Why the Hub?

The Sandler Phillips Center is committed to spurring change within the progressive electoral space and supporting smart and innovative multiracial voter engagement that takes full advantage of the passion and energy that is the Resistance. A key part of our work is the development and dissemination of the best ideas on how to win in 2020 and take back the U.S. Senate. Specifically, while others are focused on holding 12 Democratic Senate seats, we are focused on providing rigorous research and thoughtful up-to-date analysis on how we can flip at least three seats currently held by Republicans.

The Hub is designed to respond to the political and moral urgency of this moment by taking back the U.S. Senate, reintroduce accountability and consequences into our body politic, and lay the foundation for taking back the White House in 2020. We hope that this site will serve as an essential resource for anyone interested in knowing where their time, energy, and resources can make the most difference.

What is the Hub?

The Take Back Congress Hub is an online platform that identifies—based on our extensive statistical analysis—the Republican-held Senate seats that Democrats could win in 2020.

We engaged a team of data analytics and statistical experts to help us identify the Senate seats most primed for a red to blue flip in 2020. We asked them to consider the usual criteria that political operatives take into account. We also instructed them to think about new ways to select the races to concentrate efforts and resources on and which voters to prioritize.

The Hub incorporates this work and identifies the priority potential wins and the states to watch out of the 23 seats held by Republicans that are up for re-election in 2020. These targets overlap with, but many are distinct from, other Senate target lists and ratings. The Hub will be continually updated with data and analysis to ensure accurate and timely information for visitors.

Why did you select these Senate races to highlight?

The priority states offer our best opportunity for flipping control of the United States Senate. These states have demonstrated the ability to elect statewide Democratic candidates when provided with resources and competitive candidates. Each of these states is also structurally predisposed to elect a Democratic U.S. senator when one considers the composition of its registered but infrequent voters. When you consider the latent Democratic vote potential that resides in their eligible but unregistered voters, the ability to elect a Democratic U.S. senator in 2020 increases.

How did you estimate 2020 likely voter turnout?

The first step was to identify likely 2020 Democratic voters. We applied an algorithm to data on individual registered voter-level behavior in each state to build turnout models for the 2020 election. Our turnout models estimate how many votes that Democratic and Republican candidates could win in 2020 in these states and provide useful information about the racial composition of the likely 2020 registered voters in those states. We applied this algorithm to data from the Catalist voter file and publicly available exit polls. The algorithm included the following:

  • Individual vote history in 2014, 2016, and 2018 by state
  • Ratio of votes won by Democratic and Republican candidates in 2016 and 2018 by state
  • Share of the vote won by ethnorace groups within each of the select elections and states

The second step was to identify unlikely 2020 Democratic voters. In addition to producing turnout models for each state, our algorithm produced information at the ethnorace level on the registered voters who are less likely to vote in 2020, absent an effective and well-resourced effort to mobilize these potential registered voters. With effective and well-resourced mobilization efforts, these low- and mid-high propensity, or infrequent, voters can be inspired to turn out to vote, just as they did in unprecedented numbers in 2018.

The third step was to identify unregistered eligible Democratic voters. We produced estimates of the number of eligible voters of color and progressive whites who could be registered to vote in 2020 for each state. In order to produce these estimates, we used the data mentioned above as well as the most recent Census data on eligible voters for this calculation. We used a conservative approach here by applying the level of support for prior Democratic candidates found among voters to the unregistered, despite findings in recent studies that unregistered and non-voting individuals tend to be even more Democratic-leaning than their registered and voting counterparts.

In addition to our turnout and unregistered Democrat models, we provide information on the following:

  • Catalist’s Modeled Partisan Index Score
  • Cook Political Report and Sabato scores
  • 2016:2012 Republican presidential nominee vote change ratio
  • 2018 and 2016 House Republican to Democrat vote margin
  • 2016 Presidential Republican to Democrat vote margin

We then examined factors like the district’s PVI and the racial composition of the citizen voting age population, strong civic engagement infrastructure and potential partners in each district.

What is the vote gap (or vote surplus in some cases)?

Where our voting model predicts that a Republican would win in 2020 Senate races absent any intervention or voter mobilization efforts, we then examined the feasibility of Democrats closing the vote gaps. To do this, we did two calculations:

  1. Each district differs in its distribution of Democratic voters at different vote propensity levels, with some districts having more super voters (those who voted in 3 of the last 3 elections) and some clustering at the other end of the spectrum. We modeled the increase in turnout rates among those unlikely to vote in 2020 and selected those who are modeled as Democratic voters for each state. We then examined the potential for each voter to increase their participation rate beyond their current level as a result of effective turnout interventions.
  2. We then looked at eligible voters in each state who were not yet registered to vote. We focused on likely Democrats by applying a percentage of the state-specific 2016 presidential results to the total number of potential voters of color and progressive whites.

By combining these two estimates of the ability to increase Democratic votes in 2020, we were able to identify the senate races with the greatest untapped vote potential. We then determined whether these additional votes were sufficient to close any vote gap between Republicans and Democrats. In some cases, the vote gap will only be closed with strong civic engagement groups on the ground working to mobilize lowest propensity Democratic voters and to register new voters.

In some states, our voting model projects a surplus of Democratic voters even before adding the lowest propensity voters and newly registered voters. However, our voting model assumes effective, ongoing civic engagement efforts supported by significant and consistent financial resources.

Who are the groups on the ground?

We have identified the strongest 501(c)(4) civic engagement groups and PACs working to mobilize voters in each Hub state.

What makes the Hub different?

What differentiates our selection of senate races is the emphasis we place on identifying the states that can be won by increasing the turnout of traditionally low propensity voters (LPV) and mid-high propensity voters (MHV) who are already registered and who have voted in at least one of the past four elections, as well as registering new voters. For most of our analysis, we used rigorous individual-level analysis, not aggregated voter or state-level data. This yielded a more accurate estimate of the challenge and potential presented by each race. Read more about our Methodology.

By adding more than 6.6 million low propensity and mid-high propensity Democratic voters to the electorate in these targeted races, the Democrats can take back the U.S. Senate in 2020 and begin the process of not only adding sane, justice- and equity-minded voices back into the debates in Washington but get to work to undo the damage done by the Trump administration.

Who’s behind the Hub?

The Hub is a project of the Sandler Phillips Center. Rooted in our commitment to advance justice and equity and guided by our values of Accountability, Transparency, and Objective Inquiry, the Sandler Phillips Center offers rigorous research and analysis, strategic investments, and collaborative opportunities to improve the effectiveness of progressive politics and enhance the return on investment of political giving. The Center was founded by the wife-husband team of Susan Sandler and Steve Phillips.

Take Back Congress Hub was developed with contributions from the following people:

Dr. Julie Martinez Ortega, J.D., Ph.D. Director of Washington Office and Chief Data Scientist, Sandler Phillips Center

Justin Anderson, Administrative Assistant, Sandler Phillips Center

Sharline Chiang, Editor and Director of Media Relations, Democracy in Color

Emi Gusukuma, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Sandler Phillips Center

Alex Melman, Website Designer and Developer

Olivia Parker, Digital Director, Democracy in Color

Catherine Schreiber, Project Manager

Elizabeth Sullivan, Lead Writer

Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego (2018 House edition)

Michael Gomez Daly, Data Strategist (2018 House edition)