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2014 Midterm Elections: How Did We Do in the Senate Races?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

There were 36 U.S. Senate races this year, and as usual most of them weren’t close and weren’t polled much, if at all. We pride ourselves on polling every race at least once, although we generally looked at ones that weren’t expected to be close only once or twice at most. That was a mistake in the case of Virginia where a popular Democratic incumbent ended up winning by less than a point.

But we clearly saw the Republican wave coming, although the margins in the races in some cases proved to be bigger than some of our final polls projected.

To see a comparison of our numbers to the final outcomes in all the Senate races, click here. Also included for comparison is the Real Clear Politics average of all the most recent polls, not just ours, in each race. In several cases, we were the only poll in the race, and because it wasn’t likely to be a close contest, we didn’t revisit the state. But that may mean that we polled a contest several months before Election Day: Nebraska is a case in point.

This is what we predicted the day before Election Day: “Right now, Republicans can pretty definitely count on three Senate pickups in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. They appear to have a definite advantage in three more – Alaska, Arkansas and Colorado. Louisiana also looks like a potential GOP pickup, but we aren’t likely to find out until a December 6 runoff. That’s seven new Republican seats, with Iowa also leaning the GOP’s way.”

Republicans won all of these seats as projected, with Louisiana going to a runoff where the GOP candidate is a clear favorite.

We had only three races as Toss-Ups going into Election Day – Georgia, Iowa and North Carolina. Republicans in Georgia and Iowa outperformed our numbers and those of other pollsters, too. North Carolina was just as close as we projected.

Our big mistake was Kansas. Admittedly our last survey there was two weeks before Election Day, but we showed Independent candidate Greg Orman leading incumbent Republican Pat Roberts by five points. Roberts won by 11. There was a lot of last-minute hard campaigning on the Republican side, but the lesson we learned was to do more polling in the closing days. We polled seven states in the final week before the election, but unfortunately Kansas wasn’t one of them.

In every other state, we correctly projected the winner, except North Carolina where we showed Democrat Kay Hagan with a 47% to 46% lead the week before Election Day with a +/- 3 margin of error. She lost to Republican Thom Tillis by two points instead.

It’s interesting to note that in the races in which the spread was really off for us (and the Real Clear Politics average of all pollsters), most of the time we were spot-on for the Democratic number but wrong on the Republican number.  But if you add the percentage of voters “not sure” to the GOP side, you will come very close to the final Republican number.

This suggests that the last minute swing vote went to the Republicans, and while it did not necessarily change the game in terms of the winner, it very much changed the spread between the candidates. Republicans clearly had the momentum and the enthusiasm this election cycle; Democrats did not.

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