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September 06, 2010

Charlie Cook: Yes, The Senate Is In Play

From rdbrewer in the sidebar.

Most of this is stuff you know (but, if you're like me, you don't mind reading again because it's so enjoyable -- like tuning into Die Hard for the 300th time).

This is an interesting little factoid, though.

Some people, like The War Between the Undead States take the position, basically, that it's hard to win 16 out of 18 competitive seats. Well, okay, he's right, it is hard.

But where I think this sort of thinking goes wrong is in the basic intuition that of all these sketchy toss-ups, the expected thing for toss-ups to split pretty evenly, Dems win this toss-up, Republicans win that one. Maybe a small bias to Republicans, in that we win 6-5 out of 11 tossups (or 7-4 a a best-case scenario).

I sort of think 7-4 would be not quite a worst case scenario, but certainly a case of underperformance.

If you think that way, then 16 out of 18 does in fact seem like a pretty remote possibility, sort of like a coin coming up heads a bunch of times.

And I keep suggesting that if the coin is biased -- loaded -- to flip in one direction most of the time, that's a whole lot less unlikely.

Anyway, on that idea, the idea of the coin which is inherently biased, and so all of these coin-flip situations are not really coin-flip situations...

The Senate editor of The Cook Political Report, Jennifer Duffy, notes that the toss-up races don't always break evenly. She points to the Democratic wave year of 2006, when the party won 89 percent of the nine races that The Cook Political Report rated as toss-ups before the election. In 2008, Democrats won 78 percent of the toss-up races, while in 2004, a good year for Republicans, the GOP won 89 percent of the most competitive races. In other words, these wave elections produce a cascading effect in which the close races often break disproportionately toward the wave.

For reasons unexplained they don't mention 1994. I have to imagine that that, too, was a year in which the overwhelming majority of "50/50 tossups" in fact went in one direction.

By the way, I am using The War Between the Undead States sort of unfairly, in sort of a strawman sort of way. We've discussed this (very pleasantly) in the comments before, and he agrees with the basic principle. But... I don't know, I forget why, he still doubts this basic tendency will occur. He sort of notes, on an intellectual level, that this happens, but in his gut, in his intuition, it isn't really there.

About the Spin: Some readers are worried about setting expectations too high, because, if we then win, but fall short of the bar we've set, the MFM/DNC gets to spin it as a loss.

That doesn't really scare me for the same reason The Black Knight's claims of "flesh wound" don't bother me. Yeah, okay, you still have your had. Score. Wow, you like totally won and stuff.

Thanks to pep for pointing out this analogy.

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posted by Ace at 01:16 PM

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