Alaska Senate Odds: Why Lisa Murkowski Shouldn’t Be Favored To Be Re-Elected

Written By Evan Scrimshaw on June 28, 2021
alaska senate odds

Potentially the most underrated (and certainly the least understood) Senate race of 2022 is the race in Alaska, where Lisa Murkowski is trying to hold on for another term in the Senate. Alaska Senate odds at PredictIt currently have her as a clear-but-not-insurmountable favorite to win her seat again.

She is trying to do so in the face of a challenge from her right, with a Trump-endorsed Republican challenger already announced, and in the face of Alaska’s new Ranked Choice Voting system, which will be used for the first time in 2022. At PredictIt, her price to win re-election is 64 cents (-170 equivalent), but does that price make sense, given the volatile and unique circumstances of Alaska politics?

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Alaska Senate Odds History

The case for Murkowski winning is very simple to make. She’s faced right wing opposition twice and won both times.

In 2010, she lost the Republican primary to Joe Miller and then launched a write-in campaign and won the state on the back of a coalition of Democrats, Independents, and moderate Republicans in a three way race against Miller and a token Democratic opponent.

In 2016, Miller ran again as a Libertarian and once again got around 30% of the vote, but this time, Murkowski won even more comfortably in a four way contest against Miller, an independent, and a token Democrat who barely campaigned.

The case for her winning again is that she’s won against the efforts of her right flank twice before, and that should be enough to pull it off again.

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A New Wrinkle: Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked Choice Voting is also often cited as helping her, and that’s true, at least in terms of what RCV would have done to her chances of victory in 2010 and 2016.

Had there been RCV in either of those elections, she would have been even more easily returned. The second preferences of voters who gave their first preference to non-Miller, non-Murkowski candidates would have broken more for Murkowski than Miller in both cases, which would have boosted her margins.

It’s also true that the Alaskan right has been able to rally a wide constituency against Murkowski up until now, but that constituency has a ceiling – at least, based on 2010 and 2016 – around 35%, which could be enough to get you a plurality win under Alaska’s old voting system, but would not be useful here.

How Trump Changed Alaska Landscape

The problem for Murkowski is that 2010 and 2016 were both before the Trump Presidency, and that term of office has changed things for Murkowski considerably.

In 2016, her approval rating was at 61% in the first poll of that cycle, and she was broadly popular amongst Alaskans – even those who ended up voting for the Democratic candidate or the independent. The problem for Murkowski is that it ain’t 2016 anymore, and her approval ratings are now at 33%, according to a poll earlier this year.

What happened?

Well, the Trump Presidency, plainly. Murkowski voted for the Trump tax cuts and to put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court, two votes that angered liberals and Democrats, and she voted against repealing Obamacare and voted against Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, two votes that angered the right greatly.

In 2016, she was a broadly acceptable candidate that everyone could like, and now, she’s a candidate that is broadly disliked.

Do Polls Align With Alaska Senate Odds?

The two polls of the race so far both show Murkowski at 19%, either in a tie for second place or behind Al Gross, the 2020 Democratic nominee for Senate who has expressed interest in running again. She is nearly 20% behind the pro-Trump candidate in first.

Polls of Alaska are notoriously hard to do, even when polls of the continental US are doing well – which isn’t really true these days. So these results should be taken with some caution.

That said, if Murkowski is that far behind, then she will not win. Plainly, you can’t win from 20% behind in a four candidate race even with Ranked Choice Voting, because you would need every voter to express a choice between you and the first place candidate – which is not required in Alaska – and you would need nearly every voter to prefer you over your opponent, which is highly, highly unlikely.

If Democrats punted the race by not running a candidate (or, at least, not more than a token one), and explicitly told their voters to back Murkowski, you could maybe see Murkowski being able to get over the line in a head to head, despite her deeply troubling approval ratings, but there is no reason to believe Democrats will do that – especially given Al Gross has expressed interest in another run.

Whatever you want to say about his failed 2020 campaign, he is a far more credible Democratic candidate than Murkowski has ever faced – and if he runs, he might beat her in the race for 2nd place, which would end her campaign. Additionally, the fact that a left-wing pressure group sponsored one of the two polls of the race suggests that there is an interest in seriously contesting this race amongst the grassroots in a way that there wasn’t in 2010 or 2016.

Alaska Senate Odds Betting Market?

Murkowski has a path to victory as a Republican, and if she were to become an independent who caucused with Democrats, and got rid of a Democratic candidate on the ballot, she would become the favorite again.

The problem is, her path to victory as a Republican is extremely narrow, and she has publicly ruled out a party switch. so her options are constrained.

Maybe the polls are wrong. It would hardly be the first time polls in Alaska were wrong, but it is really hard to see how she can make it back to the Senate if the former President, who is still quite popular with Republicans, has promised to campaign against her.

It’s also hard to see a path to victory if Democrats don’t lay down for her as they’ve done twice before, which there’s no indication will happen this happen again.

Yet, Murkowski sits as an implied -170 favorite at PredictIt to win re-election in Alaska Senate odds, with a No price of 38 cents, equivalent to +163 odds.

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