How overly optimistic is Rick Scott about the GOP’s chances in the Senate?


Florida’s Rick Scott has a second job right now besides being his state’s junior senator. He is also the chairman of the National Republican Senate Committee and thus largely responsible for ensuring that the Republican Party moves from a minority to a majority in the Senate. And on this subject, Scott professes a great deal of optimism.

“We are going to have 52 Republican senators. We have to win here,” he said Thursday at an event in North Carolina, where the party is working to fill Senator Richard Burr’s seat. In fact, he said, “I think we can get 53, 54, 55.”

Scott certainly has reason to believe his party has a good chance of winning a Senate majority. After all, it’s a 50-50 split at the moment, and a move to the Democrats over the summer seems to have backed off the other way. But 55? Could Senate Republicans end up with a 10-vote margin over Democrats?

Well yes. But that would mean a lot of things are going very, very wrong for the opposition.

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First, Republicans defend more seats than Democrats. There are 14 Democratic seats on the ballot next month and 21 Republicans. So a five-seat stint in the GOP means winning 26 of 35 contests.

FiveThirtyEight has a model that incorporates recent polls and other factors to estimate how Senate races are likely to go. The “lite” version of the model only looks at these polls. If we rank the current (as of Thursday) light model margins in each of those contested seats from strongest Democratic to strongest Republican, it looks like this.

All 35 of them are between a 40-point Democratic advantage and a 40-point Republican advantage — except for Alaska, which has broken the scale and is floating on its own there, a position that the state will find quite familiar.

Note that there are only two seats that reverse between parties: Nevada, going from Democrat to Republican, and Pennsylvania, going the other way. In other words, this suggests a 50-50 Senate in January 2023 and therefore a Democratic majority (thanks to Vice President Harris’ decisive vote). This is when I realize that polls showing essentially tied candidates are not really polls in which one can determine a likely winner. But for the purposes of this exercise, I will recklessly put that aside.

FiveThirtyEight also offers a “deluxe” model, which incorporates things like fundraising and other factors. She’s the model who runs her site, so that’s the one I’m going to focus on as well. If we move all of the disputed seats to their “deluxe” model positions, you see things space out a bit differently. But still only two states reverse, and it’s still a 50-50 room.

What Scott is drooling over are all those blue squares just above that midline. So if we’re assuming there’s a national shift in the polls by Election Day or there’s a consistent error in the polls that also benefits Republicans, what would it take for Scott to reach his figure of 55 seats?

Well, he has to return five seats. Give him Nevada, which is on the bubble. The second closest is Georgia. Next, keep Pennsylvania (which doesn’t count towards the necessary five flips, obviously) and add Arizona, New Hampshire, and Colorado, in that order. This would require the model estimates to be in error as much as eight points.

There has been a consistent pattern over the past four election cycles: Republicans have outperformed FiveThirtyEight’s modeled results the most often. Usually, though, it’s more Republican places that outperform more, not swing states — likely in part because there are more polls in the latter that can better inform the model.

Of course, FiveThirtyEight also answers Scott’s question directly. When he runs 40,000 iterations of Election Day based on the information he has about each race, there are occasions when the GOP ends up at 55 seats — 3% of the time, to be precise. This means that the chances of it happening are not zero but not great.

But there’s good news for Scott in FiveThirtyEight’s estimates: About a third of their modeled elections have the GOP ending up with at least 52 seats. For that to happen, it needs a lot less to go wrong for Democrats.


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