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Elections 101

What Does a Senate Majority Mean?

The party with majority control has at least one more seat that votes with the majority party over the minority party (51 seats, or if the Senate is split 50-50, the Vice President’s party becomes the majority party). That one vote is significant because the majority party has control over:

  • Whether a bill is introduced to be voted on by the full Senate, to eventually become law.
  • The ability to confirm presidential nominees, including Supreme Court justices, cabinet secretaries, and many other politically appointed positions. 
  • The many committees and subcommittees of the Senate. The majority party’s Senators become the most senior members (“Chair”) of every Senate committee and subcommittee, which determines the hearings held and bills considered before reaching the full Senate floor.

How Can We Flip the Senate in the 2020 General Election?

To flip the Senate to a Democratic majority, we anticipate needing four seats if Biden wins the presidency, and five seats if Trump wins. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is the only incumbent Democrat anticipated to lose reelection, necessitating an extra seat to flip from the current 53 Republican to 47 Democrat makeup (including independents that caucus with Democrats). Candidates at the top of the rankings need the most help while those lower on the list are either likely to lose regardless of the support they get, or safely in the lead and don’t need as much help. Support can come from both campaign donations and volunteering like phone/text banking and canvassing.

Why Do Candidates Need Money?

Campaign contributions allow candidates to spend money to reach voters through ads or direct communications. Ads raise awareness and recognition of a candidate. This is particularly relevant for challenger candidates (nonincumbents) that usually have much less name recognition among voters. Most of the Democratic Senate candidates in tight races this year are nonincumbents—and they need support.

Campaigns also use money to buy lists of voters that are compiled by companies that use public voter information to create “voter files.” Voter files enable candidates to target their outreach to specific voters. Companies that create voter files take public voter information and couple it with other data sources to create lists that help campaigns identify and contact voters likely to vote for them. Don’t worry, the public voter information identifies who voted, but it doesn’t say how a person voted. 

Money also sends a signal to donors that a candidate is viable — money begets money. When a candidate has money, donations from wealthy individuals, political action committees (PACs), fundraising bundlers, or small donor grassroots fundraising have a greater chance at bringing in more money. 

Candidates raise money directly through their campaigns. Additionally, there is “outside spending” for candidates. Outside spending refers to political expenditures made by groups or individuals independently of, and not coordinated with, a candidate’s campaign. Groups that spend money outside of a campaign include party committees (e.g. Democratic National Committee), super PACs, and other organizations with political interests like unions and trade associations.

Besides Money, How Else Can I Help a Campaign?

Money isn’t everything; campaign volunteers are critical in helping a candidate win an election. You can sign up to volunteer for a campaign on a candidate’s campaign website. 

Volunteering for a campaign can take on many forms. This includes phone/text banking, registering voters, canvassing neighborhoods, interning, event hosting, and other activities. If you can’t or don’t want to contribute financially, volunteering is a great way to help a campaign. You can volunteer for a campaign even if it is not in your state (obviously some activities like canvassing neighborhoods only helps within the state the race is taking place).

Unlike campaign donations where foreign nationals are prohibited from donating, a foreign national can volunteer for a campaign as long as the activity is not compensated and the volunteer does not participate in the decision-making process of the campaign.


Cash on hand (COH): This is the amount of money a candidate has raised for his/her campaign minus what they’ve already spent. COH figures are only updated quarterly so they may not reflect a campaign’s current financial reality.

Outside spending: This is spending by groups not affiliated with the campaign but in support or opposition of a candidate’s campaign. Outside spending groups include unions, super PACs, trade associations, and party committees like the Democratic National Committee. We sum outside spending in support of a campaign with outside spending opposing that candidate’s challenger to come up with one outside spending figure for each candidate. Outside spending figures are updated several times a week, unlike COH which are updated quarterly.

RealClearPolitics (RCP): A non-partisan media outlet. RCP averages numerous polls in a specific election to come up with RCP’s polling averages. These averages provide a snapshot of how a candidate is polling so it is a useful metric to use to compare candidates in a race. However, a simple average doesn’t always tell the whole story, and we point that out when applicable.

Other polls: We often look at other polls not included in RCP’s polling averages. Some of these are partisan and may be biased. Nonetheless, they can still be informative. Poll quality varies greatly, so some polls are more highly regarded than others.