James De Bree: Mucking up the midterms

Jim de Bree
Jim de Bree

In late March, I attended a law and accounting conference sponsored by a major real estate trade association.

The conference provided updates of legal accounting, tax and economic matters of interest to the industry.

One of the sessions attempted to handicap the outcome of the 2018 mid-term November elections. The analysis was non-partisan because its intent was to accurately predict the future political landscape rather than promote a political agenda.

Their conclusions were surprisingly different from what you hear in the media, who generally predict a blue tidal wave sweeping Democrats into office.

One point is that in mid-term elections, the Democrats tend to have better polling results in spring and early summer. But by August, the Republicans typically start gaining strength in the polls and do much better in the actual November election.

The presenters first focused on the House elections. The Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to gain control.

Because of the recent anti-gerrymandering court decision in Pennsylvania, the Democrats are expected to pick up five House seats. That leaves 19 remaining districts that the Democrats must win in order to gain control of the House.

There are twenty-seven seats that are viewed as being in play at this point in time. Almost all of these seats are held by Republican incumbents. The Democrats have to win more than two thirds of those seats in order to gain control of the House. The presenters thought that was a tall order and concluded that the Republicans are likely to retain control of the House by the slimmest of margins—perhaps only by a seat or two.

Looking at the Senate races, there are five races that are closely contested. Most of these seats are held by Democrats. Therefore, the presenters believe that the Republicans may pick up a Senate seat or two.

It should be noted that, since the presentation, House Speaker Ryan has indicated he will not seek re-election. He is a prolific Republican fundraiser and the close races will be expensive for both parties.

During the presentation, I asked, “What could go wrong with the presenter’s analysis?”

It turns out that the presenters believe there are several factors that could change their conclusions.

First, turnout in the midterms is historically lower than in Presidential election years. That favors the Republicans.

However, the Trump Administration seems to have energized his opponents and we may see a higher than normal turnout this year. President Trump is certainly capable of self-destructive behavior that could influence the election in the Democrat’s favor—particularly if people close to him are indicted as a result of the Mueller or other investigations.

Second, the millennials seem energized. Historically, when compared to the population as a whole, a smaller percentage of younger people have voted. Millennials are probably more likely to vote against the Republican Party. A large turnout by millennials will probably hurt the Republicans.

Furthermore, will any other incumbents decide not to seek re-election?

Three Republican Senators and fifty-four Representatives (37 Republicans and 17 Democrats) have announced that they are not seeking re-election.

When an incumbent decides not to run, the candidate from the incumbent’s party generally faces a tougher battle to hold the seat. Safe seats can become vulnerable providing additional opportunities for Democrats.

Finally there are unpredictable factors, like the weather on Election Day.

So, how accurate are these presenters?

I have attended this conference nearly every year for the past 35 years and their political prognostications have generally been very accurate.

However, these are not normal times. There is considerable volatility in the political landscape. In March of 2016, nobody anticipated a Trump Presidency. Last year, the presenters thought tax reform was dead and that it would be highly unlikely to see any major tax legislation in the current session of Congress.

We are still half a year away from the elections and that is an eternity in politics.

Nevertheless, contrary to media reports, it appears at this time that the Democrats may face some stronger than expected headwinds if they want to gain control of Congress.

Jim de Bree is a retired CPA who resides in Valencia.

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