Thursday, 1 November 2012

Backdated - US Senate (Upper House) Elections

Who loves Senate elections? The PsephologyKid loves Senate elections.

The great thing about Senate elections is that two-thirds of the seats carry over. Senate elections occur every two years, and a term lasts 6 years. This means, even if some extra seats are up for re-election due to retirement, deaths or other factors, you can normally bank on at least 50% of seats being known with 100% certainty before you even start. In other words, you have to look at current polling data and a seat's history as usual and then factor that into a known, but constantly changing base of Senators. If party A is guaranteed to win 100% of the seats this year, they may still not dominate the Senate if party B has more than fifty seats already. In more probable situations, either party (though rarely, if ever, a third party in the US) can take the majority, but one side has an advantage – a bias to add into the calculations.

Look, it's fun for me, Okay?

Okay. So, there are 100 seats – two per state – and one third are up for re-election. Now I don't need to tell you that 100 is not divisible by three. I simply choose to tell you 100 is not divisible by three. So this year, 33 seats are up for re-election. Basically, the system relies on one person dying, retiring or otherwise losing a seat every six years. With an average age of over 60 years* after the midterm elections, this is far from impossible but not something I'd want to bank on. Why not elect half of the Senators at the midterms and half at the full-term election, America?

Sometimes more than 33 seats are up for re-election, though, so you never get the civil servants knocking on senator's doors saying “constitutionally, we need a 1% mortality rate over 6 years. You're it.”

Now, obviously, you need more than 50 of these aged senators to hold the majority in the Senate (referred to as Fifty Seats of Grey)(okay, it's not called Fifty Seats of Grey, but it could be)(although, technically, I called if Fifty Seats of Grey, so it has been referred to as such).


21 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 2 Independents will have their seats subject to an election. Not all of these will be running for re-election.

No state has two seats up for election this year, meaning that I can abbreviate the seat names to their respective states:
  • Arizona (currently Republican)
  • California (currently Democrat)
  • Connecticut (currently Independent)
  • Delaware (currently Democrat)
  • Florida (currently Democrat)
  • Hawaii (currently Democrat)
  • Indiana (currently Republican)
  • Maine (currently Republican)
  • Maryland (currently Democrat)
  • Massachusetts (currently Republican)
  • Michigan (currently Democrat)
  • Minnesota (currently Democrat)
  • Mississippi (currently Republican)
  • Missouri (currently Democrat)
  • Montana (currently Democrat)
  • Nebraska (currently Democrat)
  • Nevada (currently Republican)
  • New Jersey (currently Democrat)
  • New Mexico (currently Democrat)
  • New York (currently Democrat)
  • North Dakota (currently Democrat)
  • Ohio (currently Democrat)
  • Pennsylvania (currently Democrat)
  • Rhode Island (currently Democrat)
  • Tennessee (currently Republican)
  • Texas (currently Republican)
  • Utah (currently Republican)
  • Vermont (currently Independent)
  • Virginia (currently Democrat)
  • Washington (currently Democrat)
  • West Virginia (currently Democrat)
  • Wisconsin (currently Democrat)
  • Wyoming (currently Republican)
This means the carry over from the currently Democrat-led Senate is Democrats, 30 seats, Republicans 37.


Unlike Congress, we cannot simply say that we expect a similar result to the midterms because different states are due for senate elections. However, even if we did see the same result, this would – ironically – change the Senate entirely. The midterms, as predicted, saw a strong Republican swing but the Democrats hold power due to their large carry-over majority. The midterms and seats in contest this time have eroded that majority, giving the GOP a 37 seat head-start. A similar swing will result in a landslide Republican majority.

So unlike the other races, it won't exhibit a similar swing to the GOP. Even if it did this would result, unlike the other races, in a vastly different scenario. But you know what's really funny? The general prediction for the Senate is... no change!** Status Quo again!

Republican wins

I usually start with the Dems because I follow alphabetical order whenever I want to avoid statistical misdirection. Today, I feel like starting with the GOP (because all Republican wins are safe by my calculation), so here is a disclaimer: this order implies nothing more than a personal whim.

Mississippi (Safe Republican)
Nebraska (Safe Republican)
Tennessee (Safe Republican)
Texas (Safe Republican)
Utah (Safe Republican)
Wyoming (Safe Republican)

Why are their no likely Republican seats? Why is it safe or nothing? I don't know. Something weird's going on.

Democrat wins

Connecticut (Predicted Democrat)
California (Safe Democrat)
Delaware (Safe Democrat)
Florida (Predicted Democrat)
Hawaii (Predicted Democrat)
Maryland (Safe Democrat)
Michigan (Safe Democrat)
Minnesota (Safe Democrat)
Missouri (Predicted Democrat)
New Jersey (Safe Democrat)
New Mexico (Predicted Democrat)
New York (Safe Democrat)
Ohio (Predicted Democrat)
Pennsylvania (Predicted Democrat)
Rhode Island (Safe Democrat)
Washington (Safe Democrat)
West Virginia (Safe Democrat)
Wisconsin (Predicted Democrat)

This seems like a massive win for the Democrats. There are 10 safe seats and 8 Predicted. Predicted seats are the ones I'm most likely to get wrong. In the midterms I got 100% accuracy***, but that's no guarantee this time round. I'm not even sure I used the same sources and formulae to aggregate predictions.

This is not, however, a swing to the Democrats, since the midterm Senators were mostly elected in different states. This years senate race includes several long-standing safe Democrat seats.

Also, remember that the GOP starts off with a 7-seat lead. With six safe seats, this means the Democrat's predicted margin of victory is only 5 seats. And there are more than that unaccounted for:


North Dakota

If all seven of these went to the Republicans, the Democrats would be behind by two seats. There are still two seats I have'nt covered, so adding these to the Democrat count (see below for why these are Dems) would create a tie. Now, being true tossups, it's unlikely they will all be Republican. In the midterms *** my tossups fell 50-50. So the Dems should probably win three or four of these, and winning just one will probably be enough to ensure victory.


So, that leaves Maine and Vermont. Not predicted Democrat. Not predicted Republican. Not too hard to call, either. Heck, these don't even go to minor parties. These are my favourites: safe independent seats.


Senator Olympia Snow (Republican) will not be running for re-election, fed up with the ultra-partisan nut-house that is the US Senate. Independent Angus King is the favourite at the moment. No-one knows for sure who he'll side with, possibly hoping to pull a Peter Lewis and hold the balance of power. General consensus, though, is that he'll play Democrat.


Bernie Sanders is running for re-election and is the firm favourite. In the current Senate he caucuses with the Democrats, and can be counted as such. It is no secret that I love independents, firstly as they are not bound by party loyalties or united fronts and can vote on their consciences, and secondly because you have to love an underdog fighting against the multi-million spending parties. However, reading Bernie Sanders's policies has made him my favourite politician at the moment. He's a smart, progressive activist stuck in the body of a crotchety old senator.


So most seats are remaining the same, with most changes occurring in cases where the incumbent is not running. These seats tend to be tossups or lowest probability Predicted seats. Two independents side with the Democrats in the current Senate. This pattern is predicted to continue with Connecticut replaced by Maine and Vermont continuing as before.

I'll take a guess on the tossups falling 3 to the Dems, 4 to the GOP. This will give the Dems 21 seats (23 including the independents) and the Republicans 10. Since the seats up for re-election are 21 Democrats, 10 Republicans and 2 independents, this is no change in the over-all makeup of the Senate. Status Quo to the extreme.


** e.g.

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