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Senate Update: Don’t Go Crazy

At about 6 p.m. Wednesday, a collective Democratic spit-take splattered computer screens around the country (at least that’s what I imagined happened). Fox News released new polls showing Republican candidates ahead by 4 percentage points in Alaska, 6 percentage points in Colorado, 5 percentage points in Kansas and 4 percentage points in Kentucky.

The polls look like a disaster for Democrats.

They’re not.

FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast has Republican chances of taking back the Senate at 56.4 percent — basically unchanged from the 56.5 percent we showed Tuesday.

SENATEUPDATEThe forecast barely budged because the Senate model doesn’t take polls at face value. Fox News polls throughout this election cycle have had a fairly strong pro-Republican house effect, a measure of how a pollster’s results compare to other polls. For instance, Fox News’s generic ballot has shown Republicans up by 7 percentage points among likely voters for two polls in a row, while the average pollster has shown Republicans up by 3 points. Looking at national and state data, Fox News currently has a +3.6 percentage-point pro-Republican house effect.

The model adjusts each poll accordingly:

  • In Alaska, Dan Sullivan’s 4 percentage-point lead (44 percent to 40 percent) becomes 0.4 percentage points. That’s below the 2.8 percentage-point lead Sullivan had in our house-effect-adjusted polling average, and so his chance of winning ticked down from 74 percent to 71 percent.
  • In Arkansas, Republican Tom Cotton’s 7 percentage-point lead (46 percent to 39 percent) over Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is downgraded to a lead of 3.4 percentage points — just above his previous lead in our adjusted average (3.2 points). Cotton’s chance of victory was 72 percent Tuesday; it’s now 74 percent.
  • In Colorado, Republican Cory Gardner’s 6 percentage-point advantage (43 percent to 37 percent) over Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is read as 2.4 percentage points. FiveThirtyEight’s adjusted polling average had shown Gardner with a lead of 2.2 points, and his chance of winning increased from 52 percent to 56 percent.
  • In Kentucky, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 4-point edge (45 percent to 41 percent) over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes shrinks to just 0.4 percentage points. That’s 3 points below his lead Tuesday in our adjusted polling average, which drops McConnell’s chance of winning from 77 percent to 75 percent.

Not much changed.

Except, you’ll note I skipped over Kansas. The new Fox News survey there showed Republican Sen. Pat Roberts up 44 percent to 39 percent, after previously giving independent Greg Orman a 6 percentage-point lead. Additionally, a CNN poll released Wednesday found Roberts up 49 percent to 48 percent. These are Roberts’s first leads against Orman. We need more information to confirm these surveys, but the FiveThirtyEight model calculates Orman’s chance of winning dropping from 67 percent to 60 percent.

Outside of the Fox News polls, Democrats got good news in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn’s chances of winning rose from 26 percent to 30 percent. Nunn’s odds inched up because she was down only 1 percentage point to Republican David Perdue (46 percent to 45 percent) in a new SurveyUSA poll. For the first time, the FiveThirtyEight model forecasts Perdue to capture less than 50 percent of the vote (49.9 percent). There’s a wide band of uncertainty around that forecast, but if no candidate gets a majority, it would mean a runoff in January to determine the winner.

There were a lot of polls released Wednesday. But account for pollsters’ house effects, and things look more stable (just keep an eye on Kansas and Georgia).

Check out FiveThirtyEight’s latest Senate forecast.


Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.