What to Watch for on a Confusing Election Night
We won't know the full results for days, but we will get some clues early in the night. Here's what to look for
I have some bad news.
It’s very possible that we won’t know the results on Wednesday morning, let alone Tuesday night. Maybe we know about the House, but the Senate’s results are unlikely, given how states like Arizona and Pennsylvania count votes and the likelihood of a runoff in Georgia if neither Walker nor Warnock gets 50 percent of the vote. And even when we know the results, we won’t know what really happened for months until the precinct-level voting data is released. Don’t worry — the Hot Take-Makers will still have their takes. They will just be based on exit polling — a measure so flawed that it makes normal polling seem infallibly precise.
Oh yeah. One more thing. The 2022 results tell us very little about 2024. Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton got clobbered in their first midterms, they quickly recovered, and then they won reelection with relative ease. Trump also got clobbered in 2018 and lost.
I just wanted to get that throat-clearing out of the way before the doomsayers, triumphalists, and self-proclaimed experts swoop in with their half-baked assessments delivered with zero introspection or humility. Now, here are the things I’m going to watch for on Election Night that might tell us where things are going.
Beware of the Mirages
I am sure everyone reading this remembers Election Night 2020, but in our ass-backward Federalist electoral system, every state counts votes differently. Some count mail/early ballots first. Others count them last. Because of Trump’s unhinged rhetoric about mail voting, this difference dramatically affects how the vote totals look. In the states that count mail/early votes first, Dems jump out to huge leads. In the states that count them last, the Republicans start out ahead. CNN has a helpful guide to how this will play out on Tuesday, but here’s the short version:
Arizona: Blue → Red
Michigan: Red → Blue
Georgia: Red → Blue
Wisconsin: Red Blue
Pennsylvania: Red → Blue
The Early Canaries
Much of the fight for the House and Senate will take place in the Pacific Time Zone in states that count their votes slowly because of mail-balloting, but some East Coast races should give us a sense of whether there is a Red Wave.
Polls in Virginia close at 7 PM Eastern and there are two bellwether races in the Commonwealth:
VA-7: Abigail Spanberger (VA-7) is running for reelection in a district Biden won by 7 points.
VA-2: Elaine Luria (VA-2), a member of the January 6th Committee, is running in a close race in a newly drawn R+6 district on a platform of protecting democracy.
If Democrats hold on to both of these seats, it’s a very positive sign. The results will tell us something about the strength of the suburban-centric coalition that won the House in 2018 and defeated Trump in 2020.
Some of the other East Coast House races that I have my eye on:
NH-1: Democrat Chris Pappas is running against Karoline Leavitt, a 25-year-old Big Lie-believing former aide to White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. This district is a pure toss-up.
PA-17: President Biden won this working-class district by 6 points. If Democrats can win 6 or more, it’s a good sign. If we lose the seat, bar the door. The results in this race could say a lot about how inflation and the economy are impacting the political environment. A win here is a good sign for Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman.
RI-2: Democrats are worried about this solidly Blue open seat where Democrat Seth Magaziner is running against a purported moderate Republican. For a variety of reasons, this race is somewhat disconnected from the national dynamics, but you cannot lose a seat in Rhode Island and hold onto the House.
Were the Polls Wrong Again?
In 2020, the polls predicted that Biden would win states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan with ease. He squeaked out very narrow victories. The polls also predicted competitive races in Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Iowa. Biden lost all of those states by surprisingly large margins. This time around, the polls predict very close contests in all of the key races. If the polls are way off again, it might be the end of polling as we know it and lead to a dramatic shift in politics and media. Campaigns would need to reevaluate their strategies, and media organizations would have to stop lighting money they don’t have on fire.
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