A Contrarian Analysis Of The 2014 Midterms

One analyst thinks that the predictions of a Republican Senate in 2014 are wildly optimistic.


Unlike pretty much every other polling analyst out there — ranging from Nate Silver to The New York Times’ Upworthy to more traditional analysts like Larry Sabato, Charles Cook, and Stuart Rothenberg — Sam Wang believes that the Democrats are likely to hold on to the Senate this year, indeed he currently gives them a 72% chance of holding on to the Senate. While this is certainly a contrarian point of view at the moment, it’s worth noting that Wang did accurately predict the outcome of every Senate election in 2012 and, while he hasn’t gotten the same press that people like Nate Silver have his conclusions are at least worth paying attention to as we head into the final six weeks of the midterms.

Here are a few of the reasons why Wang thinks many of the analysts are underestimating the Democrats this year:

Senate Democrats are doing surprisingly well. Across the board, Democratic candidates in the nine states above are doing better in the polls-only estimate than the mainstream media models would predict. This is particularly true for Alaska, Arkansas, and North Carolina. In these three states, Democrats are outperforming the expectations of the data pundits (The Upshot’s Leo, Nate Silver, Harry Enten, John Sides, etc.). Why is that, and will it last?

“Fundamentals” pull probabilities away from the present. For PEC and Daily Kos, the win probability is closely linked to the poll margin. The Daily Kos model was created by Drew Linzer, of Votamatic fame. Both are based on polls alone.

The mainstream media organizations are a different story. They show a general tendency to be more favorable to Republicans. For Alaska (AK), Arkansas (AR), and North Carolina (NC), the discrepancy between PEC/DKos and NYT/WaPo/538 is rather large. Where PEC shows an average of 4.02 out of 6 key seats going Democratic, those organizations show 2.75 to 3.16 seats. This key difference, 0.86 to 1.27 seats, is enough to account for the fact that PEC’s Democratic-control probability is 70%, while theirs is between 32% and 42%.

Longtime readers of PEC will not be surprised to know that I think the media organizations are making a mistake. It is nearly Labor Day. By now, we have tons of polling data. Even the stalest poll is a more direct measurement of opinion than an indirect fundamentals-based measure. I demonstrated this point in 2012, when I used polls only to forecast the Presidency and all close Senate races. That year I made no errors in Senate seats, including Montana (Jon Tester) and North Dakota (Heidi Heitkamp), which FiveThirtyEight got wrong.

In 2014, these forecasting differences matter quite a lot. This year’s Senate race is harder than any electoral forecast that the other forecasters have ever had to make. To be frank, 2008 and 2012 were easy. My own experience is guided by 2004 Presidential race, which was as close as this year’s Senate campaign. In 2004, I formed the view that the correct approach is to use polls only, if at all possible.

Some of what Wang talks about here is similar to the points I raised in my recent post on the lack of evidence for a Republican wave in 2014. If you look at the polling right now, there is simply no evidence for the kind of strongly pro-Republican electoral movement that we would expect to see if November is in fact going to result in a Republican take over of the Senate. One criticism of that point, of course, is the fact that we are still looking are pre Labor Day polls and that, traditionally at least, the “real campaign” doesn’t start until early September when voters have returned from summer vacation. While this is true to some extent, it’s a mistake to discount pre-Labor Day polling or to argue that the situation on the ground as we begin the final six week spring doesn’t matter in trying to figure out how the campaign is going to unfold. Four years ago, for example, Republicans had a ten point lead in the Generic Congressional Ballot, suggesting huge Republican gains in the fall. Today, the RealClearPolitics average has the Democrats with a 1.5 point lead in the Generic Ballot. At this point four years ago, both Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato were noting signs of a growing Republican wave in 2010.  This year, there’s no real talk of a wave, and Sabato is noting that 2014 is looking at this point like it is going to be quite different from what we saw in 2006, 2008 and 2010 in the Senate. By early September 2010, there were signs that Democrats were abandoning races that it was clear they could not win. This time, there’s no evidence of that and, given how close the polls are in the states where the battle for control of the Senate is likely to be decided, it’s unlikely that will happen. In short, while there’s still a lot of time left between now and Election Day, the fact that the battle for the Senate is as close as it is suggests strongly that this is how things will for the rest of the Election. In that kind of environment, it’s not beyond credulity to suggest that Democrats are likely to hold on to the Senate.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2014, Congress, Environment, Public Opinion Polls, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tillman says:

    Sam Wang was never as media-friendly as the coy, sufficiently-nerdy Nate Silver and his constant appearances on MSNBC and the Daily Show. Of course people ignore the fact that PEC was as good as FiveThirtyEight if not better, but FiveThirtyEight was at the New York Times, baby!

    It also doesn’t help that Wang and his ilk are all academics.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    Wang has an impressive record…in the run-up to elections I always read him first and Silver second.

    Current events that could have an impact…
    ~ Two new red states just added Medicaid expansion…half a million people are going to get insurance Republicans don’t want them to have.
    ~ Q2 growth was pegged at 4%. Weekly job numbers have been looking good. We have potentially three more months of positive job creation numbers. It looks like the country’s economy is resilient enough to fight off the Republican efforts at sabotage.
    ~ Republicans keep having woman problems. This week it’s Gillebrand and a host of female reporters talking about perverted Republican Senators harassing them.
    None of those are specific to any races…but that doesn’t mean they won’t have an impact.

  3. @C. Clavin:

    Please show me where Gillibrand said that the only Senators that made harassing comments were Republicans.

  4. Gustopher says:

    An analyst’s accuracy in a Presidential election year doesn’t necessarily carry over to a mid-year election. The voter turnout will be very different, and I would suspect Presidential years are more consistent.

    I would love for the Democrats to retain the Senate, but it seems very, very iffy. I think it is basically up to the Republicans to screw up.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Show me where she didn’t.
    Ok…good point.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Andrea Mitchell…

    Mitchell also stressed that this is one issue that is truly “bipartisan” in Congress. “She does not say Democrat or Republican,” she said of Gillibrand’s claims. “From my experience, it’s gender.”

    Point, Mataconis.
    But that doesn’t mean Republicans don’t have woman problems.

  7. Scott says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I think the idea that men are pigs is pretty bipartisan.

  8. stonetools says:

    I’m glad Wang is finally seeing it my way:-).
    I expect the rest of the quants to eventually catch up.
    OK, more seriously, I always expected the Senate Democrat’s chances to slowly improve through the year, as the economy got slowly better and as Obamacare worked out its kinks and people realised it was finally working. In particularly, I note that the Republicans’ decision to reject Medicaid expansion is coming back to bite Republican governors in the behind. Since there is no good reason at all to deny expanded Medicaid , it was only a matter of time till millions of poor and working class white Repubican voters realised that denying Medicaid expansion was hurting THEM. When that sinks in, you get this:

    HARRISBURG – Ending a yearlong negotiation, the Obama administration on Thursday approved Gov. Corbett’s alternative Medicaid expansion proposal, a step that could extend health-care benefits to roughly 600,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians.

    In what was described as a five-year demonstration project, Pennsylvania got the go-ahead to use federal money to pay private insurers to provide health care to uninsured individuals – many in low-wage jobs.

    Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/health/healthcare-exchange/20140829_Feds_approve_Corbett_s_Pa__Medicaid_expansion_proposal.html#HmqyWwOUrx7jAzG6.99

    As for Republican scare talk of Obamacare causing premiums to explode, read this:

    Health insurance premiums for plans sold under Obamacare in Arkansas are projected to decrease by an average of 2 percent next year, Gov. Mike Beebe’s office announced Tuesday.

    “This is an aggregate projection, meaning that some individual consumers will see a small increase in premiums, and others will see their costs drop more than two percent,” Beebe’s office said of the new estimates from the state insurance department.

    That’s pretty much game,set and match as regards Republicans making Obamacare an issue in the 2014 elections. Once that’s gone, the Republicans essentially have no argument why voters should turn over the Senate to them, and apparently, even red state voters are seeing that.

  9. Matt Bernius says:

    As I mentioned on a previous thread, in looking at 2006, I think it’s important to remember how the Mark Foley scandal *may* have significantly aided the Democrats. While without a doubt there was going to be a Democratic victory that year, the Foley scandal, hit in late September, at the same time as an upsurge for Democrats in polling.

    Granted correlation is *not* causation. However for a variety of reasons, I suspect that there was some correlation.

    The reason that I bring this up, is that without a similar event happening in the September/October time frame, it’s difficult to see how 2014 will be 2006 all over again.

    Now that said, I wonder what will happen if, for example, Obama does take sweeping executive action on immigration between now and election day — in particular in states where a tight Senate race is underway.

  10. stonetools says:

    As for Republicans and women, look at these matchups:

    Tillis v Hagen

    Nunn vs Perdue

    MConnell vs Grimes

    All those are close races in states that should be easy Republican wins. If just ONE of those goes the Democrats’ way, its almost guaranteed they hold the Senate.And if the women’s vote tilts further against the Republicans….

  11. stonetools says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Now that said, I wonder what will happen if, for example, Obama does take sweeping executive action on immigration between now and election day — in particular in states where a tight Senate race is underway.

    If I was Obama, I would hold off till January.I suspect that savvy Hispanic leaders would agree with me.
    All he has to say is that he doesn’t have a plan yet 😉 , but is carefully considering his options. People are now used to Obama taking time with his decisions.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    What is the GOP’s issue?

  13. James Pearce says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “What is the GOP’s issue?”

    Not about the Senate….but the governor’s race in my state.

    The GOP’s issue is one man on death row. Bob Beauprez’s campaign can almost be reduced to “Vote for me if you want to kill this guy.”

  14. stonetools says:


    In a move that could mean health coverage for thousands of Tennesseans, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that the state may soon submit a proposal to Washington to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program but did not release any new details on how it might work.

    This would be the first time for the governor to actually submit a plan. If approved by federal officials and the state legislature, the plan would help Tennesseans caught in the coverage gap of the Affordable Care Act, which has left 162,000 Tennesseans without health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    I know one thing the GOP’s issue now isn’t : Obamacare.

  15. C. Clavin says:
  16. Jr says:

    Yeah, Wang is pretty good at this. He was one of the first people to realize how overestimated Romany’s first debate bump really was.

  17. Ron Beasley says:

    There are serious problems with polls. Only about 10% actually respond to them down from 35% in 2010. And then there is the cell phone issue.

  18. Bokonon says:

    @James Pearce: As of yesterday, Bob Beauprez has added a new plank to his platform – if you elect him governor of Colorado, he is promising to send the Colorado National Guard down to the Mexican border! And then Beauprez would turn around and bill the federal government for the expense. All pain free to Colorado taxpayers. Take that, feds!!


    And then I guess Beauprez file the mother of all collection actions when the federal government says “whut?” and refuses to pay for the deployment.

    This is the same Bob Beauprez who warned of a “coming civil war” several years ago. Every time he tries to paint himself as a business-friendly moderate, the real Bob comes out in a public gaffe … while talking to what he thinks is a safe wingnut audience.

  19. edmondo says:

    That’s pretty much game,set and match as regards Republicans making Obamacare an issue in the 2014 elections


    What color is the sky in your world anyway?

  20. stonetools says:


    In my world, we read to the end of articles, not just the click bait headlines:

    Another Kaiser Family Foundation report, published last month, got markedly different results when polling only those who had enrolled into coverage through the Obamacare exchanges. More than half of the people who used a health insurance exchange, and 60 percent of those who received financial assistance, said they had benefitted from the law.

    Even as many people expressed negative opinions about the Affordable Care Act, the poll also found that 60 percent of Americans don’t favor repealing it (the GOP’s standard take when it comes to the law). Instead, people said they want Congress to improve the law. These views also fell along party lines.

    So Americans dislike the law-until they actually come in contact with it. Then they love it.
    Even those who don’t like it, don’t want to repeal it but want to improve it.
    You know who don’t believe that Obamacare won’t be a winning issue for them this year? Republicans, that’s who:

    The evidence that Obamacare has lost its salience as a political attack has been mounting in recent months, as the 2014 elections kick into gear. The latest clue is a Wednesday report from the New York Times that analyzed official releases from congressional offices. This summer compared to last, the number of releases related to Obamacare fell from 530 to 138.

    “The relative dearth of Obamacare-titled statements this August shows that (Republicans) have found other issues to raise with constituents as the midterm elections approach,” the Times’s Derek Willis wrote, “like investigations into the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Veterans Affairs.”

    That conclusion is backed up by other recent indicators. Bloomberg reported last week that anti-Obamacare ads had been disappearing from airwaves in key Senate states. The number of ads in North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) has been targeted over the law, fell by half from April to July. A similar trend has been tracked in Arkansas and Louisiana, both states with incumbent Democrats on defense over the law. Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor even had the gall to go up with an ad that put a positive spin on Obamacare, though it didn’t mention the law by name. A group supporting Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) has done the same.

    But hey go ahead believing that Obamacare is going to be a political problem. You’ll take your place along conservatives who still just know that attacking Social Security and Medicare are winning political strategies.

  21. humanoid.panda says:

    @Gustopher: Wang’s model is one that should apply to all Senatorial races as well as to Presidential ones, as the only assumption it makes is that polling is accurate enough to reflect the electorate. This means that as long as pollsters are reasonably competent and there are enough polls out there, his model should apply to midterms as well as presidential elections.

  22. humanoid.panda says:

    @edmondo: You are supposed to pretend to be disillusioned democrat, not a republican, remember?

  23. Kari Q says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    People keep saying that, and yet the aggregate of polls in general elections continues to be extremely accurate in forecasting outcomes.

  24. edmondo says:


    @edmondo: You are supposed to pretend to be disillusioned democrat, not a republican, remember

    And you truly believe all Democrats support that POS? That only happened in Congress, that’s why there are so few Democrats still there. (And there will be a even fewer there after the November election.)

  25. michael reynolds says:


    I’m thrilled with Obamacare. And dude, it’s basically over as a political issue. The GOP failed to come up with an alternative, and in the battle of nuthin’ vs. sumpthin’, sumpthin’ almost always wins.

  26. edmondo says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Of course you are thrilled with Obamacare. You don’t have to participate in it.

    As far as your “thought” that it’s over as a political issue, I think I shall disagree. I believe that it is just beginning. You might want to read the table on Page two from the Philly Fed to see what a disaster it really is. (Of course, as an Obama apologist, I am sure that you will somehow find that any survey that disagrees with your preconceived notions is obviously in error. LOL)


  27. C. Clavin says:
  28. C. Clavin says:

    That seems pretty minor…and studies show replacing full-timers with part-timers is inefficient…so they’re only hurting themselves.
    Meanwhile PA and TN have just added Medicaid expansion.
    Repealing Obamacare is a dying cause.

  29. Facebones says:

    @edmondo: I’d much prefer a simplified, single payer, Canadian-style system, but that was never a political possibility. (When you need people like Max Bacchus and Joe Lieberman to break a filibuster, this is the best you’re going to get.). However, Obamacare has given millions of people health care who didn’t have it before and that is fantastic.

    Can Obamacare be improved? Of course. But to destroy it and deny those people health insurance because Obama didn’t deliver the perfect, magic unicorn is idiotic.

  30. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares? Even if the Repulbicans get to 51 seats in the SEnate, it will have no effect on policy or governance. And the Democrats will definitely have control of the Senate after the 2016 election. I doubt if after 2016 that anyone will be able to talk about the Republicans every being a majority in the Senate again.

    I wonder if Dr. Wang realizes that his career as being a predictor of elections has a shelf life of less than 10 years because by 2022, general elections in the U.S. will be moot and will just rubber stamp whoever the Democrats have nominated. And will all of the progressives pollsters really be willing to aggressively poll the small handful of competitive elections that will occur in the Democratic primaries after 2022. How can someone make a living predicting elections when all anyone has to do is count the demographic groups involved.

  31. Kari Q says:


    I wonder if Dr. Wang realizes that his career as being a predictor of elections has a shelf life of less than 10 years

    Since Dr. Wang’s job is professor of neuroscience at Princeton and election prediction is purely a sideline, I don’t think he’s really worried about that.

  32. superdestroyer says:

    @Kari Q: But why put the effort into developing election prediction methodology when so few elections are competitive and since every trend in the U.S. is toward the Democratic Party becoming the dominant party and the Democratic primary becoming the only relevant elections in the U.S. I guess he can put more efforts into optical imaging of the learning cerebellum in awake mice.

  33. Kari Q says:

    I would guess that he does not subscribe to your newsletter, SD.

  34. An Interested Party says:

    That only happened in Congress, that’s why there are so few Democrats still there.

    Who knew that 46% of the House and 55% of the Senate was “so few”…

  35. Kylopod says:


    Of course you are thrilled with Obamacare. You don’t have to participate in it.

    Count me as someone who is participating in Obamacare and is also thrilled by it. There are a tad more people like me than you’d assume, and we’re quite visible to anyone who is not purposefully closing their eyes.

  36. jib says:

    In August 2012, Nate Silver had repubs with a 61% chance of taking the senate. In the end, they lost 2 seats. Nate changed his predictions as we got closer to the election but he was still off by 2 seats.

    In August 2014, Nate Silver has the repubs with a 60% chance of taking the Senate. Lets just wait and see what happens.

    The problem is that the senate races are not well polled until late in the year. So right now it is all monkey shine, what the unemployment rate is or what Obama’s negatives are or what the generic partisan ballot look like. These have virtually no predictive value. It is about head to head polling and we wont get enough of those until late Sept or Oct.

  37. jib says:

    @Kylopod: Count me as one too. As a small biz owner I have been buying health insurance on the open market for 20 years. I am thrilled with Obama-care, better coverage at a cheaper price. First time in 20 years that I am paying LESS for health care than the year before.

    Nobody wants to hear it. They are convinced it is disaster and wont listen to anything else. They themselves are not in the program but they heard of this person on Fox News and ……

  38. Jim Henley says:

    People that know me know that without Obamacare I’d have had over half my tongue hacked out as a Maryland Medicaid patient in June. With Obamacare I am getting state of the art chemo-rad at the University of Chicago this summer and fall that offers excellent prospects for saving both my life and bonus activities like eating, drinking, singing and unassisted breathing. People also know that because of investment-bank chicanery, my employer ceased operations with no notice in early March, meaning there was no COBRA to take advantage of because there was no company or plan left to enroll in.

    I did nothing wrong. I got whipsawed by cancer and capitalism. Obamacare was what I found, thankfully, standing between me and the effing Abyss. I absolutely make sure people know that people like me, for whom Obamacare, with all its flaws, is a Godsend, exist.

    For the record, btw, my premiums are expensive as hell. I needed an out-of-state PPO to cover the treatment I’m getting, which meant putting the family on a platinum plan for at least this year. I damn sure pay those on time every month, and I look forward to increased competition on the exchanges. This year, there was only one plan that would do what I needed. All indications are that more carriers will enter the Maryland exchange for 2015. But I know exactly what my money is buying me, and I know that, were it not for my special circumstances, my monthly premium and out-of-pocket expenses would be hundreds of dollars less.

  39. HealthySkeptic says:

    There will be a “Filibuster-proof” Republican Senate majority in 2015.

    The flawed rollout of Obamacare will be insignificant as crisis after crisis will become amplified by Rove and the Koch brothers in the next nine weeks.

    We have yet to hear the TV ads of the formerly uninsured experiences of the tender mercies of state run Medicaid.

    Democrats are lining up to co-sponsor legislation that will stop the demise of Medicare Advantage policies. One of the key cost savings claimed by Obamacare was elimination of the 14% surcharge that taxpayers paid healthcare corporations for “private Medicare”. The surcharge has already been reduced to 6%. Doesn’t matter that MA premiums are lower and the number of seniors on MA has increased. Healthcare corporations and Republicans are using the issue to effectively batter Obamacare and Democrats.

    Insurance rates are prohibited by statute from publication before November 15. Does anyone think the healthcare insurance corporations won’t dramatically raise rates on the 85% who were insured before Obamacare, and that those rates won’t be common knowledge before the mid-term election? Republicans are successfully making the 2014 election a single issue and they will have more and more ammunition before November.

    We can look forward to two years of failed veto override votes as the Republican House and Senate attempt to eliminate Obamacare.

  40. Kylopod says:


    There will be a “Filibuster-proof” Republican Senate majority in 2015.

    Really, now? And how exactly are the Republicans going to accomplish this feat? It would require a net gain of 14 seats, which would mean not just winning every contested race but also picking up at least 5 seats in which the Democrat has consistently held a double-digit lead, in states Obama won decisively.


    Better change your handle from HealthySkeptic to KneejerkDoomsayer. It’s a bit more accurate.

  41. HealthySkeptic says:

    @Kylopod: You must have missed the nuclear pin being pulled by the current Senate majority. Doesn’t take 60 anymore to be “Filibuster-proof”. Only takes a majority that can make its own rules. Can’t change the 2/3 rule for veto override, though. So, no problem about Senate filibuster. Just one losing veto override vote after another after another for two years.

  42. Kylopod says:

    @HealthySkeptic: I wouldn’t be surprised if a future Republican Senate abolishes the filibuster entirely (and more power to them, frankly–I think the filibuster is a terrible feature of the Senate). But I doubt they’ll do it as early as 2015. It wouldn’t give them any advantages at this point, and it would forewarn people about what they might do if they capture the presidency in 2017. It would be better for them to wait till such a move would have a chance of making a difference.

  43. HealthySkeptic says:

    @Kylopod: The “nuclear option” was not about the detail of the rules change legislation passed by the current majority party in the Senate. It was all about the ability of the majority party to change Senate rules without a 2/3 majority. The Democrats pulled the pin. Doesn’t matter what part of the rules were changed. There is nothing to prevent the new Republican Senate majority in 2015 from prohibiting filibuster on general or specific legislation. In fact, several Republican Senators made that point in the debate when Democrats passed the rules legislation in 2013, losing only three Democrat votes in the process. You think the Party that passed over 40 bills to disable ACA in the House would hesitate to change the Senate rules in order to defund Obamacare? Doesn’t matter that they can’t override the obvious veto. They will flood the White House with defunding or disabling bills passed in the House and Senate that will require a veto. Why? 2016!
    TV ads funded by the Koch brothers and Rove a few days before the mid-term elections will cite the massive increases in healthcare premiums for the 85% that will only be publicly available after November 15, by statute. Consequences of trying to keep secrets in a town that is an information sieve.
    Perhaps you should spend less time thinking about names to call a commenter and more time informing yourself on the facts.

  44. Kylopod says:


    There is nothing to prevent the new Republican Senate majority in 2015 from prohibiting filibuster on general or specific legislation.

    There is one thing: it is strategically dumb for them to do it before it has a chance of accomplishing anything. Why wouldn’t they wait two years till they gain unified control of government, and then do it? I’m not saying they will make those gains, but it’s their best shot. If they ax the filibuster now, and then the Dems win back the Senate in 2016, all they’ll have accomplished is passing the weapon to their enemy.

    You think the Party that passed over 40 bills to disable ACA in the House would hesitate to change the Senate rules in order to defund Obamacare?

    It’s also the party that completely buckled in the last defund-Obamacare fight. You really think they’re going to repeat that debacle again?

    Perhaps you should spend less time thinking about names to call a commenter and more time informing yourself on the facts.

    Well, there’s one fact I was informed about in 5th grade which you seem curiously unaware of: facts, by definition, do not include statements of the form “such-and-such will happen.”