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New York Times Will Have Its Red Wave If It Has To Make It Up Itself!
Good polling for Democrats in swing districts somehow means the GOP will take the House.
The New York Times sure knows how to be counterintuitive — to the point of not making any damn sense at all. For instance, in a story last Thursday on polling the Times and Siena College conducted in "four archetypal swing districts," the second paragraph soberly proclaims that the polling "offers fresh evidence that Republicans are poised to retake Congress this fall as the party dominated among voters who care most about the economy."
That sure sounds like bad news for Democrats, especially in those four bellwether districts. At least it sounds like bad news until you get to the third paragraph, which notes that the actual polling results show the Democratic candidates "were still tied or ahead in all four districts — three of which were carried by Mr. Biden in 2020." What's more, we learn in the 11th paragraph that although Biden's approval rating "does not top 44 percent in any" of the four districts, the four Democrats who currently hold the seats are "running ahead of the president’s poor ratings."
Good thing for those four candidates that they aren't Joe Biden, isn't it?
We should probably start out by saying that the poll results we're talking about all come from Times /Siena College polling, so we can at least be sure the data isn't being skewed by the flood of late GOP polling that's screwing with national polling averages.
So how does the polling that shows Democrats either ahead or tied in these four districts suggest there'll be a Republican takeover of the House? Well, you see, it's because maybe those leads somehow don't matter, because what if they don't hold up or voters in other districts not covered in the article go red?
But the party’s slim majority — control could flip if just five seats change hands — demands that it essentially run the table everywhere, at a moment when the economy has emerged as the driving issue in all but the country’s wealthier enclaves.
Weirdly, not one of the charts in the piece includes the top-line polling results for all four districts. We get breakdowns of some demographics, like the districts' education levels and ethnic makeup, and how they voted in the 2020 presidential election (before redistricting). But you need to dig into the text to find the actual poll numbers. We're told that Kansas's Third District is an outlier among the four, since it's the only one where "a majority of voters hold a college degree," and also where a majority of voters said they're more motivated by social issues than by economic matters in this election.
Oh, yes, and the actual polling margin? Rep. Sharice Davids, the Democrat, is pretty much stomping her Republican challenger, Amanda Adkins, 55 percent to 41 percent — a 14-point lead. The district went to Joe Biden by a far closer margin in 2020, just 51 percent to 47 percent.
By contrast, there really is a close race in Nevada's First District, where the poll has incumbent Democrat Dina Titus tied with Republican Mark Robertson with 47 percent of the vote each, in a newly redrawn district.
In New Mexico's Second District, the two candidates are also pretty much tied, well within the margin of error; the district was redrawn to give Democrats an advantage, and Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell, with 47 percent, is just a point behind Democratic challenger Gabriel Vasquez (48 percent). The polling shows that economic concerns are motivating lots of voters, and the Times dutifully includes quotes from voters who say they plan to go with Herrell. But if concerns about the economy are so overwhelming, shouldn't Vasquez be in more trouble, instead of in a statistical dead heat?
Finally, in Pennsylvania's Eighth District, near Scranton, the Times explains, the education stats and the fact that voters were the most concerned about the economy of any in the four districts "should benefit Republicans," especially considering that Donald Trump won it in 2020 and Joe Biden has the lowest approval rating of the four districts, too. So how are those factors killing the Democratic incumbent this year?
Yet Representative Matt Cartwright, a Democrat, leads his repeat Republican challenger, Jim Bognet, 50 percent to 44 percent.
Mr. Cartwright held 13 percent support among voters who said they backed Mr. Trump in the last presidential election, the most crossover support of any candidate in the polls. And he pulled off something else unusual: Across all four races, Mr. Cartwright was the Democrat who was winning the largest share of the vote both among voters focused on social issues and those focused on the economy.
Huh! Dems in Disarray, we guess?
So you've got a redrawn Nevada district where the Democratic incumbent is tied with the Republican, a redrawn New Mexico district where the Democratic challenger is ahead by a point against the Republican — although statistically, the race is too close to predict — and two districts where the Democrats are well ahead — one of whom, by the Times's metrics, ought to be in big trouble.
In a Twitter thread on the data that went into the article, coauthor Nate Cohn said that "on balance, the polls are better for Democrats than I would have guessed given our national polling," and repeated the point that Democrats can't afford to lose more than five seats and still hang on to control of the House.
The article's conclusion that the national polling still seems to show a GOP advantage drew a skeptical reply from the Other Data Nerd Named Nate, Nate Silver, who objected,
“@Nate_Cohn Dude, the Ds in your polls are collectively outperforming Biden, who won the popular vote by 4.5 points! I don't know if this is a case where you don't want to throw your editors under the bus, but these are good polls for Ds and the narrative in the story doesn't match the data.”
— Nate Cohn (@Nate Cohn) 1666916716
Dude, the Ds in your polls are collectively outperforming Biden, who won the popular vote by 4.5 points! I don't know if this is a case where you don't want to throw your editors under the bus, but these are good polls for Ds and the narrative in the story doesn't match the data.
Cohn stammered a bit about the "overall House picture" and suggested Silver hadn't considered it, and suggested that the strong showing for Davids in Kansas was an "outlier," but couldn't quite explain why data showing the House will likely be a squeaker means a Red wave.
For that matter, in his own standalone blog post on the data, posted the same day as the story he co-wrote, Cohn said that the polling showed "some decent results for Democrats" and that the Kansas and Pennsylvania polling "count as great results for Democrats." In fact, Cohn said, he'd "expected a bit better for Republicans after our last national poll showed them up by three percentage points on the generic ballot." He also cautioned, as did the main story, that four districts aren't enough to make a judgment about the overall results in the House elections. Notably missing from the blog post, though, is any mention of that line about "fresh evidence that Republicans are poised to retake Congress" — instead, Cohn says the four polls "can’t really change my view of the race for the House overall," a far more cautious prediction, if it's a prediction at all.
Which leads us to our eternal question: New York Times politics editors, go fuck yourself.
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