Joe Manchin May Be This Year’s Evan Bayh

August 27, 2018

Sen. Joe Manchin and President Trump during a meeting with senators on Trump’s Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch in February in the White House. EVAN VUCCI / AP

Once upon a time, former Senator Evan Bayh led by 26 points in an August 2016 poll, showing him with an almost insurmountable lead being that late in the election season. Not only did this poll showed Bayh up this high, but six consecutive polls showed Bayh up with 21, 26, 13, 18, 7, and 16 point leads over Rep. Todd Young (R-IN). By any measure, this was a massive lead to have- and with someone with a name as well-known as Bayh, it was almost a sure thing he’d win.

On election day, Bayh lost by 10 points to Rep. Todd Young.

It was absolute collapse that stunned many political observers. How could a popular former Senator go from 26 points up to losing by 10? A 36 point swing in just 3 months.

But now with hindsight, when we looked closely at Bayh’s 2016 polling- it seems more obvious why he was doomed to lose.

In a poll taken in August 2016 by Monmouth (shown above), Bayh had one thing that stood out from Todd Young- name recognition. This also allowed Bayh to have a much higher favorable rating than Young, as the majority of the voters didn’t even know anything about Young at all. But if you look in this image, there is one area where Young beats Bayh in all three of the Monmouth polls taken- the unfavorable rating.

In August, Bayh led with a 19% unfavorable rating while Young only had 15%. In early October it was Bayh with 26% and Young only 19% unfavorable. In late October, it was Bayh with 32% and Young only 24% unfavorable. In each poll, Bayh came out with higher unfavorables than Young. But why does this matter?

In hindsight, it was the only consistent indicator showing from early on that Bayh would lose.

As the race progressed and Young and Bayh attacked each other, Bayh and Young’s unfavorables began to both increase- but as both of their unfavorables slowly increased, Bayh continued to stay about 4-8 points more unfavorable than Young throughout the whole race.

We know in the end Bayh lost by 10 points in a tremendous swing. But the only reason he lead early on was because he was a known commodity versus Young who was largely unknown. Voters may not have wanted Bayh, but they told pollsters they’d vote for him because they knew who he was. Once Young was able to naturally become more known through the campaign process, he won easily. Essentially, the voters early on were saying “We don’t adore Bayh, but we don’t know who the other guy even is, so we’ll vote for Bayh”. Meaning, Bayh’s support was extremely soft.

Now, what does this have to do with Joe Manchin?

We believe he is in a very similar place to where Evan Bayh was. Like Bayh, Manchin (D-WV) leads Patrick Morrisey by 5% in unfavorable ratings.

Here are the striking similarities between Manchin and Bayh’s unfavorable ratings:

-Both polls showed Bayh and Manchin each with 7 point leads over their opponents
-Both polls were taken at the same time, one month after the nominee’s were selected
-Both polls were taken by Monmouth
-Manchin and Bayh both have 4-5 point leads in unfavorables over their relatively unknown opponents
-Both are Democrats in deep red states

What this shows, is that Manchin is at the exact same numbers at about almost the exact same point in time as Evan Bayh.

All of these five points are an eerie comparision for Manchin. Many pundits believe that Manchin’s voters are extremely soft, and could flip over to Morrisey at the drop of a hat. It’s entirely reasonable to believe that as undecided voters decide, and as Morrisey gradually gets his name out, he could surpass Manchin in the November election. What this could mean more than anything, is that having low unfavorable ratings matters much more than high favorable ratings do. If Manchin is like Bayh, where his voters are only saying they’re voting for him because they recognize they his name, then he may run into big trouble. Again, if Morrisey is to win, our only indicator early on that will have shown he was going to win was that his unfavorable’s were less than Manchin.

A Morrisey win scenario would be that voters wanted to like him and vote for him over Manchin, they just had to get to know him a little better first. The voters would be again saying “We don’t dislike Morrisey as much as Joe, but we just know Joe better so we’ll vote for him for now.”

If Morrisey is to follow the path of Todd Young, he won’t lead in any polls until October. He also needs to keep his unfavorable rating consistently about 5-8 points below Manchin’s. This task is entirely possible for Morrisey, especially with President Trump to lend a helping hand. If this theory holds true, then this means that Manchin’s support is so soft that it will fall over to Morrisey in the final weeks. It is very plausible that the only thing Morrisey needs to beat Manchin is just to get his name ID up.

Joe Manchin could very well still win. But it’s very likely, given that Morrisey has such low name ID, that this margin Manchin holds currently will be cut down tremendously by October. With no Trump at the top of the ticket, Morrisey will have a harder time getting his voters out than Young did in 2016. If our theory about Manchin and Bayh’s unfavorable ratings is correct, then Morrisey’s main job should be to stay out of the dog house, because that just may be enough to lift him. Watch to see over the election cycle whether Morrisey can stay lower than Manchin in the unfavorable column. This race, although it may seem out of reach at the moment, we feel could be a real fight in October like Bayh and Young’s race was. It’s bound to get closer however as Morrisey becomes more of a known commodity.

Then in November, we will find whether Manchin had soft support like Bayh, or an actual firm base.

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