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2016 Senate

Sabato's Crystal Ball


  Dear Readers: Our new book on 2016’s remarkable election, Trumped, is now available. Trumped features some of the nation’s sharpest political reporters and analysts breaking down an election that truly broke all the rules. The following is taken from Chapter 10 of the book, authored by Ariel Edwards-Levy and Natalie Jackson of Huffington Post, and Janie Velencia, formerly of Huffington Post. The authors write about political polling in the 2016 cycle and the challenges facing the industry. In this excerpt, they argue that the issue and approval polls that we see on an almost daily basis are still good barometers of public opinion. Crystal Ball subscribers can get a special discount on Trumped: The 2016 Election That Broke All the Rules from publisher Rowman and Littlefield. Use code 4S17SBTOCB at checkout to get the paperback at 30% off the retail price at Rowman’s website. — The Editors   The debate over what factors caused pollsters to err in 2016 is likely to continue for some time, as is the argument as to what extent the miss represents either a critical failure for the industry or simply a demonstration of overcertainty by pundits and forecasters. But regardless of the magnitude

UVA Center for Politics

Incumbent reelection rates higher than average in 2016

The Crystal Ball will be away for the next two weeks. We’ll be back on Thursday, Jan. 5. We wish you and your family Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. — The Editors With Republican Sen.-elect John Kennedy’s triumph in the Louisiana runoff last weekend, victories by two other Republicans in Louisiana House races, and Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) concession last week to Gov.-elect Roy Cooper (D) in North Carolina, the winners of 2016’s House, Senate, and gubernatorial races are now set. This allows us to do a little housekeeping. Kennedy’s win confirms that this is the first cycle in the history of popular Senate elections that every state that held a Senate election in a presidential cycle voted for the same party for both president and for Senate (34 for 34 this year). Also, finalizing these results permits us to give a final assessment of our down-ballot Crystal Ball projections for 2016: We picked 32 of 34 Senate races correctly, along with 10 of 12 gubernatorial races and 428/435 House races. Looking over the down-ballot outcome, there’s one inescapable conclusion in a year that was defined by a political outsider, Donald Trump, winning the presidency: It was still a really

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley

Partisan Geographic Sorting

Speaking at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama, then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, famously declared that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.” Obama then went on to decry political pundits who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states.” The implication of Obama’s speech was that the perception of geographic sorting of the country into reliably Democratic and Republican areas was not based in fact, but was instead a false narrative imposed by the media. Obama’s rhetoric of unity and homogeneity across party lines notwithstanding, there is substantial evidence that cultural and lifestyle preferences are strongly related to political tastes. Political scientists have demonstrated that political ideology and party identification are predictive of choices in areas as varied as mate selection, media consumption, cleanliness, office décor, music tastes, and housing decisions. If such relationships between political and lifestyle preferences are strong enough, and individuals are sufficiently willing and able to “vote with their feet” and move to areas that are a better match for their tastes, the implication is clear: We should expect to see the emergence over time of a geographically divided

Steven Webster

2018 Senate: The Democrats Are Very Exposed

A potential silver lining for Democrats is that they head into the 2018 midterm as the party that does not hold the White House, and the “out” party typically makes gains down the ballot in midterms. But it will be difficult for Democrats to make Senate gains in 2018: Despite being in the minority, they face a near-historic level of exposure in the group of Senate seats being contested in two years, Senate Class 1. It’s hard to overstate how disappointing 2016 was for Democrats in the Senate. Yes, the party did net an extra two seats by defeating Republican incumbents in Illinois and New Hampshire despite Hillary Clinton losing her bid for the presidency, so the next Senate will be 52-48 Republican. But given that for most of the cycle it looked like Clinton would win the White House and also deliver the Senate, the Democrats clearly did not realize their potential this year. One of the big reasons why the Senate majority appeared in reach for the Democrats in 2016 was that the Republicans were, and still are, overexposed in Senate Class 3, the 34 seats that were up for election this past November. Republicans controlled 24 of

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley

Watch Today’s American Democracy Conference

The Crystal Ball is coming out a day early this week because we wanted to invite our readers to watch the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ 18th annual American Democracy Conference, which is going on today from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington D.C. Registration is full but members of the media interested in covering the conference are welcome to attend, and we will be streaming the conference live throughout the day at Our featured speakers are Kellyanne Conway, who managed Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, at 9 a.m., and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) at 12:30 p.m. Additionally, Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato will interview Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, at 1:30 p.m. There will also be three panels discussing various aspects of the 2016 campaign. Here’s the full program:   9:00 a.m. Welcoming Remarks by Larry J. Sabato, Director, UVA Center for Politics   9:05 a.m. Keynote Speaker: Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s campaign   9:45 a.m. – 11 a.m. Panel I – Politics and the Fourth Estate Moderator: Geoffrey Skelley, Associate Editor

UVA Center for Politics

16 For ’16

Editor’s Note: The Crystal Ball is taking the week off for Thanksgiving next week, but we’ll be back with another edition on Thursday, Dec. 1. Now that we’ve had a week to digest the results of the 2016 election, here are some observations about what happened and what the results might tell us about the future: 1. Electoral map tilts to the GOP In close elections, the Electoral College will probably continue to tilt to the GOP. Twice in 16 years, we’ve had a “misfire,” where the popular vote went to one major-party candidate while the other candidate secured a majority of the electoral vote. This is because Democrats secure large, sometimes enormous, majorities in mega-states such as California, New York, and Illinois, while Republicans have just Texas, where Donald Trump’s margin of victory was nearly 450,000 votes fewer than Mitt Romney’s. (You should never join “just” with Texas, but we trust you’ll see what we mean.) Other sizable states, such as Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, are closely divided and add only small pluralities to the candidate that wins them. While the cumulative popular vote means nothing under the Constitution, it is not a good thing for a president

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Well, what can we say — we blew it. We thought the signs pointed to Hillary Clinton winning the White House. We thought that even if she lost Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, her Midwestern “firewall” of states that not only had voted for Barack Obama twice, but hadn’t voted for a Republican since the 1980s, would hold for her. It didn’t — Trump blew a hole in what we dubbed “Fortress Obama.” Remarkably, this all happened while Clinton was winning Virginia by a larger margin than Obama did in 2012 and almost certainly winning the national popular vote. Every two years, we put out an update after the election asking, “How did we do?” Well, let’s see: President Do we really have to get into it? OK, fine. We wrongly insisted for months that Clinton was always leading the race and never put her below 270 electoral votes. As of this writing, Trump won 279 electoral votes to Clinton’s 228, according to NBC News projections. We missed the following Leans Democratic states: Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. We had Wisconsin as Likely Democratic, yet Trump also carried it. Two other Leans Democratic states — Michigan (where Trump leads) and

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Our Final 2016 picks

After a nearly two-year campaign — kicked off in December 2014 by Jeb Bush (remember him?) — we’ve come to it at last. Election Day is less than 24 hours away. And we know why you’re here: You just want the picks. So let’s cut to the chase. Table 1 shows our final selections for the Electoral College, Senate, House, and the governorships. Table 1: Crystal Ball 2016 election projections Let’s start with the presidency: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE Map 1: Crystal Ball Electoral College projection Despite some wobbles along the way, we’ve favored Hillary Clinton as the 45th president of the United States ever since we did our first handicapping of the Clinton vs. Donald Trump matchup back in late March. The edge we had for her back then has eroded a little bit at the end — we had her as high as 352 electoral votes, and in the final tally we have her down to 322, with 216 for Trump. If this is how it turns out, Trump will fare 10 electoral votes better than Mitt Romney, and Clinton will do 10 electoral votes worse than Barack Obama in 2012 — 11 or 12 if rogue Washington electors

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Is Clinton slipping?

Hillary Clinton has picked an awful time to hit one of the rough patches that has plagued her throughout the campaign. Now with just days to go until Election Day, there’s added uncertainty about the outcome. But while she may not be on the brink of an Electoral College win the size of Barack Obama’s in 2008 or even 2012, her position as the clear frontrunner in this race endures. Now, granted, some of this is, for her, bad luck and poor timing out of her control: The “Comey Effect,” referring to FBI Director James Comey’s controversial decision to inform Congress of new emails potentially related to the bureau’s investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server, has put a dent in Clinton in the final stages of the race, although the contest was tightening in some ways before the news. The campaign’s actions also tell us that there must be at least a little bit of alarm in Brooklyn: It is putting some advertising money (not huge amounts but very noticeable) into some states that the campaign has largely ignored in recent months, like Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Trump has also campaigned in these states

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley


The purest version of the “October surprise” is a political bombshell that no one sees coming. In the closing days of the craziest campaign in modern history, we have just been witnesses to an October surprise so pure it would qualify for an Ivory Soap commercial (“99 and 44/100 percent pure”). When FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to certain members of Congress about a new development in the long-running Hillary Clinton email mess, the resulting earthquake could be picked up by a seismograph. There are very legitimate questions about whether Director Comey was right or wrong to do what he did. It’s indisputable that Comey broke normal FBI practice in order to comment publicly on an incomplete, ongoing investigation. Moreover, Comey violated longstanding FBI standards that prohibit announcements within 60 days of an election that would influence the public’s choice. Just 11 days before Nov. 8, Comey took an unprecedented step that could affect the outcome of an election for president and Congress. The vagueness and ambiguity of his letter to some senior members of Congress guaranteed a leak to the press within five nanoseconds, and invited the rankest speculation from Clinton’s opponents. To the extent that Clinton

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley


Another week has passed in the presidential race and it appears that Donald Trump is not making up much if any ground on Hillary Clinton. Last month, we coined the term “Fortress Obama” to describe an outer and inner ring of defenses Clinton had against Trump as she sought to recreate Barack Obama’s Electoral College majority. The outer ring consisted of states like Florida, Iowa, Nevada, and Ohio — states that Obama won twice but that are vulnerable to Trump — as well as North Carolina, which Obama carried only in 2008. These are states that Trump needs but that Clinton could probably do without. Then there’s the inner ring, states like Colorado, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, none of which Clinton can afford to lose if Trump were to completely knock down the outer ring. At this point, Clinton is no worse than 50-50 to carry each of the outer ring states — even states like Iowa and Ohio, where polls have been very close or even show a Trump edge — and she seems secure in all of the inner ring states. This is why Clinton is such a heavy favorite to win the presidency, and our

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Could Johnson Voters Save the Republican Senate Majority?

The watchword for congressional races in a presidential year is coattails, specifically in this election negative coattails from Donald Trump. In the Senate, a number of GOP incumbents are hoping they can run just far enough ahead of their presidential standard bearer to survive. But this is a perilous place to be. As we discussed back in 2015, only eight of 17 Republican incumbents have won reelection going back to 2000 in states where the Democratic presidential nominee carried the state. The median number of percentage points those Republicans ran ahead of the presidential ticket was 5.7 points in the two-party vote. And the smallest margin for a GOP incumbent running ahead and winning reelection was Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) in 2012 when he ran 4.0 points ahead of Mitt Romney in the two-party vote. Obviously, the fact that a third-party candidate — Libertarian Gary Johnson — will be winning a decent share of the vote (probably at least 5% nationally) affects the two-party vote comparison a bit. Still, the data are helpful for understanding the state of play in this cycle versus recent elections. Tables 1 and 2 lay out the current HuffPost Pollster (Table 1) and RealClearPolitics (Table

Geoffrey Skelley

Clinton adds to her Electoral College edge

In the broad sweep of U.S. history, very occasionally one of the major parties simply disqualifies itself from the contest to win the White House by nominating an unelectable, non-mainstream candidate. We suspect that there will never be a better example than Donald Trump. The Republican Party chose a deeply divisive figure — one not supported by many senior figures in the GOP even before the release of Trump’s raunchy 2005 discussion with Access Hollywood’s (and now The Today Show’s) superficial, celebrity-worshipping Billy Bush. (Yes, he is of the Bush family, so a Bush finally speared Trump, however unintentionally.) Their X-rated discussion, and Trump’s insistence on discussing Bill Clinton’s sordid past, has caused voters to usher children out of the room when the TV news comes on. Is this the most embarrassing campaign ever? It must be close. There are some amusing aspects to this, including the parade of top Republicans who are shocked, shocked that Trump is capable of lewd, vulgar, crass talk and behavior. What did they think they were getting? Only now do they consider Trump unworthy of their support? And they find themselves in a tough spot because there has always been more resistance to Trump

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Clinton’s Electoral College lead regenerates

Programming note: We’ll release a special Crystal Ball Sunday night with a recap of the second presidential debate. As we await the second debate, it’s obvious that Hillary Clinton got a bounce from the first debate and has re-established a clear lead in the presidential race. Her national lead in the RealClearPolitics average has gone up at least a couple of points since the debate (to about four points nationally in two- and four-way ballot tests), and it has increased to more than five points in the HuffPost Pollster average. She has arrested her September decline and has grabbed a lead that suggests she could match or even exceed Barack Obama’s 2012 victory (four points nationally and 332 electoral votes). But her path may look slightly different than Obama’s. While we have had Clinton as a favorite to win the White House ever since we released our first Clinton vs. Donald Trump electoral map back in late March, we decreased her chances a few weeks ago, moving her from 348 electoral votes at least safe/likely/leaning to her (with 190 for Trump) to a map where she only had 272 safe/likely/leaning. So we had her over the magic number of 270,

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Now We Wait

Dear Readers: We’re operating on a slightly modified schedule this week and next. There will be no Crystal Ball on Thursday, Sept. 29, but we’ll be back with a special issue on Monday, Oct. 3. — The Editors The first debate is over! At least everyone survived. If you’re confused about who’s up and who’s down in this crazy presidential contest, you’ve got plenty of company. Almost hourly now, the political community is being bombarded with new national and swing state polls — and few of them agree with one another. More than ever before, the assumptions pollsters make about the composition of the likely voter pool helps to determine the trial-heat numbers we see. As always, we urge you to avoid the temptation to cherry pick the surveys that give good news for your candidate. Instead, go to RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster and check out the ever-evolving poll averages for the national race and especially all the swing states. It is dangerous to offer confident predictions of how the public will react to a debate immediately after it is concluded. The instant polls you may see (or may have already seen) after the debate declaring one of the candidates

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley