Do Democrats Have a Redistricting Plan?

gettyimages-464686108-640x480At long last, Democrats have a national redistricting strategy.  Or so they claim.  On Friday, former Attorney General Eric Holder announced the formation of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) which aims to combat GOP legislative majorities by waging court challenges and utilizing ballot initiatives to create nonpartisan commissions to draw legislative and Congressional lines. Democrats have long blamed gerrymandering for the GOP takeover of 2010 but are loathe to acknowledge the GOP won 66 seats in 2010 under old lines that FAVORED Democrats.

The NDRC is Democrats answer to the GOP’s Republican State Legislative Committee’s REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project).  Launched in 2009, REDMAP was a well funded joint project between the party and third party groups that spent millions on data infrastructure and the 2010 election results.  Since that time, the GOP has locked in its majorities in many states (though some gerrymanders have been undone by the courts and citizen initiatives).

According to the NDRC’s website “Republican gerrymandered districts after the 2010 Census have put Democrats at a massive structural disadvantage. That’s why the most important turning point for the future of the Democratic Party will take place in 2021: when states redraw their Congressional and state legislative lines.”  Additionally, “The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) is an organization of Democratic leaders enacting a comprehensive, multi-cycle Democratic Party redistricting strategy over the next 5 years and beyond.”  Beyond ballot initiatives and court challenges the NDRC will also focus on winning legislative contests in the years ahead.

Missing from the NDRC is any answer for how they will confront the non-gerrymandering aspects of their coalition. Democrats are good at arguing at how Republicans disenfranchise urban and minority voters but they refuse to admit these voters tend to do it to themselves.  By this I mean the majority of the Democratic votes in many states is locked into urban and dense suburban areas and is hard to find anywhere else.  While this makes gerrymandering for the GOP easier it also makes gerrymandering harder for Democrats to accomplish even if they are in control.

Take for example the state of Minnesota. After the 2016 elections the GOP controlled both chambers of the state legislature under a court drawn map favorable to Democrats.  The GOP lost their initial majority in the state legislature in 2012, regained the house in 14 and retook the state senate last year.  The GOP did not really have to do anything to facilitate this advantage.  Democratic policies like MCare (the state exchange) and the party becoming more cosmopolitan has cost the party seats just about everywhere else. Currently, Democrats do not control a single state senate district Romney won while the GOP does not control a single, urban Minneapolis seat.  The GOP gets the better end of the deal.

The Democratic argument that gerrymandering and voting laws are the reasons why the GOP has such a strong advantage in the states is partly true.  But, it is only partly true.  The polarization, both racial and geographical, in our politics means that Democratic voters pack themselves into areas where millions of votes are wasted (see an example here).  This means for Democrats to have any hope of establishing a decade long majority in many states they will have to practice their own form of gerrymandering.  And it will likely be far worse than the GOP’s.

To see an example of this dynamic take a look at Illinois legislative districts. Until last year, Democrats had veto proof majorities in the legislature to stop Bruce Rauner.  Democrats built this advantage by creating incredbly ugly House and Senate districts that mixed rural, conservative areas with dense, urban and Democratic suburbs (ironically, no liberal complains about this).  The Congressional Democratic gerrymander has already started to fall apart because the party could not fit down-state, rural areas into urban districts.  Democrats aimed to create a 13-5 majority in the Congressional delegation.  It now stands at 11-7 with a Democratic district being carried by Trump by double-digits.

Of course Democrats are silent on their partisan gerrymanders.  Maybe it is because they fall apart as we have seen in Illinois and in Minnesota.  But, even in purple Colorado they have fallen apart as well.  The state has a split legislature (even with term limits).  The current map, drawn by a Democrat appointed district judge, did everything to give Democrats a majority in the state senate.  It created huge GOP vote sinks in rural areas and unified Democratic leaning suburbs.  Urban Denver was kept intact while trending GOP Douglas County districts were merged with liberal Araphoe county precincts.  Yet, despite this, the GOP holds a slim one seat majority in the state senate because of the Democratic insistence on appealing only to cosmopolitan voters.

To be sure, the NDRC is not a policy orientated organization.  It cannot dictate to the party what legislative policies the party should pursue.  But it should recommend to the party a change of course in rhetoric.  Democrats have a systematic weakness in the states because their party appeals only to urban interests and rural and suburban voters have noted.  This helps lock Democratic votes into districts that waste votes while GOP voters are better distributed in suburban/rural areas.  Democrats can draw districts, like in Illinois, that merge urban/rural but they are incredibly ugly, non-compact and not very full-proof.

Until Democrats come up with a way to solve these issues no amount of gerrymandering will be able to help a party beholden to interests out of touch to voters in many states. This partly helps explain why Republicans since 2012 have consistently had about a +4 percent edge in the number of seats they control in the House compared to their popular vote total.  Democrats, even if they got every map they wanted, could never accomplish the same.

Pennsylvania’s Changing Political Face

trump-erie-pennsylvania-91In 2008, Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 percent and followed it up with a 5 percent win in 2012.  But, Donald Trump broke the Democratic streak of carrying the state since 1992, by a narrow 45,000 vote margin (less than one percent).  More importantly, how Trump did it represents how Pennsylvania is changing politically.

I have already written how Trump and Senator Pat Toomey won the state via different electoral groups.  Toomey’s win can be credited to his strength in the suburbs.  Trump outran his shoddy performance in the suburbs by running up massive, massive margins in rural Central and Western Pennsylvania.

Courtesy of the Daily Kos we now can see how Pennsylvania’s voted shifted from 12-16 by region and Congressional District.

Let’s start by region.  Regionally, Central Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania turned bright red.  For example, traditional Democratic counties like Erie in Northwestern Pennsylvania and Luzerne in North-Central Pennsylvania both voted for Trump.  The only bright spot for Democrats in either region was blue Pittsburgh (Allegeny County), Penn State (Centre County) and Harrisburg (Dauphin County).

In the suburbs, the former strength of the GOP in the state, Trump finished 50,000 votes behind Romney.  Combined with Philly Trump actually had to make up a gap of 67,000 additional votes compared to Romney  How Trump did this can be seen at the Congressional District level.

Four years ago, Romney won 12 of the state’s 18 districts while Trump won 11 districts.  He traded two Romney districts for one Obama district.  Trump won the 17th CD by 10 percent while Obama took the Scranton based district by 12 percent for a massive, 22 percent swing from 12-16.  If not for the fact the Democratic Congressman, Matt Cartwright, faced weak GOP competition in the 17th, he might have lost this ancestrally blue district.

To the South, due to Trump’s weakness in the suburbs, Clinton managed to win squeakers in the 6th and 7th districts by two percent each.  However, due to the fact Clinton only garnered 11, 000 votes from the districts while Trump won 31,000 additional votes from the 17th he got the better of the deal.

Combine this with Trump’s significantly bigger margins in GOP districts in the North and West and Trump’s path to victory, narrow as it was, gets clearer.  The only district beyond Philly that did not swing widely was the Pittsburgh based 14th, which went 67-31 for Clinton compared to 68-31 for Obama four years ago.

Case in point.  Erie County.  Obama won the county with 57 percent in 2012.  Trump took the county with 48 percent.  Unlike other counties that swung to the Donald, turnout actually increased by 6,000 votes in the county.  Further, while Obama lost every other western border county he garnered 40 percent or more in five of the six.  Clinton did not top 40 percent in a single one.  Combined with Erie she did not win a single western border county.

Whether Trump’s win is unique or not remains to be seen.  But, Toomey’s victory also proved the party has multiple and evolving paths to victory in this state.  Something nobody would have said until November of last year.

 

 

Looking Ahead to 2017: Virginia Governor

President Obama Attends Rally For Rep. Tom PerrielloWhile Democrats are currently down and out their comeback story could start to be written this year.  A series of off-year elections culminating with the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial contests may offer us our first cues about how the electorate is feeling heading into Trump’s first midterm.  Of the two contests New Jersey’s contest seems to be the more conventional.  Democrats are favored to take back Chris Christie’s current post while the Virginia contest seems wide open.  It is Virginia I want to focus on here today.

Virginia’s gubernatorial contests are always a little weird.  There is never an incumbent because Virginia is the only state in the nation that limits its Governors to a single, four year term.  Additionally, it is really the only purple state in an off-year election.  It being next to DC does not hurt either.  Due to Republicans being the out party it was expected they would have the contested primary and it continues to look that way.  The race appears to be boiling down to two contenders, Trump’s Virginia campaign chairman Corey Stuart and GOP strategist and 2014 Senate nominee Ed Gillespie.  A recent survey found Gillespie led Stuart 19 percent to 6 percent with many undecided.

It is not difficult to guess where both candidate’s support will primarily come from.  Gillespie has support in the state party apparatus and will probably run strongest in the affluent, GOP heavy precincts of suburban DC.  Stuart should find strong support among the more rural supporters of the party.

Until very recently Democrats were giddy about the divide within the GOP.  But now, they have their own primary to deal with.  It was always expected Lt. Governor Ralph Northam would run to replace Terry McAuliffe.  Northam and MCAuliffe agree on many issues and he has the support of the Governor.

But progressives who have chafed at the centrist nature of the state party, even as they have won every statewide contest since 2008 (except for the 2009 gubernatorial contest), have found their own candidate in former Congressman Tom Perriello.  A little background on Perriello is in order.  Elected in the Obama wave of 2008, the Congressman supported much of the President’s agenda even in a right leaning district.  After losing in 2010, the former Congressman found work as an executive for the Center for American Progress and has served in the Obama administration’s State Department.  Progressives feel like they have found their champion.

Democrats now face a dilemma.  Much as the GOP contest is a reflection of the “establishment” vs. the “outsider” Democrats face the same thing.  Perreillo was a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders while Northam followed the safer path and backed Hillary Clinton.

Gauging which candidate comes out of the primary is tougher than the GOP contest.  The divide within the Democratic party is not so much geographic or racial as it is age based.  Perreillo can expect to do well in the younger DC suburbs but Northam can play well there among its many socially liberal, fiscally centrist Independents.

The GOP was saddled with a disastrous candidate in 2013 due to its use of a State Party Convention full of party ideologues to nominate its candidate.  This go-round the conventional wisdom of the party switching back to a statewide primary should benefit Gillespie.  Then again, maybe not.

If we use the 2016 GOP Presidential primary results as a proxy for primary voting this year than Gillespie should find great success in Loundon and Prince William Counties.  But Gardner could actually do better there than initially expected and actually win Virginia Beach (as Trump did).  As mentioned above it is more difficult to map the contours of the Democratic Primary.  One should expect Perriello to do well in the cities and inner suburbs while Northam will probably play better among more centrist black and Asian voters.

The real magic will be in the general election.  A lot will depend on the national political environment but generally Democrats have an advantage in the state if they can get their base out to vote.  But, even if they don’t past results bode well for the party.

In 2013, Democrats managed to win all four NoVA counties despite horrid turnout.  In 2014, the party even overcame losing Loudoun county by overperforming in downstate black precincts.

This puts the state GOP in a bind.  That said, Gillespie does have the ability to appeal to both downstate and NoVA voters.  He is moderate enough to appeal to the suburbs chock full of affluent Republicans but have enough of a history to play to socially conservative, more rural voters downstate.

Obviously, as the race gets closer well will know more and be able to provide a more thorough, in-depth analysis.  For now though, we certainly can look forward to the marquee contest of this year!

What the DNC Race Says About The State Of The Democratic Party

alg-keith-ellison-jpgDemocrats reeling from a disastrous 2016 should look at the upcoming DNC race to start fixing what ails their party.  While it is true that the biggest impact the DNC Chair will have on elections this year and beyond is in a managerial role it will also tell analysts, pundits and the nation what direction the party seems to be headed.

After Howard Dean bowed out of the contest last year the contest seems to be a two-person race between Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Obama Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.  Ellison has the backing of many progressive groups and Big Labor but Perez is backed by the outgoing White House and some elements of labor angered by the AFL-CIO’s early endorsement of Ellison.

Both come with baggage.  Ellison represents a 74 percent Clinton district and is most famously known for taking his initial Oath of Office on the Koran.  Religious diversity is fine in America but being an outspoken critic of Israel and praising Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakan are definitely outside the mainstream.  Perez is no saint either.  Perez has supported many of the Obama administration’s controversial initiatives and a big no-no in progressive circles, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

There are a couple other spoilers in the contest.  New Hampshire State Party Chair Dean Buckley is running.  Buckley has the distinction of managing a state party that actually had some successes last November.  Additionally, Jaime Harrison, Chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party and my local hero Sally Boynton Brown from Idaho are running.  Each has locked up the support of their respective states but the real showdown seems to be between Perez and Ellison.

The message this sends to the nation is unequivocal.  Democrats are doubling down on their ideological identity and agenda.

In truth, the race between Ellison and Perez among progressives is only in a matter of degrees.  Neither has shown a willingness to consider why their party suffered such extensive losses in 2016 nor reach out to non-traditional Democratic voters.  Considering these voters formed the basis of the Trump Coalition any Democratic success needs these voters.

If you are a Democrat you might be able to comfort yourself with the thought that Obama is popular and both Ellison and Perez support his agenda.  Except that almost 20 percent of voters who approved of Obama backed Trump.  Further, many of these voters, despite approving of Obama also voted for Trump primarily on the criteria of “change.”

Considering this it appears that Democrats have learned little from their 2016 shellacking.  The party put out ideological stalwarts galore and they lost in race after race.  Clinton’s entire campaign was based on enticing voters to back her based on a shared cultural affinity.  To be fair, so did Trump.  But Clinton’s pitch fell flat because the Democratic Party’s leadership is so culturally out of step with much of America.

An Ellison-Perez match-up also threatens to further sow discord within the party.  To most people outside the Beltway, both are die-hard progressives.  But, Perez backed Clinton last year while Ellison was one of the few sitting members of Congress to endorse Sanders.  The Democratic primary significantly divided the party and you can bet it will play a substantial roll in the race.

To be fair, both Ellison and Perez have talked about the need for the party to retool.  They have been critical of the failures of the DNC and its favoring one candidate over the other.  They have also promised to make the roll full-time (an issue that troubled former Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz).

That said, neither of the front-runners really fits the mold of Middle America or understands what drives its inhabitants.  Perez is a Beltway insider while Ellison is, well, a Congressman from an uber-liberal district.

The party would be much better served in selecting either Buckley or Brown.  Brown comes from my home state of Idaho and actually can understand where middle of the road and conservative voters come from (even if she disagrees).  Buckley chairs the party in a 50/50 state that is a fairly decent approximation of America (minus race and religiosity levels).

Selecting either of these individuals would put the party in a better place come the next few years.  Not only would either slot into the managerial role of the position but they also might be a moderating force in a party taking a hard left turn.  Or, at worse, even as the party veers left they would not automatically write off winning over Trump or right leaning voters.

But, Democrats, or more specifically, the 400 and change voting members of the DNC, are unlikely to favor moderation or a change in tactics.  At this point, there just seems to be too much partisan and ideological momentum for a change of course (even after an electoral shellacking).  As a result, the message the rest of America is probably taking away from the DNC contest is one of an increasingly ideological party doubling down on failed ideas and policies.  And, in turn, losing Middle America yet again.

 

Where the Democratic Party Lost It’s Way

800px-howard_dean_dnc_2008
Former Chair of the DNC, Howard Dean, pioneered the party’s successful “50 State Strategy” in 2006 and 2008.

The year was 2004 and Democrats had just lost 4 seats in the Senate, held a mere 202 seats in the House and had lost the popular vote to a Texan who pronounces nuclear “nuculear” by 2.5 million votes.  Dark times!   The party was unsure where to go and had an internal debate about the direction it wanted to take.

Fortunately, events favored them.  Bush went on to push Social Security and Immigration Reform which was opposed by Democrats and some in his own party.  But, Democrats also made a conscious choice to expand their efforts beyond the Northeast and Coast in an effort to woo conservative suburban and rural voters.  The result was the “50 State Strategy” that gave them massive majorities at the start of 2009.

Democrats have since squandered their massive majorities.  They ignored the issues and concerns of many suburban and rural voters and paid the price.  By going largely with the concerns of their urban base they have cost themselves the support of these once swing voters.

But, Democrats have also squandered a campaign apparatus in the 90’s that was second to none.  Today, the party’s get out the vote efforts are a shadow of what they once were.  The transition to micro targeting and identity politicking pioneered by the Obama administration has had damaging consequences for the party.

The Price of Ideological Hubris

Today, the Democratic Party’s political apparatus is in shambles.  The Clinton campaign’s reliance on TV ads and only a late get out the vote push clearly shows this.  Worse, the DCCC (the party’s Congressional campaign arm) invested only in a handful of competitive races until near the end of the campaign.  Districts where they invested the most money (VA-10, CO-6) represent significant expenditures for no return.  Considering the polarized nature of the electorate and number of competitive districts (it’s small) Democrats will need to win more than just suburban and moderate swing districts in diverse locales.

In the 80’s the DCCC and DSCC (Senatorial campaign arm) were at the top of their game.  They were outworking their GOP counterparts in polling, oppo research and targeting.  Southern Democrats pushed these campaign arms to hit on issues with broad appeal.  This led to a generation of up and coming campaign strategists who found success in dozens of races over the years.

In years past Democrats competed in dozens of contests that fell outside the term “competitive.”  Nowhere was this more apparent than 2006 when Democrats competed in conservative territory against long-term incumbents.  When many races became competitive in September and October the party and its nominees were ready due to investments in infrastructure (introductions to donors, labor groups, volunteers, etc.) and messaging.

Along with supporting nominees the party also went out of its way to recruit the best and most competitive candidates.  This led to rural districts having a gun supporting, pro-life Democrat run against a similar Republican.  At best, Democrats were successful.  At worse, the party forced the GOP to spend in what should be a safe seats. In the cases of 2006 and 2008, the party was ready to take advantage of a wave or a favorable national political environment.

One of the most notable examples was in 2006, when then DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel recruited former NFL QB Heath Schuler to run in a North Carolina district held by a Republican incumbent for over 15 years.  Emanuel hammered home why Schuler needed to run, explained to him how to do it, the support he would receive and in the end he got Schuler and the party held the seat until Schuler retired in 2012.

Where Democrats Went Wrong

Of course, 10 years is a long time in politics (and not so long at the same time).  By 2016, the DCCC and DNC had lost much of its edge.  It ceded much of its campaign planning and infrastructure to the massive Clinton campaign.  They’re get out the vote efforts were added into the Clinton campaign’s.  The DNC largely became a puppet of the Clinton team.

The result was less than stellar.  The Clinton campaign only invested late in down-ballot races, made tactical and monetary mistakes and insulated individual candidates from outside support.  The DCCC and DNC in particular refused to do anything beyond what Manhattan dictated and the result was many “reach” contests candidates never receiving support.  We all know the result.

What accounts for this failure beyond Manhattan?  Part of it is the ideological nature the party has become beholden to.  Winning over voters who do not agree with the party on hot-button issues has dropped significantly as a priority.  Instead, an emphasis on demographics and goosing urban liberal turnout has increased.

This is a narrow view.  Republicans might not have liked Trump but they embraced his candidacy and supporters when push came to shove.  They did not run around crowing about how these voters were racist and sexist.  The party did not believe it could not win over different voters.  Instead, the Republican coalition that elected Trump and their Congressional majorities was incredibly diverse (including many Clinton supporters).

For Democrats, they can no longer afford to be complacent.  Ideological surety is great until you lose election after election and find yourselves 60 seats in the minority.  You would have thought the Clinton campaign would have recognized this immediately because they won many McCain/Romney districts in their 2008 primary bid.  Not so much.

Worse, this ideological surety has infiltrated campaign arms.  The DCCC and DSCC threw their weight behind specific candidates and ignored many other (and perhaps better) prospects.  Candidates and volunteers could not reach high ranking staffers in the party.  Instead, Democratic staffers agreed with millions in spending on issues voters did not care about or character assassination ads.  There used to be a time when the party would hold focus groups on what people outside the Beltway care about.  Not anymore.

Part of this can be blamed on a lack of accountability.  To be fair, this extends beyond just the party’s campaign arms.  How else can one explain how Nancy Pelosi is still Speaker of the House?  Or how Ben Lujan is still head of the DCCC after a pathetic 2016 showing?  Staff have the loyalties of Democratic leadership which comes from predominately safe districts.  As a result, not only are staff and leadership ideologically out of step with the country but they have no idea what a competitive candidate needs to win in swing territory.

In the late 80’s and throughout the 90s the Democratic Party invested in training academies and policy think-thanks.  The Centrist Democratic Leadership Council trained hundreds of staffers.  Today, the DLC is defunct and much of the DCCC’s training efforts have been contracted out to organizations with strong ideological leanings (like Wellstone Action).

Ideological surety, lack of accountability and weak training have hurt the party.  But, so has near non-existent candidate recruitment.  In several competitive districts in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois the party did not field strong challengers before the filing deadline. In Texas, the party did not even field a candidate in a district Clinton won.

In many of the contests Democrats won they did it by recruiting either Legacy Candidates (Carol Shea Porter) or facing flawed incumbents (Scott Garrett, John Mica, Charlie Bass).  In many other cases, the party went with subpar candidates that passed the ideological test (but did not fit the district).

What Do You Have To Lose?

Today, Democrats are so far in the hole what do they have to lose?  They might as well try out new tactics and strategies.  It’s clear simply relying on their base won’t win them a majority or even a decent minority.  They should also go back to past strategies that worked out well.

Some of these include investing in key races early, focusing intensely on candidate recruitment, messaging tooling, introducing candidates to key local groups and more.  Races are not won in the final two months of a campaign.  A candidate has to have the ability to take advantage of changes in the race and they do this with the help of the national party investing in them, early and often.

Whether Democrats do this or not is an open question.  The party is currently embroiled in an ideological debate (as exemplified by the DNC Chair race) and is still struggling to understand its 2016 losses.

But, the answers are clear.  Recruit leaders who understand modern communications, campaigns and desire to see change within the party.  They need to reach outside the Beltway for messaging ideas and tips, listen to the concerns of average Americans and understand ideological surety does not guarantee success.

Most importantly, the party should invest in creating a new generation of strategists and campaign managers that span the ideological and cultural spectrum of America.  The party could rely on these strategists and managers now and in the future to build successful campaigns.  Much has been given to how Democrats need to build up a farm team of potential national candidates.  Well, they need the same thing for successful leadership.  For a party cannot be successful without them.

Revisiting the Marriage Gap

o-voting-facebookBallotpedia noted an interesting trend from the 2016 election among singles.  Specifically, they shifted strongly to Donald Trump relative to the 2012 and 2008 contests.  However, in my humble opinion, Ballotpedia’s analysis of why this occurred is lacking.

According to Ballotpedia, the “Marriage Gap” shrunk significantly from 2012 to 2016.  In 2012, the marriage gap was a whopping 41 points (Romney won the married 56-42).  The article posits that the institution of marriage might lead people to be less dependent on government (certainly plausible) and that single men and women might have become less trusting of government after 8 years of Obama (also plausible).

Hillary Clinton did not just run as Obama’s 3rd term but she also ran as the most progressive candidate in history.  Meanwhile, her husband ran as the most centrist Democrat in a generation, well, a generation ago.

But, let me posit some more likely reasons for why the marriage gap shrunk in 2016.  It has little to do with ideology and more to do with education, income and electoral geography.  Afterall, from the 2016 election we have seen the parties somewhat resort themselves away from their traditional coalitions.

Share of electorate 2012/2016 Marriage status Obama ’12 /Clinton ’16 Romney ’12 /Trump ’16 Independent ’16 GOP margin
58% / 60% Yes 42% / 43% 53% / 53% 3% +14 / +10
42% / 40% No 62% / 55% 35% / 38% 6% -27 / -17
29% / 29% Men Yes 38% / 37% 60% / 58% 4% +22 / +21
30% / 31% Women Yes 46%/ 49% 53% / 47% 3% +7 / -2
19% / 18% Men No 56% / 46% 40% / 45% 8% -16 / -1
23% / 23% Women No 67% / 62% 31% / 33% 3% -36 / -29

First-off, let’s start with the table above.  It is clear from national exit polls that Trump did slightly worse than Romney among the married and significantly better among single men.  Trump even did better among single women.  Again, what probably drove this was education and geography.

Trump’s victory was fueled by his surge in the Midwest.  He captured dozens of counties the GOP had not won in a generation and held down Clinton’s margins in many other ancestrally blue areas.  This is what fueled his surge among singles, especially single men.

The proof can be found in statewide exit polls for many of these states.  In Michigan, Trump performed better than Romney, losing singles only by 23 points compared to Romney’s 34 points.  Notably, Trump did better among single men than women by 11 points.  In Wisconsin and Iowa the same trend shows itself.  In Iowa, Romney lost singles by 28 percent, Trump  a mere 11 percent.  In Wisconsin, Romney lost singles by 24 percent, Trump a mere 8.  Again, Trump did better among single men than women.

These states are not unique among the Blue Wall states Trump captured.  He managed to garner bigger margins among singles than Romney virtually everywhere in this Democratic leaning region.  In downscale regions of many states, including those Trump lost, he ran better than Romney according to county level results.

Now, in politics, for every reaction there is at least an opposite reaction.  That reaction was Trump doing worse than Romney among married voters.  Trump ran 4 points behind Romney nationally among these voters and there are a few reasons we can hypothesize for this shift.

First, Trump’s coalition was primarily down-scale and Trump did much better among younger voters than Romney.  Both down-scale and younger voters are much less likely to be married.

Secondly, Trump’s entire candidacy was based on shock politics.  He said crass things, attacked people, etc.  To a married voter ensconced in a relationship this might rub them the wrong way.  Additionally, a thrice-married candidate might not have the same curb appeal to traditional, socially conservative married families (Utah being a prime example of this).

Thirdly, Trump did better among blacks and Latinos and worse among Asians compared to Romney.  Asians are much more likely to be married than blacks and Hispanics.  So, those small differences (according to exit polls) could have had an impact at the margins.

Lastly, education was highly correlated with the results of this election.  Marriage and education also are highly correlated.  Married couples tend to have higher education levels than singles.  As a result, Trump performed marginally worse among married individuals.

The last point might not continue to carry over however.  Some debate whether marriage will continue to alleviate social ills and ensure educational and economic progress for individuals.  Additionally, demographers have found the number of singles who are simply cohabitating has dropped over the last decade (to say nothing of married couples).

Admittedly, this is all very, very preliminary analysis.  Until more Voter File Data becomes available we will not know the exact characteristics of many voters.  Exit polls are good to a degree but self-reporting tends to have its own built-in biases.  Still, for now it will have to do.

 

 

Democrats Need More Than An Unpopular Trump Next Year and After

maggie-hassan-nh-ap
Senator-Elect Maggie Hassan (D-NH), was one of the party’s top recruits this cycle and one of their few successes.

Democrats want to forget this year and who can blame them.  They blew a winnable Presdential election, gave up 2 Governorships  and gained few Senate and House seats.  They did not gain legislative seats and even gave up blue Vermont to a Republican Governor.  Today, Republicans have total control in 25 states compared to Democrats 5.

The 2016 election was the first time in recent memory where not a single D/R Senate candidate won in a state the opposite party’s presidential nominee took.  But, Governorships did not follow suit.  Indeed, of the 12 Governorships up in 2016 almost half (5) were won by D/R candidates not of the victorious Presidential candidate’s ilk.  Republicans took Vermont and New Hampshire while Democrats won West Virginia, Montana and North Carolina.

If you compile the margins between gubernatorial and Presidential results the difference was a whopping 17 points.  Compare that to the difference between President and Senate in the 13 most competitive states being 5 points.

If you read an article talking about the lean of one state or another there is no way you’d be able to guess the results of many state’s gubernatorial contests.  Jim Justice won West Virginia by 7 points while Trump won it by 42 points.  Republican Phil Scott won Vermont by 7 points in a state Trump lost by 26 points.  Steve Bullock won by 4 points in a state Trump won by 20.

These big margin differences did not just occur in states where a D/R gubernatorial candidate won while the opposite party’s Presidential candidate carried it.  In Missouri and Indiana, Trump won both states by about 20 points.  Republican gubernatorial candidates carried them by only 6.

While polarization has increased at all levels of voting, especially the federal level, state level results are not tied as closely to Presidential results.  For example, in 2014, 76 percent of states that had voted for the Republican or Democratic nominee in 2012 backed a similar party’s Senate candidate.  But, that number was just 12 percent for Governors.

There is quite a bit of literature on why gubernatorial results are not tied to the partisan lean of a state.  Senators and Congressmen/women serve in DC with the President.  Governors, on the other hand, govern in their respective states, deal with different issues and often have more time to personally get to know voters (just ask Phil Scott in Vermont).

On the surface this looks good for Democrats coming into 2018.  States that voted for Trump might be willing to throw their lot in with local Democrats if they hit on the right issues.  Afterall, voters in North Carolina responded to Roy Cooper’s campaign to end toll roads and repeal HB-2.

But, it might be good news for Republicans too.  If Trump is unpopular it suggests that Republicans could outrun Trump and insulate themselves by campaigning on local issues. Not only could Republicans hold purple states in the Midwest and South like Florida, but states like Massachusetts and Maryland might stay red due to the popularity of their GOP Governors.

Democrats have ample reasons for wanting to capture at least some Governorships in 2018.  First, a majority of legislation is crafted at the state level.  We have seen the political results of this via Scott Walker’s Collective Bargaining Reform, Rick Snyder’s Right to Work law in Michigan or Sam Brownback’s elimination of income taxes in Kansas.

Secondly, Governors and the legislatures draw congressional and legislative lines after the 2020 census.  If Republicans hold onto blue and purple states they could lock in their majorities for another decade or more.  This has legislative repercussions as well for obvious reasons.

Lastly, parties have to have a bench to draw rising stars from.  Obama has cost the Democratic Party 12 Senate seats, 63 House seats, and over 900 legislative seats (including 2016).  The Democratic bench has been reduced to a shell of itself and many times the parties look to their Governors for policy ideas and candidates for President.  Part of the reason why Clinton faced such weak competition for the Presidency is because Democrats lacked a bench to draw from.  Republicans had so many choices they could not even fit every candidate on a single debate stage.

Democrats fielded few strong candidates this cycle.  In top-tier races in Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana the party either went with second-tier candidates or legacy candidates (Ohio and Indiana).  In every case, Democrats lost.

Of course, Democrats have time to retool and test their messages.  Nowhere will this be more important than the Virginia gubernatorial election in 2017.  Until 2013, the state had elected Governors not of the incumbent President’s party.  However, 2013 might be an outlier only because the GOP nominated a deeply flawed and ideological nominee.

Democrats will probably pick up some Governorships and legislative seats in 2018.  They should be considered heavy favorites in New Jersey next year and a slight favorite in Virginia.  But, Democrats will need more than an unpopular Trump to carry them if 2016 is any indication of a trend.