Dem 50
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Ties 2
GOP 48
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New polls: AR AZ GA NH PA WI
Dem pickups vs. 2020 Senate: OH PA
GOP pickups vs. 2020 Senate : (None)
Political Wire logo Abortion on the Ballot in Five States
Independent Candidates’ Support Melts in Oregon
GOP Insiders Predict a Blowout
New Ad Features Oprah’s Endorsement of Fetterman
House Republicans Vow to Investigate the IRS
Ron Johnson Admits Tax Break He Sought Helped Family

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Who Aggregates the Aggregators?
      •  Pollsters Are Worried about 2022
      •  Fixing Polling
      •  But Wait, There's More!
      •  Oprah Picks Her Horse in Pennsylvania
      •  Today's Trump Legal News
      •  This Week in Schadenfreude: ¡Abucheo Zapata!
      •  This Week in Freudenfreude: Here's What a Healthy Father-Son Relationship Looks Like
      •  Jolly Olde English Politics, Part IV
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Who Aggregates the Aggregators?

Is that headline a reference to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Why yes, yes it is.

We are getting very close to D-Day (or, maybe, E-Day). Every reader knows that, in the races that will determine control of the Senate, the polls are kinda all over the place. But what about the folks who are aggregating the polls? In theory, if you incorporate a whole bunch of polls into your prediction, you eliminate the fluctuations that might come out of a wonky sample for one poll, or a polling house that uses an... unusual model of the electorate.

So, let's take a look. Our map above has 12 races that are not either strongly Democratic or strongly Republican. Let's toss in Utah, to give us lucky number 13. That will pretty much give us every Senate seat that might conceivably still be "in play." Besides ourselves, we are aware of three sites, namely FiveThirtyEight, RealClearPolitics, and RacetotheWH, that aggregate Senate polls. Here's how the four of us see things:

State Electoral-Vote FiveThirtyEight RealClearPolitics RacetotheWH
Arizona Mark Kelly +1% Kelly +2.3% Kelly +2% Kelly +2.5%
Colorado Michael Bennet +8% Bennet +9.7% Bennet +5.3% Bennet +9.6%
Florida Marco Rubio +6% Rubio +7.1% Rubio +7.5% Rubio +8.1%
Georgia Raphael Warnock +1% Tied Herschel Walker +0.5% Warnock +1.5%
Iowa Chuck Grassley +8% Grassley +7.2% Grassley +7.3% Grassley +10.8%
Nevada Tied Adam Laxalt +0.6% Laxalt +1.9% Laxalt +0.5%
New Hampshire Tied Maggie Hassan +2.9% Dan Bolduc +0.3% Hassan +5.4%
North Carolina Ted Budd +2% Budd +3.1% Budd +5.0% Budd +4.6%
Ohio Tim Ryan +2% J.D. Vance +2.7% Vance +3.3% Vance +4.4%
Pennsylvania John Fetterman +1% Fetterman +0.3% Mehmet Oz +0.3% Fetterman +1.3%
Utah Mike Lee +10% Lee +9.8% Lee +9% Lee +10.6%
Washington Patty Murray +4% Murray +6.1% Murray +3.0% Murray +7.3%
Wisconsin Ron Johnson +3% Johnson +3.8% Johnson +3.2% Johnson +5.8%
Net Result 50 D, 48 R, 2 ties 50 R, 49 D, 1 tie 53 R, 47 D 50 D, 50 R

As it turns out, aggregation has its limits, since—as with the polls themselves—there are a lot of choices being made. For example, we use a fairly simple mathematical model in which we average recent, reliable polls. FiveThirtyEight uses a much more complicated model that weights polls, and considers past electoral history, and requires a Ph.D. in math to fully understand. RacetotheWH uses an approach that's more complex than ours, but less complex than FiveThirtyEight's, weighing polls based on sample size, recency and the pollster's past performance. RealClearPolitics just averages all the polls in their database, which means that, say, outlier polls from March are still influencing their predictions.

Also important is which polls are included. RealClearPolitics is well known for welcoming every Republican-leaning house, no matter how poor their methods are, while (apparently arbitrarily) excluding some polls whose results are favorable to Democrats. As you can see here, they are living up to that reputation this cycle. FiveThirtyEight and RacetotheWH tend to be pretty inclusive, relying on their algorithms to minimize the impact of dubious polling houses. We're actually the most picky of the four; we don't include polls from partisan houses at all (unless one house from each side participates), and we also reject polls from pollsters with poor track records.

In the end, assuming the polls are reasonably on-target (and, thus, that the aggregators are reasonably on-target), it looks like control of the Senate will come down to five seats: Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Despite the differences between the aggregators, we all agree on eight of the 13 "in play" seats, and in most cases don't have them as being particularly close. If each of those five races proves to be a coin flip, then control of the Senate will come down to that fifth coin flip. However, the results in close races tend to correlate with each other, so 4-1 (or even 5-0) is more likely than 3-2.

Further, there is the small matter that the polls might not be on-target. After all, as a study by Vanderbilt University observed, the 2020 polls had the biggest errors in 40 years. Have the pollsters been able to learn from their mistakes? More on that in the next item. (Z)

Pollsters Are Worried about 2022

Every pollster knows what happened in 2016 and 2020 (especially the Senate races) and is scared witless it could happen again in 2022, causing the public to reject all future polls, thus destroying the industry. Hence there is a spate of stories in the media now with interviews of pollsters talking about the problem.

The causes are sort of understood now. First, some Trump supporters told the pollsters they were undecided when they were actually dead set on voting for Trump. Second, some Trump supporters hung up when the caller was identified as a pollster. The first problem can be dealt with. The second is much harder.

If all the Trump voters were in the first category (i.e., the Trumpsters answered the phone, but just lied about being undecided), then the sample would be valid. Then in any race where the Democrat was above 50% (or 49% in most cases), one could validly infer that the Democrat will win because even if all the undecideds went Republican, that wouldn't be enough. If many of the Trump supporters refused to be polled, the sample would not be valid. That's where the problem lies.

All pollsters are trying to weight the Republicans in their sample to be equal to the number of Republicans in the electorate, but they won't know how many Republicans plan to vote if they refuse to be polled. Marquette Law School pollster Charles Franklin said what all pollsters are thinking: "The troubling part is how much of that is unique to when Donald Trump is on the ballot, versus midterms when he is not on the ballot." If the "won't-talk-to-a-pollster" holds only when Trump is actually on the ballot, then the polls will be in good shape. But if his supporters now will never talk to pollsters, even when he is not on the ballot, they have a huge problem and know it.

As The New York Times has noted some of the states where Democrats are apparently doing very well now in the polls are precisely the states where the polling misses were biggest in the past. This raises the specter of the Democrats' apparent successes simply being due to Republicans refusing to talk to the pollsters and thus be undercounted.

Doug Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University poll, said he has changed the procedure to separate the people who say they are undecided from those who simply refuse to answer the horse race question. The former might actually be undecided but the latter are very likely to be hard-core Republicans. But this procedure still doesn't account for Republicans who hang up on them or won't answer the phone in the first place. Since only 5-10% of the calls they make result in contact, they can't assume all these people are Republicans. Many are women putting their kids to bed, people are in meetings, folks are afraid of strangers, and more of the like. Very little can be concluded about their demographics since they refuse to talk at all.

The director of the Marist poll, Lee Miringoff, said they have expanded how they contact people, using calls to landlines and cell phones, text messages, and online interviews. That may help some, but still doesn't deal with the problem of Trumpy voters who simply do not want to be polled, no matter how they are contacted. Nevertheless, Miringoff is optimistic that with Trump not on the ballot, the problem won't be as big—this year, at least.

The director of the Sienna College poll, Don Levy, said he is being "as careful as can be" both in the sampling (who gets called) and the weighting (how much each response counts for to fix underrepresentation). He said that just calling more Republicans doesn't help because it is a specific kind of Republican who is missing. Asking 1,000 Lisa Murkowski-type Republicans doesn't solve the problem. Levy: "It's not partisan nonresponse. It's hardened Trump-backer nonresponse."

Patrick Murray, director of polling at Monmouth University, is trying a different tack. Instead of asking "horse-race questions," he is asking how much the respondent supports each candidate, rather than pitting the candidates against each other. This deals with the problem of people claiming they are undecided, but still doesn't deal with die-hard Republicans who hang up the moment they are told they are talking to a pollster—or who don't pick up in the first place.

One thing Franklin of Marquette Law School is looking at is using statistics to deal with the problem. Specifically, he is looking at nonresponse rates by county to see if they correlate with the Trump vote in 2020. If the nonresponse rate is [x]% higher in Trumpy counties than in non-Trumpy counties, he might be able to infer that those [x[% are Trump supporters who won't talk to him. If something like that works, he might be onto something. (V)

Fixing Polling

All pollsters are aware of the difficulty of getting a representative sample these days because, as we note, above, some Republicans don't trust the media (except Fox) and won't talk to pollsters. They also suspect that if the first sentences they uttered after "Hello" were: "Hi, I'm a pollster from [X]. By any chance are you one of those Republicans who refuse to talk to pollsters?" the results might not be so helpful. Some pollsters try to correct for this nonresponse bias by simply weighting the Republicans who are willing to take the poll more heavily. Again, though, adding more people who love Lisa Murkowski doesn't compensate for not having enough people who love Blake Masters. These voters are not interchangeable. What to do?

We had a Pennsylvania poll Monday from a company called Wick. We had never heard of them before, so we checked them out to see if they were really campaign consultants. They don't appear to be. It looks like they are a small-market research company that is trying some innovative things to at least better understand the nonresponse bias plaguing all (political) pollsters. On the company's website, there are some articles about what they are trying to do. Maybe they are barking up the wrong tree. We don't know (yet). But we do know that random-digit dialing isn't working well anymore due to nonresponse bias, so explicit attempts to deal with it are worth looking at.

A key question is: "Why are people willing to spend 15 minutes talking to a stranger with no benefit to themselves for doing so?" For many people it is out of a feeling of civic duty, but not everyone has this. Equally important is "Why do some people refuse to do the poll?" Often it is time. If the pollster calls a mother with three young children on a Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., all the tea in China isn't going to get her to spend 15 minutes talking to a stranger about how she feels about J.D. Vance. Wick has three theories about the nonresponse:

  1. If you are always in the minority in terms of political beliefs, you may be hesitant to reveal them.
  2. If you are always in the majority in terms of political beliefs, you may love to discuss them.
  3. If you think you are an enemy of the state, you are not going to talk to anyone about anything.

Any and all of these lead to sampling bias. One thing Wick discovered early on that setting a weight for people with a college degree or more is a bad idea. People with postgraduate degrees are much more likely to be willing to talk to pollsters than people with only a bachelor's degree. So different quotas are needed for each group, separately.

Another thing Wick is looking at is mixing random sampling with nonprobability sampling. So, for example, half the weight could be given to the results from calling people at random and the other half could be taken from a panel in which the same people are asked the same questions every month. The latter can show genuine change over time separate from the luck of the draw in probability sampling. It turns out the nonresponse bias is quite different for online methods vs. random phone calls, and by doing both in every poll, there is some chance of figuring out a way to calibrate the random sampling using the data from the panel or apps. Another method Wick is looking at is texting people links to websites where they can take the poll. It turns out that some people who are not willing to talk to a human interviewer are willing to follow a link and fill out a poll form online. Again, by mixing as many as three different data collection methods for the same poll, it may be possible to use data from one or more of the online methods to correct for the nonresponse bias in the phone interviews. This is still experimental, but given the problems with phone interviews using random digit dialing, it is essential to start looking at alternative methods.

Another surprising thing Wick found is that when polling the Georgia governor's race, the probability and nonprobability methods gave similar results within cities. But in rural areas, there were huge differences between the two methods. They are speculating that the kind of person in a rural area who is comfortable taking a poll on an electronic device is not a typical rural dweller. This needs further investigation.

Another thing Wick turned up is how vaccination status plays a role in polling. For example, in their Arizona poll, 62% of respondents were vaccinated and boosted. Yet CDC statistics show that only 35% of Arizona adults are vaccinated and boosted. The conclusion is that vaccinated people are eager to talk to them and unvaccinated people don't want to talk to them. This suggests that vaccination, rather than education, may be the key to dealing with the nonresponse bias by overweighting the unvaccinated people who do take the poll. So in the case of Arizona, each unvaccinated person could be weighted 1.77 vs 1.00 for each vaccinated person. That might be far better than making sure the number of Republicans was in proportion to the population and thus inadvertently including too many Lisa Murkowski Republicans and too few Blake Masters Republicans. The final words haven't been said here by any means, but pollsters need to conduct more experiments along these lines to see if they can fix the problem. (V)

But Wait, There's More!

There is a definite possibility (see above) that Trumpy voters are being undersampled, that the Republicans will have a better night on Tuesday than predicted (again), and that the pollsters will end up with egg on their faces (again).

On the other hand, there is also a definite possibility that things may swing in the other direction. In the special elections held this year, Democrats have being doing surprisingly well and that has nothing to do with Republicans slamming down the phone. Of course, there have been only a handful of them, so they don't give us a lot of data to work with.

There are a bunch of other factors that could introduce significant uncertainty into the polls. Some of the biggies:

  • When it comes to the Trumpers, it is possible that some houses will overcorrect to avoid yet another embarrassment. Emerson leaps to mind.

  • Nobody really knows what the impact of the Dobbs decision will be. If the electorate was, say, 54% Democratic in 2018, then most pollster models are going to base their projections on the notion that it will be similar in 2022. And "how likely are you to vote" questions can only move the projection a little bit. But if Democratic turnout is way up (as it has been in the special elections), then the models will be off and Democratic strength will be underestimated.

  • Young voters tend to be fickle when it comes to midterms. There is at least some evidence that, this year, they will be less so due to abortion and student-loan forgiveness. If the young whippersnappers show up, that will help the blue team a lot.

  • The country looks to be in the midst of a partisan shift, with blue-collar workers headed to the red team and educated suburbanites moving to the blue team. The latter tend to be more reliable voters in midterm elections than the former. It may soon be the case that the convention wisdom shifts from "Democrats don't show up for midterms" to "Republicans don't show up for midterms."

The upshot is that the polls are so close, and there are so many X-factors, that the crystal ball is very murky right now. Only a red tsunami, or a blue tsunami, would be a real surprise. Anything else is well within the realm of possibility.

That said, there is one other possibility for projecting the elections: The Wisdom of Crowds. As James Surowiecki observed, large groups tend to be better at making estimates than the individual members are. The general idea is that, in the aggregate, various errors tend to cancel out, leading to a purer and more accurate response.

Surowiecki's lead example, in his book, is people guessing the weight of a cow. However, there's no reason the same basic precept shouldn't apply to election projections. So, as you might expect, we put together a survey for readers to make their best guesses as to how the House and the Senate will end up. The survey will be open until 10:00 p.m. PT on Monday; we'll share the results on Tuesday. (Z)

Oprah Picks Her Horse in Pennsylvania

Throughout this cycle, and certainly since the Pennsylvania primary, there has been much pressure on Oprah Winfrey to make an endorsement in the U.S. Senate race. On one hand, as an entertainer, Mehmet Oz (R) was her kind of doctor—he might not have been so great in terms of medical ethics or integrity, but he brought in the viewers. On the other hand, even if Winfrey launched Oz's TV career, she's certainly not a Republican or a Trumper.

Yesterday, Lady O finally laid her cards on the table. Hosting an online event meant to encourage people to vote, she said, in response to a question: "I will tell you all this, if I lived in Pennsylvania, I would have already cast my vote for John Fetterman for many reasons." Winfrey did not exactly lay out what those reasons might be, but she did say: "There are clear choices out there... to represent the values—this is what we're talking about—the values we hold dear. The values of inclusion, the values of compassion... that so many of us share, so use your discernment."

The Fetterman campaign has already jumped on the news, tweeting this:

As you can see, it's got nearly 10,000 retweets and more than 40,000 likes, so the news is getting out there.

Will this move the needle? Who knows? Winfrey's words undoubtedly carry some weight, though it wasn't hard to guess what her true feelings were, given her past support for Democrats and how many times she refused to back Oz. It's even possible that the endorsement might backfire, since Winfrey is one of Democrats' most beloved celebrities, but is also one of Republicans' most hated. Truth be told, it could be that the most useful thing she could have done for Fetterman was not to endorse him, but instead to emphasize how important it is for Pennsylvanians to date their absentee ballots. (Z)

Today's Trump Legal News

You really could do a blog that just covers Donald Trump-related legal news. There's so much material every day. Just yesterday, there were three different pretty big stories.

Starting in New York, AG Tish James suspects that her various actions and investigations related to the Trump Organization could lead to some financial shenanigans. So, she wants a neutral third-party to keep an eye on... well, everything. And now, she's gotten her wish. New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron ordered that a third-party expert be appointed to oversee all dealings with banks and any sales of major assets. Not only does this yet-to-be-named overseer have to sign off on things, but the Trump Organization also has to give the court 14 days' notice, allowing Engoron to step in if he doesn't like what he sees. The Trump Organization's lawyers are furious, but they are outta luck on this one.

Moving on to federal matters, Trump advisor Kash Patel testified before the Mar-a-Lago grand jury about the classified materials that were taken home by Trump in violation of federal law. Patel was specifically called in to address the question of whether or not the former president tried to declassify the materials, and he was granted immunity by the Department of Justice. Usually, when someone receives immunity, it means they have adverse information to share, and they plan to share it.

And finally, as it conducts its two investigations of Trump (1/6 insurrection and Mar-A-Lago), the DoJ is expecting that Trump will declare his candidacy for president and will thus make things much more complicated. And so, AG Merrick Garland and his top lieutenants are considering the possibility of appointing a special counsel to oversee both investigations if and when Trump declares.

The point, of course, would be to depoliticize things as much as is possible. To us, that seems a lost cause. People who were unhappy with Robert Mueller's investigation did not see him as a neutral party just trying to get at the truth. The same is true of people who were unhappy with John Durham's investigation. And any actions taken against Trump, like an indictment, are going to infuriate the MAGA crowd, whether they are instigated by Garland, a special counsel, a federal judge, or Jesus Christ himself.

This story would seem to suggest that the DoJ just isn't ready to make a move, and that Trump is going to beat them to the punch by declaring before they can indict. On the other hand, if Garland and his team decide that the special counsel option is not much use, it might light a fire under them to file some charges more quickly than they would otherwise prefer.

And that's the latest from the Trump legal blotter. (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude: ¡Abucheo Zapata!

That means "Boo, Zapata!", and is as close as we can come to the opposite of "¡Viva, Zapata!" (Hurrah, Zapata!).

The Zapata in question today is not the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano, but instead the (now-former) Milwaukee Election Commission Deputy Director Kimberly. Ms. Zapata was one of the folks responsible for maintaining the integrity of elections in Wisconsin's largest county. And she apparently had a funny understanding of what that means, because she requested a bunch of military absentee ballots and had them all sent to the house of State Assemblywoman Janel Brandtjen (R), who is a Trumpy election denier and conspiracy theorist.

As you can infer from our description of her as "now-former," Zapata has been fired from her post. Not only that, but she's likely going to be charged with one or more crimes, possibly malfeasance in office (a felony) and/or illegally requesting a ballot (a misdemeanor). Zapata will defend herself by claiming she was just trying to show how easy it is to commit fraud, but that's not going to be easy to prove, and it may not be a valid defense, anyhow.

In our view, the court should throw the book at Zapata. One of the purposes of criminal prosecution is to make an example of a perpetrator, and Zapata needs to be made an example of. We also hope that there are very few other stories like this. And we have that hope because we hope there are few shenanigans in the next week. At the same time, we also hope that 100% of the people who do commit shenanigans get caught and prosecuted. That is occasion for some of the most justifiable schadenfreude we can think of. (Z)

This Week in Freudenfreude: Here's What a Healthy Father-Son Relationship Looks Like

It is, we must admit, sometimes pretty tough to find a story for this space. We are a politics-focused site, which means the item has to have at least some nominal connection to politics. But the American media is not exactly known for writing uplifting items in general. And when it comes to politics, that is doubly true. We've got a story this week, courtesy of reader D.R. in Tempe, AZ, that's certainly uplifting. Is it political? We're going to argue that it is, if just tangentially.

At the center of this story (or maybe we should say "centre") is Easton Oetting of Alberta. He's 5 years old and he suffers from 8p23.1 duplication syndrome, a rare condition that has left him with mobility issues. He uses a wheelchair most of the time, which creates some challenges when it comes to Halloween costuming.

Young Easton is also a hockey fan. He's Canadian, after all—we're pretty sure that if you're not a hockey fan, they revoke your Canadian citizenship. Anyhow, Easton's fandom, specifically his support for the Edmonton Oilers, served as inspiration for his father D.J., resulting in this rather memorable Halloween getup:

Father and son 
on the ice, with the son's wheelchair built into a mini-Zamboni machine with Oilers logo

The NHL even tweeted out a video of Easton in his costume, describing it as "COSTUME OF THE YEAR."

So, what's the political connection? Well, as we've noted a couple of times this week, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted out a picture of a crass "Paul Pelosi Halloween costume" that was made up of a pair of jockey shorts and a hammer. If we're going to write an item about Halloween costumes being used for evil, then we can certainly balance that out with an item about Halloween costumes being used for good.

On top of that, if we may editorialize for a moment, imagine if Trump Jr. had the good fortune to have a father like D.J. Oetting. Do you really think that Junior would be the "man" he is today, if that were the case? The odds are against it, we'd imagine. (Z)

Jolly Olde English Politics, Part IV

One last set of questions about British politics, with responses from G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK; A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK; and S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK (and one response from us):

E.N.A. in Olalla, WA, asks: The one thing I've never understood about the British legal/political system deals with their Constitution. My understanding is that it's just part of regularly passed law and subject to change. But what is needed to change it? Changes to the U.S. Constitution generally require a supermajority of both the Houses of Congress and the individual states. An onerous task requiring broad consensus. But what in Britain prevents the ruling party from simply voting to "change" the law, for instance, so that a new election isn't required for the next 40 years? Or "change" the way legislative districts are determined?

A.B. answers: E.N.A. has put their finger on one of the core problems of the Boris Johnson premiership. The British Constitution is comprised of a combination of acts of the historical and current parliaments of the U.K., and written and unwritten conventions. There are some core laws that are recognized as clearly forming part of that constitution, even if not all (or in some cases very few) of their provisions remain in place; a partial list of examples might include Magna Carta, the 1689 Bill of Rights, the 1689 Claim of Right Act (which is an example of a pre-Union Scottish act that impacts both Scottish and broader British constitutional law), and the 1707 Acts of Union between England and Scotland.

It's up to our Supreme Court to ultimately decide whether or not a process is lawful or unlawful—such as when Boris Johnson advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament in 2019 (i.e., end the current sitting of Parliament) to try and enhance his chances of pushing through his Brexit legislative agenda. While the Queen had no choice but to follow the advice of her Prime Minister, the Supreme Court subsequently found that the prorogation had been unlawful under both Scottish law and English/Welsh law (Scotland having a different legal system than England and Wales—an entertaining constitutional digression we won't get into here).

Nonetheless, under the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty, no Parliament can be bound by its predecessor; so yes, in theory any Parliament can repeal any past act of Parliament. This means that a good dose of what governs acceptable behavior by governments is based on convention and informal rules—and a willingness to follow the latter. And yes, that becomes a real problem under a Prime Minister like Boris Johnson, who has spent most of his life believing that rules are for little people, and that truth is malleable.

S.T. answers: The whole point about the British Constitution is that there is none—at least not a document in writing. This is, according to one's viewpoint, admirably flexible or downright dangerous! What the U.K. has is an amalgam of law and precedents which it is assumed will be followed.

The U.K. historian/constitutional expert Peter Hennessy has described this as the "good chaps" approach to government, meaning there is a underlying assumption that whoever is in charge will follow the existing law and precedent; it is no coincidence that this description was made during Boris Johnson's premiership.

Back in the 1970s, the Conservative veteran Lord Hailsham, partly in response to the activities of the then-Labour government, referred to the U.K. as an "Elective dictatorship" (though note he was quite happy to join the 1979 Conservative government without any change to the system!).

So basically, a U.K. Prime Minister can change anything and everything as long they have the support to carry it in the House of Commons (although the House of Lords might delay the process for a year in extreme case). It's a long way from the U.S. system or that in most other major countries. Still, at least we are spared the U.K. equivalent of Supreme Judge Alito reinterpreting 200+ year old documents to suit his politically driven opinion.

G.S. answers: I loved this question: it took me straight back to my first year of law school and the first essay question in constitutional law: "Does the U.K. have a constitution?" The answer the professors were looking for, of course, was "yes and no" followed by a further 1,997 words of justification.

As my fellow Britons have observed, our "constitution," such as it is, is an amalgam of stuff that is written down, and stuff that isn't. Certain written provisions are extremely ancient—for example, the Magna Carta (1215) still assures the liberties of the English Church, privileges of the City of London and the right to trial by jury. The right to judicial review, so far as I was taught, isn't written down anywhere—it has simply developed over time, so anyone can apply to challenge the decisions of a public authority on certain grounds. Certain questions that pop up semi-regularly and are immediately answerable on (can judges be dismissed, and if so, how?) require twenty minutes or so of research here, and even after that I'm not absolutely certain of the answer in the U.K. One critical point taught was that no Parliament can bind another—so, for example, Tony Blair's assertion that "we will not introduce top up (tuition) fees and will legislate to prevent them" was absolutely meaningless. With that in mind, and my fellow Britons may disagree: I don't think there is anything that would prevent a majority party from at least attempting to legislate to delay (or, if Boris was still in, maybe abolish?) general elections. Traditionally, they are held every 5 years, but they have been called earlier when politically expedient. Here, you would hope the one ultimate guarantor of our democracy would also be the thing that is the least democratic: Charles III would simply refuse the royal assent needed and the bill would not become law. This refusal to give assent has not happened since 1708.

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, asks: Why does the front door of the Prime Minister's residence/office at 10 Downing Street have a mail slot, knocker and doorbell? They're no longer used, if they ever were. I doubt Buckingham Palace has them. The White House doesn't have them. Are they simply architectural decorations? Is there a zoning regulation that every door in the neighborhood must have them? Perhaps it's a symbolic statement that the location is just like any other in the country, although with more turnover of late.

A.B. answers: As far as I can tell—and this is one of those murky tradition things for which there doesn't seem to be a clear answer, and which I'm happily prepared to be very, very wrong over—these are simply old-fashioned leftovers from when Downing Street was much more accessible, Prime Ministers didn't necessarily live in the house, and security for Prime Ministers was much less tight. It's worth stressing here that while Number 10 was gifted to the First Lord of the Treasury in the 1730s (the First Lord title is now invariably held by the Prime Minister, but this has not always been the case), it's only been the permanent default residence of the Prime Minister since 1902. Prior to that, many Prime Ministers preferred to live in their often more-spacious and more-luxurious London homes. As late as the 1970s, Harold Wilson continued to live in his existing Westminster family home in his second term in office rather than move back to Number 10 (though he worked from the latter). Up until the 1980s, the street itself (though not the house) was accessible to the public; security measures were increased under Thatcher, and then the entire street closed off to the public in 1991 following an IRA mortar attack. So for much of the building's history, these features would likely have been more functional.

S.T. answers: Downing Street was built in the 1680s by Sir George Downing as speculative housing (apparently to not very high standards!) in a hopefully up and coming area in Westminster. At various points it appears to have been purchased by the government, with most of the original houses having been replaced by government buildings. What you see today is the facade of numbers 10-12 behind which is a vast numbers of offices (many pretty down at heel), state rooms and at least two flats, usually occupied by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor (Finance Minister). They are all supposed to join together to form one vast block (think of the Beatles' house in the film Help).

Probably the facades are subject to some degree of conservation, though the much-remodeled interior might not be, save certain of the state rooms. One interesting fact about the front door is it can only be opened from the inside (useful if you want to stop the police from investigating lockdown parties). As for the "door furniture," I cannot really provide any information apart from noting that it's about time they put in a cat flap for the benefit of Larry the Cat, Downing Street's resident mouser, who has just welcomed his fifth prime minister to the property:

A gray and white cat 
with a Union Jack-patterned bow tied around his neck

G.S. answers: I have no idea, and am amused at the answers of my countrymen which are basically "we don't, either"!

F.H. in Pacific Grove, CA, asks: I'm enjoying reading the British readers' takes on the latest excitement from across the pond, but exactly how is it that they seem to not only be able to refer to their co-correspondents, they even seem to know the relative positions of each other in the final publication?

A.B. answers: This sounds like wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. I'm British and I have a PhD—and am therefore a doctor; obviously we're using a Type 40 Tardis with a broken chameleon circuit.

V & Z answer: A.B. offers up one possibility. The other is this: So as to avoid repetition, and to make the answers as complementary as possible, we arranged something of a collaborative setup, such that each individual knew what had already been written, if anything had.

Readers can decide for themselves which option they prefer.

And that's a wrap! Our thanks to G.S., A.B., and S.T., who have obviously given very generously of their time. And have a good weekend, everyone. (V & Z)

Today's Senate Polls

The polls speak for themselves. Keep an eye on Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania this weekend. There's not a lot more to say right now. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Arkansas Natalie James 26% John Boozman* 55% Oct 13 Oct 31 U. of Arkansas
Arizona Mark Kelly* 50% Blake Masters 47% Oct 31 Nov 02 Marist Coll.
Arizona Mark Kelly* 46% Blake Masters 45% Nov 01 Nov 02 High Ground Inc.
Arizona Mark Kelly* 48% Blake Masters 48% Nov 02 Nov 02 InsiderAdvantage
Georgia Raphael Warnock* 48% Herschel Walker 48% Oct 31 Nov02 Marist Coll.
Georgia Raphael Warnock* 49% Herschel Walker 43% Oct 29 Nov 02 SurveyUSA
Georgia Raphael Warnock* 50% Herschel Walker 48% Oct 28 Oct 31 Emerson Coll.
New Hampshire Maggie Hassan* 51% Don Bolduc 41% Oct 14 Oct 25 U. of Mass.
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 51% Mehmet Oz 45% Oct 31 Nov 02 Marist Coll.
Pennsylvania John Fetterman 47% Mehmet Oz 48% Oct 28 Oct 31 Emerson Coll.
Wisconsin Mandela Barnes 45% Ron Johnson* 47% Oct 27 Oct 31 Siena Coll.

* Denotes incumbent

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