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Everyone, Make Three Political Predictions For 2018

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.

micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): It’s the first weekly politics chat of 2018!!! Happy New Year!

As a New Year’s present, I got you all a game that will very likely make everyone look foolish by the end of 2018: I’m going to ask each of you to make three political predictions — one that you think has a 10 percent chance of happening in 2018, one that has a 50 percent chance and one with a 90 percent chance.

Everyone got it?

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): Okie dokie.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Yes.

hilary.krieger (Hilary Krieger, Washington editor): I’d say there’s an 85 percent chance I understood that correctly.

micah: That’s not bad!

hilary.krieger: If you’re a glass half-full type of person, I suppose.

micah: OK, so we’ll go Harry -> Hilary -> Perry and then snake back around.

Harry, give us your 90 percent prediction!

harry: There’s a 90 percent chance that Democrats will pick up at least 14 seats in the House of Representatives in 2018.

perry: That could be 99 percent too, right?

micah: Yeah. That seems overly safe. Harry, defend your timidity.

Maybe Perry and I are overestimating Democratic prospects?

hilary.krieger: Setting a low bar for getting election predictions right is always a good strategy.

harry: I tried to choose a number that wasn’t too high or too low. PredictIt, for example, says there’s an 84 percent chance that the GOP has 230 seats or less after the midterms. They had 241 after the 2016 elections.

If I was saying the Democrats would pick up a net gain of 1 or greater, it would be significantly higher.

micah: What about 24 or more (enough to win the majority)?

harry: Well, that’s a very specific forecast. I’ve been looking at that. Almost everyone thinks it’s greater than 50 percent. I’d say maybe a 60 percent to 80 percent chance. It depends a lot on assumptions about how the national vote is translated to seats won and lost, etc.

micah: OK, Hilary, what do you think has a 90 percent chance of happening?

hilary.krieger: Even though Congress still hasn’t figured out how to get a year-long budget approved — making the prospect of a government shutdown a beloved bargaining chip for both sides and something the media will hype because well, duh — I think there’s a 90 percent chance the government won’t shut down.

perry: Hmm. This is more risky. A shutdown around Christmas was always a long shot. But now, while a shutdown is still unlikely, it seems like 1. Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus will be less eager to listen to Paul Ryan with the odds going up that he will no longer be the House speaker after 2018 and 2. the Democrats are getting lots of pressure from the left on DACA and may need to show they are serious about that issue.

hilary.krieger: That’s my 10 percent wiggle room!

micah: Where would you put the odds, Perry?

perry: 75 percent.

harry: This sort of reminds me of the odds that the Democrats will take back the House. We know the chance is north of 50 percent, but I don’t know where the odds are that the government won’t shut down.

The DACA point is interesting to me, though. Democrats have moved far to the left on immigration.

hilary.krieger: But they’re likely to do the political math (which Harry and Perry have already done for them) and decide the risk of shutting down the government over DACA is too high.

micah: I’m with Hilary on this. I don’t see Democrats making that bet.

harry: I certainly agree it would be a bad bet.

I just don’t know how to handicap it. It’s north of 50 percent.

hilary.krieger: Ryan leaving the speakership I think mixes things up more. So it depends on what the odds are of that happening …

micah: Which is more likely: the Freedom Caucus forcing a shutdown or Senate Democrats forcing one?

hilary.krieger: I think the former, but the chances of it have gone way down since they shifted their strategy to back the funding bills in December.

It’s certainly a good test to see how far toward taking more hardline positions Democrats are willing to go.

perry: I expect Trump will be aligned with the Freedom Caucus (no DACA policy without some kind of very strong immigration enforcement proposals). So the legislation as written will be conservative and Democrats will be doing the shutting down. But this is really conjecture.

harry: This is going to be a delicate balancing act for the Democrats: Voters don’t want a shutdown, but DACA is popular (especially among Democrats).

micah: I feel like Democrats can accept almost any border security measure except a wall.

Which leaves a lot of bargaining space.

Anyway, OK … Perry, your 90 percent prediction, please.

perry: Maybe this is like Harry’s and too obvious/easy. But I think there’s a 90 percent chance that Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation will not end in 2018. The uncertainty here is that one person really wants it to end and he is president.

micah: Ohhhhh … that’s interesting!

harry: I actually don’t think that that is too obvious.

micah: Yeah, I’m a bit surprised by that.

harry: Explain, Mr. Bacon.

perry: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have been indicted but not yet tried. So that will take time. And I expect the investigation of higher-up people will continue as well. I just don’t know how easy it is to end such a complicated investigation. Will the Trump part be resolved in 2018? Maybe.

But there is a lot of complexity here.

micah: Is there a window where Mueller won’t want to release stuff right before the midterms? In other words, will the investigation go quiet from like September through November?

perry: Also, you have to assume that Mueller makes no indictments after say July/August. Right.

What Micah said.

hilary.krieger: I’m with Perry. Check out the chart from this story; investigations like this rarely end in less than two years:

perry: So that also complicates ending it.

harry: Interesting, Hilary.

hilary.krieger: The investigations that did end within two years were of single people/much-more-contained plot lines.

micah: OK, Perry, you’re up again with your 50 percent prediction.

perry: There’s a 50 percent chance that Democrats win both the House and the Senate.

micah: WAY TOO HIGH!

Wait …

Well …


perry: Your response is interesting.

micah: Hmmm …

I guess my question is how independent are they? They’re not independent, obviously. But the weird Senate map makes them somewhat disconnected.

perry: It would seem to me that it will be difficult but possible for Democrats to 1. hold all their red-state Senate seats; 2. win in Nevada and Arizona; and 3. win the House (likely, at least right now). So that’s my thinking.

Curious what Harry thinks.

harry: I think it’s too high. The reason is the Senate side, which is what Perry hints at. I see Democrats winning in Arizona and Nevada. But those aren’t 100 percent. Then they’d need to hold onto the slew of red-state Senate seats (Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia). I’d expect Democrats to hold on to most, if not all, of them, but, again, it’ll be tough. I will say that a big win in the House for Democrats is certainly correlated with a big win in the Senate. But they aren’t totally dependent on each other.

perry: Where would you guys and gal put those odds?

For both houses.

micah: 20 percent to 25 percent?

We’ll have an actual model to answer this come the summer, but that’s my ballpark as of now.

harry: I might be a little north of there … somewhere between Micah’s and Perry’s.

I’ll also note that we lack polling in a lot of these races.

hilary.krieger: As I mentioned about making low-bar predictions on elections, I’ll just go with 25 percent.

micah: Hilary, your 50-50 prediction please.

hilary.krieger: I think there’s a 50 percent chance that Jared Kushner gets indicted. There have been a lot of hints in the current investigation that he’s involved in key elements of a narrative that has already yielded a bunch of other indictments, and the White House has upped its panic meter recently, suggesting that they’re worried. But it still is far from clear that he did anything to warrant a move that would turn the White House upside down.

micah: That’s a good one!

perry: I would put that at less, just because it’s a constitutional crisis-level move. It’s the president’s son-in-law and one of his top advisers. But this is one of those things where our lack of knowledge is really high.

hilary.krieger: Hence going 50-50!

harry: I have no problem with 50 percent given the uncertainty. It could be less as Perry says, but I have no real idea.

micah: 50 percent seems right to me.

But, yeah, I really have no idea.

Harry, you’re up!

harry: There’s a 50 percent chance that someone resigns from Trump’s Cabinet in 2018.

hilary.krieger: Way too low!

harry: Only one person (Tom Price, who was the health and human services secretary) has resigned so far. I’m not counting firings (former chief of staff Reince Priebus). And, of course, John Kelly had to leave his position at the Homeland Security Department to replace Priebus.

perry: Would you count someone like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (who is apparently being actively pushed out) but will say that he is “resigning”?

harry: No. I want a real resignation.

micah: But, Harry, you’re talking about someone resigning in protest? Or just resigning?

harry: I’m talking about resigning and not forced out by Trump.

So perhaps that is in protest. Maybe they’re just tired of the job.

micah: Hmmm.

hilary.krieger: Isn’t that often the same? I don’t think Price would have left if Trump hadn’t pressured him. But I still think it’s a real resignation!

perry: However we define resigning, I think Tillerson is likely to be out. So I would put this number at like 85 percent.

harry: Yeah, Tillerson could be canned.

micah: For all of 2018? Aren’t the odds like 99 percent?

harry: What I’m essentially saying is I think there is a 50-50 shot of someone resigning of their own free will.

perry: So a Cabinet member beyond Tillerson, I would put at 50 percent.

hilary.krieger: Yeah, I just don’t know if we’d know, given how both sides would spin it.

perry: Because people may just want to move on. Sure.

There are more than 20 Cabinet members, besides Tillerson.

micah: The chances of a protest resignation — in response to something Trump did or was doing — are maybe more interesting. I’d put those at like 10 percent.

perry: I agree.

micah: But the chances of any resignation are like 100 percent.

Not really, but you know what I mean.

harry: I feel good in the middle.

micah: Harry, your 10 percent bet please.

harry: There’s a 10 percent chance that Republicans get rid of the Senate filibuster in 2018.

micah: Good one!

hilary.krieger: Ooh. I like that.

perry: That seems way high. I’d put it at almost zero. But interesting. I think the odds of them losing control of the Senate in 2018 mean the odds of them making that kind of change go down.

micah: How much influence does Trump have on this? None?

hilary.krieger: He could push Majority Leader Mitch McConnell either way on this depending how PO’d he is at the White House at the time.

micah: I’d imagine him being a force pushing to get rid of it, but I don’t see McConnell caring much what Trump wants.

hilary.krieger: Sorry, I worded that badly. I meant that if Trump pushes to get rid of it, that could actually make McConnell keep it just to stick it to Trump.

micah: Ah, yeah.

OK, Hilary … what has a 10 percent chance of happening?

hilary.krieger: Continuing on the indictment front … I think there’s a 10 percent chance that the Justice Department, egged on by the White House and Hill Republicans, ends up indicting Hillary Clinton over, well, anything to distract attention and erode credibility from what Mueller’s doing.

harry: Wow — that would be a disaster.

micah: Oh man.

That seems high but would be a disaster and therefore will likely happen.

What are the chances of a Clinton-related special counsel if there’s a 10 percent chance of an indictment?

perry: Yeah, that would be legit worrisome in terms of norms and so on. A really big problem. I tend to think those odds are very, very low and close to zero, but …

micah: I’d put the chances of a special counsel or some other full-blown investigation higher than 10 percent but the chances of an indictment much lower.

perry: I feel like Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to politely blow off this idea.

hilary.krieger: I agree that 10 percent is at the high end of the range, but that was the assignment! I do think it’s easier than it looks, though, because, to Micah’s point, you don’t need a special prosecutor to indict Clinton.

perry: Special counsels tend to find crimes or indict people.

harry: I agree it’s a non-zero chance.

When you get to the tails, it’s a little difficult to know the odds.

hilary.krieger: And on Sessions, I agree with Perry, but he might have already used up all his capital in terms of deflecting White House pressure when he recused himself on Russia.

micah: The Justice Department is already investigating the uranium stuff, right?

hilary.krieger: Yep.

Well, actually, they’re reportedly reviewing what the FBI did in the case, so maybe that’s overstating it a bit.

micah: Perry, you’re up.

perry: There’s a 10 percent chance that H. R. McMaster, James Mattis, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and John Kelly will all be out of the administration by the end of 2018. All of them are either (i) controversial/in legal trouble, (ii) tired of Trump, or (iii) likely scapegoats for 2018 defeats (both electorally and on policy).

micah: Wow!

harry: Whoa..

hilary.krieger: Et tu, Ivanka??

micah: Who’s the most and least likely to be out among that group?

Ivanka is least?

perry: I would say Mattis is most likely to stay, then Kelly, then McMaster. I could easily see Jared and Ivanka moving to New York, saying that they have done their time and will advise the administration from afar.

micah: Yeah.

perry: The generals give Trump some legitimacy with the Hill, and they seem to have some autonomy to deal with issues they really care about.

hilary.krieger: But Ivanka is his own flesh and blood! That’s the kind of thing Trump seems to value.

micah: Thanks, everyone! To close us out … I’ll make one prediction:

There’s a 90 percent chance that only 20 percent of readers made it this far in the chat.

harry: LOL.

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

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Hilary Krieger was FiveThirtyEight’s Washington editor.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.