Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Lisa Lerer, your host.
Say it with me, everyone: Polls are not predictions. Polls are not predictions. POLLS ARE NOT PREDICTIONS!
I’m reminding you all of this mantra because one thing that always happens in the days after an election is the blame game.
Remember how we talked about surprises in the run-up to Election Day? Well, when a surprise happens — like Mike Braun’s Republican blowout in the Indiana Senate race, or Kendra Horn’s Democratic upset in Oklahoma’s Fifth District — pundits and strategists from both sides love blaming the polls. (See, yet again, 2016.)
Well, pollsters don’t kill campaigns. Campaigns kill campaigns.
Actually, it was a pretty good election night for polling. Our last round of Times/Siena College polls, which finished two days before the election, overestimated Republican strength by only half a point on average, according to Nate Cohn, our in-house polling expert — so pretty close to the actual results.
(A tip from the experts on how to read polls: Look for a range, not the average, which can shift based on outliers.)
Let’s take a look at a few of the highest profile races:
• Despite what hopeful Democrats might have told you, the polls always predicted a loss for Beto O’Rourke in the Texas Senate race. They were right, though Mr. O’Rourke made it slightly closer than expected, losing by just 2.6 percentage points.
• The Arizona Senate race remains too close to call, with Martha McSally leading by 0.9 points with some votes still to be counted. Polls this month ranged between Ms. McSally leading by 3 and her opponent, Kyrsten Sinema, leading by 1.
• On Democrats’ chances of taking control of the House, Nate Cohn wrote on Monday: “If the Times/Siena polls were exactly right (they will not be), Democrats would gain 32 seats.” As of this afternoon, Democrats have gained 30 seats, with a few districts still to be called.
Those forecasts all came close, despite unprecedented turnout — nearly 114 million votes were cast, The Times estimated, shattering the previous high of 83 million in 2014, which complicated modeling.
“We knew it would be record-high turnout, but we had to figure out who the extra voters would be,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “Still, the polls were very good indicators of what was going to happen. The misses weren’t huge.”
So where were the polls off the mark?
• In Florida, Republican turnout exceeded expectations. Nonpartisan polls in the last two weeks had Andrew Gillum, the Democrat, leading by between 4 and 7 points. He lost by half a point (barring a recount).
• In Indiana, polls for the Senate race since October showed results ranging from a big win for the Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly, to a tie, to a narrow loss. In the end, he was crushed by Mike Braun, losing by more than 8. (Indiana, it’s worth noting, is notoriously difficult to poll because of state laws restricting automatic phone dialing.)
• In the Missouri Senate race between Claire McCaskill and Josh Hawley, different polls in the last week had both of them with 3-point leads, and others showed a tie. Mr. Hawley, the Republican challenger, won the race by 6.
Pollsters this year made more of an effort to try and be transparent about their process. At The New York Times, we conducted our surveys publicly, in real time.
“You saw a definite tamping down on the expectations that polls would produce a clear outcome,” said Courtney Kennedy, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center.
So with all that in mind, and their good track record this year, why is it that polls always get such a bad rap after elections?
“It’s not the polls,” Mr. Murray told me. “It’s the pundits who talk out of their backsides and don’t understand how these numbers work.”
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The Obamacare effect
CreditKevin D. Liles for The New York Times
Margot Sanger-Katz, who writes about health care for The Upshot, has been looking into the relationship between health insurance and voting. Today, she sent us this:
In 2014, millions more Americans got health insurance coverage because of Obamacare. And I kept wondering: What does that mean for how they’ll vote?
I asked around among political scientists and turnout modelers before the 2016 election, but no one was really sure. The best they could say was that the low-income, uninsured population are usually not big voters, and that probably wasn’t going to change because of Obamacare.
But, over the last year, several major studies have been able to answer the question with more evidence, and they found that, in fact, giving people Medicaid insurance — a big part of the Obamacare expansion — did increase their civic engagement. People who got Medicaid really were more likely to vote, at least for one election cycle.
That might seem academic, except that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is continuing. At least four more states look poised to expand after this week’s midterm election. And the evidence suggests that those new expansions could cause a small Obamacare turnout bump in 2020.
Read Margot’s story here: When Medicaid Expands, More People Vote
Updates on close races
About 48 hours after the first polls closed, we are still waiting for some results. Here are a few marquee races that remain undecided, and a few that have been called today:
Florida: Why are we not surprised? A recount is coming in the Senate race, where the margin between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott is now holding around 0.25 points. (Anything under 0.5 triggers an automatic recount.) But that’s not all — in the governor’s race, which the A.P. called on election night for the Republican Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum is down by just 0.54 points as of this afternoon. A recount is possible there, too.
Arizona Senate: There are more than 600,000 votes to be counted in the race between Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, according to The Arizona Republic. Ms. McSally, the Republican, currently has a lead of around 17,000 votes.
California House seats: There are five competitive congressional races still to be called in California. All five seats are currently held by Republicans, and Democrats are leading in two.
What to read tonight
• Our technology writers took Facebook’s Portal for a spin. It’s a new device that lets you make video calls to Facebook friends. They found it easy to use, and worrying for privacy.
• Here’s a side of The Times you might not be familiar with: our legal department. In the past week, they were involved in six motions to unseal court records, and won the release of documents in a case against the C.I.A.
• A different kind of “blue wave.” Warning: You may want a beach day after reading.
Florida man “possibly high on something” breaks into a crocodile exhibit at the Alligator Farm. Leaves his Crocs (and his clothes!) behind.
Classic Florida man!
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