The U.S. midterm elections are only 53 days away, which means that in less than two months Americans will choose who they want to represent them in Congress as well as statehouses, governors’ mansions and local offices across the country. With Republicans enjoying control of both chambers of Congress and unified control of a majority of state governments, the Democrats are facing an uphill battle to get their ranks back in power. Despite this, most political observers cite the historic unpopularity of President Donald Trump, Democratic strength on the generic ballot, a mass exodus of retiring GOP elected officials and excitement among the Democratic base as good news for Democrats electorally.
This may be one of the most consequential midterm elections in modern history. So it’s only natural that media outlets, journalists and pundits are downright obsessed with predicting the victors months away from any actual voting. Many media outlets often make attempts to appeal to one side of the political spectrum. As a result, it can become a difficult task to paint an accurate picture of what may unfold this November. The best way to avoid unnecessary bias in 2018 election predictions is to find predictive information from sources other than CNN, MSNBC, Fox and other dominant media companies.
Over the past decade, election predicting has become a vast industry, with many startup outlets using polls, fundraising data, previous election results and many other metrics to cobble together comprehensive race by race predictions for horse-race-loving election spectators. This is your guide to those prediction services.
Real Clear Politics
One of the most helpful places to find information about coming elections is RealClearPolitics. The site gathers data from every reliable national or statewide poll in the country, organizing specific races together and creating polling averages for a better look at what is happening in individual elections.
Following a site like RealClearPolitics is more helpful than following a specific cable news network because these networks have the ability to cherry pick their polls. For instance, conservative outlets often cite Rasmussen polls, which tend to have a right-wing tilt. RealClearPolitics also reports polls for contentious House races that may not be receiving as much national coverage.
RealClearPolitics is an essential nexus for finding every credible, relevant poll for the midterms up-to-date and in one place. However, RCP relies only on polls to make their predictions and, as we know from the past, polling data doesn’t always give us a complete picture.
Cook Political Report
Cook Political Report is a favorite among beltway observers and campaigners alike. The outlet provides a feel for the playing field in each district by assigning a ranking on a scale from “Safe” to “Toss Up.” It provides analysis of individual House races, Senate races, Gubernatorial races, as well as a broader view of national politics. Cook is also widely cited by various outlets due to its commitment to nonpartisanship. The founder, Charlie Cook, decided that he should use his experience as both a political staffer and a pollster to provide a newsletter focused on analysis of American political campaigns. Their race ratings are mostly based on polling as well as the insights and analysis of their staff.
Cook is one the most reliable places to check in on the status of an individual race as well as the national political environment as a whole. But, their best prediction services are only available to paid subscribers, making the site less accessible than others.
FiveThirtyEight is the brainchild of Nate Silver, the statitstian-turned-reporter who is famous for correctly predicting every state in the 2012 electoral college. FiveThirtyEight is mainly a data analysis website that covers politics and sports among other topics and gives voters a data-informed look at our political life. The site has a Pollster Ratings page that gives insight into what polls may have a left- or right-leaning skew, allowing them to consider biases when looking at the results. Their pollster ratings also factor in methodology, meaning polls with better methods for capturing an accurate slice of voters get rated better.
So far, the site has only published their official forecast for the House, where they analyze every House race in the country and where they currently predict that the Democrats have a five in six chance of taking the majority. That basically means that if the election was to happen six times, Democrats would win in five of those elections. Not only does their forecast take polling into consideration, but it also considers the “fundamentals” of a race: candidate fundraising data, historical trends, demographic analysis and more. One can also choose how complex of a prediction they want to see. Their “Lite” forecast uses only the basics: local and national polls, whereas their “Deluxe” forecast factors in polling and the fundamentals, as well as the insights of other “expert” election predictors.
FiveThirtyEight’s House forecast is most likely the most comprehensive forecast available at the moment because it provides a national prediction using an algorithmic model as well as race by race. We’re still waiting on their Senate forecast, which could come any day now.
Decision Desk HQ
Decision Desk HQ is most known as a site for live-updated election results, but for this midterm cycle, Decision Desk has introduced their Optimus election prediction tool. To make their predictions, Optimus claims to use “over 100 variables spanning economic indicators, political environment measures (both national and local), candidate traits, campaign finance reports and engineered variables designed to draw in context specific information to the model.”
Like FiveThirtyEight, Decision Desk gives a broad prediction of the fate of the House, as well as the Senate. But unlike FiveThirtyEight and Cook, Decision Desk doesn’t offer individual predictions for individual races. Instead, they focus their energy on modeling election day from the perspective of total seats won.
Another reliable source for prediction coverage is 270ToWin. 270ToWin is similar to RealClearPolitics in that it compiles national polls in order to draw a more accurate picture of particular contests. Unlike its counterpart, 270ToWin also includes race ratings from Inside Elections, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Cook Political Report. These three non-partisan political reports provide predictions on whether voters lean towards, will likely support, or will solidly support each side in their districts. They also provide reporting on important House races that do not receive the same media attention as Senate or Gubernatorial races do in midterm elections.
270ToWin is a great place for data and news reports of all kinds, whether it be future predictions for each race or trends and election results from the past.
With all the tools to predict elections out there, it’s important to point out that they were mostly all wrong in 2016. With that in mind, practice skepticism often, and always remember that just because something is likely doesn’t at all mean it is guaranteed. While it’s fun and helpful to keep track of the current state of an election, no prediction or poll is as important as the poll taken on November 6th. Between now and then, anything could happen that could make even the most highly sophisticated predictions look silly.