Yes, through the miracle of modern data-nerdery, it’s now possible to “watch” a poll happen in real time, before it’s complete. The NYT’s Upshot site is compiling and posting results as it conducts surveys in Texas, Nevada, and Tennessee. Every time someone picks up the phone and answers the paper’s questions about the local Senate race, the numbers change, right before your eyes.
Which is both good and bad. Good because it’s fun, like watching the returns come in on election night. Bad because it encourages the viewer to jump the gun before the poll is finished, like I’m doing right now, and draw a conclusion from a small sample size that’s likely to change. Typically you’d want a minimum of 400 people in a sample before you start feeling fairly confident about the results. Right now the Times’s poll of Tennessee has just 366 sampled, producing a large margin of error of six points.
And yet they’re close enough to 400, and the results are so striking, that it’s worth flagging it for you now in case you want to watch the results yourself when polling resumes today. At present, the NYT has Marsha Blackburn leading Phil Bredesen by 18 points, 57/39. That means if we allot the entire margin of error to Bredesen, the worst-case scenario for Blackburn, she’s still ahead with a clear majority, 51/45. A six-point lead would be among her biggest of the campaign to date.
But if the poll is accurate? Eighteen points. That would mean the last four polls of Tennessee, starting just before Christine Blasey Ford came forward, would have gone like this: Bredesen by five, Blackburn by five, Blackburn by eight, Blackburn by … 18. That’s some trend.
Between this and the new polls in Nevada and Arizona, are we now safe in detecting a “Kavanaugh effect” in red states?
That’s the Upshot’s moment-to-moment trendline as the data has been compiled. Lotta volatility early, just as you’d expect with a tiny sample size, but as more people are interviewed a clear trend emerges. Bredesen, who led less than a month ago, is getting blown out.
At Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, the Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate have now slipped to a new low of just 19.4 percent as candidates like Blackburn, Kevin Cramer, and Martha McSally begin to rise. Is Kavanaughgeddon responsible for the shift or is there more to it? Silver considered the question yesterday:
In general, Democrats’ position has gotten worse in red states but has been steady-to-improving in purple and blue states. There are a couple of exceptions to this pattern (Joe Manchin has continued to poll well in West Virginia) but not many.
On top of that, Democrats have had particular problems in North Dakota, where Heitkamp has seen her numbers go especially south. In fact, absent Heitkamp’s decline, Democrats’ overall position in the Lite forecast is about the same as it was a month ago. (The declines in states such as Indiana are offset by gains in states such as Florida.) Since North Dakota is rarely polled, that raises the question of whether Heitkamp’s position was this bad all along and didn’t have much to do with her decision to vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court; notably, one of the polls showing her down double digits was conducted almost entirely before the hearing with Ford and Kavanaugh on Sept. 27.
It’s not that the bottom has dropped out nationally for Democrats. On the contrary, Silver’s model gives them a 78 percent chance of retaking the House, nearly the precise opposite of the state of the Senate. Another poll out today finds that Democrats, not Republicans, are now more enthusiastic to vote this fall, with 77 percent on Team Blue saying they’re “very motivated” versus just 68 percent of Team Red. (Republicans nationally are trying to figure out how to keep the energy generated from the Kavanaughpocalypse going for another month, knowing that it’ll inevitably start tailing off since he was successfully confirmed.) Increasingly we seem to be approaching a bizarre outcome in which Democrats win handily in one chamber while Republicans win handily in the other. If the battle for the Senate were fought nationally, Democrats might be positioned for a total takeover of Congress. This year, though, it’s being fought mainly on red turf, and red-turfers are furious about the Kavanaugh debacle. For the moment.
As for Bredesen, he might suddenly be caught in a perfect political storm. It was likely that Blackburn’s polling would improve as the race entered its final weeks, as undecideds in a very red state are apt to lean Republican. Then the Kavanaugh war erupted, encouraging righties to circle the wagons. Then Bredesen announced that he would have voted for Kavanaugh if he were a senator, which may have caused a cave-in among some of his liberal supporters. If the Times poll is anywhere close to accurate he’s all but done. And if he is, so are the Democrats’ chances of retaking the Senate in all likelihood. Silver notes that Dems would need pull an upset in either North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, or Mississippi to have the same reasonable-ish chance of winning a majority that Trump had of winning the presidency on the eve of the 2016 election.
Which reminds me: The Upshot just polled Texas as well. Cruz 53, O’Rourke 44. Nine points matches the biggest lead he’s had in a month in any poll and ties for his biggest lead since mid-June. And yet, of the four states Silver noted, Texas probably remains Democrats’ best chance of a pick-up. Hoo boy.