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Election Update: How The Latest Fundraising Numbers Shifted Our House Forecasts

Welcome to our Election Update for Thursday, Oct. 18!

You may have noticed a little bump for Democrats in the “Classic” version of our House forecast early this week. On Wednesday night,1 the party had a 5 in 6 chance (83.9 percent) of taking control; on Tuesday night, it had risen to 84.8 percent, the best Democrats have fared in our model since its August launch. The average number of seats Democrats are expected to pick up was 39; on Tuesday, that number reached 40 for the first time.

One reason for the uptick? Fundraising reports from the third quarter of 2018 (spanning July 1 to Sept. 30) were due to the Federal Election Commission on Monday, and they bore fantastic news for Democrats. According to a preliminary count by the National Journal, Democratic challengers in House races outraised at least 92 Republican incumbents, and more than 60 Democratic candidates in the House hauled in more than $1 million for the quarter. Candidate fundraising is one of the bigger factors in the “fundamentals” part of our model — we specifically look at individual contributions (as opposed to money from PACs or given to the campaign by the candidates themselves) because, aside from polls, it’s one of the few tangible measures we have of pre-election support from real voters. Democrats’ strong fundraising numbers also help explain why the party has improved in the Classic version of our model but has stayed about the same in the poll-driven “Lite” version, at least in the House. In fact, the Lite and Classic versions of our House model are now farther apart than they have been in some time, reflecting a renewed divergence in what various model inputs (that is, polls vs. fundraising) are telling us about Democrats’ chances (pretty good according to polls vs. really good according to fundraising).

So let’s first dive into how fundraising has shifted races in the House (spoiler alert: a lot) and then we’ll take a look at what happened in the Senate, where there was less movement. As a result of the new fundraising data, the fundamentals-based margin in our House forecasts moved by more than 1 percentage point in 116 of the 314 districts for which we have up-to-date fundraising data for both candidates2 — but some districts saw even bigger swings. Here are the 25 districts3 where the fundamentals swung the most (as of Tuesday evening) when we added the FEC’s new numbers.

25 House races where money is changing the game

The districts where the “fundamentals” margin in FiveThirtyEight’s 2018 House forecast changed the most after incorporating third-quarter fundraising totals from individual contributions

Democratic Candidates Republican Candidates
District Name q3 contribs. Name q3 contribs. margin change
KS-3 Sharice Davids $2,261k Kevin Yoder $466k D+9
NY-27 Nate McMurray 460 Chris Collins 6 D+8
NY-24 Dana Balter 1,342 John Katko 147 D+6
NY-23 Tracy Mitrano 839 Thomas Reed 325 D+6
ME-2 Jared Golden 2,464 Bruce Poliquin 199 D+6
GA-6 Lucy McBath 844 Karen Handel 365 D+5
GA-4 Hank Johnson 3 Joe Profit 35 R+5
IL-6 Sean Casten 2,507 Peter Roskam 776 D+4
MT-1 Kathleen Williams 1,988 Greg Gianforte 999 D+4
VA-1 Vangie Williams 252 Rob Wittman 116 D+4
AZ-6 Anita Malik 148 David Schweikert 0 D+4
IN-4 Tobi Beck 43 Jim Baird 110 R+4
WV-3 Richard Ojeda 1,150 Carol Miller 262 D+4
TX-25 Julie Oliver 328 Roger Williams 48 D+4
PA-10 George Scott 788 Scott Perry 209 D+4
OR-2 Jamie McLeod-Skinner 611 Greg Walden 243 D+4
AZ-4 David Brill 146 Paul Gosar 33 D+3
VA-2 Elaine Luria 1,258 Scott Taylor 453 D+3
VA-6 Jennifer Lewis 254 Ben Cline 192 D+3
MN-8 Joe Radinovich 727 Pete Stauber 274 D+3
NY-21 Tedra Cobb 663 Elise Stefanik 228 D+3
CA-48 Harley Rouda 2,753 Dana Rohrabacher 263 D+3
WA-3 Carolyn Long 1,439 Jaime Herrera Beutler 335 D+3
IL-14 Lauren Underwood 1,791 Randy Hultgren 225 D+3
NY-1 Perry Gershon 1,201 Lee Zeldin 560 D+3

Source: Federal Election Commission

Twenty-three of the 25 districts moved in the Democrats’ direction, reflecting the extent to which that party is winning the money race. But GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas’s 3rd Congressional District fared the worst. Before Monday, the fundraising variable was pushing the fundamentals-based forecast 5.9 percentage points toward the Republican in that race. But then Democrat Sharice Davids reported raising $2.3 million in individual contributions this past quarter, compared with Yoder’s $466,000. Now, the fundraising variable for that race is worth 3.1 points for the Democrat — enough to make the overall fundamentals of the district Democratic-leaning. That’s quite a feat for a district that a Democrat hasn’t won since 2008 and that is nearly 5 percentage points more Republican than the nation as a whole, according to FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric.4

In more bad news for Republicans, Republican Rep. Chris Collins’s arrest on insider trading charges appears to have hamstrung his ability to raise money in New York’s 27th District. He collected just $6,210 in the third quarter compared with Democrat Nate McMurray’s $460,000. As a result, the fundraising variable in the race shifted from 4.9 points in favor of Collins to 2.7 points in favor of McMurray. In fact, several under-the-radar New York districts were strongly affected by the new fundraising data. For example, in the New York 24th, fundraising pushed the fundamentals 1.5 points toward GOP Rep. John Katko prior to Monday. After it was revealed that Democrat Dana Balter outraised Katko $1.3 million to $147,000, the fundraising variable pushed the race 4.9 points toward the Democrat. And for the first time all year, our model is giving Democrat Tracy Mitrano an outside chance, at least in part because her strong fundraising shifted the fundamentals in New York’s 23rd District 6.3 points in her favor.

But even with the fundraising data factored in, McMurray (whose chances of winning are about 28 percent), Balter (about 27 percent) and Mitrano (about 12 percent) remain decided underdogs. That’s actually true of most of the Democratic names on the list above; big underdogs have more room to make big leaps forward than candidates in tight races or with huge leads do. But the new data appears to support the notion that, if everything breaks right for Democrats on election night, the party could win several districts that flew under the radar during the campaign, such as the Georgia 6th (about a 24 percent chance for the Democrat), Washington 3rd (about 32 percent) or Pennsylvania 10th (about 36 percent).

But in our Senate forecast, Democrats haven’t gotten the same fundraising-related bump. That’s for a couple reasons: One, fundamentals tend to be de-emphasized in Senate races because they tend to have more polling available; two, the new fundraising data wasn’t dramatic enough to move the fundamentals margins that much anyway. And even when the FEC data did meaningfully move the fundamentals, it was usually in Republicans’ favor. By our count, of the five races that shifted the most because of fundraising dollars, three moved in favor of Republicans.

The 5 Senate races where money changed the outlook

The states where the “fundamentals” margin in FiveThirtyEight’s 2018 Senate forecast changed the most after incorporating third-quarter fundraising totals from individual contributions

Democratic Candidates Republican Candidates
State Name q3 contribs. Name q3 contribs. margin change
MA Elizabeth Warren $1,636k Geoff Diehl $457k R+1.8
MI Debbie Stabenow 1,224 John James 3,349 R+1.5
IN Joe Donnelly 2,632 Mike Braun 2,465 R+1.4
TN Phil Bredesen 4,150 Marsha Blackburn 2,209 D+1.3
PA Bob Casey Jr. 1,414 Lou Barletta 1,851 D+0.8

Source: Federal Election Commission

For example, in Massachusetts, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren may have outraised Republican state Rep. Geoff Diehl in the third quarter, but it wasn’t by as much as she outraised Diehl by in previous quarters, so the fundamentals margin actually shifted toward her Republican opponent by 1.8 percentage points. In Michigan, Republican John James handily outraised Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, while in Indiana, Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican Mike Braun brought in nearly the same amount of money: roughly $2.5 million. (This wasn’t good news for Democrats, since Donnelly’s total fundraising had been more than three times Braun’s before this.)

What about the race with the biggest raw fundraising gap of the third quarter — the U.S. Senate race in Texas, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke raised a whopping $38.0 million to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s $10.2 million? It didn’t make our table because O’Rourke was already handily outraising Cruz, so it shifted the fundamentals margin by just four-tenths of a point in his direction.

Footnotes

  1. Specifically, at 9:30 p.m.

  2. Races where we could not obtain new FEC data for both candidates as of 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday night were excluded.

  3. Each race’s individual forecast page (like this one) has a “fundamentals” section where you can see which direction fundraising numbers are currently moving the forecast.

  4. The average difference between how a state or district votes and how the country votes overall. In our new and improved partisan lean formula, 2016 presidential election results are weighted 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results are weighted 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature are weighted 25 percent.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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