The other basic circumstance, however, was that the particular Senate seats up for election this November gave Democrats a fighting chance of holding on, or even gaining a seat or two, even in a good year for Republicans. All of that is still true, and it’s the context surrounding the uncertainty that remains; that is, the big questions are about just how well Republicans will do.
To answer, begin with what the numbers maven Nate Silver tweeted about recent shifts in the FiveThirtyEight forecast. He mentions the Supreme Court decision in June to overturn its landmark 1973 abortion rights precedent, and adds:
Gas prices are down. Trump is back in the news because of the Jan. 6 hearings and for other reasons. COVID deaths remain toward the lower end since the pandemic began. Wacky GOP candidates are winning primaries.
Here’s the problem: Just as each of those factors are breaking well for Democrats, Biden’s approval ratings continue their steady march south, reaching a new low of 37.5% last week before a mild recovery to 38%. Perhaps a few more weeks of relatively good news for Democrats will reverse the long decline, but perhaps not. And it’s hard to believe that a nation so down on its president will do anything other than severely punish his party in the midterms.\
But it also seems that the range of plausible news environments that could emerge during the final weeks of the campaign is unusually wide.
Take economic news. By mid-October, it’s not hard to imagine gas prices falling further; a general sense that inflation has peaked; job creation continuing, giving Biden bragging rights to a low unemployment rate and two years of unusually good employment growth; and an overall economy that hasn’t tipped into recession and appears to be still going strong. It’s also not hard to imagine gas prices rising again, inflation defying predictions that it will reverse course; job losses; and economists declaring that a recession has begun. That’s an incredibly broad range of possibilities for 11 or 12 weeks from now.
There’s also the unknown course of the coronavirus. New cases seem to be pretty high (although no one seems to have a good estimate of exactly how high), but as Silver points out, the death rate has stayed relatively low during the current wave. Admissions to hospital intensive care units, too, have been moderate since spring. So even the current situation isn’t easy to assess. As for what comes next, once again it’s easy to imagine a wide range of how things will look by mid-October.
The political tea leaves, too, are harder to read than usual.