In no particular order, here are some thoughts 12 hours after the first polls started closing:
1. Harry Reid is a HUGE loser. He and his party paid dearly for failing to do what every Senate Majority Leader before him did: Protect the dignity of the Senate.
It used to be said that the Senate contained 99 members who looked in the mirror every morning and saw the next president looking back at him, and 1 member who didn’t want to be president because, as the Senate Majority Leader, he already thought that he was more powerful. Let’s be blunt: Harry Reid spent the last six years being President Obama’s water boy.
Popular House bills died in the Senate because the White House told Harry Reid to not let them get to the President’s desk. Harry Reid rammed unpopular bills (Obamacare) through without any Republican input, because the President refused to negotiate. When the President couldn’t get his controversial nominees through confirmation, Harry Reid scrapped the filibuster (which I bet the Senate Minority Leader now wishes was a power he still had). Harry Reid never gave Senate Dems the power to distance themselves from the President on bills like Keystone Pipeline approval or approval of popular amendments to Obamacare because the White House said no. Instead, Obama flagrantly usurped Congress’ Constitutional legislative authority via executive orders, and Harry Reid let him get away with it. Harry Reid was not the Senate Majority Leader; he was the Senate Liaison Officer to the White House. He protected the President’s ego instead of the dignity of the Senate and his own Senate majority. For being a eunuch, Harry Reid deserves the axe.
2. Harry Reid will not be the Senate Minority Leader. For one thing, see point #1 above. For another, he is a Democratic Senator from a purplish state. After yesterday there are a lot fewer of those than there were before. ”Moderate” Dems took a beating last night. That means that the remaining Democrats will be both fewer and bluer on average than they were before. Prediction: Chuck Schumer will be the Senate Minority Leader. Say what you want about him, I don’t think that anyone doubts that if confronted with a situation that threatens Chuck Schumer, that Schumer will tell Obama to twist himself into an anatomically impossible sexual position. If Nevada had a Democratic governor, Harry Reid would likely resign within the month. Even with Republican Brian Sandoval appointing a successor, Reid still might resign just to spite the President and his colleagues. But he has only himself to blame.
3. Democrats have a serious problem with the kind of industrial union and rural white voters they once had in their camp. I looked in great detail at Kentucky before the race and during the release of the results. Compared with 2010, Mitch McConnell did slightly worse than did Rand Paul in Jefferson County (Louisville), in Fayette County (Lexington), and in the three ring Cincinnati suburban counties (Boone, Campbell, and Kenton). Looking at just those three areas which contain the states largest urban black population, its student population, and its middle and upper middle class populations, the results looked exactly like the polls indicated: a McConnell win of about eight points, and a GOP performance that would fall short of 2010 levels. Instead, Mitch McConnell won by double the expected amount. And exactly as I predicted, Kentucky would tell us all that we need to know about how the rest of the night was going to unfold.
We’ll need to look at more exit polls and additional states to have a better idea, but here’s what I think happened. The Democratic message is an exclusionary one: It says to America that if you’re not black, a single female, or a government worker, you’re part of the American problem. I think that when the analysis is done we’ll learn that the overt appeals to racism turned off more white voters than it brought blacks to the polls. And if this is true, it’s good news. That’s because it might finally be the beginning of the end of the cynical Democrat-driven racial division in this country. That said, I fully expect Democrats to try it one more time in 2016. For one thing, I don’t see the President changing (see below), and for another, they really don’t have anything else to fall back on. (For example: not the “war on women”.)
You’ll hear Democrats justify last night’s abysmal loss by saying that it was typical of a mid-term result. But what they might not realize is that with absolutely no upside left in the black vote, it only takes a little bit of a change in a white electorate seven times as large to completely overwhelm a black electoral advantage. In other words, from a strictly numerical perspective, the party that has a problem with 12% of the electorate has a much smaller problem than does the party that is falling behind with 70% of the electorate.
4. Democrats also have a serious problem with other minorities. They won Asians by only one point. Four years before, Democrats took the Asian vote 58-40. They also lost support among “other”. In 2010, Democrats took that electorate 53-44. Yesterday the margin was down to 50-46. Asians and “other” are a each only 2% of the vote, but the 5-point and 18-point slippage among Dems with those groups, is not insignificant.
Message to Democrats: Just as it should be obvious to you by now that not all women think and vote alike, not all minorities think and vote alike either. Duh.
But here’s where the exit polls disagree with each other. The white percentage of the electorate this year was 2% smaller and virtually unchanged in its outcome (60-37 in 2010 and 60-38 in 2014). This should have translated to a smaller GOP lead. The black percentage of the electorate also was virtually unchanged (89-9 in 2010 and 89-10 in 2014) and the black electorate climbed to 12% versus 11% in 2010. Dems also gained with Latinos, going from 60-38 to 63-35, while the Latino portion of the electorate stayed stable at 8%.
In other words, the exit polls actually indicate a slight Democratic improvement over the 2010 result. This is consistent with what happened in the key counties I analyzed in Kentucky. And it is consistent with pre-election polls. But is not consistent with the actual result.
Theory: Pollsters don’t weight for urbanicity, and as a result, completely missed the disdain that rural Americans have for the Democratic Party. A county by county look at the results might bear this out. Either that, or the exit polls were completely wrong. (These are not necessarily mutually exclusive results.)
5. Don’t fuck with football. Ed Gillespie ran one spot during MNF the night before election day. It belittled Harry Reid for diminishing the Senate by taking up a bill to force the NFL to change the name of the Redskins. Red or Blue, everybody in the Washington area unites about the Redskins. The two biggest earth-shattering results last night occurred in the Virginia Senate race where nobody had Ed Gillespie within 9 points of Mark Warner, and in the Maryland Governor race where no public poll released in 2014 had the Republican candidate in the lead. Maryland and Virginia is Redskin fan base.
But let’s take this beyond football. This ad and the controversy around it was emblematic of the Democrat’s problems. Americans want their leaders to be serious and to offer serious solutions about serious problems. Re-naming a football team is not serious. Voters in those two areas rebuked Democrats for their frivolity. Oh, and don’t fuck with football.
6. The donkey in the room. (Actually the saying is about an elephant, but you know what I mean.) The donkey in the room is Barack Obama. The American people have judged him to be a failure. He is now the lamest of lame ducks. Before the 2006 midterms, President Bush went into his final two years with 55 seats in the Senate and 232 in the House. After the the opposing party holding 51 senate seats and 233 seats. Barack Obama watched the opposition party gain even greater control than happened eight years before. Republicans will likely control 54 senate seats and about 248 House seats.
More succinctly: Barack Obama took a bigger beating in 2014 than George W. Bush did in 2006.
After the defeat he took in 2010, Barack Obama didn’t change course as Bill Clinton had done when the electorate pronounced a midterm decision about him. Barack Obama has yet to show humility or responsibility about anything. Perhaps this time will be different. But probably not.
Now might be a good time for Democrats to re-look Dan McLaughlin’s primer for what to expect in 2016 that so many of them scoffed at before. His look at history said that the party with the presidency for two elections, will see a drop-off in support the third time around. Let me add to the foreboding news for Democrats: After taking sharp losses in the sixth year election, the President’s party usually loses even more two years later.
In the sixth year of the Bush administration, the President’s party lost 30 seats in the House. The following election, they lost another 21 seats and the Presidency
In the sixth year of Nixon’s administration (yes, technically Ford was president), Republicans lost 48 seats. Two years later they lost another seat and the presidency.
In 1966 LBJ’s party lost 47 seats. Two years later they lost five more and the Presidency.
We have to go back to 1958 to see a counter-example. Ike’s party lost 48 seats in the House in his second midterm, but managed to win back 22 of them in 1960. But he still lost the presidency.
The recent historical record suggests that as bad as things are for Democrats today, they are likely to be even worse after the election two years hence.
And that brings us back to Obama. He is an anchor on the Democratic Party. The damning evidence for this comes not from the Senate, where Democrats lost only red and purple states. Nor does it come from the House, where with a few exceptions the same thing occurred. No, it comes from the gubernatorial races where Republicans held purple seats in the face of overwhelming media opposition (Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin) and picked up cobalt blue state seats in Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts. There is no rational way to shrug off this result other than to say that Barack Obama was a weight on the entire Democratic Party.
And here’s what should alarm Democrats up for election in two Novembers. President Obama has been intimating to his supporters that he’s going to take all kinds of executive actions when he has more “flexibility” after this election. If those unspecified actions were popular with the American public, don’t you think he would have taken them before the election? If we are to take him at his word, the President’s apparent intent is take his favorability down even further. Here are some Democrats who might be particularly alarmed by this prospect: Colorado’s Michael Bennet, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Washington’s Patty Murray, and whomever is going to be the Democratic nominee to try and succeed the retiring Harry Reid. All of them will have to face voters in 24 months, and the lesson of last night is to not face those voters with an overwhelmingly unpopular incumbent from the same party sitting in the White House.
7. One final winner this night is Sean Trende who replaces Nate Silver as this election’s geek par excellence. As early as January, Trende nailed this election. His hypothesis was that Presidential popularity and the partisan tilt of a state would play an enormous role in the closing days of the race. Ten months ago, he predicted nine seats using this methodology and it looks like this is exactly where it is going to end up.
Live feed continuously updated. For a guideline of what I’m looking at, check out this earlier post.
Good news for Republicans. Fox News has called Kentucky for Mitch McConnell. Right on target with the 2010 result in Kentucky.
No surprise: Georgia is too close to call.
Also good news for Republicans. Virginia is too close to call. The longer this goes on, the better the news this is for Republicans.
Good news for Democrats. With 68% of precincts reporting, Grimes is exceeding Rand Paul’s level of support in Fayette County, home to Kentucky’s second largest city (Lexington) and the University of Kentucky. She is up almost 6,000 votes and 9%. Rand Paul lost Fayette by only 1,200 votes four years ago. McConnell lost in 2008 by 8%. And that was in a disastrous Republican year. If those numbers hold, it’s a good sign for how Democrats and how they may be doing with younger voters.
No surprise. Republicans pick up West Virginia.
No surprise. John Kasich wins in Ohio.
No surprise. North Carolina Senate is too close to call.
Bad news for Democrats. Mark Warner still hasn’t won his race. Exit poll internals are horrible for him. He is underwater on the favorable/unfavorable rating and Ed Gillespie is ahead on that question. (See UPDATE at 1945) This is not at all like anyone expected. Keep in mind that exit polls have errors. Right now, Democrats have to hope that the exit polls are wrong.
Michael Barone is reporting that with 100% reporting Gillespie is leading Culpepper County 64-33. George Allen in a losing effort won Culpepper 58-42. This is the kind of exurban county and the kind of margin that Ed Gillespie needs to win if he is to make a realistic go of Virginia.
Fox News just showed that Warner is winning the favorable/unfavorable race 56-43. That’s different from what I first heard ten minutes ago.
Good news for Republicans. Both CNN and Fox News are reporting that Mitch McConnell leads Allison Grimes 56-41. Of course only 65% of precincts are reporting, but because the eastern half of the state has a one-hour head start in vote counting, the results from the western half of the state aren’t likely to diminish McConnell’s lead. Bottom line: if this vote holds up, Mitch McConnell’s 14-point margin will beat the 8-point two-way race spread predicted by RCP. That would be HUGE.
No surprise. Fox News just called both Arkansas races for the GOP candidates Tom Cotton and Asa Hutchinson the moment the polls closed.
No surprise. New Hampshire is still too close to call. But with 16% reporting, Jeanne Shaheen has an 8-point lead.
Potentially earth-shaking bad new for Democrats. With 59% of the vote counted, Ed Gillespie has a 51-46 lead in Virginia. No one expected this race to be uncalled 90 minutes after the polls closed. Even if Gillespie loses, it shows that Democrats are fighting to hold their own terrain while Republicans have an advantage on offense.
Fox News is reporting bad news for the Clintons. Bill Clinton campaigned hard in Arkansas and Kentucky. His candidates lost fast. On the other hand, I think that this really tells you how far gone the South is for Democrats. (Juan Williams supports a version of this view.) Of course, that wouldn’t be a good sign for Georgia, Louisiana, or North Carolina.
Speaking of which . . . Michael Barone is tweeting 100% counted counties in Georgia and Virginia that are showing better results for Republicans Perdue and Gillespie than Republicans in previous years.
Bad/Good news for both parties. With 64% of the vote counted, Ed Gillespie still has a 5-point lead. Nobody expected this. But what is really unexpected is that in neighboring North Carolina, which is a shade more red, Kay Hagan has a 7-point lead with 46% counted. If the two results were reversed, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. If both vote counts hold up, this will definitely merit a closer post-election look.
No surprise. These results came in earlier–in fact, when the polls in both states closed. Democrats won senate seats in New Jersey and Illinois handily.
No surprise. The GOP picked up a third seat in South Dakota.
No surprise. Michigan Dems hold the Senate seat there.
No surprise. Colorado is too close to call.
No surprise. Kansas is too close to call.
No surprise. New Hampshire is still too close to call. (But it’s looking like it’s just a matter of time until Shaheen gets the call.)
No surprise. Georgia is still too close to call.
No surprise. North Carolina is still too close to call.
No surprise. Minnesota Dems hold on to the Senate and the Gubernatorial seats.
Big surprise and bad news for Dems. Virginia is still too close to call two hours after the polls closed.
Some networks are calling VA10 for the GOP candidate John Foust. That would be a good sign for Ed Gillespie.
With 78% counted Gillespie’s lead in VA is down to 2-points. This race has the feel of ultimate Democratic victory. But still, this is a race that is about 10 points off of the RCP average in the GOP’s favor. Even as a former professional pollster, I’m heartened by the notion that voters matter more than polls.
On the flip side, Kay Hagan’s lead is down to two points with 60% counted. It’s hard to see VA going red and NC staying blue. If NC flips but VA doesn’t and both (obviously) are very close, that almost perfectly matches the 2012 results and would be strong indicator of the nationalization of these races.
Kay Hagan’s lead is down to 1% and 27,000 votes.
Gillespie’s lead is also 1% and 23,000 votes.
Meanwhile in GA, Perdue has 60% with 36% in. Michael Barone is looking at the counties and thinking that this one is close to being called as a victory without a runoff required.
Jeanne Shaheen’s lead is down to 7,000 votes with 37% counted, a 4-point spread. Still too close to call.
Here’s where we are now. Among the RCP tossup states in the Senate, none have been called. The two “pink” seats (Arkansas and Kentucky) were called immediately. The one “light blue” seat (Virginia) is still too close to call 150 minutes after the polls closed. Bottom line: I’d rather be in the Republican’s shoes right now.
No surprise. Louisiana will go to a runoff.
No surprise. New Hampshire will stay blue. Right now it looks like a 52-48 margin. I’m not sure what we can extrapolate from this race for the rest of the field. The key point is that this is the first “toss-up” state to be called for either side.
Let me get back to Kentucky. With 94% counted, Mitch McConnell has a 15-point lead over Allison Grimes. This is almost double his RCP lead. Points to consider:
Nate Silver says that there is no such thing as momentum. In a strictly mathematical sense, he’s right. But polling isn’t math, not entirely. What we’ve seen in the last week is:
(1) A return to the state’s bright red hue. I think we’re seeing the same thing in New Hampshire: a return to the bluish purple tint of that state. If everything breaks the way that 2012 went, Republicans will win North Carolina and Georgia, while losing Colorado and Iowa. I don’t think that’s going to be the way it ends, but we’ll see.
(2) President Obama is creating a ceiling for Democrats. I don’t think that anyone is surprised by that, but it certainly undercuts the argument that you’ve heard that says that Dem candidates should have embraced the president more. Sorry, but Grimes was mired in the low 40s and that’s where she is going to end up.
Fox News just called Colorado for the GOP candidate Cory Gardner. Huge news that it was called this early. So much for the “war on women”.
From my earlier post: (2014 results in bold)
2010 Sen: R over D, 24,332 (74.4%) to 8,364 (25.6%) 23,200 to 9,800
2012 Pres: R over D, 35,922 (68.4%) to 15,629 (29.8%)
2010 Sen: R over D, 18,386 (64.9%) to 9,948 (35.1%) 17,600 to 11,000
2012 Pres: R over D, 24,240 (60.3%) to 15,080 (37.5%)
2010 Sen: R over D, 29,372 (66.8%) to 14,582 (33.2%) 28,300 to 16,700
2012 Pres: R over D, 41,389 (61.1%) to 24,920 (36.8%)
In all three Cincinnati suburban ring counties McConnell didn’t match Rand Paul’s numbers from four years ago. In fact, the numbers are exactly in alignment with what I would have expected if the RCP numbers were correct. Remember, the RCP two-way race in 2010 projected an 11-point lead, when this year it anticipated an 8-point lead. So a strong Republican win, albeit by a smaller amount than four years ago, is exactly what we should have expected in these three counties. That Republicans have won so handily in Kentucky means that the result was decided by a large amount elsewhere in the state.
But where? In Fayette County, McConnell lost by 6,000 votes, five times what Rand Paul lost by four years ago. In Franklin County, McConnell beat Paul’s margin, but only by a mere 300 seats. In Jefferson County, McConnell fell short of Paul’s margin by about 7,00o votes.
It looks like Eastern and Western Kentucky coal counties trounced the Dems. If this is true, it means that rural and industrial labor may completely be divorced from Democrats forever. (BTW, Elliott County hasn’t reported its votes.)
Meanwhile, it looks like Scott Walker is going to hold on to win Wisconsin for a third time in four years. And it looks like a margin of error greater than what RCP predicted.
Mark Warner is now ahead of Ed Gillespie by 2,500 votes. And it looks like the remaining uncounted votes are in NOVA. Great fight. And a huge surprise, but it would appear that the Democrat candidate is going to hold on to win by a far narrower margin than anyone expected.
Meanwhile in North Carolina, Tom Tillis is up by 31,000 votes (2%) and only 15% of precincts remaining to be counted. Of course, where those precincts are means a great deal.
Also in Georgia, there’s no question that Perdue is going to beat Nunn. Perdue is now at 57%, with 64% of the vote counted. If he stays over 50%, Republicans hold this seat.
I haven’t heard it mentioned yet. One of the “streaks” that had been going against Republicans was their recent inability to beat a sitting incumbent. So far, it looks like they have unseated Mark Udall in Colorado and Mark Pryor in Arkansas.
Pat Roberts has a 4-point lead in Kansas (17,000 votes). No one knows was tracking this race eight weeks ago and there is no history of strong polling in this state. Thus no one knows which way this might turn.
Meanwhile in Iowa, the returns are very spotty and Bruce Braley is up over Joni Ernst.
Tom Tillis’ margin is larger. It’s still only 2%, but that is now 53,000 votes.
No surprise. In Michigan the Republican governor won re-election. Along with Wiconsin’s Walker, these are huge gains for budget-cutting governors and against government unions.
In Arizona the ice cream man won. This was a Republican gubernatorial hold.
In Florida Republican Rick Scott is ahead by 80,000 votes with 97% counted. Close to a call.
HUGE NEWS. Republicans will hold Kansas. If Dems don’t take Georgia (and it looks like they won’t), they have to hold Alaska, and North Carolina, and then Louisiana again next month. Not likely.
In North Carolina, Tom Tillis still has a 52,000 vote lead and there’s only 7% of the vote left to count. Karl Rove just named four counties where if Kay Hagan is going to win, she has to run up the vote. Only one of those counties has enough uncounted votes left to count. It is Mecklenburg (Charlotte). Depending on where they are in the county will determine the outcome. Still, it’s looking better for Tillis than I think the RCP average predicted yesterday. (538 is saying a similar thing: Wake County (Raleigh) is not going to yield any more votes for Hagan.)
Democrats will flip no GOP seats. The last possibility, Georgia, was just called for the Republican Perdue. The win of any one of these seats–Alaska, Iowa, North Carolina, or Virginia gives the 51st seat to the GOP. If it doesn’t happen tonight, it could be Louisiana next month.
Right now, it looks to me like Republicans will win 53 seats, with 54 very possible, and 55 a still remote possibility.
HUGE news. I will be able to buy wine in grocery stores. If you don’t live in Tennessee, you won’t comprehend how incredibly stupid it is that has taken this long. Worse still, the new law won’t take effect until July 2016.
Michael Grimm won NY-1. He is under indictment for 20 felony counts. And yet, he is still better than the other guy. Watch the Jon Stewart story on this race and you’ll understand that the Democrat in this race is a complete idiot. Congratulations, Staten Island. In your choice between crook and the dunce, you chose the lesser of two very bad evils. But seriously, is this the best you can do?
2310 Eastern and here’s an update. The GOP has 50 senate seats already locked up and no seats that the Dems will take. Here are the seats still in play:
North Carolina. The margin is 46k in favor of the GOP with 4% remaining.
Virginia. The margin is 11k in favor of the Dem with 7% remaining.
Iowa. The Republican Joni Ernst is leading 50-47 with 53% of the vote in.
Alaska is still voting.
538 is giving Dems a 1% chance.
Game. Set. Match. Joni Ernst wins Iowa. Republicans unseated a third sitting Democratic senator and now have at least 51 seats. Four more are possibilities, although Virginia is looking very unlikely. Still, 54 is a very possible amount for the GOP.
Oh, BTW, I called it. I said that Iowa would be the 51st seat. (Of course, I didn’t expect that CO would be called by now and I expected NC already would have fallen.)
Here’s why that matters: that’s a big cushion going into 2016 when the mix of states with seats up for grabs in the Senate is less favorable to the GOP. Of course, being a presidential year, whomever wins that race will likely have coattails. Dan McClaughlin makes the case that the Democrats don’t have a structural advantage going into 2016. I agree and will make that case in the coming days. But even if a Democrat wins the presidency, he might have to carry seats to get back to 50. If the Republican wins, that’s a tall order for Democrats.
Speaking of North Carolina, Tom Tillis wins. It’s now a net at least 7-seat victory for the GOP and at least four sitting senators fell to Republicans.
Let’s look at some of the gubernatorial races.
Right now Republicans have held tossup seats in Florida, Georgia (seriously, did Dems expect to win with a Carter?) Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Dems have held onto seats close seats in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
The only gubernatorial change is that Republicans have picked up a seat in Illinois (metaphor alert). (UPDATE: I forgot Arkansas; that’s two. I also forgot Democrats won PA. Both of these were off my radar because they weren’t really close.)
Here is where some of the other governor’s races sit: Republicans lead in Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas (thanks to Pat Roberts–more specifically thanks to Democrats nationalizing the Kansas senate race), Massachusetts (seriously), Maryland (even more seriously) and Maine. Dems hold the current lead in no gubernatorial race they don’t currently lead. Four of the above seats would be GOP gains.
I’m glad she won and her past indicates that she has a strong future. But Joni Ernst won’t ever realize that future if she doesn’t get rid of that annoying laugh of hers.
Martha Chokely will never be heard from again. At least that’s what Massachusetts Democrats hope. The GOP picked up that seat.
Also, I missed earlier that PA and AR were pickups (one Repub and one Dem) when I counted up the gubernatorial seats. This now makes a net GOP +2 in governor’s races.
Mark Warner is the “apparent” winner in Virginia. The margin is only 12k. But that’s a lot to make up in a recount. There are still votes outstanding. But still it looks bad for the GOP candidate Ed Gillespie. That said, he may be the biggest winner of the night. I expect that in the morning they will look at what the final count looks like and then determine if there is anything there to contest.
Maryland and Virginia are both major surprises tonight. Even if the GOP candidates end up losing, nobody expected these contests to be that close. Question: did the Redskins name controversy crush Democratic support? It may seem like a little thing, but that’s the point. Is the (former) Senate Majority Leader’s desire to use the federal government to change the name of a sports franchise a symbol of a massive overreach of federal power? Discuss in the comments.
Republican Paul LePage holds on to win the governor’s seat in Maine. Alaska, where voting is still ongoing, and Kansas, where Sam Brownback is holding a 2.5% lead with 17% of the vote left to count, are the only tossup incumbent seats held by the GOP that remain to be decided. Meanwhile, Colorado and Connecticut could still flip to the GOP. And in both, the Republican candidate currently is winning–albeit by less than a point in each race.
Bottom line: Governor’s races were as nationalized in 2014 as were the senatorial races. I’m not surprised by this, as it is a natural result of the 40-year ongoing ideological homogenization of the parties, as well as by the demographic stratification of the Democratic Party. When your base is near unanimity among blacks, single women, and government workers, and huge negative margins with almost everyone else, you’re only going to do well where those demographics approach a majority.
Oh, btw, President Obama waded into governor’s races when it looked like senatorial candidates treated him like President Ebola. Just like Clinton’s foray into the Southeast, that didn’t work out so well.
With 65% of the vote counted, the margin in the Connecticut governor’s race is 7. Not seven percent, but seven votes.
Republican Larry Hogan will win the governor’s race in Maryland. This is the fourth GOP pickup in gubernatorial races against only one loss.
Two lessons: Barack Obama, who actually campaigned here, is now persona non grata everywhere. And don’t run against the Redskins.
Sam Brownback will win Kansas. I called this days ago. By nationalizing the Pat Roberts senate race, Brownback got a boost. I submit that Brownback was not going to win if the Roberts-Orman race had never heated up. By playing games in Kansas, Dems lost both races.
538 is reporting that Dems had an apparent 6-point advantage in the senate polls and a 2-point apparent advantage in gubernatorial races. I had a sense that it was going to be like this, although not by this much. This is a wave, which I define as nearly every race tilting in the same direction. That’s what happened tonight.
That said, two years ago, I made the analogy to polls being like hitting in major league baseball. If we poll people randomly–relatively easy to do–we are only half the way there. The harder part is knowing who is going to show up to vote. The analogy I made then was that predicting electoral outcomes was like looking at a pitcher-batter lineup and being able to project exactly where the ball was going to land. A good pollster can do that. But what the pollster can’t do is to know in which ballpark the game is played. In baseball a long line drive to left field is a home run in Wrigley if the wind is blowing out. It’s just a long single at Fenway.
Shorter and to the point: pollsters can tell you almost exactly how people are going to vote. But they can’t tell you who will vote.
While I await the Alaska outcome, let’s summarize:
Republicans have won the Senate with at least 52 seats with another GOP gain likely in Louisiana and the GOP favored (at least for another minute) in Alaska. That’s a net gain of 7 to 9 seats.
Republicans have gained at least a net three seats in governor’s races. Colorado is looking like another gain. Connecticut is still a possible gain. And Alaska is the only remaining state where Dems can pick up a seat. That’s a net GOP gain of 2 to 5 seats for the GOP when the predictions going into tonight were for a loss of 1 to 2 seats. This is an astounding loss for Dems. Look also where the GOP won: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Wisconsin, and potentially Colorado. These are presidential battleground seats. New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are the only presidential battleground seats that Democrats won tonight. This will have an effect in 2016.
In the House, West Virginia went all Republican. So did Arkansas. The GOP picked up all but one seat in Iowa. I predicted this based on what happened up ticket. In New Hampshire, Democrat Shea-Porter is again the former congressman from her district. NY-24 flipped GOP. A seat in Illinois flipped too. Georgia and North Carolina house seats also benefitted from upstream GOP wins. The only tossup that the Dems currently have taken is FL-27. There are still dozens of seats left to be decided, but it looks like a double-digit gain in the House, and then some.
Finally, before I go to sleep for the night, let’s look at the exit polls in the national House races.
Whites voted 60-38 for the GOP. That’s right in line with expectations. What is unexpected is that whites made up 75% of the electorate. Blacks went 89-10 for Dems. Ten points is way more than anyone expected among blacks. Latinos went 63-35 for Dems. Worse still for Dems is that the Latino vote was only 8% of the total. That’s a level of slippage that will crush Dems if it continues. Asians split their vote, going 50-49 for the Dems. That’s has huge implications for the future when you have one party that wants to treat all minorities alike. Those minorities have a vote themselves.
The Bluegrass State is your guide for what to look for tonight so that you can go to bed early and then wake up tomorrow refreshed for the first day of the 734-day long 2016 election season.
Polls close at 6:00 pm in Kentucky. But because half of the state is in the Central time zone, that means that it won’t be until 7:00 pm Eastern that the networks will begin to call the race. That gives analysts an hour to analyze most of the state’s results before they announce any conclusions.
Most of the Democratic-leaning voters live in the Eastern half of the state, which means that for Ms. Grimes to have any chance of unseating Sen. McConnell, she has to roll up a two or three point margin in the Eastern time zone in order to withstand the GOP’s advantage in the western part of the state. In 2010 the networks immediately called Kentucky for Rand Paul because it was obvious that in the eastern part of the state, he already had won and the west was just going to add to his advantage. Look for the same to happen again tonight. If it doesn’t–ie, if Grimes has a narrow lead in the eastern half of the state that delays the call for a GOP win, it portends a hugely disappointing night for Republicans overall.
On election day in 2010 Rand Paul had an 11-point lead in the RCP average. This year, Mitch McConnell’s lead is only 7.2 points. Interestingly, while the spread between the candidates is different, the shape of the race this year is almost identical to what it was in 2010. In the last week of polling, the GOP candidate both times saw a sharp uptick, while the Democratic candidate was down narrowly.
The RCP average had Paul up 51.8 to 40.8. But if you assume that the remaining 7.4% of the electorate that was undecided did not in fact vote, that means that in a two-way race, the RCP average was 55.9% for Paul to 44.1% for Conway. In fact, that was within a tenth of a point of the final results: 55.8 to 44.2. In other words, the RCP average was dead on accurate in Kentucky four years ago. (UPDATE: If the RCP Average this year is correct, McConnell’s 49.0 to 41.8 lead over Grimes translates to 54.0 to 46.0 win in a two-way contest.)
Here’s what to look for in Kentucky to see if RCP is right again, and if they are off, where is the difference and what it might portend for other states.
Jefferson County (Louisville). Conway won 55.4% to Paul’s 44.2% and came out of the county containing Kentucky’s largest city and largest black population with only a 29,000 vote lead. If McConnell either keeps Grimes below 55% or if turnout is significantly below the 258,000 who voted there four years ago, it tells us that the Democrat’s overt racial appeals did not work. If turnout in Jefferson County is up and the margin is much larger, Dems probably are going to do better that expected in states with large urban black populations like Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
Franklin County (Frankfort). Conway won the state capitol 57.3% to 42.6% and accumulated a lead of 2,742 votes out of 18,566. If McConnell reduces that lead, it means that Obama is dragging down the party even in areas where one of its core member groups (government workers) live. That result should make Mark Warner nervous. If Grimes significantly exceeds Conway’s margin of victory in Franklin County, it may indicate that Dems will exceed their turnout expectations the rest of the night in places like Raleigh, North Carolina.
Fayette County (Lexington). Jack Conway beat Rand Paul by a little over 1,200 votes out of nearly 90,000 in the state’s second-largest city and home to the University of Kentucky. Two years later turnout was up almost 35%, but the margin was still almost the same 1,200 votes between Obama and Romney. If McConnell actually wins Fayette County, it means that either young turnout and/or young voter support for Democrats is way down. If McConnell loses by a bigger margin, it may mean that he will do worse elsewhere with young voters. On the other hand, it may also mean that young turnout for Rand Paul was the motivator four years ago, which would mean that Lexington offers little national implications for 2014, but could portend great things for Rand Paul in 2016.
The last area where Grimes has to do well is in coal country. Kentucky has two areas where coal mining is big: in the southeastern part of the state and in the west near Paducah. In 2010 those areas still had some Democratic holdouts that by 2012 had shifted Republican. If that shift sticks again in a mid-term election, it is bad for Democrats in areas where traditional labor unions are dominant. While the UMW is a special target of modern Democrats, if they lose that traditional blue base, it may mean that unions in the construction and transportation fields are likewise susceptible to a Republican message. One place to watch is Elliott County on the edge of Kentucky’s eastern coal region. It was one of only four counties to vote for Obama in 2012, and is the last Democratic holdout in the state outside of the Democrats’ new demographic of blacks, students, and government workers. Elliott County Kentucky has the distinction of having the longest continuous streak of voting for the Democratic presidential candidate of any county in the country. (You’ll notice below the change from 2010 (left) to 2012 right.) Elliott County is worth only 2,500 votes in a presidential election, and not even 1,500 in a midterm. But if it tilts to the Republican column, it shows that the old New Deal Democratic pull over labor is dead. That tilt won’t happen this year. In 2010 Elliott went exactly 2:1 for Conway over Paul. If McConnell eats into that 2:1 margin in Elliott County, that would be bad for Democrats. If Mitch McConnell manages to hold the majority of the Kentucky counties that Rand Paul lost, but that Mitt Romney won, that is very bad news for candidates at all levels in labor states like Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and West Virginia.
Mitch McConnell has to do well in the three northernmost Kentucky counties. These Cincinnati suburbs happen to be “Ohio’s” fastest growing communities. What happens there may be indicative of what is to come in other suburban ring counties nationwide. Here are their 2010 and 2012 results:
2010 Sen: R over D, 24,332 (74.4%) to 8,364 (25.6%)
2012 Pres: R over D, 35,922 (68.4%) to 15,629 (29.8%)
2010 Sen: R over D, 18,386 (64.9%) to 9,948 (35.1%)
2012 Pres: R over D, 24,240 (60.3%) to 15,080 (37.5%)
2010 Sen: R over D, 29,372 (66.8%) to 14,582 (33.2%)
2012 Pres: R over D, 41,389 (61.1%) to 24,920 (36.8%)
You’ll notice that in all three counties, turnout in 2012 was up about one-third, and Republican support dropped about 4-6 points. These are counties where Ohioans went to escape higher taxes beginning about the time Dick Celeste was the Buckeye State governor. But they are not so monolithically Republican that Democrats can’t make inroads–especially with suburban women. These three counties will give us our first real indicators of how well the “war on women” worked for Democrats, or how much it backfired. Expect to see slightly lower turnout than in 2010 and slightly better percentages for the Democrat Grimes. But don’t expect those results to get as high a Obama’s 2012 numbers. If Grimes comes close to matching Obama’s 2012 percentages in Boone, Campbell, and Kenton Counties, the war on women worked. If Grimes only matches Conway’s percentages (or worse, if she falls short), it likely indicates that Democrats are losing married women at a precipitous rate and/or that they are losing what remains of their already low level of male support. The results in these three counties may be precursors to what happens in southern New Hampshire with its influx of Bay State expats as well as in Colorado and North Carolina.
Okay, if you want to stay up later and confirm Kentucky’s early prognostications, here’s what else to look for tonight:
1900 Eastern. Virginia’s polls close. If the race is not immediately called for Mark Warner, that’s a bad sign for Democrats. It’s hard to imagine the polls being that wrong in the Old Dominion, but this is one of two states where a Republican shocker could occur. It’s a very small chance, but it’s not zero. If it does happen, this election is on par with a 1980, 1994, or 2006 tectonic shift.
1900 Eastern. Georgia’s polls close. If the polls are accurate, Perdue will be leading Nunn and should be flirting with 50% of the vote. If he is easily clearing 50%, that’s a bad sign for North Carolina. If he is having trouble beating Nunn, that’s a good sign for Democrats in North Carolina, and bad sign for Republicans in January when the runoff would occur.
1930 Eastern. North Carolina’s polls close. Expect it to stay close for hours. If it isn’t close, that’s a good sign for the winning party nationwide. If Democrats lose North Carolina, they almost certainly lose the Senate. In fact, it’s almost certain that if they lose North Carolina, they lose Georgia too and have a chance at picking off only one state: Kansas.
1930 Eastern. West Virginia’s polls close. The Mountain State’s 2nd and 3rd Congressional districts are too close to call. But if it is a good Republican night, they should win both.
2000 Eastern. The big prize is New Hampshire. Like North Carolina, expect it to stay close for hours. If Shaheen wins handily, this is a potential good sign for Democrats in Alaska and Colorado, two other tossup states with libertarian streaks. If Shaheen loses, it’s inconceivable that there is a path that allows Democrats to retain the Senate. In fact, if they lose the Granite State, it’s almost inconceivable that Democrats could hold more than 46 seats by the time the runoffs are over.
2030 Eastern. Arkansas closes. The calls should go almost immediately to Tom Cotton and Asa Hutchinson. If a half hour passes without a declared winner, Republicans are in for a long night. Republicans should also see the retention of two House seats in Arkansas. If they do, then not only are they cementing their control of a once very blue state, they will remove two of only ten realistic pickup opportunities for the Democrats and will stand a better chance of double-digit gains in the House.
2100 Eastern. Colorado and Kansas are the big prizes this hour. They are also two of the hardest to predict. Colorado has given pollsters fits before. And in the Sunflower State, the big question is whether on election day Kansans will return to their Republican roots. Since Colorado has mail-in voting, vote-counting could take hours (even days, if it’s close). So Kansas will probably be the first known result of the two. If Pat Roberts holds on to win, Democrats have to win too many states they are currently expected to lose. If Roberts and Brownback win, Democrats will get a double punch to the gut.
2100 Eastern. Louisiana’s polls close. We won’t know the outcome, but if Mary Landrieu exceeds 46% or if she falls short of 41%, we’ll have a pretty good clue about what the eventual December result will be.
2100 Eastern. Michigan’s polls close in the western part of the Upper Peninsula one hour after they close in the vastly more populated rest of the state. Gov. Rick Snyder is ahead–even in most of the Democratic-leaning polls. But he’s not ahead by much. Still, with an hour to count ballots in the Lower Peninsula, we should have a call soon after the Yoopers are done voting. A win by Snyder is good news for Detroit, but don’t expect Detroiters to take it that way. Additionally, Dan Benishek is fighting to retain his seat in the UP. If he holds on, it’s another seat Democrats can’t pick up. If Snyder loses, that indicates that blacks turned out at higher than expected amounts and that Obama still has coattails with at least one demographic.
2100 Eastern. Wisconsin is hosting what probably is the most closely watched gubernatorial election tonight. Scott Walker looks to be opening up a lead over Mary Burke. If he wins handily in the face of the shit-storm that’s been thrown at him, it is very bad news for progressives and public employee unions nationwide. If he beats the RCP spread of just over 2 points, it’s a good sign for GOP candidates in two neighboring congressional districts in Iowa and Minnesota that share media markets with the Badger State. It’s also a good sign for him in 2016.
2100 Eastern. The shocker of the night would be a GOP senate win in New Mexico. If it does happen, it will be a result of the coattails of Gov. Susana Martinez, who immediately will become a top-level presidential prospect.
2200 Eastern. Iowa. If Republicans are having a good night, when the Hawkeye State is called, it may be their 51st seat. Watch the House seats here too. With a dismal gubernatorial nominee, and a lacklustre Bruce Braley pulling down the ticket, Republicans will win three seats here if it is a good night. A Braley win and the retention of only the 4th Congressional district probably means that Republicans won’t take the senate and will gain only a disappointing three to six seats in the House.
2200 Eastern. Nevada. Watch the 4th district. It wasn’t even on anyone’s radar as recently as two weeks ago. However, early voting looks to be so dismal for Democrats in the Silver State, that a solid blue seat might be in play. I expect Democrat Steven Horsford to hold on. But if he does not, then neither will Harry Reid hold on to his leadership of the Democratic Party in the Senate.
0100 Eastern. Alaska. We won’t know the results there until muchlater. So hopefully, Republicans will already have won 51 seats by then and we can all go to bed.
| Category: Government
| Posted at: Thursday, 30 October 2014
This is a long post, so recharge your glass before you start.
The order of states might seem a bit odd, but when you read the second post in this series (with updated numbers) it might make more sense.
Let’s start with Mississippi. With the largest black population of any state in the Union, you would think that Mississippi is ripe for a Democratic takeover. You would think wrong. The white vote in the Magnolia State is so red that even when nearly half of those Republican voters are left fuming after the dirty tricks that the incumbent Senator Thad Cochran used to win a primary runoff, the Democrat Travis Childers still will be swamped by a red tide.
West Virginia. You know how ex-smokers become even more sadistically anti-smoking than anti-smokers who never smoked? That’s what happens when a long-blue state turns red. Shelley Moore Capito will crush Natalie Tennant and the GOP will take the state house and all three US House seats by the end of the night.
South Dakota. Have you ever locked yourself out of the house? Once you realize what you’ve done, you panic and start scrambling around the house in the hope that some window somewhere might be left unsecured. That’s what happened a couple weeks ago in South Dakota. Democrats saw that all the doors were locked–doors, being those purplish states that they might be able to walk through. South Dakota was a window, that by some magic set of circumstances might yield entry to their goal of not being locked out of the Senate’s leadership. Sorry, but the window is locked.
In Arkansas the name Pryor won’t be enough to save the seat. Mark Pryor has been in a steady descent since Independence Day when he last led Tom Cotton by a single point. Falling from 45.5 his RCP average of 1 July, Pryor is now four points lower. In retrospect, the result will have been obvious and smart political followers will wonder why they ever thought that Arkansas was really in play.
Kentucky was never quite as bright blue as some as its neighbors. Hence it is not quite so red now. Like Mississippi, Kentucky is far more conservative than is its senior senator. However, unlike Mississippi, it is not so red that it could bleed away Tea Party votes and still cruise to a GOP victory. A better Democratic candidate might have been able to exploit a divide within the GOP to win a Kentucky Senate Seat. Allison Lundergan Grimes is not that candidate. Her campaign has been so horrendously bad that were it not for Wendy Davis, Grimes would be a bigger national punch line. Since the beginning of September, Grimes has flat-lined at 42 percent. Mitch McConnell’s support is anemically low for a likely Senate Majority Leader, but he will still pull out a win. I’ll explain more in a later post, but Kentucky will likely give us our first real glimpse in how the rest of the night is going to unfold. Grimes is going to lose. But if she keeps it close–ie, under five points–the GOP may come away disappointed for the third election in a row. If McConnell manages to come close to Rand Paul’s 2010 margin of 55-44, then even MSNBC correspondents will bemoan the President curse on his party before midnight.
Alaska is a tricky place to predict. Polling is usually off by more than the national average. But it is also off in the same direction every time. Historically, polls favor Democrats by between 3 and 12 points. Mark Begich has stayed between 42 and 43 points since the beginning of October. The only variation has been the result of a single, unreplicated poll by a highly-partisan analyst who released the results on Facebook because he has no website, included no cross-tabs, and also found that Dan Young is ahead by only a single point. There are so many red-flags about this poll that it’s worth betting against. That said, Nate Silver posits that there is a 15-point spread in the margin of error in Alaska, and who is to say that Mr. Moore’s poll isn’t the correct one and everyone else is off by 15 points. Meanwhile in the Frontier State’s gubernatorial race, Independent (D) Bill Walker is leading Republican incumbent Sean Parnell by less than two points. But . . . the spread between the four most recent polls that make up that prediction are Parnell +5, Parnell +3, Walker +6 and Walker +9. In order to have a meaningful of average of polls, you must have a normally distributed sample of polls. It’s only four data points, but these polls do not appear to be normally distributed. Which means that the average Walker lead of 1.8 is bunk. Two of them are right and the other two are very wrong. He’s either leading by five or trailing by just as much. History tells us that Parnell and Sullivan win their races by more than the average would predict. There will come a year when this history changes. Just not this year in America’s ultimate libertarian state when America’s ultimate anti-libertarian President is underwater by a solid double-digit amount.
Louisiana. Mary Landrieu has survived close races before. But this year there has been only a single public poll since Independence Day showing her with over 46% in a race between her and Bill Cassidy. And that one poll still had her losing by three points. If the race were November 4th, she would lose a head-to-head race. But the race isn’t November 4th. The primary is. The runoff is on December 6th. The trick for her next week is to keep it close. If she can exceed 45% in the initial contest she has a chance to get within the margin of fraud of a win. (In Louisiana, the margin of fraud is larger than in most other states.) If she is barely able to break 40% in November, then absent a cataclysmic change in the political environment, the only thing she gains is a one-month reprieve before she is voted out. She won’t reach the amount she needs.
If you’re keeping score, along with Montana, this brings us to a Republican pickup of 5 Senate seats and a 50-50 split. The loss of another Democratic seat would flip the upper chamber to the GOP. Except that, there are two GOP seats that shouldn’t be in play, but are.
Kansas is our second example of the Locked Door Syndrome. Only this window might be open. When one party completely dominates, it ultimately divides into two competing wings, one of which combines with the party out of power in a new coalition. Governor Sam Brownback leads the tax-cutting government-slashing wing, while Kansas state senate Republicans are big business crony capitalists who do quite well under big government. Senator Pat Roberts is representative of the latter wing. These two wings cannot co-exist long in one party and thus, the logical coalition is for the party of big business to join with the party of big government under one banner. In this sense, Kansas is on the cutting edge of what is to come nationwide. The division is stark enough that in a more neutral political environment, it would be likely that neither wing would achieve a majority and both Brownback and Roberts would lose. In fact, it was probably going to be the case that, had national Democrats not tried to force open a window in Kansas by supporting Greg Orman, that Brownback was going to lose this year. The only thing now saving Brownback is that some small government Republicans who otherwise would have stayed home, will instead hold their noses to vote for Roberts in order to ensure that Republicans take the Senate. Talk about blowback.
Georgia is interesting. You have to read Sean Trende’s analysis of eight decades of voting patterns in the Peach State in order to understand its idiosyncracies. One of the most puzzling enigmas is its racial characterization of voters. Trende points out that “unknown” is the fastest growing race in the state. And nobody knows who they are. So when you look at early vote counts and see that the zip codes with the highest proportion of early votes comes from areas with larger non-white populations, you have to remember that some of those non-whites are unknowns. Strange. Also strange is that, aside from Alaska, Georgia is the only state in the nation where the Democratic Senate candidate has a demonstrable trend of higher numbers since October 1st. In fact, among the closest governor’s races in the nation, Pat Quinn in Illinois and Dannel Malloy are the only Democrats to show significant improvement over the last month. Jimmy Carter’s grandson is mired at the same 44% where he was at the end of September and where he peaked at the end of July. So whatever is happening in the Perdue-Nunn race is not showing up in the other Georgia statewide race.
Let me digress about this point because it bears repeating: There are only four Democrats in closely contested state-wide races who have shown an improved level of support during the month of October. This is an enormously important point–especially this year.
All of the major poll aggregators focus on the head-to-head spread. But not all spreads are the same. The Democratic candidate with steady 2-point lead who is ahead 49-47 (Shaheen) is in a substantially better position going into the last few weeks of campaigning than is the Democratic candidate leading by two points but who has less than 45% support (Hagan and almost everybody else with a “D” after their name). Barack Obama in 2012 struggled to hit the 50% mark. But he was close enough to it that all he had to do was to demonize his opponent enough so that enough of the undecideds stayed home and 49% was enough to win when it came time to count those who actually showed up to vote. You aren’t likely to succeed by employing that same demonization strategy when there are 14 percent undecideds in the last few weeks of the race. That’s like trying to run out the clock in football with a three-point lead and fifteen minutes left. All summer long we have seen a substantially greater number of undecideds than in years past. By the end of October one of two things were going to happen: undecideds were going to break for one party or the other, or they was going to stay home. We now have a month’s worth of data showing no evidence of a break toward Democrats in 16 of the 20 most hotly contested statewide races in the country. However, in over half of those races (11 out of 20) the GOP candidate is up over the last four weeks and/or the Democrat has noticeably declined. (AR-Gov, AR-Sen, CO-Sen, GA-Gov, IA-Sen, KS-Gov, MA-Gov, MI-Gov, NC-Sen, NH-Sen, and NH-Gov).
(As an aside to my digression, the movement we’re seeing undercuts Nate Cohn’s argument that the polls are biased in the GOP’s favor. Even if that were true, a consistent skew won’t disguise movement. October’s polls clearly have shown movement in a Republican direction.) However, even though we see movement now, doesn’t mean that it will continue (Nate Silver’s point). What it does mean is that in the next five days, absent a massive change, in all but three races Democrats have already persuaded all the voters that they are going to persuade, while Republicans have some potential upside still remaining. (This BTW, is how a “wave” forms causing almost every race to “tilt” in the same direction.) In a later piece I want to explore this strange year and expand on what I discussed regarding Kansas and tell you what I think it portends for the future alignment of the parties.
End of digression.
When it comes right down to it, Michelle Nunn has to force a runoff if she expects to win. If she does, January 6th is a long way away. Since control of the Senate won’t be at stake by then, this could very well be the year when Georgia Democrats end their streak of losing runoff races.
Colorado. Wow, did Mark Uterus, I mean, Udall, blow it. And I predicted it two years ago:
” . . . pinning your party’s hopes on the most vocal advocates of a highly controversial social issue, when there is near universal agreement that other issues are more important, gives your party’s megaphone to those who are both extreme and irrelevant. Sandra Fluke is this year’s Terri Schiavo. For every already-Democrat she inspires to vote, she turns off at least one independent for the crime of insulting them by ignoring larger issues. Karl Rove’s plan to drive up Evangelical turnout in 2004, while it worked then, gave rise four years later to Mike Huckabee, who is perhaps the most demagogic and dangerous major presidential candidate to have run for office since William Jennings Bryan beclowned himself and his party in the late 19th century.”
Barack Obama won with the “war on woman” sword in 2012 and Mark Udall will die by that same sword this year. The desperation NARAL radio ad preposterously postulates that in “Cory’s [Gardner'] world” there will be condom shortages and a ban on birth control. Again, if it weren’t for Wendy Davis,Udall and Grimes would be fighting for the “2014 I am not a witch award.” Both sides should study the Colorado race, but especially Democrats, as Colorado was the most winnable race that they didn’t have to lose. Oh, BTW, Udall flames out so spectacularly that he takes down Hickenlooper with him.
Iowa. You do not say that lawyers make better legislators anywhere. You especially do not say that lawyers make better legislators than do farmers when you’re trying to win a race in Iowa. This election was over the moment that recorded remark hit the news. B.C. (Before Catastrophe) Joni Ernst was five points down and never over 36% in the polls. Since then Bruce Braley has never been higher than he was the day he made that stupid remark. Braley too is a strong contender for the “I am not a witch” award. Aided by Braley’s collapse and Terry Branstad’s large margin in the governor’s race, three of the Hawkeye State’s four US House seats end the night red.
North Carolina and New Hampshire are worth discussing together. Prognosticators have been lumping them that way because both female Democratic incumbents have clung to one or two-point leads even as their male GOP opponents have gained noticeably over the last month of the race. But for reasons I discussed in my digression above, having the same spread does not mean that they are in the same place. Kay Hagan is stuck at +/- of one point of 45% since Labor Day, which is exactly where she was on the Fourth of July. Feminists could say that Hagan has hit a glass ceiling. Jeanne Shaheen is bounded by a similar +/- one-point range. The difference is that her range is +/ one point of 48%. Another difference is that North Carolina is a shade more red than is New Hampshire. This is especially true in midterm years. Hagan’s supporters will point to early voting totals that show that compared with 2010, Democratic turnout is up two-percent, while Republicans are down six. What they overlook, however, is that Republican Richard Burr beat his Democratic opponent by nearly 12%. So Hagan’s apparent eight-point improvement over Elaine Marshall’s early numbers four years ago is good, but it is not good enough. Kay Hagan and Jeanne Shaheen end the night on the opposite sides of their races: Shaheen wins hers while Hagan loses.
The what-might-have-been states: Minnesota, New Mexico, and Virginia. All three could have been won with the right candidate and the right message. Instead of finishing with 53 or 54 Senate seats (depending on Georgia’s January outcome), Republicans could have seized as many as 58 seats. That they played defense while Democrats shot themselves in the foot made short-term sense, but was a lost major long-term opportunity to remake the Republican brand.
There’s still a few days left and thus time or a few more shoes to drop. More to follow after a few more polls.
Carl DeMaio is a Republican former San Diego city councilman. Among his many “conservative” proposals, he supported pension reforms that would eliminate defined benefits for public employees. In California where defined benefit pensions burden the state with huge amounts of looming debt, this kind of reform is absolutely necessary in order to avoid a fiscal crisis that is sure to come. DeMaio had a viable plan to fix San Diego’s pension problems by reducing spending elsewhere in the city’s budget. Two years ago he narrowly lost the race to be San Diego’s mayor. It wasn’t his pension reform plans that got him; he was weathering that assault by fiercely opposed teacher and public employee unions. No, what kept him from getting more than 47.5% of the vote was the fact that DeMaio is gay.
DeMaio is now locked in a toss-up race for the US House seat held by one one-term incumbent Scott Peters. One week before election day the National Organization for Marriage endorsed the Democrat Peters.
There is nothing odd about an advocacy group endorsing candidates from the party it usually opposes. The National Rifle Association endorsed several pro-gun Senate Democrats in 2010 who then went on to win, including Max Baucus, Mark Begich, and Harry Reid. Successful advocacy groups advocate positions, not parties, thus enabling the groups to have allies no matter who wins control.
That is not what NOM has done. DeMaio’s Democratic opponent is very pro-gay marriage.
In the case where both party’s candidates are on the same side of an issue, a successful advocacy group supporting the other side would either have saved its political capital for another race and declined to endorse, or it would have asked its supporters to hold their noses and vote for the candidate from the party it usually supports in order that it would have a vote with the leadership of the party in control of the chamber.
What NOM has done is to demonstrate that it doesn’t want a vote at the Republican table; it wants a veto over the GOP.
If it hasn’t already, gay marriage is coming to a town near you. You can’t stop it. And over time, you’re going to look like a fool for having tried. Here is why: At most, no more than one-percent of the American people will ever want to enter into a gay marriage. One percent.
A jobs crisis that has reduced the percentage of Americans working to its lowest level in three decades, sixteen-trillion dollars of unsustainable debt, a sabre-rattling Russia, a European Union that is one shock away from setting off a fiscal calamity, an anti-entrepreneur and freedom-crushing federal bureaucratic apparatus that is simultaneously omnipresent and incompetent . . . and in the face of all that you’re going to vote on the basis that one percent of the population might be enjoying the horizontal mambo with someone you don’t approve of? If that’s really your highest priority, you’re an idiot.
If that’s you, you’re also not on the side of freedom. That is because you stand opposed to the small businessman stymied by bureaucratic cronyism. You stand opposed to Europeans who have struggled for decades to get out from under the Soviet shadow. You stand opposed to your own children and grandchildren who deserve to be born without soul-crushing debt that will forever limit their futures. That you would deny all that freedom just to impose your will on those with whom you disagree makes you a totalitarian no better than the “progressive” who gleefully would do the same to you.
You don’t have to support gay marriage. But you do have to tolerate it. Of course, that’s what freedom really means: allowing someone to do something with which you disagree so that in return someone can’t stop you from doing what they disagree with.
There has never been a more intolerant movement than the progressive movement that in the name of “tolerance” forces you to bend to their will. If you want to take a gay marriage position that you can win, then support the freedom to opt out of it instead of having the government force you to participate. Even many gay-marriage supporters balked when Coeur d’Alene, Idaho tried to force a wedding chapel to perform gay weddings. No lover of freedom could ever support such a rule, but that is what progressives want.
And that is what the National Organization for Marriage wants. They want to force the Republican Party to bend to its will. If Republican candidates in close races demonstrate that they can win without NOM’s support, then NOM has no power at all.
Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good reason for a gay marriage supporter to cross the aisle and support a gay Republican, thus putting an end to NOM once and for all.
When I was a planner at U.S. European Command I was part of a group that looked at counter-terrorism planning. One of the concerns we were addressing was the “lone wolf” attacker. That was what we called an inspired individual who took it upon himself to, on his own, stage a terrorist attack. I took the counter-intuitive position that the lone-wolf attacker was not a problem; instead he was an indicator of success.
Terrorism is not how the strong attack their enemies. Coordinated terrorist attacks originating in the Middle East are themselves a counter-intuitive indicator of success. That is because the American military (and its Western Allies) are far too strong to attack symetrically. Al Qaeda never could hope to attack the United States militarily. They never have had the resources to directly confront America with missiles and tanks. So they have had to resort to organized terrorist attacks.
Lone wolf attacks like the ones perpetrated against Canada twice in the last two days are indicators that now even organized terrorist attacks often are beyond the abilities of al Qaeda and affiliated groups. Since al Qaeda’s losses suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan, they rarely have been able even to conduct organized terrorist attacks. As horrible as these lone wolf types of attacks are, they amount to little more than murders, not wholesale attacks against the West.
And that was my point to the other planners at EUCOM: lone wolf attacks don’t need a military solution. When the enemy’s attacks amount to a few (obviously very tragic) murders that the police can handle, a military response unnecessarily expends more of our resources while it gives our enemies more credit than they deserve.
If Republicans wanted to ensure that the Kansas Senate seat stayed in GOP hands, they would join the suit by Democrat Senate candidate Chad Taylor and ask to have Pat Roberts’ name removed from the ballot so that it could be replaced by the primary’s runner-up, Milton Wolf.
That they would never even consider doing that tells you that the national party would rather lose a seat than to have it fall into Tea Party hands.
Why Republicans will gain at least 9 seats in the Senate and reduce the number of Democrats in the House to below 190 seats, their lowest level since 1930.
The RCP average has Dems and Repubs deadlocked at 45 seats each, with ten more too close to call. Unfortunately for Dems, seven of those seats are in red states and three are in purple. Not one seat is being fought on favorable terrain where the President’s popularity might keep the Democratic senate nominee above water.
Speaking of which, President Obama is underwater himself. Not just underwater, but an anchor. At this point in the 2010 election cycle, President Obama was more unpopular than popular, but by only four points: approximately 49-45. Today the RCP average has the margin at 13 points, with only 41% of voters approving of the president’s job.
Worse than that, while the President himself is unpopular, his policies themselves are even more unpopular. A recent ABC/WSJ poll found disapproval for his presidency to be 51%. But the disapproval levels for his policies lagged even that: 54% against his handling of the economy, 56% against his international affairs, 56% against his implementation of health care, and 59% against his immigration policies. Worse still, now that terrorism is becoming a concern with more Americans, the greatest number of Americans ever support Republicans over Democrats on this issue by a 55 to 32 margin. Compared with 2010, Dems have fallen 10 points and Repubs have gained 4 on an issue they already led and that wasn’t a top concern four years ago. Republicans, who began the year thinking that they could again use Obamacare as a cudgel against Democrats, have discovered that they have a whole arsenal of clubs from which to choose to beat their opponents. On virtually every issue Democratic positions are overwhelmingly unpopular.
Still worse for Democrats is that re-districting since 2010 has worsened their position. Racial gerrymandering is the main culprit. Most of the 41 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be returned to Washington in January with huge margins of victory. Democrats have built these districts’ lines to ensure a large amount of black representation in Congress. Many such seats are more than 80% Democratic. In a 50-50 nation where one-tenth of the House seats are hugely Democratic, that leaves many fewer Democrats to sprinkle around the rest of the country. For years, Republicans have had a Brer Rabbit attitude toward Democratically-led racial gerrymandering, as it gives them a disproportionate edge in the rest of the country. So in House seats that aren’t CBC house seats, President Obama is on average even more unpopular than he already is nationally.
On this date four years ago the RCP average had the GOP favored in 207 seats and the Democrats in 193. All 35 tossups broke for the GOP. The House in big elections tends to break big for the winning side. This year, the GOP is favored to win 230 seats—27 more than they were favored to win at this time in 2010. Democrats are favored in only 188, 5 fewer than in 2010. Of the 17 tossups, 13 are currently Democratic-held. Just as in the Senate, Democrats are fighting a reeling defense everywhere in the House. Worse for Democrats is that between September 11, 2010 and the 2010 election, the map widened in the GOP’s favor. They saw their lead slip such that on election day, the RCP average had them ahead in only 171 seats. On average, every seat moved over one notch; seats that had been leaning Democratic became tossups, forcing Democrats to defend even more turf. If a similar movement occurs again, expect Democrats to see another dozen or so seats slip away where they are currently favored to win.
And here’s why that might happen. Democrats spent the summer of 2010 fluctuating between 41 and 44 percent support on the generic congressional ballot question. This summer they are in exactly the same place. In 2010 the GOP began its rise out of the same region right around the 4th of July. But until then they were neck-and-neck with the Dems. This year the GOP looks to have begun its climb about six weeks later and now finds itself five points ahead of where it was just three weeks ago and with the highest level of support it has enjoyed all year. If this is indicative of undecideds breaking against the Dems, it will reflect in races where Democratic incumbents currently look safe.
I’ve lived through three landslide midterm elections in my adult life and all of them looked like this. But neither 1994, 2006, nor 2010 looked this bad for the party in the White House until much later in the race. Plus, in 2006 Republicans had a firewall of eight untouchable seats. No matter what happened they would keep Arizona, Indiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. This year Democrats have three fewer seats that are firmly out of reach of the GOP. Even the President’s home state of Illinois is not safe. While unlikely, a veto-proof GOP majority in the senate and as few as 175 Democrats in the House, is not out of range.
Why the GOP will miss its opportunity (again).
Republicans are not the Stupid Party™ for nothing. In 2010 and 2012 they made the mistake of nominating wackos and witches in swing states and even blue ones where they had credible alternatives who were almost guaranteed to win. This time the GOP applied an opposite, but equally stupid approach. In three states so Republican that a red dog could win, they renominated their RINO incumbents who were the only Republicans in those states who could possibly lose. Kansas, a state so Republican that FDR won there only twice, typified the stupidity, but Kentucky and Mississippi weren’t far behind. The national GOP, tone deaf as always, didn’t appreciate that the only thing less popular in Kansas than a Kansas Democrat was a Washington Republican. By propping up the dinosaur Roberts, they have ensured the loss of a seat they couldn’t lose.
Almost as bad as Republican leaders are Republican voters. In 2010 complacency cost them seats they were going to win. Going into election day, Republicans led in Colorado and Nevada and were tied in Washington. They lost all three seats. In fact, the Republican candidate failed to beat the final RCP average in every single tossup state. The Obama turnout machine turned out while Republicans stayed home thinking that they already had the win.
And in 2010 Democrats gave Republicans an incentive they don’t have now: Nancy Pelosi. Sure, she is still around. But she no longer leads the House. Almost as unpopular as she was at her nadir, is the GOP’s John Boehner. “A pox upon both your houses” is the voters’ mood.
That thinking is evident in the generic congressional question, where this year, Republicans have never been able to break away from the Dems. If “none of the above” were a choice, it would probably win. Without a hated nemesis and with lackluster leadership of their own, a landslide victory—or even control of the Senate—is not going to happen.
UPDATE: Jay Cost notes a similar trend to what I stated in the first part of this post
All in all, this is precisely the sort of poll you do not want to see if you are a Democrat. With less than two months until the 2014 midterm, Republicans are polling stronger in the NBC/WSJ poll than at any point since … two months before the 2010 midterm.
President Obama’s admission that he lacks a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State was a foolish thing for a President to admit out loud. But it is not surprising. That is because for most of our nation’s history, America has lacked an explicit foreign policy and a supporting strategy.
When we have approximated a guiding principle, we usually have done so only as far as to define what we were against: against European intervention in the Western Hemisphere under the Monroe Doctrine, against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, and against Soviet expansion during the Cold War.
The eight years of the second Bush presidency at least had the virtue of America and the world clearly understanding what the United States stood against. We stood against the use of terrorism, be it deployed in Baghdad or Britain. Of course, fabricating a strategy from opposition to a tactic is a form of reverse-engineering that was bound to be a less than successful exercise.
The last six years haven’t even possessed that murky level of clarity: withdrawal at any cost in Iraq, withdrawal on a fixed timeline from Afghanistan, intervention without aims in Libya, and a stutter-step approach to a Syrian civil war that now has America on the precipice of being on the de facto side of Bashar Al Assad, about whom the President said, “must go”. What exactly is the point?
The jumbled mess that seems to be American Middle Eastern foreign policy was pithily encapsulated by one online commenter:
“We’re supporting Shia in Iraq near Baghdad, mostly Sunni Kurds in the North, and never Kurdish independence anywhere. We support vetted moderate Sunnis in Syria who only sometimes give that support to their more radical Sunni Salafist brothers in the IS to kill the Alawite Shia Assad government they both oppose, and of course destroy the Shia we support in Iraq. We support the ultra-Sunni Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, but not their tribal affiliated Al Khalifa Sunni brothers in Bahrain. There we seem to support democracy which would lead to Shia government. We don’t support the Shia aytollahs in Iran, nor their more secular opposition which protested and was crushed a few years ago.”
Again, what exactly is the point?
In addition to lacking a strategy, President Obama’s confused rhetoric demonstrates that there also is no tactical point to our military endeavors in the region. White House correspondent Alexis Simeldinger’s recent report may look like a semantic exercise. However, “destroy” and “degrade” are very different military objectives. From such terms necessarily flow military plans to support the attainment of the President’s specified objectives. When the President himself postulates that the goal is to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State, he has contradicted himself in the space of three words.
This is not the first time. American intentions in Libya were doomed from the start because those intentions themselves were never clear to military leaders in US Africa Command (AFRICOM) who quite literally didn’t know what the President wanted them to accomplish. You cannot have a coherent strategy if you don’t have a clear objective.
After the fact, the Bush Administration recognized this glaring deficiency when it attempted to construct a goal for the war in Iraq. Defeat Saddam Hussein, which was the original 2003 goal, is not an objective. It is a means to an objective. What Iraq was supposed to look and act like should have been the objective.
To his credit, Bush developed the objective of a self-sustaining, stable, and responsible Iraq was marginally achieved, at least by 2010. To his detriment, for at least the first three years of the war, Bush and the country muddled through the Iraq War because the Administration couldn’t even define what victory should look like so that America would know when to send its troops home. To Obama’s credit, he continued in Iraq and made great strides toward Bush’s goal during the first two years of his presidency. To his detriment, he, like his predecessor, failed to understand that after the conflict portion of war is over, peace is more of a rheostat than a switch. You can’t flip it off suddenly and expect that stability would remain.
There seems to be one cause more than any other that makes America stumble into its foreign policy mistakes. That cause is the feeling that “We need to do something”. Whether we need to do something because we feel that people around the world are being wronged or because we feel that someone has wronged us, the urge to “do something” is a natural human emotion. It arises out of sympathy for a victim or anger at an affront. But sympathy and anger are emotions. They are not logical reasons for entering a conflict.
Unfortunately, most of America’s “bad” wars seem to have begun this way. Two-hundred years ago, the fledgling nation tired of diminutive treatment from Great Britain, and so feeling that it had to do something to show Britain that it could not be pushed around, America launched a war against its former occupier at a time when it was itself then occupied by the much greater task of defeating Napoleon. The war ended exactly as it began: confusedly, and earning no concessions for America from the British. In fact, the Treaty of Ghent is one of the few treaties in history that explicitly enshrines the status quo ante bellum. Well, except for the 15,000 Americans who died as a result of the War of 1812.
A century later the president, against the wishes of the country, provided quasi-support to Allied Powers engaged in a far-off war, and then cried foul when the Central Powers attacked that support. “We have to do something” became his rallying cry and so America entered a regrettable war in which it never had any business being. When mercifully World War I came to a close, voters so abhorred President Wilson for the pointless conflict that less than a week from victory, they jettisoned 25 members of his party from the House and turned over control of the Senate to the opposition.
Wars in Vietnam, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, have likewise left America in no better position than before the commencement of hostilities. And all of these conflicts began over an American feeling that it had to do something. By acting on the basis of emotion instead of thought, America invited the probability that the unintended consequences of “something” would be worse than if it had done nothing. Like medieval doctors treating ailments with leeches and bloodletting, the “cure” always leaves the patient no better off than before the treatment, and often is worse than the disease itself.
Today you have everyone from National Review’s Rich Lowry to progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren saying that destroying the Islamic State should be the nation’s “Number one priority”. Left-leaning columnist Jonathan Alter says that “There’s not much disagreement on how to handle ISIS. U.S. warplanes have already flown more than 100 sorties to degrade ISIS ground forces, and many more bombs are on the way.”
Alter is probably right about what will be done, but never addressed is why America would do it. What does it expect to accomplish? How, as a result of aerial strikes, does America expect that the situation will be better?
Unfortunately, the entire debate is backwards. Instead of asking what military action we should take, we need first ask ourselves what do we want the post-military situation to look like? Then and only then can the Department of Defense propose a military plan to achieve that end result. And sometimes that plan, means no plan, because sometimes, any military solution only makes the situation worse. In other words, the first question is not “What?” but “Why?” Taking any action without a goal and the thoughtful analysis of whether or not the goal is attainable, is foolish, costly, and dangerous.
I submit that while destroying IS may end up being the right course of action, before we decide to do that, our number one foreign policy priority ought to be figuring out as our objective what we want the world to look like, and then formulating a feasible strategy to get us there.
Otherwise, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, is just going to join a long list of Middle Eastern public-enemy-number-ones over the last quarter-century including: Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein (again), Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Muqtada al Sadr, Muammar Khadafy, and Bashar al Assad. Without first understanding the objective of American intervention, the only certainty is that after the Islamic State, we simply will find ourselves confronted by yet another “great” threat with a hard-to-pronounce name.
Further complicating the question of what to do about the Islamic State is the fact that the Middle East really is a tertiary problem for the United States. What we choose to do there puts in peril American prestige and power in theaters more important and potentially more dangerous. Both Europe, with an economically injured but still militarily dangerous Russia, and Asia, with an emerging China and a declining Japan, are much bigger concerns than a terrorist organization whose reach is limited and whose only direct attack on America has been a couple murders.
Perhaps that’s a little too crassly stated. After all, televised beheadings are incomparably gruesome. However, let us attempt to maintain some proportionality: do we really think that the best answer is to launch thousands of forces and spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an attempt to end a murder rate that falls short of a Chicago weekend?
Finally, let us attempt to maintain some perspective as well. The development of IS was a wholly predictable event. The destabilization of Bashar al Assad guaranteed the emergence of IS or someone else like it. In that region of the world, the only surety was that any resultant opposition wasn’t going to be moderate and democratic. So if non-intervention in the Syrian Civil War was the right choice—and it probably was—then we should have known that this was going to happen. If the decision to leave Iraq was the right choice—and it probably was (although it certainly could have been a more measured withdrawal)—then the rise of a brutal opposition was a predictable consequence. But if this was a foreseeable outcome, what was a better alternative? It’s very likely that there wasn’t one, and that there still isn’t one.
Perhaps this indicates that the most important principle to keep in mind when it comes to deciding a strategy is best encapsulated in Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer for serenity. God grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
In other words, having no strategy, might not be the worst thing. (But still, you don’t say that.)
In Part II: How to create an American strategy
If you like wonky political analysis, Dan “Baseball Crank” McLaughlin has an excruciatingly detailed look at what the historical record portends for the 2016 political landscape.
McLaughlin’s conclusion based on evaluating every presidential election since the American Civil War is that a party that enjoys presidential incumbency for eight straight years almost always sees a drop-off in support in the following election. While this isn’t an earth-shattering result–almost all political analysts recognize that after two successful elections, it is very hard to win a third–McLaughlin shows that the mathematics behind this phenomenon are nearly unanimous. Even when parties do win third elections (FDR in 1940, and George H W Bush in 1988, for example), there is a pronounced drop-off in the amount of support that the incumbent party gets compared to the previous election’s results.
While I urge you to read the article, that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I saw something in one of McLaughlin’s charts that has caused me to question a bit of conventional wisdom that I have always before accepted.
Conventional wisdom holds that higher voter turnout favors Democrats over Republicans. So take a look at this chart from McLaughlin’s analysis. What this shows is the total presidential vote count for each party as well as the total number of voting eligible age non-voters from 1980 to 2012.Look at the blue line for Democrats. Aside from 2008 it is remarkably steady. So steady, in fact, that with an R-squared of .978, a Democratic candidate for president can expect to receive 3.87 million more votes than the Democratic nominee did four years before. Again, aside from 2008, in the last ten presidential elections, the Democratic nominee never over or underperformed this projection by more than 2.2 million votes. I’ve reproduced just the Republican and Democratic data below and added the linear trend that is fitted to 1980-2012 Democratic vote totals except for the outlier year of 2008.
In 2008 Barack Obama overperformed the trend line by an astounding 8.5 million votes as he turned out an anomalously large number of youth, minorities, and independents. Four years later, Obama overperformed the Democratic trend by a mere 1.1 million votes, a much more historically normal result.
Now look at the red line for the number of Republican votes. It is all over the place. In 1984 and 1988, when Democratic performance was almost exactly in line with the historical trend, Republicans outdistanced them by 17 million and 7 million votes. In 1992 and 1996, when Democrats only slightly underperformed their trend, Republicans fell woefully short by 6 million and 8 million votes.
Wondering how far back the trend line goes, I plotted the same data for all post-war presidential elections. Prior to 1980 there is more Democratic variability than in subsequent years, but the extreme linearity of the trend disappears at least before 1972. (If we consider, back to 1972, the 1976 election joins the 2008 election as an outlier. These two elections, Carter’s post-Watergate election and the first election with a black man on the ballot, might indicate that modern Democrats have very little independent or cross-over appeal, and that when it does occur, it happens only as a result of an uncommon circumstance.)
What’s interesting about the period between 1972 and 1980 when this pattern appears to have established itself is that this was the time when the Democratic Party completed its realignment. Previously it had been a coalition of geographies: white Southerners and urban Northern Catholics. Bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition before then were Midwestern farmers, Northern Protestants, and blacks.
What has changed since is that the Democratic coalition is now almost entirely demographically based and includes nearly all black voters, a solid majority of Hispanics, and a steady percentage of women. Aside from these groups, there is very little bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition since the 1970s. Again, with the exception of 2008 when Barack Obama greatly expanded his party’s vote before it collapsed back to its normal self four years later, the only growth Democrats have seen over the last four decades looks to be entirely dependent on the population growth of its constituencies.
Of course, many Democratic pundits and strategists would take comfort from such a conclusion. After all, at least one portion of the Democratic triad (Hispanics) is growing faster than the general rate of population growth. (McLaughlin addresses this point in another post here.)
On the other hand, the record of the last ten elections indicates that Republicans have far more upside potential, having bested the Democratic trend line by five million or more votes on four occasions. Democrats have never beaten that same trend by even half that amount except for once.
Of course, Republicans have also far underperformed the Democratic trendline. In 1992 and then again in 1996 voters who might have voted Republican either didn’t vote or voted for H. Ross Perot, and in 2012 a milquetoast Mitt Romney couldn’t even manage the Republican vote total amassed eight years before when the country’s population was nearly 20 million people fewer.
Sean Trende has made this point before:
” . . . census data and exit polls reveal that some 6 million white voters opted to sit out [the 2012] election. The data show these non-voters were not primarily Southerners or evangelicals, but were located in Northeast, Midwest and Southwest. Mainly, they fit the profile of “Reagan Democrats” or, more recently, a Ross Perot supporter. For these no-shows, Mitt Romney was not a natural fit.”
Less hitched to demography, Republicans are a coalition of ideas that in some years have more or less overlap and appeal than in other years and are more or less represented by a particular nominee.
In other words, the electorate includes really only two types of people: reliable Democrats who always vote no matter the nominee, and potential voters who will almost never vote Democrat but might vote Republican if their nominee can persuade them. Furthermore the number of the latter vastly exceeds the former. While in most years Democrats achieve a very predictable result based almost entirely on the mechanics of population growth, this raw political landscape allows Republicans the opportunity to enjoy earth-shattering landslides when it chooses well, or to suffer soul-crushing defeats when it does not.
And that brings us back to the question of turnout. The conventional wisdom is that because the Democrat’s voter base includes groups with historically lower turnout rates, they are the ones to benefit from higher turnout. However, the record of the last forty years places nearly the entire burden for victory on the ability of the GOP presidential nominee to excite that portion of the electorate that was never going to show up to vote for the Democrat anyway.