Ted Cruz Upset Watch

I predicted before the 2016 election that whichever party won the presidential election with a choice of such unpopular candidates would lose long term. Donald Trump has poisoned the Republican brand, giving Democrats possible victories in 2018 which would not be present if they controlled the White House. The Democrats have an excellent chance to take control of the House and, if they can pulls some upsets, possibly take control of the Senate.  This week political attention is on Texas due to their primaries, where Beto O’Rourke is expected to win the Democratic nomination to go up against up Ted Cruz. O’Rourke has also been raising more money than Cruz. A Democratic upset of Ted Cruz in Texas would be difficult, but would be a very high profile victory if it could be achieved. An analysis at CNN by Harry Enton gives some ballpark numbers to consider regarding its possibility.

Enton began by noting that Cruz is highly favored to win, and tried to apply a number to this:  “My old colleague at FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver went back and looked at Senate races since 2010 to see how many times Senate races were won by the side that was ‘likely’ to win in race ratings at this general point in the cycle. The answer was 85% of the time.”

Enton next looked at the fundamentals and, probably coincidentally, came up with a very similar number:

When there’s a general lack of polling, another way of determining the odds on a race is to look at the fundamentals. These include factors such as how the national environment looks (based on the generic ballot), whether the incumbent is running for reelection and the lean of the state on the presidential level (usually measured by examining the last two presidential races).

While the generic ballot heavily favors Democrats, the other two factors don’t. Cruz is an incumbent, and incumbents usually receive an added boost. And remember, Donald Trump won Texas by 9, and Mitt Romney won it by 16. In other words, it’s still a heavily Republican leaning state as far as we know.

When statistician Dean Strachan looked at these factors back in December, he gave Cruz an 84% chance of winning. That’s quite similar to where the expert ratings put the race.

Enton next looked at the polling which, while scant, gives Cruz a 14 percent lead:

Until we get more surveys in the race, it’s a little difficult to assess what exactly the polling is saying. Just remember that the January to June polling average before the election in Senate races from 2006 to 2014 had an average error of 6.8 percentage points, and a 14 point lead translates into winning 95% of the time.

Enton also noted how Texas leans Republican, obviously a point in Cruz’s favor. He concluded with how well the Democrats have done in many special elections which helps the Democrats but it is questionable if this will be enough to alter the Texas Senate race.

The best of these numbers gave Cruz an 84 to 85 percent chance to win. Enton left some hope with these odds:

Now, saying that Cruz has an 85% chance of winning doesn’t mean the race is over. It’s approximately equivalent to a person tossing a coin three times in the air and it landing on heads each of those times. I’m sure you’ve seen that happen many times. Chances are, though, that it won’t.

While it would be a great accomplishment to see Ted Cruz defeated, we should also keep in mind that he is not always worse than Senate Democrats. For example, in January eighteen Democratic Senators voted to renew and expand surveillance, but Ted Cruz voted no on a critical cloture vote.