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Matt's Five Points, November 2: Elecshun Dae 2018

November 2 · Issue #4 · View online
Matt's Five Points
Welcome! I’m Matt Glassman, Senior Fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown. Here’s my weekly newsletter that always includes five points at the intersection of DC politics and political science, and often some links to interesting things I’ve been reading or listening to this week. 
Tuesday is the 2018 federal election. So this issue is devoted to my biennial guide to getting your political nerd on. Enjoy.
Feedback? Drop me a line or just respond to this email. And you can always catch up with me on Twitter.

In the Morning (6 action items)
1. Do not—under any circumstances—turn on your TV prior to 6pm EST.
This isn’t specific to the morning, but it has to be first, because it’s absolutely crucial. The only thing worse than the election night coverage on the cable news networks is the election day coverage on the cable news networks. And trailing right behind those two things is the douchebag in your office who watched the Today show on election morning and is now repeating the same drivel outside your cubicle. Don’t be that guy.
In case you are tempted at any point in the day, I’ll save you the time by summing up the coverage for you here:
  • worthless anecdotes about turnout; anecdotal profiles about who the independents are voting for; analysis of rainy weather forecasts that supposedly affect turnout but actually do not; interviews with senior citizens who voted at 11am in the Midwest; explanations of the “science” of exit-polling and election prediction; questions about why aren’t there more moderates;
  • Meta-narratives about the parties probable reactions to a 25-seat swing in the House vs. a 35-seat swing; debates over whether this is 2006 or 2010 or neither; editorials on what the election “means,” whether this is a “change” election, a “wave” election, or a “turnout” election;
  • exposés on campaign financing, voter turnout, and enthusiasm; debates over divided government and gridlock; evidence-free polemics on Trump’s base: will they have an impact in DC during the lame-duck, will they have an impact in the 116th Congress, and will they be a force in politics for much longer; 
  • stories about the parties angling with teams of lawyers to oversee recounts; worries on the right and left about voter fraud and voter suppression; some blair-witch style youtube videos showing something allegedly wrong;
Add to this 35 other things that could be studied with a rigorous methodology but instead will be delivered in the absence (or face) of data, and an equal number of things that should never be studied, period.
This will all be delivered to you at a 4th grade comprehension level. Don’t fall it. Trust me.
2. Learn the Senate landscape cold. Right now, there are 51 Republican and 49 Democratic (or Democratic-aligned) Senators. Of the 35 races for Senate seats this year, there are 13 races that are remotely close enough to be at all in doubt, eight seats currently held by Democrats:
(States link to local news articles about the races, candidates to wikis)
and five seats currently held by Republicans:
Look over the candidates and the stakes in each of these. Forget all the rest of the races. Get yourself knowledgeable about when the polls close in those states, review some recent polls, and check out some of the online forecasts to think about different situations. (Here’s a central-repository of a variety of popular forecast sites; here’s 538’s forecasts).
3) Figure out some House bellwethers. Unless you spend your days dealing with the House of Representatives (ahem), it’s hard to be up on all the competitive house races. But it’s a lot more fun to watch returns if you can assess the importance of a given House race result without having to trust Chuck Todd. Throughout the night, there will be a flood of House returns, and if you know that Texas’s 23rd District and California’s 25th district are a lot more important in judging the national result than New York’s 15th and Rhode Island’s 2nd, you’ll be ahead of the game.
In the past, this has been a doable-but-arduous task. These days, there are now a lot of websites that make your job easier. Lean on the great Roll Call / Inside Elections interactive House guide and supplement it with Cook’s race ratings at the New York Times, as well as the RealClearPolitics House map and ratings and Crystal Ball and FiveThirtyEight.
4) Make a prediction of some sort — and maybe a bet — but don’t be the “prediction-guy.” Make your prediction public by emailing it to someone (Or heck, tweet it to me @MattGlassman312). Here’s mine: Democrats picks up a net 34 House seats and control the chamber, while Republicans add a seat to their Senate control, 52-48. O'Rourke creates a close race in Texas, but loses to to Cruz by 4 points, and Kaine beats Stewart in the VA Senate race by 17 points. I also guarantee that either David Gergen or some pundit governor-type (Ed Rendell? Haley Barbour?) will get on my nerves at some point. And yeah, I’ll bet you a drink that I’m closer than you on that House total.
The trap to avoid here is turning the whole night into a test of your prediction ability. Don’t be that guy who’s only interested in the NCAA tournament because he’s got seven brackets going and $1000 on the line, but doesn’t really give a shit about college basketball. So keep the predictions light and modest. Guess some House and Senate totals, and call half a dozen races. Enter the Politico forecasting contest, but don’t go crazy. Face it: you didn’t build (you didn’t build!) your predictions from some proprietary model and a whole bunch of insider information, so your success or failure basically reflects zero on your ability as a forecaster. But your behavior tonight can reflect grandly on your status as a douchebag. So let Nate Silver and the British gambling houses sweat it out; your job isn’t on the line here.
On the other hand, if you would like to try some forecasting, I did a blog post last week that includes an excel sheet that lets you run 50,000 election simulations to your basic specifications.
5) “Watercooler” the election. In the last 10 years, I spent a lot of time trying to avoid political discussions—and that was when I worked on the Hill! So I understand your general impulse to stay away from your wackier colleagues on Election Day. But it might be the one day of the year when talking politics at the office can generate some positive returns. Especially if you go beyond contemporary politics and talk to people about democracy.
Obviously, you have to weed out the cynics who want to lecture you on why they didn’t vote and the angry partisans who can’t imagine who would vote for that idiot for Senate and the monologuers who won’t shut up about why Denmark is such a better democracy than ours, but if you can weather those storms, you might strike gold.
You’re not looking for anybody specific here, but I recommend finding two people in particular if you can. First: a veteran. Ask him if he ever voted from a combat zone. Then listen. Second, someone who’s run for local office in the past. Ask them what it was like on election day when they ran and how it changed their view of democracy. Then listen. And, of course, if you work with any African-Americans over the age of 70 or so, by all means talk to them about voting and elections. You’re almost guaranteed to get a story worth hearing.
6) Vote if you haven’t yet done so. Or don’t. It’s utterly not consequential to the election. But you’ll feel better about yourself if you do. If you need some inspiration, read my voting story from a few years back.
In the afternoon (6 action items).
7) Again, resist any and all temptation to turn the television on. For full explanation, see #1. But remember, they’ll be doing things like using a panel of “experts” to interview David Axelrod for three minutes about who he thinks is going to win the House. You’ve been warned.
Instead, read this Phil Klinkner article on the occasional high importance of midterm elections, to put you in the proper context:
Why the 2018 midterms are just as important as 2016
8) Figure out who you are going to watch the returns with. People go all sorts of ways with this. I totally respect the people who have to watch alone, in the dark, just them and the TV, like they’re die-hard baseball fans watching game 7 of the world series. But that’s not my scene. Ditto with the election-night-headquarters style parties with you and 200 of your closest friends at a barroom.
I think a home get-together is best, preferably with at least one person who roughly shares your politics and one who at least mildly doesn’t. I don’t recommend getting a ton of people together; think more “friends coming over” than “party” — you want six, not thirty. Usually, I remind people that this isn’t a presidential election and that midterms call for a more refined, thoughtful arrangement. But the intensity and enthusiasm in American politics right now has sort of throw that out the window. Brace yourself for a presidential-election crowd, and then welcome it.
Brining a lot of huge partisans into the mix is a double-edged sword; I prefer having some strong ideologues around who aren’t too attached to party labels. As mentioned above, avoid cynics and Euro-philes at all costs. Face it, democracy is the least-worst alternative, and unemployment in parliamentary-systems on the continent is like 8%. Yeah, the Senate is anti-democratic, but so is the veto. Get over it. I don’t want to hear it tonight. And neither do your guests.
9) Get your snack setup straight. This is tricky. It’s not a college football tailgate. It’s sure as hell not a dinner party. It’s not a BBQ. It’s not having people over for The Game. My suggestion is to go simple and traditional. That means, of course, pizza and beer. Fill in with pretzels or chips. The thing to stay away from is really messy food, since you’re going to want access to your laptop or ipad (see below) regularly. So probably stay away from salsa, or guacamole. And as much as it pains my upstate heart, wings are a big no-no.
You also want a wonkcave configuration that’s amenable to eating and using a computer. You don’t have to go full-blown dork with TV trays and all that jazz, but figure something out ahead of time, so you aren’t sitting on a really deep couch, balancing a plate of pizza on your knees while you smear blue cheese all over your Ipad screen.
10) Learn about a few ballot initiatives. Here’s a comprehensive if somewhat sterile review of the statewide questions voters will face Tuesday. Personally, I’m focused on the following: Michigan Proposition 1 (legalize recreational marijuana); redistricting reform proposals in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah; the Florida proposal to remove disenfranchisement from most felons; and a local school bond issue in my county here in Virginia.
11) Forget the governors’ races. Once you’ve studied the Senate races and found your House bellwethers, you might be tempted to start looking into some governor’s races. It’s not worth it (unless your state happens to have a competitive race, such as Ohio or Nevada). Maybe pick one that’s really interesting, but don’t bother trying to master them. Invariably, they won’t affect your life and you won’t think about them again until they start announcing for President in a few years. Put your energy into learning more about the Senate races. It makes for much better viewing.
12) Ponder our democratic republic. The 2016 election and the first two years of the Trump presidency featured a tremendous amount of vitriol, norm-breaking, and outright hostility between parties, candidates, elected officials, and citizens. While we have one of the strongest and longest-standing republics in the world, it is not immune to decay, rot, or even collapse.
Many political scientists, journalists, and other observes have serious concerns that these developments are not just an extreme version of ordinary election name-calling, but canaries in the coal mine for serious cracks in our democracy.
I still really like this Jonathan Rausch article from 2016, and I enjoyed this recent retrospective on Newt Gingrich’s role in how we got here. Here’s a nice recent paper by some academics that put things in comparative perspective. On the other hand, there’s basically no chance this is “the most important election of your lifetime,” especially since people declare that before every election. I still love this David Mayhew editorial from 2012 on what makes an election important (at least in retrospect).
Which was the most important U.S. election ever? - The Washington Post
13) Vote if you haven’t yet done so. Or don’t. It’s utterly not consequential to the election. But you’ll feel better about yourself if you do. If you need some further patriotic inspiration, go read my old State of the Union post. Or check out these excellent Jennifer Victor and Jonathan Bernstein articles on why voting and elections are important, even if the fairy-tale vision of democracy was never true.
Why vote? What good are elections? - Vox
Yes, Elections Are Important, Just Not Why You Think - Bloomberg
Early eve, before polls close (6pm EST) (5 action items)
14) Again, resist any and all temptation to turn the television on. For full explanation, see #1. But remember, they’ll be doing things like making predictions about national turnout levels based on anecdotal interviews at 2 precincts in the midwest. You’ve been warned.
15) Get your laptop setup with the proper tabs open. My setup is going to look like this: a few live-blogs sitting open on the desktop (such as Five Thirty Eight), an ideological spectrum of other blogs available for quick consult ( TalkingPointsMemo, National Review), the tally-maps from a major network or paper (probably New York Times Upshot, especially if they have that crazy needle!), and the Virginia official returns site. Anything more than that, and it becomes unwieldy.
16) Arm yourself with the proper printouts. Some things are just better to have in hard copy. A copy of Cook’s House Race Ratings is the easiest thing to just have sitting on the table. I also recommend getting some scrap paper ready to use as your own tally-sheet for House and Senate pickups.
17) Get yourself setup on Twitter. I cannot emphasize this enough. Nothing has made following political events more fun in the last 10 years than Twitter. It brings just the right mix of seriousness and humor that democratic electoral politics deserves. Get yourself setup on it and get tweeting. Or just reading tweets. You won’t regret it.
Follow some straightfoward news sites (@AP, @CNN, etc.), and the big name forecast-types (@redistrict, @natesilver, @nathangonzalez, @kkondik, @nate_cohn, @ForecasterEnten, @GElliottmorris). But here are a bunch of non-obvious tweeps I recommend following (for all-around reasons of smarts, humor, and likely volume of tweets tomorrow):
And, of course, @MattGlassman312. There are hundreds of other good ones too, so find your own!
18) Bill Mitchell. You must follow Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) on Twitter. If you aren’t familiar with him, he has become the ultimate pro-Trump internet troll, producing horror in those well-versed in the science of statistics, joy in the hearts of those who can appreciate a good KenM trolling performance, and total suspense for everyone who wants to know what he’s going to say/do whenever things go poorly for Trump or the Republicans.
He stuck to his guns before the 2016 election, when he declared that Halloween mask sales are better presidential predictors than polls, and he’s only gotten better since his guy won. Also, he cruises at about 300 tweets/day. I’m not kidding; this might be the most important piece of advice in the list. I mean, just look at these brilliant piece of performance art:
That’s galaxy-class Twitter troll game. You’re welcome.
After the polls begin to close (5 action items).
19) Ease into things. If you plant yourself on the couch at 6pm, you will be brain-dead by 10:30. This is not college football; it is best enjoyed with an active mind. So turn on the TV, get your prep-work out, but don’t sit down. If you absolutely must be plugged in from the get-go, I recommend cleaning or exercising in the TV room. And for goodness sakes don’t eat a full sit-down dinner in front of the television. You’ll regret it. Have a light snack and order the pizza for 7:30. Make the returns background noise and a passive activity early on; by 7:30 or 8, you’ll be ready to hunker-down.
20) Pick a cable news network and stick with it. And I recommend making your choice based solely on comedy. Who has the stupidest display board, with the most useless bells and whistles? Who has the most commentators lined up in a bleacher-like tier? Which network is doing live-remotes from the most ridiculous places? Who has the funniest name for their “war room”? The bottom line is that the networks have ceased to be journalistic endeavors, and are now only good for getting raw data or being entertained. Everything else — from play by play to commentary to meta-analysis — is better on the Internets. Like fifty times better.
21) Don’t be afraid to get emotional. For whatever reason, America spent the 20th century trying to remove political intensity from the practice of actually casting and counting the votes. As recently as 100 years ago, polling places were raucous scenes, complete with bands, rallies, and liquor. Now they are like graveyards. And that carries over a lot of the time to how people adsorb returns. Don’t let it get to you. You’re emotionally invested in either politics or policy; you wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. Don’t pretend we’re counting the votes in a vacuum. Go ahead and cheer.
At the polls, circa 1880.
At the polls, circa 1880.
22) Around 9:00pm EST, call someone who’s only mildly into politics, and talk to them about the elections. Or more precisely, listen to them. Ask them who they voted for and why, and what they think of the emerging results. Don’t offer any opinions, analysis, or commentary. Too many junkies live exclusively in the world of the strategic meta-narrative; it’s both insightful and refreshing to hear people on election night who approach things at face-value.
23) Find out who won local office in your town. Contrary to the indications derived from media coverage, your town and school board elections routinely have a bigger effect on you and your family than anything going on in Washington. It’s bad enough that you don’t know who your state rep is, but it’s unconscionable that you don’t know who’s setting the policies for your kids’ school. Take the time and find out who won these races, and promise yourself that you’ll have a better knowledge of them next time around. That way, you’ll at least feel guilty two years from now when you say, “Is he the Democrat or Republican?”
Late Night (3 action items)
24) Watch an unexpected victory speech, and an unexpected concession. Obviously, if there’s a pretty big surprise upset (like Hyde-Smith not making the runoff in MS), find those speeches and watch them live. Otherwise, look for the mild-upsets in Senate races in TN, WV, NJ, etc. If Ted Cruz loses, watch him. And if you can find an internet feed of a political amateur winning a House seat, those are solid gold moments.
25) Turn it off by 1:00am EST, after the initial California returns have come in and been digested. Unless you’re prepared to stay up all night, the marginal value of waiting each additional half-hour at that point is really low. If they can’t call the west coast races by 12:30am EST, it will probably be sometime—perhaps weeks—until they can. Don’t bother.
26) Light up a joint if pot wins in Michigan. Just kidding! Federal law will still make marijuana possession, sale, and cultivation illegal in the United States, and Gonzalez v. Raich will continue to guarantee for the time being that those federal laws are constitutional, regardless of how much money we throw away in the War On Drugs and how many non-violent drug offenders we put in federal prison in the coming years. Think that’s dumb? Me too. But I tend to support candidates who are ready to end the drug war. Next time, will you?
Enjoy the elections, everyone!
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back again next week! In the meantime, follow me online or reach out via email. I’d love to hear from you!
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