Nothing these days seems more controversial than gay marriage. In recent days and weeks Minnesota and Delaware have legalized gay marriage. In less than two months the Supreme Court is set to rule on California’s Prop 8. A lot will come to a head on the issue soon. But that is merely background. This article will be an illustration of why I, a social conservative who opposes abortion and supports traditional values, is rooting for the gay marriage movement to continue to succeed.
The idea of equality is firmly rooted in American culture. As a result it should come as no surprise that many gay Americans who get to watch the Mark Sanford’s of the country get political redemption wonder why they are not allowed to marry those they love. They have committed no crime, have not squandered tax dollars nor been unfaithful to the one they love. Yet, they must watch the Sanford’s of this country get salvation and fervently say he believes in traditional values.
So if Mark Sanford can be forgiven for such actions why cannot gays be allowed to marry? In a country where marriage is increasingly taking place at a later age and fewer are getting hitched it only seems to make sense to support monogamous marriage. It has been well established by research that a stable two-parent family has psychological benefits for both parents and children. In a study of heterosexual couples it was found that men who were married and had kids worked harder than single men. The same phenomenon in a more recent study was found among married, working women in a household with kids. It does not seem a stretch to say that future research may find the same thing in gay, married couples. In the African-American community, the drop in marriage rates and more out-of-wedlock babies has coincided with stagnant income levels and increases in violence and drug use. Thus, the importance of marriage cannot be overstated.
While many gays will identify as agnostic or atheist that should come as no shock. Many of the most ardent opponents of gay marriage claim it goes against God’s word. The socially conservative right has been the strongest voice against gay marriage. But these social conservatives should realize that gays may not have the same religious beliefs but their views on tradition and the importance of marriage matches with theirs. In the Bible-Belt, many states have higher divorce rates than states such as Massachusetts, New York State and Delaware indicting that legalizing gay marriage will not lead to higher overall divorce rates.
Unlike Time Magazine I do not believe the gay marriage debate is over. It may take decades for the movement to see marriage equality in all fifty states if the Supreme Court does not rule it so in June. But that may give gay marriage more legitimacy than ever. It would allow younger social conservatives such as myself to explain why gay marriage is a good thing for this country (currently a majority of all Americans and almost half of all social conservatives under 25 support gay marriage). It would also give the public a chance to see the societal benefits of allowing gay marriage. These benefits would be the strengthening of the institution of marriage, more two-parent families and rising incomes. All these things are positives and in time I believe the American people will see it as well.
As the Virginia gubernatorial race rapidly approaches a series of new polls have come out showing divergent results. The most recent survey from Quinnipiac showed Terry McCauliffe leading Ken Cuccinelli (R) 43%-38% among registered voters. Surveys taken in late April by the Washington Post and NBC/Marist among likely voters showed Cuccinelli ahead. So what explains this difference? I have a few thoughts on this.
First-off, it is a little early for many surveyors to be using likely voter models to predict turnout for the race. Yet, both the NBC and Washington Post surveys are using them. Since off-year constitutional elections tend to have lower turnout than other elections it is no surprise the survey is showing more devoted conservative Republican voters participating. According to the Washington Post’s internal numbers 28% of likely voters identified as Democrats, 26% as Republicans, about 30% as Independent and the rest as other or did not answer. Contrast this with Quinnipiac’s survey which looked at a larger sample of 1,200+ registered voters. Among those sampled well over 30% identified as Democrat, only about 25% as Republican and the rest as Independent or other. So Quinnipiac’s survey leans more to the left by default. This is a national trend as many occasional voters register as Democrats and thus tend to skew registered voter samples compared to the actual electorate.
Another factor is where the Independents lean in each survey. In the Quinnipiac survey Cuccinelli and McCauliffe attract about 35% of Independent support. In essence this creates a net draw among key swing voters and base turnout determines the race. If this is true than McCauliffe has an edge simply by the fact there are more Democrats in the electorate than Republicans. The NBC survey also showed the candidates deadlocked among Independents and thus base turnout is giving Cuccinelli the edge in the survey. In the Washington Post survey which found Cuccinelli up five among probably likely voters and 10 among those most likely to vote Cuccinelli has a wide lead. Independents seem to be leading the difference in polling results.
Lastly, ideology is playing a role in each survey. In the Washington Post survey a majority of respondents said the Federal Government was doing too much and conservatives made up about 35% of the electorate. In the Quinnipiac and NBC surveys those numbers were very different with fewer voters identifying as conservative or believe the Federal Government is doing too much. Voters who are conservative and believe the Federal Government is doing too much fueled GOP victories in 2009 and 2010 and could help fuel a Republican victory in Virginia in 2013.
There could very well be other reasons why the survey results are diverging. It could simply be random chance or the way the pollsters are weighting the results. Regardless, survey results are starting to diverge and that is sure to fuel debate well into the future about who is going to win the Virginia race but more importantly, how polling should be handled in an ever-changing political and demographic environment.
In a mere week the political environment has become toxic for Democrats. It started with new allegation and revelations related to Benghazi. Then late last week news broke the IRS had harassed conservative leaning advocacy groups applyingfor tax-exempt status. As if the steady leaking of the IRS scandal was not enough it broke the DOJ had tapped over two dozen phones at the AP HQ in DC. This has led to commentators on the left, right and center calling Obama’s tenure a “Nixonian” presidency.
For the average Democratic voter this news has to depress you much as it depressed the average Republican voter in Bush’s second term. For Democratic candidates and elected officials this news is absolutely disastrous Many Democratic candidates running in red states need a positive political environment in effect to win their uphill races. In swing districts a minority of voters acting on their dissatisfaction with the President could easily impact the result.
The scandals have the chance to impact the Obama presidency in much the same way scandals impacted the Bush administration. Scandals derailed the Bush administration’s legislative goals after immigration and social security reform failed. Now, the Obama administration has quieted on any new legislative efforts and appears focused solely on damage-control. The right Democrat could take advantage of the opportunity and come out against Obama while appearing to stand up for the average American. Unfortunately, Democrats seem to lack this type of populist candidate anywhere.
Multiple term Senate Democrats such as Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landrieu LA) have special reason to worry. Arkansas has trended red since the 80′s and Pryor is the only Democratically elected federal official in the state. Unlike Landrieu in LA he does not have a solid base of support in African-Americans. Landrieu damaged her street-credibility with white voters by voting for gun control in the hopes of bringing out African-Americans. But if that turnout drops due to factors outside her control the Landrieu line in the state could take a serious hit.
Freshman incumbent Democratic Senators and Congressmen/women also have reason to worry. If minority turnout decreases in 2014 well over a dozen Democratic seats could go the GOP way in the House. On the other hand the GOP has relatively few seats that are vulnerable even if minority turnout increases from 2010 or 2012 levels.
Just as Republicans would be foolish to not point out this administration’s “Nixonian” actions, moderate and conservative Democrats would be crazy not to run from Obama. The administration is in damage control mode and that means throwing anything and everybody under the bus (unless you are in the White House). Democrats had hoped Obama’s reelection would herald a new progressive era of governance. However, if this is what progressive governance looks like, the public is likely to sour on it very, very quickly.
Two gubernatorial races are on deck for this year; New Jersey and Virginia. In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie in every poll is well ahead of his largely unknown Democratic challenger. If Christie wins it will be the first time a Republican has captured the Governor’s mansion in the state twice in a row since 1993. Since Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012 Christie’s approval numbers have not dipped below 60% and many well-known Democrats such as Newwark mayor Corey Booker have declined to challenge him. In essence, New Jersey is Christie’s race to lose.
Virginia, on the other hand is something quite different. Virginia only allows its Governor’s to serve one consecutive term. As a result GOP Governor Bob McDonnell has to vacate his office in early 2014. McDonnell will likely leave office with approval ratings in the 60′s despite antagonizing conservatives and liberals alike with his infrastructure project plan. Whoever replaces him will have to deal with the consequences of that plan.
Virginia Secretary of State Ken Cuccinelli has all but locked up the GOP nod. Conservative activists in late 2012 handed him the defacto nomination when they changed the nomination process from an open primary to a convention. More moderate GOP Lt. Governor Bill Bolling had been thought to be a better fit for the statewide electorate (he even toyed with the idea of running as an Independent but declined). On the other side of the aisle is Democrat Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe ran in the 2009 Democratic primary but lost to eventual nominee Creigh Deeds pretty badly.
By any stretch of the imagination neither candidate would be viable against a decent opponent. But against each other one has to win in the end. Both come with deep baggage. Cuccinelli is a conservative firebrand that appeals to the base (think rural voters and suburban Southern Virginia). He brought a lawsuit against Obamacare, has fought against climate change and has hinted Obama was not born in the US. McAuliffe might have even more baggage. The Democrat was a former bundler for Bill Clinton in the 90′s and Hillary in 2008. He is uninspiring on the stump, is seen as a partisan insider with little executive experience and has been hammered by Cuccinelli’s campaign on his handling of a now defunct green company he formerly ran.
According to surveys both remain largely unknown to the public and Cucinelli holds varying leads. The Virginia electorate also seems to have not yet tuned into the race. Both candidates are seeking to downplay their weaknesses. McAuliffe has been consistently touring Southern Virginia and businesses trying to project an executive aura. Cuccinelli has softened his tone on climate change and the Governor’s infrastructure plan he opposes (and once stated was unconstitutional).
Charles Cooke, in the Cook Report raises a good point about why Virginia will be an indicator of where 2014 is headed. Virginia, like its neighbor to the South, North Carolina has turned into a Mid-Atlantic battleground state due to demographics. Thus its population is a fairly good mirror of the country as a whole. In both 2008 and 2012 Virginia was the state that most closely mirrored the national Presidential popular vote.
Cuccinelli has higher name ID than McAuliffe but he may have other advantages. Many of the political advisers who ran Bob McDonnell’s campaign in 2009 and softened his image among moderates and women are on Cuccinelli’s team. Additionally, Cuccinelli is a Virginian born and raised who cut his teeth in state politics. McAuliffe started his political career in Virginia but lacks the statewide pedigree that Cuccinelli is sure to hit home in the campaign.
The 2009 Virginia gubernatorial results (McDonnell 58%-41% Deeds) hinted at the landslide that was coming in 2010. That year the GOP gained 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats, multiple Governorships, and 750+ legislative seats. Additionally, they gained two, almost three, Virginia Congressional Districts. The results of this race could be as telling as the results of the 2009 race was.
A number of authors and analysts have already weighed in on the 2014 elections. Sean Trende at RCP sees minimal gains for Democrats or the GOP. At the Senate level much remains dependent on recruiting by both parties. A.B. Stoddard, writing for the Hill, sees Obamacare as a train-wreck for Democrats in 2014 but expects the GOP to struggle in 2016 due to a more diverse and liberal electorate voting. Others, such as Charles Krauthammer and Michael Barone see modest GOP gains due to a public unhappy with the implementation of Obamacare.
My analysis centers on four factors. The composition of the electorate, historical midterm patterns, Presidential job approval and the overall political map. Each of these factors will play a major role in the 2014 midterm elections. One does not have to think hard to find recent examples of how this impacted earlier midterm elections. In 2010 the electorate was 77% white (compared to 74% in 2008), the President’s job approval was well below 50% in 2010, the President’s party usually suffers at the polls in his first midterm, and many Democrats, thanks to 2006 and 2008 were sitting in red or swing districts come 2010. As a result, 2010 was a bloodbath for Democrats at the federal level (as well as at the state level).
Composition of the Electorate: It is a general rule of thumb in politics that the electorate is whiter and more conservative in midterm elections. It certainly was whiter in 2006 and 2010 than 2008 or 2012. However, in 2006, it was no more conservative than 2004 while 2010 was far more conservative than 2006 and 2008. So this rule of thumb only goes so far. One should also keep in mind that demographics play a crucial role in the composition of the electorate. Consider in 2010 the GOP won women 49%-48% and won 40% of single women (an unheard of state for the party). Fast-forward to 2012 though and the party lost women 44%-56%. African-American and Hispanic turnout soared in 2008 and 2012 compared to 2010. The GOP did roughly as well with African-Americans in 2010 as they did in 2012. However, the party dropped among Hispanics by a whopping 11% in 2012 compared to 2010. Compare it to 2004 and the figure is an astounding 17% fall.
None of this is to say that the electorate will be more or less diverse than 2008, 2010 or 2012. But a more diverse electorate means more benefits to Democrats, especially in states like California, Colorado and Florida with growing Hispanic populations. The GOP would prefer a more white, less diverse electorate, centered on rural and suburban areas where they are strongest. If these groups turn out at 2010 levels expect the GOP to do well. If it is closer to 2006 or the unheard of 2012 levels the GOP is in for a rough night.
Historical Midterm Patterns: Since the 20th century very few Presidents have not seen their parties suffer in midterms. Both Clinton and Obama were handed strong rebukes from voters in their first midterm while Bush and the GOP saw modest gains. Fast forward to second term Presidents midterms and only three Presidents have seen their parties strengthened: FDR, Clinton and Eisenhower. The verdict is out on Obama. These results have given rise to what is known as the “Second term itch.” However, in many cases a President’s second midterm results in subpar results for his party due to outside factors. In 2006 the Iraq War was going badly and corruption was rampant in the GOP. In 1986 the economy was dipping into another recession. In 1938 the economy was heading back into recession and voters objected to a strong centralized economy.
But just as is the case with bad midterm results for a President’s party, good results often occur due to outside factors. In 1998 the GOP imploded over their impeachment of Bill Clinton. While the GOP maintained control of Congress they also lost much of their political advantage over the President as a result. So while historical midterm patterns can give us an idea of what to expect in the second midterm of Obama’s tenure it only tells us so much.
Presidential Job Approval: In 2010 the President’s approval was well below 50%. In 2012 when the President was reelected he was right at 50% and won reelection. In 2006 Bush’s approval was underwater by almost 15%. Contrast his approval being above 50% in 2004 when he was reelected. The same dynamic was in effect in 1994 when Clinton’s approval fell fast in 1994 but recovered for him to win a landslide in 1996.
Presidential job approval since Clinton has become highly polarized. Roughly 75% of Republicans approved of Bush’s job performance for his entire tenure. Barely 15% of Democrats did the same. Independent support for the President rose and fell but dropped off dramatically in his second term. Clinton saw Republican approval of his term never eclipse 20% (according to Gallup) but Democrats and Independents approved of most of his tenure. Under Obama this dynamic has only intensified. Gallup finds the President around 50% for most of his first six months since his reelection. However, less than 10% of Republicans approve and a majority of Independents disapprove. In short, the President’s approval depends on 90%-95% approval among his own party.
Presidential job approval thus is highly correlated with turnout and support from partisans and Independents. This phenomenon is slightly different in a midterm as opposed to a Presidential election but the underlying connection remains. If a President can maintain support among his party, especially strong support, it is more likely the base will turnout for the midterm. However, there are serious questions about whether the Obama or “New Democratic Coalition” will turnout for older and more conservative Democratic candidates in a midterm even if they approve of the President (who is far more liberal than many members of his party).
The Political Playing Field: Since 2000 the country has become highly polarized. The results of 2010, 2011 redistricting and the 2012 elections only solidified this trend. Today, ticket splitting is virtually non-existent, at least at the federal level, and only 9 Democrats represents Congressional Districts Romney won and only 15 Republicans districts Obama won. Certainly there are a fair number of districts that could swing either way depending on the national political environment and the candidates. However, they have decreased significantly over the years.
According to the Cooke PVI (Partisan Value Index), which calculates a district’s or state’s partisan tilt depending on its results compared to other states or the national average, less than 100 Congressional Districts have a Cooke PVI of less than R+5 or D+5. Short of national waves few candidates can overcome partisan tilts that exceed these outcomes. Consider the recent example of the SC-1 special election. A deeply flawed Mark Sanford won the GOP nod. A slightly liberal candidate, Colbert-Busch won the Democratic nod. The district had supported John McCain by 14% in 2008 and Romney by 18% in 2012. The district had a PVI of R+11. Busch ran a strong and smart campaign emphasizing the flaws of her opponent and her conservative ideas. But in the end despite over-performing Obama by 9% in the district she lost 54%-45%. On the other hand a candidate overcoming a district’s partisan tilt can signal an upcoming national wave. Think Democratic victories in GOP Congressional Districts in the South in 2007.
Since redistricting very few seats remain in play. The states with the most seats in play are Arizona, Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, New Hampshire, Florida, perhaps Texas, and New York. Both Georgia and North Carolina, along with Utah, have Democrats in Romney districts. In California and Pennsylvania sit several Republicans in Obama districts. The Florida Congressional map is tied up in court so the state by 2014 could be the holy grail of gains for both parties. But absent the states above the parties will need to rely on exceptionally strong recruiting to win races.
Lastly, at the Senate level recruiting has been slow. The GOP has Congresswomen Shelly Moore Capito running in ruby-red West Virginia and Mike Rounds is running in South Dakota. Both are open Senate seats. The GOP lucked out in Georgia with Democratic Congressman John Barrow deciding not to run for the open seat. In open seats in Iowa, Montana, and Michigan the GOP is struggling to find strong candidates (Democrats not so much). In Arkansas and Alaska the GOP is waiting on strong candidates to move beyond the exploratory phase of their campaigns. So while the Senate playing field favors the GOP they will need more centrist conservatives to take down several strong incumbents in red states. Only then will they gain control of the Senate.
This is of course an incomplete analysis. There is plenty of time between now and 2014 to see where the political winds blow. We also will get to watch the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial results in November which perhaps will indicate where voters are leaning coming into 2014. Regardless, as it stands now, the best anybody can say is that at the Congressional level the GOP or Democrats will see modest gains and the Senate is up for grabs. In a future post I will hit on state results.
The spectacle that is South Carolina’s 1st Congressional district special election has many pundits wondering whether the GOP is set to lose another special election. Since 2006, the GOP has a track record of failing miserably in these races. The actors in this drama are former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, the GOP nominee for the seat. The district, even after redistricting, is most of his old stomping ground before he became Governor. The Democrats nominee is Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, Steven Colbert’s sister. She is a pro-life, pro-gun and pro-business moderate Democrat with a strong resume. Sanford is the former disgraced Governor of the state looking for political redemption.
The race has been marked with several twists and turns. Busch won her party’s primary easily while Sanford was forced into a run-off. After the run-off Sanford looked like he could recover from his prior indiscretions but a series of new allegations by his former wife, trespassing and violating a restraining order, led to national Republicans abandoning his candidacy. Busch shot ahead in surveys. But in the last two weeks of the race Sanford has regained his footing by nationalizing the race. The district voted for Mitt Romney by 18 points in 2012 so Sanford needs strong GOP turnout to offset his weakness with conservative Democrats and Independents.
But regardless of the results tonight the truth of the matter is this race is irrelevant. As it stands today the make-up of the House is 202 Democrats to 232 Republicans. The swinging of this seat would not change the partisan makeup of the House significantly. There is also the fact that Democrats holding this seat in 2014 would be an uphill climb. Even if Busch won and endeared herself to the district’s voters all it would take the GOP to unseat her would be an untainted candidate with conservative appeal. Democrats will of course counter that if Busch wins she will have over a year and a half to familiarize her with voters. Great! But that does not change the fundamentals of the district.
Democrats could claim the seat is important because it shows just how incompetent the GOP is running bad candidates. That message only goes so far however when you consider the GOP has had major recruiting successes for regular elections. The names Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Brian Sandoval and Susana Martinez come to mind. It is ironic that national Republicans were the first to recognize how unimportant the race truly is and set their sights on retaking the seat in 2014. That has not stopped the likes of Lindsey Graham and others from endorsing Sanford however.
This race is interesting for the dynamics involved and the fact it keeps political analysts in business. If Sanford wins it will be because he successfully nationalized the race and brought out Republicans. If Busch wins it will because Sanford was unpalatable to many of the district’s voters. But in the end this race is irrelevant. It tells us nothing about 2014 nor the strength of either party heading into the midterm elections.
PS: As I post this Sanford is announced the winner. Political redemption apparently comes in many forms (debating a Nancy Pelosi poster being one of them).
I am going to take on a fairly controversial topic in my first post back from my self-imposed hiatus. It seems in almost every aspect of society today the white male is derided or at a disadvantage. Since white males have dominated society for so long government programs are designed to help everybody but them: affirmative action, Title 9 and diversity programs are just the first few that come to mind. So it is not surprising so many of these voters stayed home in 2012.
Just food for thought here but if whites, particularly white males, had turned out in 2012 equal to 2004 and voted for Romney he would have narrowly won the electoral college. But instead, they stayed home and the election occurred as it did. So what does this say about the white male voter, who is still the bulk of the GOP’s base? These voters are disenfranchised, increasingly worried about the future and unable to handle the expectations society puts on them.
For example, let us play a thought game here. What comes to mind when I mention a white male? The images likely conjured up are masculinity, power, intelligence, a good income, etc. Yet increasingly white males are unable to live up to these expectations. White income has dropped since the 1950′s in constant dollars significantly. Fewer white males are also finding work and getting married. Fewer men then ever before are going to college. Increasingly they are opting to go to trade schools or find what work they can after High School.
This article is not to complain about society’s norms and expectations, though I could. Rather this sets up the background for what to expect from white males in 2014. These people form the core of the modern GOP. Indeed, as I mention above it is easy to see why they find a home in the GOP. The party that wants conformity, largely opposes diversity programs and is socially conservative leans closer to them politically. Heck, not even Obama carried young white males in 2008.
But are these men going to stay politically active. I do not mean running for office, a majority of candidates in 2014 will be white and male. But turnout could be a completely different story. Turnout among white males dropped between 2012 and 2004. This is beneficial to Democrats as large white turnout nationally hurts the party. Between 2004 and 2012 however Democratic leaning groups turned out at historically higher rates. Women, African-Americans and Hispanics increased their vote shares significantly (though Bush won 48% of women in 2004 compared to Romney’s 44%).
It seems safe to say the average white, male voter has found a home in the GOP. Even younger white, male voters vote Republican consistently. Perhaps they feel the same way as their older peers. What these factors say for 2014 is only minor. The GOP will not focus on turning out white, male voters specifically. They will heavily court socially conservative women in the South and try to win new Hispanic votes in Arizona. The campaign message is unlikely to change but outreach efforts to Democratic-leaning groups are sure to increase.
Yet for the GOP this could be a double-edged sword. Fewer and fewer white, male voters are participating in the political process. However, the GOP campaign message appeals to them. This could mean that for the GOP to regain electoral strength at the Presidential level they may have to leave the white, male voter in the dust. In American politics it takes a lot to change how voters process information and as such how they vote. So white males are likely to stick with the GOP even as it changes. But in the meantime, fewer of them are likely to vote, hurting the GOP and hurting the political power of white males in a society where a lot of their power is already gone and only exists in the imaginations of individuals.