Josh Marshall

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Josh Marshall is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TPM.

Josh’s Random Thoughts Blog

8:00 PM: So here’s something interesting. In the Georgia Senate race, a lot of the Walker-leaning polls showed him getting like 25% of the African-American vote. That would be super high for a Republican. And most political observers were skeptical of that. Early results throw a lot of cold water on that prediction. So that puts a dent in the credibility of a lot of the polls that showed Walker strength. Again, doesn’t mean Warnock wins. But it’s an encouraging sign for him.

7:52 PM: We’ve talked a lot about “red mirages”, same day votes showing big GOP wins then slowing giving way to early Dem-leaning votes. That pattern, which we saw in spades in 2020, is a big deal tonight too. But there’s more than that. We knew in 2020 that early versus same day was hugely, hugely polarized by party. It still is to a great degree. But we don’t know just how much. That adds another wrinkle of uncertainty. So just keep that in mind. That’s one reason I suspect we’re not seeing a lot of early calls. It doesn’t mean races are necessarily close. It just really complicates the way race-callers look at results and infer where things are going.

7:36 PM: Here are the five states where abortion is literally on the ballot. TPM Alum Alice Ollstein (we have so many amazing alums) has this deep dive on the referendum in Kentucky, which seems to be really struggling (i.e., the anti-abortion referendum is struggling.)

7:32 PM: In Georgia the Senate race looks about as tight as the polls have been suggesting for some time. Meanwhile, there’s a big divergence between Kemp and Walker, which is again just what the polls have shown for a long time. So the early look at Georgia says it’s pretty much what the polls have been predicting. Worth noting that at this point in the evening “close” may not be that close in the final result.

7:26 PM: The only signal I’ve been able to pick out from the noise so far is that Florida looks quite rough for Democrats tonight. But the shape of the electorate in Florida does not look like the shape in other states. That does not mean that Dems are having a great night elsewhere. Just that Florida looks like it’s own thing and not necessarily representative of the rest of the country. Again, very, very preliminary reads.

Into the Night

So here we are. The first polls are closing. Remember: whatever happens, history doesn’t end. There’s an up and a down side to that and it’s good not to get too bound up in either.

Annals of Polling Prime Badge

Twice in recent history the President’s party has gained seats in a midterm election. The last time was 20 years ago. For years, I was unreasonably pleased with myself that I was one of the few people I knew who predicted Democrats would gain House seats in the 1998 midterm — the Lewinsky scandal/impeachment midterm. It wasn’t any great insight. That was what the polls actually said. They said it very clearly. But the political class had convinced themselves that the polls were not accounting for the intensity of evangelical Republicans who would swamp the Democrats at the polls. That didn’t happen. The polls had said as much.

I learned a lesson from this that, for a political observer, polls are something like a pilot’s control panel when flying in stormy weather. What pilots are taught is in stormy weather you watch the instrument panel and absolutely disregard everything else. Your sense of direction — your feel for up and down — will fool you, and then you crash. The instrument panel is right.

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Same As Its Ever Been

There’s a real oddity for us, or at least to me, about this moment in our history. “Vote fraud” propaganda and voter suppression have been central issues in TPM’s coverage literally from day one, going back 22 years now. So all the different misleading and disingenuous games, the ways to fool people about alleged fraud, the ways to use the numbers to bamboozle people — we’ve been writing about all of these for years. But now what was a matter of relatively marginal mainstream media interest is the very center of the story. In stories like the one below and this one yesterday we see the same old — really, ancient story — “vote fraud” propaganda and suppression tactics targeting largely African-American cities — in this case Detroit and Philadelphia. So, from an editorial point of view, we find ourselves explaining to longtime readers points we were explaining and reporting on back in 2002 and 2006 and 2016.

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This morning brings fresh news that in response to a GOP lawsuit, vote counting in Philadelphia will slow down dramatically. Said the city’s sole Republican elections commissioner: “I want to be very clear that when there are conversations that occur later this evening about whether or not Philadelphia has counted all of their ballots that the reason that some ballots would not be counted is that Republicans targeted Philadelphia — and only Philadelphia — to force us to conduct a procedure that no other county does.”

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Final Predictions and Gut Senses Prime Badge

I’ve had numerous people ask me over the last 48 hours what I expect in the 2022 election. I’ve told them that I am generally pessimistic but also highly uncertain. Indeed, I’ve worked this uncanny combination through in my head so many times I’m not even sure what the combination means anymore. Big picture it seems like Republicans have a good night. But there continue to be a lot of discordant pieces of data that don’t quite fit. If Democrats were to have a good or better than expected result we’d look back at those discordant data points and think, “Okay, here were the signs people were ignoring.”

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The Late Polls Prime Badge

With the election one day away I wanted to take a look at the latest polls. They still don’t tell a totally clear story. Big picture what we see is still much better for Republicans than what we saw in late summer or even as recently as October. All the key Senate races are more or less tied. That means anything from a one or perhaps two seat pick up for the Dems to a four seat pick up for the GOP is entirely plausible. But with all this sobering news we’re not seeing the kind of late polling breakout I might have expected. The generic ballot averages have actually ticked slightly back in Democrats’ direction over the last couple days, though this could well be statistical noise.

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What They Don’t Talk About About Polls Prime Badge

There are going to be big political winners and losers on Tuesday. But there are also going to be big polling winners and losers. Through this cycle different classes of pollsters have been seeing a very different race. Wednesday morning we’re going to know who was right and wrong. But here’s an aspect of polling that doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s not just accuracy. There’s another part of this.

We know that polling has gotten both harder to do and more expensive to do as fewer people respond to polling phone calls. If one out of twenty calls gets answered, that’s a much more expensive proposition than if one out of three does. So non-response has been driving up the costs of polling, and that’s overwhelmingly hitting the pollsters who use live callers. Live calls are generally considered the most accurate, though it’s far from certain whether that’s still the case. Non-response also puts accuracy under growing strain because pollsters need to make sense of which political groupings are more or less likely to respond. If non-response is identical across all political affiliations it’s not a problem from an accuracy perspective. But that’s almost certainly not the case.

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Politics, Musk and ‘Brand Safety’ Prime Badge

At the center of the escalating Twitter bonfire this week is the issue of “brand safety.” Musk and Republican leaders are now complaining that “woke” activists are breaking Twitter and pushing it toward financial collapse with calls for boycotts. That’s not what’s happening. Not even close. Are there various activists groups pushing for advertisers to pause or drop Twitter advertising? Yes. But they’re not the real problem. The issue is “brand safety,” which I thought I would dig into because it has implications far beyond the Twitter train wreck. It’s at the heart of many issues in political media.

First, how do I know anything about this? Why am I an expert? Before TPM moved to a subscription model, brand and influencer advertising were at the heart of our business. Because of that, for upwards of fifteen years I had to deeply immerse myself not only in the advertising business generally but in the niche of advertising in political media. It was a huge part of my work for years and I had to understand it really, really well — because the existence of TPM depended on it.

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Musk Was Toxic For Twitter from the Start Prime Badge

If you have been watching the on-going bonfire of Twitter, you may have noticed a couple new things at the end of this week. The exodus of advertisers continues. This morning Twitter began firing what most reports suggest will be roughly half the company’s workforce. The also faced a new round of lawsuits over the company’s allegedly beginning layoffs with no notice. Most notable today though was the shift in Musk’s own tone as expressed in his tweets and an impromptu appearance at a business conference. He’s shifted from swagger to panicked complaining that Twitter is imploding as a business because of a campaign by “activists” to make advertisers abandon the site.

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