Nov 4, 2022 - Podcasts

Leaning into the unknown of the midterm elections

We're days away from the midterm elections and finding out who will control Congress and who will win in hotly contested elections throughout the country, like in Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia. People's predictions about Tuesday continue to grow. But set aside everything you're hearing about the election — because nobody knows how it will unfold.

  • Plus, will anyone take home a $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot?

Guests: Axios' Margaret Talev and Jonathan Swan.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go Deeper:


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Friday, November 5th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here is what we’re covering today: there’s still not a Powerball winner! But first, today’s One Big Thing: set aside everything you are thinking about Tuesday’s midterm election…because nobody knows how it's going to unfold.

NIALA: We're just days away from Tuesday's Midterm election. But, that’s not stopping people from making predictions. Have you tuned into TV lately?

NANCY DESJARDINS: Who's gonna win? That's the question everyone wants to know, right?

BRAD TODD: I haven't seen any polling in the last three weeks that tells me anything other than this is moving Republicans’ way.

ROBERT CAHALY: When we measure these undecideds and the undecideds almost every time are breaking very much anti Biden.

NANCY DESJARDINS: This looks like a dead heat.

NIALA: Axios’ Managing Editor for Politics Margaret Talev and National Political Correspondent Jonathan Swan are here for a big reality check for our last Friday State of Play before the vote.

So what should we be thinking when we're hearing people making these predictions?

MARGARET: There's three things that I think are assumptions that we should not make. Number one, that we'll know the results on election night. We almost certainly won't, we'll probably know what happens to the House. We almost certainly won't know everything that's going to happen to the Senate. We may not even know who controls the Senate, after election night. We may not know that for a month if Georgia goes to a runoff. Number two, we should not assume that the polls that we've seen so far are right. If a lot of first time voters do vote and they're not captured in the polling, if a lot of Hispanic voters who have never registered before, turn out and they weren't expected to. If Republican intensity is not as strong as the poll suggests, if democratic intensity is stronger than suggested, if abortion ends up being a much bigger issue to suburban women then all the results could be different. Which brings me to number three. You should not assume that your vote doesn't matter because there's already been so much early voting or because the polls have already told us what's going to happen. Everybody's vote matters. In fact, polls are never really supposed to be predictive; they are supposed to be a snapshot in time. And a snapshot three days out from an election is different than Election Day because you can still vote on Election Day, if you care about any of these issues, you should vote.

NIALA: Jonathan, what other presumptions do you think people should set aside about next Tuesday?

JONATHAN SWAN: There's always challenges in predicting elections. This is a particularly difficult one to rely on, forecast for not only because of the recent history of polling has not been pristine. And some states in particular, Wisconsin and a few others have had really quite sizable polling areas, but also that the environment's been very strange. I just think people who are confidently declaring something to do with the United States Senate are, I mean, this is sort of like homeopathic medicine, you know? It's like if you wanna listen to it, great, but it's probably not going to do much for you. And, I hear people confidently declare Republicans to have 53 seats. Okay. I mean, a lot of these races are just jump balls and some of them have been moving in Republicans' way like in the recent polls. And Arizona's an interesting one where there's been like a flood of late money for Blake Masters and he seems to be tightening the gap, but I just don't know how you can make confident declarations about these races. They're very, very tight. It does seem a fairly safe bet that Republicans will take the House, but again, I just stay away from making confident declarations about elections because I've just seen too much in recent times, where the poles have been significantly off and people have been left with egg on their face.

NIALA: We're gonna take a break. When we come back, we're gonna continue this conversation with Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Jonathan Swan and Margaret Talev are here for our Friday State of Play. The last conversation before the midterm elections. Jonathan, you have been reporting out a story about the 2020 election and former President Trump. What do the emails you've uncovered from December 2020 to the evening of January 6th, 2021 tell us about Trump world and election denial.

JONATHAN: Yeah, so we've obtained quite a number of internal emails among Trump's key outside lawyers, who were helping him try to overturn the 2020 election. They paint a picture dysfunction and in fighting. But more than that, it really sheds a light into what President Trump and his key lawyers were thinking and doing in the days leading up to January 6th and on that evening. All this matters because, when you're looking at, the investigators are looking at Donald Trump. The big missing piece of the puzzle is what was his state of mind? What did he think about these claims that they were making to try and overturn the election? Was there knowledge or awareness either he himself or his lawyers had that some of these claims were bogus or flimsy, and this just adds another incremental detail that indicates that people on his legal team thought that they weren't standing on the most solid of foundations.

NIALA: So that's the 2020 election. Given the amount, the hundreds of election deniers that are running for office now, does that give us any hint of how these election deniers may act after this election?

MARGARET: It's been noted that there have been hundreds of candidates who are election deniers, by all estimations, at least dozens, up and down the ticket in many states will be elected governor, secretary of state, attorney general and to roles in Congress. And one of the big questions has been like, well, so what are these people really in 2024 gonna overturn an election where there's a clear will of voters in one direction? But, I think the issue is actually much more subtle than that, is that there are so many soft decisions that governors and attorneys general and secretaries of states make all the time, not just in presidential elections. Around voter registration laws, around enforcement of those, around who's gonna get a contract for a voting machine. All of those are in play when you institutionalize people who are willing to propagate non facts or conspiracy theories and to put them into the bloodstream of the institution itself.

NIALA: Okay, so I'm not going to ask you all to make predictions. I am gonna end by asking you what questions you have that you are hoping will have answered after the midterm elections are over.

MARGARET: I'm gonna be looking for two things. Who's in charge? And, how do the results of the election impact the reputation and the kind of leverage of two very important figures as we, I can't believe I'm saying this head into the 2024 cycle. What does this do to President Biden's ability to govern and prospects of being a candidate again? And what does it do to Donald Trump's ability to remain the front runner in the 2024 Republican nominating contest.

JONATHAN: I'll be looking at a few different things, what's the margin in the House if it is a Republican victory, because if there's a very narrow majority, Kevin McCarthy only has a few seats in his advantage. Just basic functioning of government is gonna become really difficult. And I'm watching some of these key positions that Margaret just talked about. Kari Lake, potentially the governor of Arizona. I'm very interested in her because she is every bit as hardcore an election denier as you know, someone like Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, but she has 20 plus years as a local television anchor, very telegenic and very electable in ways that Mastriano isn't. So races like hers, they're bigger than just a governor's race, they have much bigger stakes for the future of this country.

NIALA: Axios’ Margaret Talev and Jonathan Swan. Thanks very much.

MARGARET: Thanks Niala.

JONATHAN: Thanks a lot.

Will anyone take home a $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot?

NIALA: One last thing before we go…Powerball players still have a shot at winning the estimated 1.5 billion dollar jackpot in tomorrow’s drawing. There were no winning tickets on Wednesday, so the pot continues to grow, making this the biggest Powerball prize in US history. But buyer beware…the odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 292 million.

You’ve probably already heard that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than win - but think about this: in a group of 292 million people - only one is likely to hit the jackpot - but 292 are likely to get hit by lightning. That said if you win, feel free to text me.

NIALA: That’s it for this week. Axios Today is produced by Robin Linn, Fonda Mwangi and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Alexandra Botti is our supervising producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is Axios’ editor in chief. And special thanks as always to Axios co-founder Mike Allen.

I’m Niala Boodhoo. Stay safe, enjoy your weekend and we’ll see you back here on Monday.

Did you know "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" is available as a podcast? It’s called "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Ears Edition." On Ears Edition, you can hear full episodes of The Daily Show from Comedy Central, along with extended interviews, exclusive extras, and more. Hear Trevor Noah, his correspondents, and special guests discuss the day’s biggest news in politics, pop culture, entertainment, sports, and more – ears first. Listen to "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: Ears Edition" wherever you get your podcasts.

Go deeper