THIS MARKS the silly season when political pundits and analysts try to read too much into too little data, and try to beat each other to predictions about the upcoming election.
With early voting already going on, at a record-shattering pace, this has only increased the desire to put a bow on what will possibly be the most voted-on midterm election in U.S. history.
But as always the voters will have the last word, and it’s not always what you might want to hear. As if I have to remind anyone of that.
I’ve seen and learned too much over the past few years to try my hand anymore at election forecasting myself. If you think you’re absolutely sure of what’s going to happen, I have a bridge over the Savannah River to sell you.
However, I do have a few words of insight to offer.
The polling industry is still smarting from 2016, when Hillary Clinton was given anywhere from a 72 percent to a 99 percent likelihood of defeating Donald Trump.
While right-leaning voters continue to derive a great deal of comfort and pleasure over how clueless most of the 2016 polls were, it’s important to remember that the biggest thing pollsters got wrong in 2016 was ignoring historic norms.
Only once since Truman has a party won three straight terms in the White House (George H.W. Bush, ‘88). So in that sense, Hillary Clinton was always swimming upstream against some very strong currents, regardless of what polls said.
This year you’ve no doubt heard talk about the so-called “Blue Wave” which will swamp Republicans out of office.
While there is a certain sense of déjà vu with this sometimes overconfident talk — Democrats are favored to take the House by the almost exact same percentage Clinton was favored — it’s important to point out that in this case, the polls are following historic norms, not flouting them.
The average amount of House seats a president’s party loses in his first midterm is 30. And this year Democrats need a net gain of only 23 seats to take the House.
Considering that a court ruling breaking up gerrymandered districts in Pennsylvania will probably be worth 4-5 seats just in and of itself, one assumes, and history tells us, that a 23-seat swing would be eminently doable for Democrats even in a “normal” midterm election.
And this is anything but a normal midterm election.
But......if there’s one thing we know, it’s that we don’t know anything until the votes are counted.
Another rabbit hole people like to jump down during the silly season is extrapolating way too much from early voting data. Like, way too much.
So far, Georgia is literally tripling early voting numbers over the last election, which at first glance would seem to support the idea that the fabled Blue Wave is building.
Then again, we don't know exactly who is casting those early votes and for whom. And early voting participation continues to rise enormously with each election, regardless.
About 58 percent of all Georgia voters cast their ballots early in 2016, compared to 37 percent who voted early in 2014. You will recall that Republicans did pretty well both of those election cycles.
The problem with overreliance on early voting returns is this: Early voting isn't magic.
Basic math tells that for each early vote, that’s one less person voting on Election Day, i.e., the so-called “cannibalization” of Election Day votes by early voting.
We’ve already learned that you just can’t count on early voting to tell you much about who is actually getting those votes.
Since we don’t register by party in Georgia (something which is often very hard to explain to our friends who have moved here from other states), all we have to go by here is demographic information, which so far is..... you guessed it, inconclusive.
In my mind the most serious indicators of political change have more to do with what we know for a fact to be true, that we can already see in front of us.
Perhaps the biggest difference over previous elections is that Democrats are contesting far more races across the country this year than they have in the past.
Over several previous election cycles, Republicans in strongly red districts have benefited from running unopposed more often than not.
But this year, in Georgia as in all across the country, Democratic candidates are contesting a staggering number of races.
Locally, let’s take a look at the examples of Lisa Ring (running for the U.S. House), Alicia Scott (running for the Georgia House), and Sandra Workman (running for the Georgia Senate).
Notice something? They’re all women, of course. And that leads me to the second important data point.
A huge number of woman candidates are competing – and in many cases competing very strongly – in a huge number of races across the country.
Much like the #MeToo movement itself, this marks a paradigm shift in U.S. electoral politics, regardless of how it all shakes out in November.
And get this: All three of the incumbent Republican men those three women are running against ran unopposed in their last elections. This year, each of them faces a Democratic woman.
I have no crystal ball that will tell me who will win. If I did, I’d be using it to pick Mega Millions numbers instead.
But you can’t win if you don’t compete, and, for this election anyway, Democrats have finally figured that out.
As for the Blue Wave, whether it will be a tsunami, a trickle, or — as is more likely — something in between remains to be seen.