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Stirewaltisms: Crunched by the Numbers
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Stirewaltisms: Crunched by the Numbers

Our last update before the midterms.

JD Vance. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.)


First,  gentle readers, an apology. In recent weeks, I failed to tend our statistical garden with a careful eye. Our standard is to use the five most recent high-quality public polls in our averages for presidential approval and the generic ballot, but we have recently neglected to delete older polls.

This did not make recent averages in any way wrong, only stale and inconsistent for the sake of comparisons to averages at earlier points in the cycle. I am sorry for the error, and lament that I have to waste your time explaining my lapse in the last note before the midterm election comes to a hissing, clanking, shuddering halt.

I know from our Mailbag that many of you ignore the Statshot averages, but explain it, I must. That’s because these averages are the most useful predictors for performance in any midterm election. And also, when we screw up in the news business, we ought to wear it right out front, as Townes Van Zandt wrote, “for all the honest world to feel.”

President Biden wraps up the campaign cycle with an average approval of 42 percent, and an average disapproval of 55.2 percent for a net score of 13.2 points underwater. Pretty crummy. Worse is that it is down a whole point from two weeks ago, suggesting that the slide for Democrats that began in the early fall has continued.

On the question of which party voters generally prefer to control Congress, the final averages tell a similar tale: Republicans 47.8 percent, Democrats: 44.8 percent, for a net advantage for the GOP of 3 points, almost all of which came in the past four weeks. But the news here for Democrats generally is better than for Biden himself. The Democrats number is substantially unchanged over the past month, while Republicans’ climb ended midway through October. The red team is actually down almost half a point since last week.

But a little cold-ish water won’t hurt them any. The good news for Republicans is everywhere. Democrats have shifted deep into recriminations and GOPers are getting that tingly feeling about their Biden-badgering storyline for the next season of the basic cable reality show we call Congress. They’re bouncing off the walls with excitement for what they believe will be a tsunami-sized wave.

Here’s what the numbers say about that. In three of the previous four midterm cycles, the final average of good polls understated Republicans’ performance in all House races combined—the midterm national popular vote, if you will—by an average of 1.7 points. In 2010, polls overstated Republican support, but in 2006, 2014, and 2018, Republicans fared better than polls predicted. 

For a thought experiment, let’s apply that 1.7-point boost to our final numbers this year. That would give Republicans the edge by 4.7 points in the national House vote. That would bring Republicans easily into majority, but short of the kind of huge numbers we saw for Republicans after the 2010 and 2014 midterms. 

After scraping down the sides of our mixing bowl, I still feel confident in our House forecast of a Republican gain of between 15 and 25 seats, with the midpoint at 20 additional seats compared to the 2020 results for a new total of 233, a majority of 16 seats. A wave, but not a giant one like Democrats rode in 2018 or the GOP enjoyed in the previous two.

For the Senate, I think a Republican majority looks more likely than a Democratic one, but the chances for the Senate to stay 50-50 are also pretty good. With races in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, and Arizona all up in the air, we know that Democrats have more to lose, but that, except for maybe Nevada, Republican candidates have not been able to break free, despite the favorable climate. 

It’s a real goat roping out there, so there’s lots of reason to believe that the historically low correlation between Senate races and the midterm curse may continue this year. But there could also almost just as easily be a steady breeze that blows Republicans to a 52- or even a 53-seat majority in the upper chamber. As my old daddy liked to say: Get a hunch and bet a bunch, folks.

We’ll be back next week to see how my outlooks hold up, hopefully this time without any retabulations!

Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


BBC: “Fleeing white-led violence and racial segregation laws in Southern states after the end of the US Civil War … African Americans streamed north into the coal fields of West Virginia in search of jobs and a modicum of security. … In the decades that followed, entire communities emerged in coal camps – and thrived, thanks to demand for the much sought-after fuel source. By 1930, around 80,000 African Americans were living in southern West Virginia, a figure that had doubled in just 20 years. … Sitting atop the Winding Gulf Coal Field, Slab Fork in the first half of the 20th Century was a smorgasbord of languages, cultures and, to break the monotony of everyday labor, diverse musical activities. Once the day’s mining or railway track laying was over, Irish immigrants would take out their fiddles and sing ballads. African Americans would play the banjo and sing harmonies; miners from Eastern Europe sang folk songs and played brass instruments.”


New York Times: “Top Democratic officials, lawmakers and strategists are openly second-guessing their party’s campaign pitch and tactics, reflecting a growing sense that Democrats have failed to coalesce around one effective message with enough time to stave off major losses in the House and possibly decisive defeats in the tightly contested Senate. … As the country struggles with high gas prices, record inflation and economic uncertainty, some Democrats now acknowledge that their kitchen-sink approach may be lacking. … ‘The truth is, Democrats have done a poor job of communicating our approach to the economy,’ said Representative Elissa Slotkin. … While many of the party’s Senate candidates are outpacing President Biden’s underwater approval rating, which is below his national average in several key swing states, strategists warn that there are limits to how much candidates can defy this year’s political gravity.”

Worries mount about the Republican slate for secretary of state: National Review: “In some states, Republicans are running excellent candidates, such as Georgia’s incumbent, Brad Raffensperger, or Colorado challenger Pam Anderson. But the party is also running some novices who frankly have no business being entrusted with the authority to oversee elections. … Secretaries of state issue election guidance on many details that are too granular to be covered in legislation. They sometimes defend election laws from challenges in court and in public. And they can gum up the works if they refuse to certify results. … Some Republican candidates, such as Jim Marchant in Nevada, have floated tearing up the state’s entire list of registered voters and starting over, a terrible idea that would multiply public expense and disruption while purging many legal voters from the electorate.” 

GOP dreams of Washington state: New York Times: “For Patty Murray, who is facing a surprisingly tough race after three decades in Congress, the lack of enthusiasm is reason for concern. … She is working to fend off a surprisingly stiff challenge from Tiffany Smiley, a Republican who is mounting her first run for public office after years as a nurse, veterans affairs advocate and caregiver. … In an open primary this year, Ms. Murray easily bested Ms. Smiley, winning more than 52 percent of the vote to Ms. Smiley’s nearly 34 percent. She is still seen as favored to prevail, and has overcome tough challenges before in her career. But Republicans have continued to funnel millions of dollars into Washington State, Ms. Smiley has out-raised the incumbent senator and polls have tightened in recent weeks, rattling some Democrats.”

Poll: White suburban women ditch Dems: Wall Street Journal: “White suburban women, a key group of midterm voters, have significantly shifted their support from Democrats to Republicans in the closing days of midterm campaigning because of rising concerns over the economy and inflation, according to the latest Wall Street Journal poll. … It also suggests that the topic of abortion rights has faded in importance after Democrats saw energy on that issue this summer in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. … The movement comes as several voter groups are giving Republicans a boost in the final stretch before Election Day. White suburban women were a powerful force in the Democrats’ sweeping victories in House races in 2018. … Democrats had been optimistic over the summer that abortion would help motivate this group to turn out and back their candidates in November.”

Soltis Anderson: The trouble with young voters: CNN: “Democrats have sensed that younger voters might stay home in November and have turned to ‘Dark Brandon’ for help in times of trouble. … But even though Millennials and Gen Z Americans tend to lean leftward on a host of economic and cultural issues such as LGBTQ rights and the size of government, it is clear that in this midterm election, Democrats have not energized the youth vote and may not be able to count on young people as a key part of their coalition. … Only 31% say they are ‘very enthusiastic’ about voting in the midterms, compared to two-thirds of voters 65 and older. … While young voters aren’t likely to turn out in huge numbers to power a ‘red wave,’ it isn’t hard to imagine them costing Democrats their majorities by staying home.”


Dems play defense deep in their own territory—Politico

Immigration haunts battleground Dems as Election Day nears—New York Times

Gov. Whitmer sticks with abortion as winning issue in Michigan—Washington Post

Biden sticks to democracy message in closing midterm message—NBC News


Fetterman holds narrow lead, but Oz draws closer—Monmouth

Debate performance threatens Fetterman’s support—Suffolk

Kelly, Masters within margin of error as Arizona tightens—Fox News

Johnson claims slim 2 point lead over Barnes—Marquette Law

Despite scandal, Walker closes in on Warnock—Fox News

Once left for dead, Bolduc surges in New Hampshire—Saint Anselm College


“ALCON: Going to eat at Olive Garden.”—Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes uses the military abbreviation for “All Concerned” to message other members just hours after attacking the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The group spent more than $400 at the fast-casual Italian chain


“First I just want to say I appreciate your work. I finally was able to get to reading your House race ratings article this morning (it is amazing what you can accomplish when you have a teething baby who wakes up at 5 a.m.). I completely understand why you view the Nebraska CD2 race as a toss up but I think you will end up missing that one this cycle.  The addition of Saunders County to CD2 adds a very deep red county to the district. … I think you will see a Bacon win between 6-8 percent. Having said all of that I believe you will also see a Vargas-Bacon rematch in 2024. … Bacon is a strong candidate running in a slightly redder district in a strong Republican year. Unfortunately for Republicans the way the elections work in Nebraska the election environment will have less of an impact for state senate seats. Vargas is also a strong candidate. If the Republicans cannot pass winner-take-all legislation, he is the frontrunner to go against Bacon again in 2024 and Vargas will have some major advantages he doesn’t have in 2022. Thanks for letting me rant, lack of sleep may be to blame for this email.”—Patrick Roy, Omaha, Nebraska

Thank you for lending us the view from the ground, even if it is through bleary eyes! I wouldn’t be surprised if you are right. I have a capacious view of the Toss-Up category. There may well be races like your district that finish well outside the margins of a close contest. But from where I sit, I’d rather cast a wider net for the contests to keep track of. I also think that while the district added Republican counties, the Democratic core is fired up and storming the polls. We shall see. If you’re right, I’ll owe you a tube of Anbesol. 

“I believe you should have had Wisconsin’s 3rd District on your list of House seats. Ron Kind (D) retired and Van Orden (R) nearly beat Kind last time and is clearly leading in this open seat. Perhaps this should go in your Safe Republican Gain bucket?”—Steve Hamill, Hudson, Wisconsin 

Quite right, Mr. Hamill. We wrote that one off so long ago, that we failed to give it its proper place. I hereby decree Wisconsin 3rd District Lean Republican. Thanks much!

“Man, you write some great and funny stuff—and offer very insightful analysis. Kevin D. Williamson was the reason I came over to The Dispatch and I’m still getting settled as a new subscriber, but damn, you write a great newsletter.  Thank you. We’ll be watching CT-5 closely.”—James Freiberger, New Milford, Connecticut

It was part of a diversity program The Dispatch has implemented, since they hired me, a hillbilly, they needed a redneck to keep things on an even keel. Kevin is a true badass and I am so proud to call him my colleague. Welcome aboard!

You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the doughty Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


Last week was a tough one. The picture of President Biden campaigning with California Democrat Rep. Katie Porter didn’t lend itself to easy jokes, or at least not easy jokes that weren’t too mean to at least one of the subjects. 

I have a strong bias against “Biden is so old … How old is he?” jokes not so much because they’re cheap shots, but because they are played out. But this week, it was the moment given the trademark Biden squint.


“Katie, you can read that?”—Richard Kennedy, Ferndale, Michigan

Winner, It’s 2024 Already Division:

“President Biden attempts to swap in a different California Democrat for VP—hopes no one notices.”—Rehm Maham, Austin, Texas

It’s also time to announce the winner of the October Cutline Contest, and while we had four strong contenders, the choice was an easy one for me. Paulette Arnold of Marinette, Wisconsin channeled The Onion’s Uncle Joe dirtbag character perfectly with her caption for a grinning Biden clutching  papers: “I’ve got two tickets to paradise! Guess which hand they’re in!” Please send us your address, Ms. Arnold, soi we can send you your prize, a campaign button from Biden’s star-crossed 2008 presidential campaign. You won’t be surprised to learn that they were not to hard to come by…

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!


Fox Los Angeles: “It was something out of a fairy tale, being saved by a mermaid,” said scuba diver Javier Claramunt. He was diving off Catalina Island with his father and friend Pablo Avila last weekend, when Pablo lost consciousness near the end of the dive. Keep in mind that these are extremely well-trained and experienced divers, so both [men’s] training kicked in, and began the process of rescuing their buddy. No sooner had they started, that a bunch of mermaids showed up around them. Yes, mermaids. …Turns out that a group of women training for the advanced PADI mermaid rescue course nearby realized the diver was in trouble. … ‘We had seen the mermaids before starting our dive, Javier said. ‘And were thinking how cute they were. Little did we know how well-trained they really are.’ … As for Pablo, he is recuperating well.”

Nate Moore and Lily Nelson contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.