Cindy Hyde-Smith still favored in Mississippi Senate runoff despite controversies

The Mississippi Senate runoff was expected to be a quiet finale to the 2018 election season but instead has ...

Posted: Nov 26, 2018 5:41 PM
Updated: Nov 26, 2018 5:41 PM

The Mississippi Senate runoff was expected to be a quiet finale to the 2018 election season but instead has turned into a nationally watched affair.

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith's comments about attending a "public hanging," along with a series of other controversies, have led to critical media coverage and several companies publicly disavowing her.

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But while her statements and actions may make Tuesday's special Senate election a closer affair than it might otherwise have been, make no mistake: she is a heavy favorite against Democrat Mike Espy.

Mississippi is as red as they come. It hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter won the state in 1976. The last Democrat elected to the Senate was John Stennis in 1982. The last Democrat elected governor was Ronnie Musgrove in 1999.

Mississippi's redness showed no sign of abating when voters went to the polls earlier this month. Republicans Hyde-Smith and Chris McDaniel combined for 58% of the vote in the jungle primary, while Democrats Tobey Bartee and Espy combined for 42%. That doesn't look very different from Republican President Donald Trump's 18-point 2016 victory in the state.

It shouldn't be too surprising that there wasn't much movement off the 2016 baseline. Mississippi Democrats seem to have a low ceiling in Senate elections. No Democrat has come closer than 8 points to a Republican in the last 30 years. Only two Democrats have come within single digits.

Democrats' inability to come close is in large part because they can't win over white voters in the state. Mississippi voters are highly polarized along racial lines. According to the 2018 exit poll, Bartee and Espy combined won only 16% of the white vote in the first round of the special election. They took 94% of the black vote.

The problem for Democrats is this a pattern seen over and over again. Voters just don't shift that much in the state. In the closest Senate race in the state of the last 20 years, Musgrove earned 18% of the white vote and 92% of the black vote in the 2008 special Senate election. He lost overall by 10 points.

Put another way, Espy needs to break the mold in some way. He can, for instance, win over more white voters than the traditional Mississippi Democrat does. Even if you assume Hyde-Smith's recent comments allow Espy to capture 98% of the black vote, he'll need to win north of 22% of the white vote to emerge victorious given traditional turnout patterns.

There's not much of a sign that will happen. After proportionally allocating undecideds, Espy is averaging only around 16% to 17% of the white vote in polling for the runoff over the last few months.

Speaking of that polling, it's been limited but consistent. Hyde-Smith has averaged a low double-digit lead.

Still, there just hasn't been that much polling. Only one public poll was taken and released in the final 21 days of the campaign. (More polls were taken before that.) Based on Senate elections since 1998, the true margin of error (i.e. 95% confidence interval) is +/- 13 points for any one poll in this final 21-day period. That means this race is technically within the margin of error.

We're also talking about a special election the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This is not the type of election most pollsters are used to polling, or the type of election for which there is a lot of historical precedent. The inability to model off past elections is why special Senate election polling has historically been less accurate than for other Senate elections.

Indeed, Espy's best hope is for turnout patterns to change from the first round. There is precedent for this. The percentage of African-Americans as part of the electorate rose between the first round and runoff in the last two midterm Senate runoffs in next door Louisiana. We also saw a spike in black turnout in the Alabama special Senate election last year, which was also not held on Election Day. Because of Mississippi's highly polarized racial voting patterns, Hyde-Smith's margin shrinks more than a point for every extra percentage of the electorate black voters makeup.

Of course, this is still Mississippi. Espy will need to win over a significantly larger percentage of white voters than he did in round one, even if turnout patterns change. I'm unaware of any polling, public or private, to suggest that is likely.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 297321

Reported Deaths: 6805
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19814231
Hinds18949395
Harrison16886282
Rankin12842265
Jackson12750234
Lee9720163
Madison9516204
Jones8035148
Forrest7289138
Lauderdale6872228
Lowndes6061140
Lamar593381
Lafayette5767114
Washington5232130
Bolivar4630124
Oktibbeha443095
Panola433698
Pearl River4212132
Warren4144115
Pontotoc411071
Marshall405995
Monroe3996129
Union397174
Neshoba3848171
Lincoln3624104
Hancock352978
Leflore3400121
Sunflower320986
Tate303974
Pike302697
Scott296171
Alcorn292763
Yazoo292066
Itawamba290675
Coahoma283069
Tippah280065
Copiah279959
Simpson277581
Prentiss271258
Marion258878
Wayne255641
Leake254172
Covington250280
Grenada248878
Adams235778
George232745
Newton232753
Winston222179
Jasper214145
Tishomingo213266
Attala206971
Chickasaw201954
Holmes182870
Clay179452
Stone173429
Tallahatchie171739
Clarke170773
Calhoun158628
Smith153833
Yalobusha145736
Greene128133
Walthall125441
Montgomery123540
Noxubee123431
Perry123235
Lawrence121421
Carroll119425
Amite112435
Webster111132
Jefferson Davis102731
Tunica99824
Claiborne99030
Benton94024
Humphreys93128
Kemper91423
Quitman77514
Franklin76420
Choctaw70117
Jefferson62827
Wilkinson62727
Sharkey49217
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 499411

Reported Deaths: 10149
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson719951403
Mobile36396741
Madison32674469
Tuscaloosa24391423
Montgomery22789523
Shelby22250219
Baldwin19915289
Lee15070161
Calhoun13961296
Morgan13785255
Etowah13413327
Marshall11458215
Houston10121264
Elmore9509190
Limestone9435139
St. Clair9050228
Cullman8993183
Lauderdale8628214
DeKalb8507175
Talladega7643165
Walker6600260
Jackson6551104
Autauga634492
Blount6252128
Colbert6007121
Coffee5261104
Dale4680107
Russell407534
Franklin400779
Covington3996107
Chilton3911104
Escambia379473
Tallapoosa3637143
Clarke344553
Chambers3432111
Dallas3428142
Pike292973
Marion288796
Lawrence285787
Winston258568
Bibb246058
Marengo244657
Geneva240270
Pickens225757
Barbour213851
Hale212569
Fayette202657
Butler201466
Henry183541
Cherokee178140
Monroe166739
Randolph165141
Washington157036
Macon147845
Crenshaw146755
Clay146254
Cleburne140141
Lamar133933
Lowndes133151
Wilcox123225
Bullock117736
Conecuh107224
Perry106427
Sumter100832
Coosa90324
Greene88732
Choctaw55723
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