Commentary: Election Handicapping | KBIA

Commentary: Election Handicapping

Oct 28, 2020

I talked to my favorite Republican and Democrat last week about next week’s election.  Here’s what they said.

Both think Judy Baker will almost, but not quite, beat Caleb Rowden for the local state senate seat.   The Republican says Rowden is lucky Cooper County is part of the district.  The Democrat says Rowden’s outside money is crucial.


Both think Governor Parson will be reelected.  The Republican thinks Parson’s big strength is that he’s a classic “Missourian” and Missouri is too red for a statewide Democrat to win now.  His evidence is that in 2018 Galloway, running for a full term as auditor, almost lost to an utterly unqualified Republican candidate who ran a totally amateurish and cashless campaign.  The Democrat thinks that though Parson will likely win, it will be closer than many people think.

Because I once lived in what is now Missouri’s Second Congressional District I have a particular interest in that race.  But I’m not alone.  It is on national radar as a potential Democratic takeover.  The Republican believes Wagner, in a classic suburban district, is in danger and may lose unless voters are scared of the Democratic agenda.  The Democrat thinks the challenger Schupp will win in a close race.

On the national scale, the Democrat thinks they will pick up five U.S. Senate seats and thus the majority.  The Republican thinks Democrats will win three (Colorado, Arizona, Maine) and lose at least one (Alabama) and perhaps two (Michigan), thus keeping Republicans in the majority.  Both think Democrats will keep the House.

The Republican thinks Trump will win reelection with 275 to 285 Electoral Votes.  He bases his prediction on his trust in the only poll that correctly called the 2016 Trump win.  The Democrat thinks pollsters have gotten their act together, the current predictions are not wrong, Biden will have a close win, and there will be court challenges.

Full disclosure: Along with many others who relied on conventional wisdom  I predicted Clinton would win in 2016.  I also thought Eric Greitens would lose.  So what do I know?  Well, I did predict Roy Blunt would fight off Jason Kander for the U.S. Senate and Caleb Rowden would beat favored Steven Webber, but I missed the big one.  I am chastened and have learned a lot in four years.  And polling has gotten better. 

There is a caution about polling, however: An unknown but not insignificant number of Trump supporters are trolling the polls by responding that they are undecided or Biden supporters.  It wouldn’t take many to distort a poll.  I don’t know how, or if, they can detect and control for this.

I predict Trump will carry Missouri by less than half the 19-point margin he won by in 2016.  Nationally I predict that Biden will win.  If he wins big, then Baker will win and Galloway might win.  How much he wins by will depend on three factors.  Most important is the extent to which voters blame Trump for the pandemic.  Second is the extent to which many voters see George Floyd’s death as emblematic of a problem only a Democratic administration can fix.  And third is the level of civic exhaustion with Trump reality TV. 

I know I’m exhausted.  I am deeply nostalgic for Chief Wana Dube, who won 30,000 votes in the 2016 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.  He died in 2017 and his ashes were scattered in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal.  He was a scofflaw and a total character and yet would be pretty mainstream in the current era.

Be sure to tune in to KBIA next Tuesday for comprehensive NPR and local election coverage.

Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.