Unified government is looking more likely

Early Returns

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On Oct. 6, 2017, I said it was very likely that the 2020 elections would produce unified government at the federal level one way or another. So how's that looking?

Not bad, for a long-range prediction. The Cook Political Report rates 222 House seats as "Leans Democratic" or better for that party, meaning that even if Republicans were able to sweep all 28 toss-up seats they'd need to find five more (while also protecting each of their own). Not only that, but the vast majority of recent rating changes at Cook and similar organizations have moved in the Democrats' direction. At this point, it's unlikely that even a significant late surge for President Donald Trump and the Republicans would be enough to get them to 218 House seats.

It's also still a good bet that the next president will have at least a slim Senate majority, not least because the vice president would be the tiebreaker if the chamber has a 50-50 split. The Economist's model gives Democrats a 67% chance of gaining a Senate majority, while FiveThirtyEight gives them 62%. Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading in the polls (and in both prediction models) right now; if he fades, so would Democratic Senate candidates. It's certainly possible that Biden could win while the Democrats failed to reach 50 seats or that Trump could win despite Republicans losing a net of four or more from their current 53. But I'd be surprised.

(All this assumes that Trump's attempts to overturn the election results if he loses — which he mused about again on Wednesday —  are unsuccessful. Yes, we've reached the point where such disclaimers are necessary. No, that isn't good news for U.S. democracy.)

Overall, it seems likely that if Biden wins, the Democrats will also have majorities in both chambers of Congress, but if Trump prevails both parties will maintain their current majorities in the split Congress. 

Back to the Senate: The biggest change over the course of the last year is that the Democrats are now very likely to make at least some gains, and there's a realistic (albeit slim) chance that they could reach 54 or more seats. The Economist's model gives that about a one in five chance, while FiveThirtyEight thinks it's about one in seven. That mid-50s number is important because getting there would mean the party would have the votes to enact a significant portion of its legislative agenda with a simple majority, but almost no chance to overcome a Republican filibuster. That's a formula for ending the filibuster — even if there isn't an urgent specific reason. 

1. Rick Hasen on the threat to democracy in the U.S. I will say that for the courts to step in and stop the regular, initial count of ballots based on nothing but evidence-free accusations of fraud would be a huge step further than what happened in 2000. Trump certainly might ask for it, and he'll have lawyers willing to make the case. But even for very partisan judges, that's a big reach. That said: Hasen is the expert on this stuff, and if he's worried, then I'm worried. 

2. Sarah Bauerle Danzman at the Monkey Cage on TikTok and national security.

3. Dan Drezner also on the TikTok deal.

4. Meredith Conroy and Perry Bacon Jr. on Black voters in 2020.

5. Greg Sargent talks with Representative Adam Schiff about saving U.S. democracy.

6. Alex Thompson on Biden's transition team

7. And my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Timothy L. O'Brien on the Trump money trail.

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