), Barack Obama (-63) and Donald Trump (-40). 



BIDENOMETER

The “Bidenometer” rose in June for the first time since January 2022, increasing from +2 to +11.  Biden can thus continue to claim that, from an economic standpoint, America is “better off” than it was when he took over from Trump.

The increase was driven by an improvement in the GDP, a drop in the price of gas, and a rise in the stock market.  These gains were offset by a modest drop in consumer confidence, and there was no change in the unemployment rate. 

As a reminder, this measure is designed to provide an objective answer to the legendary economically-driven question at the heart of the 1980 Reagan campaign:  “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  We reset the Bidenometer at this Inaugural to zero, so that we better demonstrate whether the economy performs better (a positive number) or worse (a negative number) under Biden than what he inherited from the Trump Administration.

This exclusive BTRTN measure is comprised of five indicative data points:  the unemployment rate, Consumer Confidence, the price of gasoline, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and the U.S. GDP.  The measure is calculated by averaging the percentage change in each measure from the inaugural to the present time.

The +12 means that, on average, the five measures are 12% higher than they were when Biden was inaugurated (see the chart below).  With a Bidenometer of +11, the economy is performing slightly better under Biden compared to its condition when Trump left office.  Unemployment is much lower, the consumer confidence is higher, the GDP is stronger and the Dow is higher.  On the flip side, gas prices have soared (as has overall inflation, of which gas prices are a primary component).

Using January 20, 2021 as a baseline measure of zero, you can see from the chart below that under Clinton the measure ended at +55.  It declined from +55 to only +8 under Bush, who presided over the Great Recession at the end of his term, then rose from +8 to +33 under Obama’s recovery.  Under Trump, it fell again, from +33 to 0, driven by the shock of COVID-19 and Trump’s mismanagement of it.  Now we have seen it move slightly upward to +11 under Biden.



 

 

If you would like to be on the Born To Run The Numbers email list notifying you of each new post, please write us at borntorunthenumbers@gmail.com.

Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Bidenometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Biden Inaugural on January 20, 2021, on an average percentage change basis. The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump left office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline and the GDP.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

BTRTN, the Midterms: Democrats' Chances of Holding the Senate Improve

Tom is back with an updated race-by-race look at the Senate midterm elections.   

We are most of the way through the primary season, and a good time, we thought, to take another in-depth look at the Senate races, our first since March.  At that time we posited the then novel idea that the Democrats just might hold on to the Senate, given, essentially, the strength of their candidates in the swing elections and the weakness of the likely GOP nominees, several of whom would be replacing retiring GOP incumbents.

Since then, the Democrats’ electoral prospects for holding the Senate have become even more promising.  That’s because that very dynamic is playing out in real time: the swing state GOP candidates are, on cue, committing various gaffes and are being out-fundraised by their Democratic opponents.  The Democrats, for their part, are running smart campaigns that are distancing themselves from the misery being experienced by the Biden Administration.

The macro-environment, of course, heavily favors the GOP.  Biden’s approval ratings are basically handcuffed to the inflation rate, and the more the latter goes up, the former goes down.  But that adverse environment is far more important for House elections, which, at this juncture, are pointing to a near-certain GOP takeover.  The Senate races are not independent of national electoral dynamics, but are far more dependent on the candidates themselves.

By our reckoning (based on our race-by-race models), the Democrats have improved their chances of holding the Senate from 51% in March to 58% today.  (Our forecast for the Dems holding the House remains a mere 1%.)  Remember, this is not a prediction, but rather a snapshot – if the elections were held today, the Democrats would likely keep the Senate.  But things can and will change in the ensuing months, and we will continue to monitor each race.

Today we’ll drill down on each Senate battleground race and explain why the Dems fortunes are promising and on the upswing.


WHY LISTEN TO BTRTN?

Before we review the Senate, you might be interested in our credentials as election forecasters.  Here is our track record in Senate races since 2008 when we began.

Over this period we have only missed 15 Senate races out of nearly 250 predictions, and our "batting average" on close races – those decided by five or fewer percentage points -- is 73%.  To give an indication, in November, 2020, we predicted that both Georgia Senate races would go to runoff, and in January, 2021, we predicted that Democrats would win both of those runoff elections.  Not many of our fellow forecasters went four-for-four on Georgia in those momentous elections that were all decided by two points or less.


THE MAIN TAKEAWAYS

Here are the main takeaways of this 2022 Senate analysis, then we’ll get into the detail: 

·        The Democrats’ task is relatively simple – they just have to defend all 14 of the seats that they currently hold that are up for reelection to hold on to the Senate.  Only one Democratic incumbent, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, is retiring, whereas four GOP Senators are retiring out of the 20 seats they must defend.

·       Of these 34 Senate elections, only 10 are going to be truly competitive.  Only four of the Democrats 14 seats are in that group:  Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire and Nevada.  As of now, in varying degrees, the Democrats have the upper hand in each, leading in both the polls (albeit by small margins in some), in fundraising (typically by larger margins), and, frankly, in the quality of the candidates themselves.

·        Furthermore, the Democrats are mounting stiff challenges to the GOP in the six competitive races for Senate seats held by Republicans, especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina, providing the Democrats with an opportunity to flip several seats, an outcome that would render the votes of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema far less crucial to Democratic legislation than they are now.  This may not matter much, however, if the Democrats lose the House, though it might make the passage of more progressive judges (which require only a majority in the Senate, with no House role) somewhat easier.  Pennsylvania is a particularly promising "flip" opportunity at this point, and the only race we are rating a flip at this juncture.

·      Here is how we peg the outcomes – this snapshot -- at this still relatively early juncture:



THE ANALYSIS

As everyone reading this surely knows, the current Senate is split 50/50 between the Democratic and Republican caucuses.  There are only 48 Democrats, but two Independents, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, caucus with the Democrats.  The Democrats control the Senate by virtue of the tie-breaking vote capability held by Vice President Kamala Harris.  There are 34 seats up for election this November, 14 of them currently held by Democrats, and 20 of them by Republicans.  

But most of those 34 races will not be terribly close.  Based on our BTRTN ratings of those races (which are more or less in line with all the other rating services), at most 10 races will be truly competitive.  Those 10 races will decide which party will control the Senate in 2023.

The chart summarizes our rates of each of the 34 races.  We see the advantage to the Democrats in five races -- defending the four they hold (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire) plus, at this stage, a flip of Pennsylvania.  Two of those races, Georgia and Nevada are so close that they are "toss ups," while the other three are in the "lean" category.  As of the, the GOP has three toss ups of their all, all in seats they are defending (North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin) while we consider two others, Florida and Missouri, as "likely" to remain in the GOP camp.  All of this is, of course, subject to change as we move ever closer to the elections.

 













Let’s take a line-by-line look at each race, then we will drill down on the 10 that really matter.  Keep in mind, race dynamics could change as we complete the primary cycle and head down the stretch drive.  It is possible some of these races will drop from “battleground” status, and others may tighten up enough to become a battleground.  







THE 10 RACES THAT WILL DECIDE CONTROL OF THE SENATE

Let’s review the battleground states, and we’ve sorted them, based on our current BTRTN assessment, based on the likelihood that the Democrats will win.  Keep in mind the Democrats have to win four of these ten races to maintain control of the Senate.

New Hampshire.  The New Hampshire primary is the last in the nation, not until September 13, and that will not give the GOP much time to consolidate around their nominee to challenge Democratic incumbent Maggie Hassan.  This is a state that Biden won by +7 in 2020, though Hassan won her seat a mere tenth of a point in 2016.  There has been some polling from March to June that pits Hassan against the three main GOP contenders (former Army Special Forces outsider Don Bolduc, State Senator Chuck Morse, and former state representative Kevin Smith), and on average Hassan is ahead of them by about five points on average, although there is some evidence the race is tightening.  But Hassan maintains a gigantic funding advantage, having raised $21 million, with over $7 million still on hand, dwarfing the figures of her competitors combined.  For now, we maintain our BTRTN Rating at Lean Democratic.

Arizona.  Former astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, won a close special election in November, 2020, for the seat once held by John McCain, defeating then-incumbent GOP Senator Martha McSally by +2 points.  Now he is running again for a full six-year term in a state that Biden won by only three-tenths of a point.  Kelly’s likely opponent (the primary is on August 2) will be tech entrepreneur Blake Masters, who has won Trump’s support.  Kelly has been spanking him soundly in the limited polling to date, and also crushing him in fundraising.  Kelly has raised an astonishing $52 million thus far and has spent only roughly half of it.  For his part, Masters has performed par for the course for GOP candidates in this election cycle; when asked about gun violence, his tone-deaf assessment was as follows: “Its gangs.  Its people in Chicago, St. Louis, shooting each other very often, you know, Black people frankly,” he said.  Ahem.  We have changed our BTRTN Rating from Toss Up Democratic to Lean Democratic.

Pennsylvania.  There have already been many chapters written in this wild race thus far, with seemingly another written every day.  One candidate suffered a stroke, the other can’t spell the name of his alleged home town – and these are the candidates that won the primaries.  It all started when Republican Senator Pat Toomey opted not to seek reelection, throwing this purple state Senate seat up for grabs.  Then Trump-backed Army Ranger Sean Parnell was forced to drop out of the GOP race after credible charges of domestic violence emerged, and Trump then moved on to support TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, who squeaked out a primary win over hedge fund CEO David McCormick.  Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who is a good fit with mainstream Pennsylvanians, won the Democratic nomination just days after his stroke.  Oz has neither run any TV ads since the primary nor failed to quash carpetbagger charges, indeed he exacerbated them with the notorious hometown misspelling.  Fetterman is well ahead in the polls and in fundraising, having raised $8 million in the last quarter versus $3 million for Oz.  We have changed our BTRTN Rating from Toss Up Republican to Lean Democratic, which would be a flip for the Democrats. 

Nevada.  Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto won a close race in 2016 (+2) to claim her first-term seat in a purple state that Biden won by +3 in 2020.  GOP challenger Adam Laxalt has deep mainstream GOP political roots, as the former State Attorney General is the grandson of former Governor (and Reagan pal) Paul Laxalt, and the son of former New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici.  But this Laxalt is a full-on Trumpster, having led, in Nevada, Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election outcome.  Candidate Laxalt recently made his own contribution to the GOP candidate gaffe-a-thon, proclaiming Roe v Wade a “joke” in a state in which 57% of the voters believe abortion should be legal.  (It is also worth noting that 62% believe Biden’s election was legitimate.)  She also is well ahead of Laxalt on the fundraising front.  Despite all this, the most recent polls have Masto up by only +3 points each, and thus we have changed our BTRTN Rating from Lean Democratic to Toss Up Democratic.

Georgia.  Reverend Raphael Warnock won a special election on January 5, 2021, one of two stunning Georgia Senate wins that day over GOP incumbents (the other by Jon Ossoff) that gave Democrats control of the Senate and thus radically altered the course of Joe Biden’s presidency.  Now Warnock is running for a full six-year term.  He will be facing former Georgia Bulldog football star Herschel Walker, like Oz a Trump-backed celebrity with no political experience.  He also may very well be the worst candidate in the entire field (at least unitl the Missouri primary is settled, see below).  Walker has a history of mental illness, claiming multiple personalities, one of whom happened to abuse his wife.  More recently, he disclosed the existence of three children that he had fathered, an admission that shocked his own campaign staff.  (Walker has long railed against absentee fathers; apparently, he is one of them.)  Walker also recently made this profound statement on Climate change:  Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space.”  Hmm.  Warnock, for his part, is being helped by his own mega-fundraising prowess (he outraised Walker by a $17 million to $6 million margin in the second quarter), and will also be buoyed by Stacey Abrams’s powerhouse voting machine, so instrumental in electing Warnock, Ossoff and Biden in 2020/21.  (Abrams herself will, of course, also be on the ticket in 2022 as the Democratic candidate for Governor.)  The Senate race polling has been back and forth and tends to slightly favor Warnock at this point, and we have maintained our BTRTN Rating as Toss Up Democratic.

Wisconsin.  GOP Senator Ron Johnson is an outright Trumpster, a trafficker in conspiracy theories, a vaccine skeptic, is notoriously dismissive of January 6 critiques (“largely a peaceful protest”) and apparently offered an alternate slate of 2020 Wisconsin presidential electors to Mike Pence.  He also has an approval rating that is deeply underwater, at 36%, as of April.  June polling has Johnson running more or less even with the three major Democrats vying for the chance to unseat him (the primary is August 9):  lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes (who is the frontrunner), state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, and Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry.  We are maintaining our BTRTN Rating as Toss Up Republican. 

North Carolina.  Richard Burr is another purple state GOP Senator who is retiring.  Burr won the state by +6 in 2016, and Trump took the state by a single point in 2020.  The GOP primary was won by U.S. Representative Ted Budd, with Trump’s endorsement, who beat former Governor Pat McGrory.  Former state Supreme Court justice Cheri Beasley is atop the Democratic ticket, and so far the polling has Budd ahead of Beasley, on average, by a low single digit margin.  As in many other races, the Democrat Beasley is out-fundraising Budd by a 3:1 margin.   But it will be a tough one for Beasley to win, and we are maintaining our BTRTN Rating as Toss Up Republican. 

Ohio.  Yet another GOP Senator, Rob Portman, is retiring in Ohio, giving the Democrats a small opening in a formerly purple state that has become increasingly red (Trump won it by 8 points in 2020).  The GOP primary was won by yet another Trump-backed celebrity non-politician, Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance.  The Democrats have another strong candidate, U.S. Representative and former presidential candidate Tim Ryan.  Ryan is running an excellent race, his campaign focused squarely on mainstream (even conservative) issues, such as China-bashing and law-and-order messaging, steering clear of the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda and the Biden Administration.  He has also been drubbing Vance in fundraising.  It is working, as he is running even with Vance in the polls in a very tough state.  We have changed our BTRTN Rating from Likely Republican to Toss Up Republican.

Missouri.  The Democrats have no real business holding out any hope for Missouri, which Trump won in 2020 by +15 points, even though GOP Senator Roy Blunt is retiring.  But former Governor Eric Greitens, if he wins the August 2 primary, would be an even worse candidate than Georgia’s Walker.  Greitens, you may recall, was an ambitious Governor when he was forced to resign in 2018 due to a lurid sex scandal – he not only had an affair, but was accused of blackmailing his paramour by threatening to expose compromising pictures of her.  That was bad enough, but then Greitens’ ex-wife levied domestic violence charges against him.  And yet, he’s back, and running even in the polls with fellow Republicans Attorney General Eric Schmitt and U.S. representative Vicky Hartzler.  As for the Democrats, former Marine Lucas Kunce and former state senator and rep Scott Sifton are among those in the field.  Not surprisingly in this red state, all three GOP candidates lead the two Democrats in head-to-head polling (last conducted in May), though Greitens’ led was by the narrowest margin.  But the entire race was upended by the late June announcement by mainstream Republican John Wood that he was entering the race as an Independent.  Wood, an attorney who recently was a senior investigator for the January 6 Committee, wanted to offer Missouri voters an alternative to Greitens (though he also says he will continue to November even if Greitens loses the primary).  While he appears to be attempting to save Missouri from the humiliation of electing Greitens, his campaign clearly opens the door for the Democrats if Wood and the GOP nominee split the Republican vote.  Many twists lie ahead, including the primary, thus for now we maintain our BTRTN Rating of Likely Republican. 

Florida.  The Democrats are running a terrific candidate in U.S. Representative Val Demings, the one-time police chief of Orlando and more recently a House impeachment manager in the first Senate trial of Donald Trump (she is the presumptive candidate as the primary is not until August 23).  That high-profile gig earned her serious consideration in the Joe Biden veepstakes.  But despite the strength of her candidacy, Florida has been a disappointment for the Democrats in many a high profile race in recent years, and GOP incumbent Marco Rubio has led Demings by a good margin in most 2022 polls.  Those margin appear to be narrowing from double to single-digits.  Unlike in other battleground states, Rubio and Demings are about even in fundraising, each having in the $13-15 million range on hand.  We are maintaining our BTRTN Rating at Likely Republican.

Stay tuned.