Who Takes the Senate?

Nate Silver handicaps the November Senate elections and essentially comes up with the prediction I’ve been making for some time:

Our March forecast projected a Republicans gain of 5.8 seats. You’ll no doubt notice the decimal place; how can a party win a fraction of a Senate seat? It can’t, but our forecasts are probabilistic; a gain of 5.8 seats is the total you get by summing the probabilities from each individual race. Because 5.8 seats is closer to six (a Republican takeover) than five (not quite), we characterized the GOP as a slight favorite to win the Senate.

The new forecast is for a Republican gain of 5.7 seats. So it’s shifted ever so slightly — by one-tenth of a seat — toward being a toss-up. Still, if asked to place a bet at even odds, we’d take a Republican Senate.

which is that Democrats hold the Senate. How do I justify my claim? Because in real elections we don’t round. The number of seats gained is the number of seats gained and it will either be five (my prediction) or six and when you truncate 5.7 you get a five seat gain. For the Republicans to gain six seats it would more or less require them to run the table and I think the odds of that really aren’t that good whatever the polls say today.

There are things that could happen to change that. Democrats could foolishly seek to nationalize the election. The president’s approval rating could dip as a result of any number of things, e.g. deteriorating economy, one of the various scandals actually coming to a head, etc.

Since I don’t think any of those things will happen, I continue to believe that the Democrats will be weakened but will hold the Senate.

5 comments… add one
  • jan

    Speculation is a crazy-making sport for the mind. However, if I were to go there, when predicting the outcome of the Senate in 2014, I would hazard two possible outcomes: 1) the R’s fall short of the number needed to become the Senate majority; 2) the R’s sweep a larger number of seats than anticipated, gaining a comfortable majority.

  • michael reynolds

    I suspect the GOP may squeak in. I’ve been supporting Grimes in KY but the numbers aren’t trending well. Ditto Nunn in GA. Which leaves (on my personal contribution list) Kay Hagen in NC. Nate calls that a 50/50, and interestingly, Hagen is running on Obamacare.

    I think it’s fair to say that Mr. Obama’s team has written off WV and KY. WV is hopeless, I still have hopes for KY, but it’s hard to “define” a guy who’s been in office forever.

  • PD Shaw

    Silver predicts the individual races, the sum of which is Republicans at 50 seats and the Democrats (plus independent) at 48 seats, with Alaska and North Carolina being 50/50. Republicans have to win one of two coin flips.

    I’m switching my prediction from tied Senate, to +1 Republican. To me, the important factor is that in the close or potentially close states, the Republicans are not nominating weirdos or fringe candidates. The important states (AK, AR, LA & NC) appear to all have Democratic incumbents that cannot get over 50% in head-to-head polls, running in states Romney carried with acceptable Republican candidates. The weakness for Republicans might be the presence of third-parties on their ballots.

  • michael reynolds


    The 3rd parties almost always fade away.

    It’s a red state election and with polarization continuing, there’s not much to done about it. You’re right: the Tea Party disappoints. Democrats had hopes for them.

  • jan

    I think the statement about “the tea party disappoints,” is a reflexive one, a best. The tea party has been a loose affiliation of people, all disenchanted with big government. There are no real “big” leaders, just small local groups who were formed and continue to gather under a generalized theme of opposing large centralized government.

    Their prowess, has been in becoming activated and infiltrating state and local governments, changing the progressive direction that so many smaller elections were going. The tea party, however, is a bottom-up organization –ordinary people fanning out, getting involved, and individually attempting to stem the flow of progressive policy-making. I personally think there have been triumphs as well as disappointments. But, overall, the tea party has had an effective undercurrent of counteracting what the Obama Administration has stridently tried to pull over on the people.

    I agree, there is greater 2014 unification in the republican party, dealing with their selection of more savvy candidates. They have learned, from past faux pas attempts, that an unsophisticated nominee is less likely to win, especially when the dems financially support 3rd party candidates in order to divide, conquer, and get their own candidates elected by a plurality. It’s dirty pool politics, especially by people such as Reid. But, well organized corruption knows no bounds, and is more likely to win than someone trading in a more idealistic code of conduct.

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