A just-released poll shows Democrats tied with or leading Republicans
in key red state Senate races, boosting morale on the left. But it’s a
bit early for election forecasting models to pay much heed.
By Peter Grier
WASHINGTON — Might Democrats keep control of the Senate following this fall’s midterm elections? That question is reverberating through
Washington political circles Monday following the surprising numbers of a just-released NBC/Marist poll of key red state 2014 Senate races.
The survey shows Democratic candidates even with or ahead of Republican rivals in Kentucky, Georgia, and Arkansas. If nothing else
it’s been a morale boost for left-leaning partisans after months of
electoral bad news.
“Today’s new polling is a reminder that maybe, just maybe, all the GOP
certainty about their pending Senate takeover is a bit premature,”
writes liberal Greg Sargent at his Plum Line Washington Post blog.
For instance, NBC/Marist data survey has Democratic challenger Alison
Lundergan Grimes within a percentage point of Senate minority leader
Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Given Kentucky’s Republican lean, many
observers have felt that Senator McConnell is the heavy favorite in
In Georgia, the poll puts Democrat Michelle Nunn about even with all
possible Republican opponents. That has Democrats dreaming of the
return of the Nunn clan to the U.S. Capitol — Nunn’s father, Sam Nunn,
served in the Senate for a quarter century.
And the survey puts incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas — one of the
most endangered Democrats on most pundit lists — a whopping 11 points
ahead of GOP challenger Tom Cotton.
All the above “are competitive states as far as the general election
is concerned,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College
Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Well, that’s probably true. But it’s still way too early to put too
much credence in these numbers. Individual polls don’t tell you that
much this far in advance of statewide elections.
Lumping NBC data in with previous polls, the RealClearPolitics average
of major surveys has McConnell ahead by one percentage point —
In Georgia, RealClearPolitics has Nunn up by three percentage points.
And in Arkansas, it has Senator Pryor up by 4.8 points — meaning the
big 11 point lead he enjoys in the NBC poll may be an outlier.
And election forecasting models at this point in the cycle don’t put
much credence in poll numbers, if they include them at all. Other
factors such as incumbency, candidate quality, the state of the
economy, and national trends weigh more in early-stage political
Those models have barely budged, in case you’re interested. At the New
York Times, their Upshot Senate election model gives the Republicans a
54 percent chance of retaking the chamber. That’s essentially a
Other math-based forecasts give close to the Upshot’s results — with
the exception of the Washington Post’s Election Lab, which has the GOP
as 82 percent favorites to gain Senate control.
The bottom line: don’t get too excited about each day’s headlines, one
way or another. There are lots of headlines and potentially
election-changing events to come.