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No surprises for poll consumers in 2018 November 20, 2018

By Chris Anderson and Daron Shaw

Unlike 2016, even casual observers of political polling should have expected the 2018 election results.

Pre-election polls indicated the House was likely to move toward Democrats and the Senate toward
Republicans. This prediction foretold an unusual midterm outcome, one last seen in 1982 – and it is
exactly what happened.

Democrats came in to Election Day with a seven-point advantage in the national generic ballot (per the
Real Clear Politics average), then won the popular vote for House candidates by eight points en route to
a 37-seat gain (as of today).

National Generic House Ballot


Democratic candidate Republican candidate

53%
49% 49%

45%
42% 42%

9/19 10/16 11/6


Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Election Results
Likely Voters Likely Voters

For the second election in a row, the Fox News national poll tracked election outcomes almost exactly --
the final national likely voter poll had the Democratic advantage in the generic House vote at seven
points. In 2016, the last Fox News national poll had Hillary Clinton up by four points, and she won the
national popular vote by just over two.

On the Senate side, Fox News polled five races three times in the fall. Two were open seats left by
retiring Republicans (Arizona and Tennessee); three featured Democratic incumbents in states Donald
Trump won by 18 points or more (Indiana, Missouri, and North Dakota). These battleground states were
indicative of the favorable 2018 Senate map for Republicans. Democrats were defending 26 seats,
including 10 in states won by Donald Trump in 2016. Republicans had just nine seats to defend.

The third and final round of Fox News surveys for each state was released October 31, a week before
the election.

In the two open-seat states, Arizona and Tennessee, the final Fox News poll margins were almost dead
on compared to election outcomes.

The final Fox News surveys in Missouri, Indiana, and North Dakota had the Democratic incumbents well
under 50 percent and within three percentage points of the Democrat’s eventual vote share. As is
typical of races featuring incumbents, late deciders broke disproportionately for the challengers; this
dynamic reinforces the conventional wisdom that a Senator who hasn’t earned a voter’s support over
the course of a six-year term is unlikely to do so in the closing days of a campaign.

Analysis accompanying the final poll release mentioned the unsettled nature of these races, and noted
that in Indiana the incumbent Democrat’s seven-point lead obscured his vulnerability in the closing
week.

Below is a recap of Fox News polling in each state compared to the election outcome.

Arizona
The early September Fox poll showed Democrats had an opportunity to pick up the seat vacated by
retiring Sen. Jeff Flake. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema topped Republican Martha McSally 47 to 44 percent,
and Sinema was also viewed more favorably. Our next two polls showed the race tightening to a dead
heat. That race was so close that it took a full week to count the votes and declare Sinema the winner.

Arizona
Sinema (D) McSally (R) Someone else Undecided

50%
47% 47% 46%
48%
44% 45% 46%

5% 6% 5%
2%
2% 2%
3%
9/11 10/2 10/29 11/6
Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Election Results
Likely Voters Likely Voters Likely Voters

Tennessee
The early September Fox News poll on the race to fill retiring Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker’s seat showed
a slight opening for a Democratic pickup. Democrat Phil Bredesen trailed Republican Marsha Blackburn
44 to 47 percent, but he had slightly better favorability ratings and eight percent of voters were
undecided. As the campaign progressed, undecideds in this heavily Republican state coalesced around
Blackburn. The final Fox poll showed Blackburn up by nine, which closely matches her winning margin.
Tennessee
Bredesen (D) Blackburn (R) Someone else Undecided

55%
50%
47% 48%

44% 43% 44%


41%

8%
7% 5%
1%
1% 3% 3%
9/11 10/2 10/30 11/6
Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Election Results
Likely Voters Likely Voters Likely Voters

Indiana
Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly won his seat in 2012 with 50 percent of the vote. Yet he never came close to
that number in Fox News’ pre-election polling, a clear warning sign for any incumbent. The Fox News
poll had him at 43 percent for much of the race, peaking at 45 percent a week before Election Day. He
wound up at exactly 45 percent, while Republican challenger Mike Braun got 51 percent of the vote.

Donnelly’s peril was underscored by an unusually unsettled Indiana electorate. In our final poll, seven
percent of voters supported third-party candidates and nine percent were undecided. More than two-
in-ten said they still might change their mind and back a different candidate. This kind of uncertainty
rarely bodes well for incumbents, who count on their track record to convince voters.

While our final horserace number in Indiana showed Donnelly with a slight lead, the Democrat’s low
overall support and the fluid electorate was a good sign for Braun. The analysis released with the Fox
poll results noted, “Donnelly being under 50 percent bodes well for the less well-known challenger." We
also noted the likelihood of a collapse of support for the Libertarian candidate, which clearly helped the
Republican.

Indiana
Donnelly (D) Braun (R) Someone else Undecided

51%

45% 45% 45%


43%
43%
41%
38%

8% 9%
8%
8% 4%
4% 7%

9/11 10/2 10/30 11/6


Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Election Results
Likely Voters Likely Voters Likely Voters
Missouri
The dynamics in Missouri were similar to those in Indiana. Two-term Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill
was stuck in the low 40s in Fox News polling (44 percent in early September, 43 percent in late October),
and her Election Day tally (46 percent) was not much better.

Meanwhile, our polling again suggested an unsettled electorate, with four percent backing third-party
candidates, nine percent undecided, and two-in-ten saying they might still change their mind about who
to support. As in Indiana, these voters broke toward the lesser-known challenger.

Missouri
McCaskill (D) Hawley (R) Someone else Undecided

52%

44% 43% 43%


46%
43% 43%
41%

8% 8% 9%

6% 3%
6%
4%
9/11 10/2 10/30 11/6
Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Election Results
Likely Voters Likely Voters Likely Voters

North Dakota
From the start, the Fox News poll in North Dakota illustrated Republicans’ advantage in the battle for
the Senate. In early September, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp trailed Republican Kevin Cramer 44 to
48 percent, a perilous position for any incumbent (not to mention one in a state Trump won by 36
points). Heitkamp garnered just 41 percent in early October, shortly before she voted against confirming
Brett Kavanaugh. The final Fox News poll had her at 42 percent and down by nine; she ultimately
received 44 percent of the vote and lost by 11.
North Dakota
Heitkamp (D) Cramer (R) Someone else Undecided

55%
53%
51%
48%

44% 44%
41% 42%

6%
3% 4%
2% 1%

9/11 10/2 10/30 11/6


Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Fox News Poll Election Results
Likely Voters Likely Voters Likely Voters