There has never been a mid-term US election like it, whether measured by the nature of the campaign, media coverage, betting or the significance moving forward. Whether it was the Kavanaugh confirmation, Trump’s ever more extreme immigration rhetoric or the tragedies caused by domestic terrorism, the world has been watching America. On Tuesday, we get to see whether it shifted any votes.
Markets stable amid entrenched partisan divide
Polls or betting market signals suggest not very many. The Democrats lead by an average 7.2% on the generic ballot – slightly down but broadly consistent with the longer-term. A Democrat Majority in the House of Representatives has shortened to 1.5 but that merely reflects the lack of turnaround for a target for which they’ve long been favourites. Likewise the Republicans have shortened slightly to 1.28 to retain their Senate Majority because there is little indication of the required Democrat turnaround in competitive states.
Results will ultimately be determined by turnout – which is certain to be way up on the last mid-terms in 2014. I’ve long argued that this favours the Democrats because the Trump-effect will mobilise groups whose turnout at the 2016 general election underperformed, such as minorities and millennials. Women, amongst whom Democrats lead by around 18%, have been super-motivated in one special election after another since Trump’s election.
Post-Clinton, Democrats have a better narrative than 2016
In many respects this is a re-run of 2016, when I wrongly expected such anti-Trump trends to materialise. A fundamental and in my view, decisive, difference this time is that the Democrats aren’t hampered by an unpopular, damaged candidate under FBI investigation.
Instead they get their preferred 2016 narrative that never materialised – a referendum on Trump. A president about whom more than half of voters disapprove, with historically high ‘strong disapprovals’. If he can defy such poor numbers and a trend that has seen every incumbent president since the 1970s besides George W Bush (in the aftermath of 9/11) lose their first mid-terms, we may as well discard the old formbook.
I’ve been backing the Democrats to win the House all year – my position is 100 units at 1.81 to win the House – and see no reason to change course. The odds still imply a much lower chance than the ratings of leading US experts and prediction models. Fivethirtyeight give the Democrats an 86% chance, compared to 67% on Betfair.