Will 2012 prove split-ticketing voting is not dead?

In the race for President partisans have almost completely aligned behind their party’s nominee.  But in House and particularly Senate races the trend appears more muddled.  A number of Democrats and Republicans, incumbents and challengers, across the nation are counting on split-ticket voting to carry them through to victory on election day.

In Nevada and Massachusetts, GOP Senators need cross-over support to pull off wins.  In Massachusetts especially, Scott Brown will need some of the 35-40% of the state that identifies as Democratic to vote for him.  Nevada appears a slightly safer bet for the GOP even as President Romney is expected to lose the state.  In non-wave elections candidates do matter and it does appear Heller may pull enough cross-over support to win.

Several Democratic incumbents running in red states will desperately need cross-over support to survive strong challenges.  In Montana, freshman Senator Jon Tester is facing Rep. Denny Rehberg.  Polls show the race neck and neck with independents deadlocked between the two.  Rehberg gets fewer Democrats than Tester does Republicans suggesting he could win.  He already is vastly outperforming the President in the state.  Senator Claire McCaskill once looked endangered.  Then her conservative opponent made a comment about rape and it was thought she was a favorite.  Now independents and Republicans are turning back to the economy and thus Akin and the race appears neck and neck again.

Democratic challengers in Indiana and Arizona will also need support from Republicans to pull off upsets.  In AZ, former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona is mounting a stiff challenge to Rep. Jeff Flake.  At one point polls showed Carmona winning 15%-20% of the GOP vote but since then he has fallen off that number and Flake has posted leads in recent surveys.  In Indiana, Joe Donnelly is running strongly against opponent Richard Mourdock.  Mourdock is not the best candidate and appears to be bleeding GOP support.  If Donnelly is to win the state he will need Republican support to do so.

In other competitive races such as NM and Hawaii GOP challengers need strong Democratic support to win.  However, scant polling from Hawaii suggests Linda Lingle is not likely to do so and in NM, Heather Wilson is running up against a wall in terms of getting cross-over support.  In other close races in WI, VA, OH, PA, FL, etc. the battles appear to be more over who wins independents as candidates from both sides of the aisle have locked in partisan support.

As the Presidential race has moved into its closing phases partisans have begun to line up behind their partisan nominees at virtually every level of governance.  In the limited polling that has been done on House races partisans stand staunchly behind their nominees.

In politics the golden rule of campaigning is turn out your base, win over soft partisans and then fight for the swing vote.  This idea of campaigning helps explain in some ways why split ticketing voting is becoming less and less prevalent every election.  But the ideological divisions between the parties has widened over the last decade as moderates have been purged from both parties.  In Indiana, Senator Richard Lugar was defeated by Mourdock in the primary  and ME Senator Olympia Snowe is retiring.  In CT, Independent Joe Lieberman is retiring (caucuses with the Democrats).

Then there are the numerous election laws each state has.  Ballot design, size and format can all influence how a partisan voter will act.  For example, in Chicago, IL electronic ballot machines provide voters, many Democrats, the option to vote straight-party with one click.  If it is easier for a partisan to act like a partisan the assumption goes they will.  In states like Idaho where the ballot is split by office and not party split ticket voting is slightly more prevalent, at least at the state election level.

Split ticket voting can occur, especially in non-wave election years.  But this cycle, aside from perhaps Indiana and NV, it does not appear it will be any more prevalent than in prior elections.


Is Minnesota in play?

Very few political analysts would consider Minnesota in play this cycle.  After all, the state has not gone for a GOP Presidential candidate since Nixon in 1972.  But recent events and new polling data shows Minnesota could be as close as WI and OH and perhaps affect the presidential race as much as its Midwestern counterparts.

Minnesota, like much of the Midwest, is strongly white.  Its rural population is more moderate like Wisconsin’s and more liberal like Ohio’s or Michigan’s.  GOP Presidential candidates since Reagan have courted the states voters and been turned down time and time again.  In 2008 Barack Obama perhaps under performed in the state, winning it by a mere 11 points compared to much larger victories in neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan.  It does bear in mind neither the McCain or Obama camp paid much attention to the state in 2008.

In 2010 the state elected a solidly GOP legislature while narrowly electing a Democratic Governor in a three-way race that was not called until after election day.  Politics in the state have been deeply unsettled since 2011 with the state legislature and executive constantly at odds.  This culminated in a short government shutdown before both the legislature and governor blinked and compromised.

While many pundits talk about the fact that Minnesota continues to be Democratic they may be missing a subtle underlying shift that is occurring.  Unlike WI, OH and MI, that have performed true to form as either Democratic leaning or swing, Minnesota has been trending towards the GOP since 2000.

Consider in 1992 that Bush won 37% of national vote and 32% in Minnesota.  In 1996 Dole got 41% of the national vote and 35% in Minnesota.  But in 2000 Bush won 48% of the national vote and 45.5% in Minnesota (a 3.5% shift towards the GOP from 96).  In 2004 Bush won over 50% of the popular vote nationwide and 48% in Minnesota.  Even in 2008 when John McCain was garnering 46% of the vote nationwide he won 44% in Minnesota.  The numbers since 2000 thus suggest that Minnesota is moving, ever so slightly over time, to the GOP’s camp.

Let us also not forget 2010.  As mentioned above the GOP took control of the state legislature and narrowly lost the governor’s mansion.  But the GOP also took control of a Congressional District that leans Democratic and gave two other Democratic Congressmen a run for their money.

This cycle both the Obama and Romney campaigns seem to have largely taken the state for granted.  Romney has not visited the state once, not even during the primaries.  Obama visited it once in 2011 (Biden has been there twice in 2012).  A month ago Minnesota definitely seemed off the map as the President was expanding his lead nationally and in key swing states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida and New Hampshire.  But since the debates there has been a marked shift in the trajectory of the presidential race.

Romney seems to have locked up Florida.  In fact a new Mason Dixon poll shows Romney winning the swing I-4 region of the state (this virtually ensures a GOP victory in the state).  Polling in Colorado and Virginia show a tight race but if partisan turnout is roughly even (as is expected by many) Romney appears to have the edge in both.  Ohio and Wisconsin are extremely tight, as is Iowa.  Even Pennsylvania and Michigan, which Obama carried by double-digits in 2008, are seeing tightening polls.

All this suggests Minnesota should be in play at this point in time, or at least see tightening polls.  And it seems both have occurred.  Last week the Obama campaign, apparently in response to internal poll numbers, decided to use precious resources to buy ad time in the state.  In the meantime the Romney camp and allied Super PACs have also bought up ad time in the state.

Yesterday, the Star Tribune did a poll among likely voters and found the President leading narrowly 48%-45.  This is within the poll’s margin of error and seems to validate the Obama campaign’s worries about the state.  Young voters favor the President while the older back Romney.  Men back Romney by 16% and women Obama by 14%.  Independents in the survey surprisingly back the President 43%-37%.  The sample of the survey is solid with a D+5 sample, close to the D+4 turnout Democrats enjoyed in 2008.

Perhaps most telling about why Minnesota is in play, at least in the Star Tribune survey, are two facts.  First, in the survey Romney leads on who is better to create jobs/manage the economy 48%-44%.  Second, Romney is over performing in the metro suburbs, leading 53%-41%.  Obama commands a large lead in the metro Twin cities and the two are tied in the rest of the state.  For Romney to win MN he needs to keep exceeding expectations in the suburbs and pull off a victory among the rest of the state.

In a regional sense the fact Minnesota is in play suggests the Obama camp is in trouble.  If Romney is performing this well in the liberal/moderate MN suburbs what does that say about the more conservative suburbs in SW Wisconsin and around Cincinnati?  Or how about the moderate suburbs in Iowa, Michigan and PA for that matter?  Polls show the President still narrowly leading in many of these Midwestern battlegrounds but the turnout ratio in those polls appears suspect.  If so, Minnesota, and the rest, or at least some of the Midwest, could lead the way for Romney to the White House.

Will Props 1, 2 and 3 drag down Idaho Republicans?

For Republican state Senator Mitch Toryanski and state Rep. Julie Ellsworth their reelection may be out of their hands.  It may come down to how voters in this swing SE Boise district view Propositions 1,2 and 3 (or if you prefer SB 1108, 1110, and 1113).  The district is chalk full of supporters and opponents of the measures and they are sure to turn out at the ballot box on November 6th.

Branden Durst and Julie Ward-Endelking have fully capitalized on the angst that education reform has caused in Idaho.  Durst had narrowly outraised Toryanski and Endelking has raised a whopping $57,000 for her second bid at the seat.  Even in the 15th district, a comfortably Republican suburban district nestled outside Boise, a Democrat raised over 80K for his bid.  This cannot simply be chalked up to good donor networks and charisma.  Something more must be at work here.

Two recent polls, one conducted by Mason Dixon for the Idaho Statesman and the other commissioned by opponents of the laws, showed that the Propositions were in danger of failing and failing badly.  If so, this could drag down Ellsworth and Toryanski.  Toryanski was instrumental in getting SB 1113 passed and Ellsworth backed SBs 1108 and 1110.

None of the candidates in 18 are shy about discussing the issue.  In their interviews with the Statesman none backed away from strong stances.  Toryanski is a strong backer of all three bills.  Ellsworth said she would vote yes on Props 1 and 2 but not three (she did not support SB 1113 on final passage).  Challenger Brad Bolicek said he supports all three Props.  Not surprisingly, Durst, Endelking and state Rep. Hart oppose all three measures.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that these two GOP incumbents could be dragged down by education reform.  Legislative races, even in presidential years, are low turnout affairs with the most passionate voters going far enough down the ballot to vote in legislative races.  No public polls have been taken on the enthusiasm of supporters or opponents of the measures.  However, it is hard not to notice that the number of yard signs and street signs urging voters to reject Props 1, 2 and 3 are fear greater than those advocating supporting the Props though.

Money from wealthy Idaho businessmen and national unions have poured into Idaho regarding the Props making them highly politicized.  In 2011 the issue was politicized enough for protests to erupt statewide and opponents trying to recall of Superintendent of Education Tom Luna, Ellsworth and Toryanski.  All three failed miserably.

Ellsworth and Toryanski may not be the only Republicans dragged down by the Luna laws however.  In moderate legislative district 28 based in Bannock County, Rep. Ken Andrus and former Rep. Jim Guthrie (running for senate) could be hurt because of widespread opposition to the laws in the district.  Republican Kelly Packer could also find it hard to hold Guthrie’s old seat.

The quality of their challengers matter of course and none of District 28’s Democratic candidates match the quality of King, Endelking or Durst in 18.  It also bears mentioning that all three Republicans running have easily out raised their opponents.

District 18 looks like the place where the Luna laws could drag down Republicans.  Toryanski and Ellsworth are fighters, and without a doubt will continue to do so until election day, but they may be fighting an uphill battle against angry local voters and union money.  There two hopes however.  First, Obama is so unpopular they pick up some votes that way and second that the Mormon vote comes out strongly for any Republican on the ballot.  If not, well……….

Will Obama’s Rustbelt problem cost him the election?

As the national polls in the presidential race have tightened so have the polls in the few battleground states that will decide the election.  But of the battleground states it is becoming clearer who has the edge in many of them.  In North Carolina, Florida, and to a slightly lesser extent Virginia, the Romney campaign is capitalizing on the states traditional GOP leaning tendencies.  In Colorado and especially Nevada out West the Obama campaign is riding Hispanic support.  That leaves one region to decide the election, the Rustbelt.  And in the last few weeks it has become clear Obama has a growing problem in the region.

Every swing state in the region, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and stretchers Michigan and Pennsylvania, have seen the polls tighten.  Three states in particular stand out, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and the must win state of Ohio.  In each of these three states Obama has seen his commanding lead shrink.  It is hard to pinpoint just exactly what has caused this.  Most pundits have chalked it up to Obama’s weak first debate performance but digging deeper it becomes clear this weakness is nothing new to the president.

In 2008 President Obama ran extremely poorly in the primaries in key regions of each state that are traditionally Democratic.  In Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton crushed him in the Southeast of the state.  In Wisconsin, Obama struggled outside of Madison and Milwaukee.  In Ohio, Obama struggled outside of the Columbus and Cleveland metro areas.  Until recently it was believed Obama could off-set this weakness against Romney with his massive and continuous ad barrage on his time at Bain.  Until three weeks ago the polls showed this was a reality.

Now the Rustbelt is up for grabs and the campaigns are in full swing trying to turn out their voters.  In Ohio the absentee ballot requests in the largest counties are a virtual tie.  In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Democrats have a nominal advantage in that regard.  Romney’s campaign in particular has made a strong plea to blue-collar whites, the kind of voters who gave George Bush the states he needed in 2004, a second look.  It appears to be working.  Among Independents and Republicans, many who identify as blue-collar, Romney’s numbers have skyrocketed.

In Wisconsin this trend has been even clearer with polls from PPP (left leaning) and Rasmussen (right leaning) showing Romney’s numbers significantly increasing among more down-scale whites ($50-100K).  Then we come to Pennsylvania.  Democrats continue to enjoy a massive registration advantage and the Romney campaign appears to be poised to not contest the state and spend resources elsewhere.  Yet a recent poll from Siena, weighting for partisan identification (unlike most others), shows Romney actually leading 50%-46%.  The partisan and demographic breakdown put the electorate somewhere between 2004 and 2008 (which is probably what this year’s turnout will actually be).  As in WI and OH, Romney’s gains have come among whites.  In the case of Pennsylvania it has been among upper income suburban Philly voters.

All this points to a Obama campaign problem.  For the President to enjoy such leads consistently  in the region and see them disappear so quickly means his support in the region was always skin-deep.   Even if the President won WI and PA yet lost Ohio he would have to completely run the table elsewhere to reach 270 electoral college votes.  That means either winning the Romney leaning states of VA, FL, NC or one of them.  So much for the electoral firewall the President has supposedly enjoyed.

Point 1: Disputes remain about the polling samples that have come out this cycle in many states showing Democratic turnout exceeding 2008 levels.  In Ohio many samples show Romney well ahead among independents but Obama leads because of greater than 2008 Democratic turnout.  The most recent example would be a Quinnipiac poll out of Ohio today that showed Obama up 5.  Despite Romney leading among Independents 49%-42% the fact the sample has a significant Democratic edge puts Obama ahead.

Point 2: Some counter that Minnesota and Michigan are in play for Romney this cycle, example here (http://battlegroundwatch.com/2012/10/19/election-night-surprise-why-minnesota-will-turn-red-on-november-6/).

The election will come down to the marriage divide among women

In recent days new polling has come out showing Mitt Romney running even or just slightly behind President Obama among women.  From this limited evidence many pundits and political analysts have come up with a limited answer; the election will come down to suburban women.

Well first off what the heck defines a suburban woman?  And second, are we talking about actual geographic location or the typical definition of a suburban woman, which is married and having kids?  There are just to many variables involved to accurately define a suburban woman.

Thus, I would like to offer an alternative view on what this election will come down to.  Simply put, regarding women specifically, the election will come down to the marriage divide.  We have all heard of the gender gap.  Men usually favor Republican candidates and women favor Democrats in competitive races.

Less noted but just as prevalent has been the rise of the marriage divide.  With the number of Americans who are not married rising and more and more children being born out-of-wedlock, single voters have gained greater power at the ballot box, this has benefitted Democrats recently.  Typically most pollsters do not include in their samples whether you are married or not but in mid September Gallup did a survey on the preferences of married vs. unmarried voters in this election.  The results were quite stark.

In the survey, among married registered voters Romney had a commanding 54%-39% lead.  Among those who were not married Obama had a similar commanding lead of 56%-35%.  Gallup provided prior polling data from surveys taken as far back as 1996 (among likely voters) and found this is nothing new.  In 2008 John McCain led among married voters with 56% while Obama led among the unmarried with 65%.

When other factors such as race and religiosity are taken into account the dynamic still does not change. Among those who are highly religious but not married Obama leads with 49%.  Romney leads among those who are highly religious and married.  The same dynamic is in effect among moderately religious voters.  When race is factored in Romney leads among married whites and actually runs dead even with the president among unmarried whites at 45%.  But among non-hispanic whites who are not married Obama leads convincingly.  But among those who are married non-whites Romney gets 23% as opposed to only 11% among unmarried nonwhites.

In 2010 there is evidence Republicans made inroads with unmarried voters.  According to the national House exit poll dads expectantly went 58% for the GOP.  Moms went 52%-45% for Democrats.  What suggests unmarried men and women favored the GOP more in 2010 (though the question did not specifically ask about marriage, just about parenthood)is that men without kids went for the GOP 54%-44%.  Women without kids actually favored the GOP 48%-46%.

Still, this is unlikely to happen again this electoral cycle.  Single women put more emphasis on social issues, which Democrats appeal to them on, while married women put more emphasis on traditional values and the debate over taxes.  With both parties doubling-down on their core issues message this leaves the few swing married and unmarried women voters in a tight spot about what they value more.  These women are scattered across the country and not just in the suburbs.

It is true the election will come down to women.  They tend to vote more than men and are slightly more politically active in a variety of ways.  But it is the margins that Romney carries married women and Obama carries unmarried women that will decide this election.  Where the suburban women go in this election obviously matters.  But it will only be one variable among many in what determines who wins this election. The marriage divide among women will be far more consequential.

Obama’s electoral firewall weakening

Prior to the first Presidential debate Barack Obama seemed to have all the momentum in the race.  His base was fired up according to polls, he had hefty leads in key swing states and the electoral advantages he enjoyed over Mitt Romney seemed insurmountable.  How two weeks makes a difference in politics.

While Obama’s base does not seem to be affected by the debate independents in mass, according to some polls, have shifted to Romney.  Republican enthusiasm has also picked up significantly.  Most importantly, the advantages Obama seemed to enjoy in the electoral college have faded.

In 2004 George W. Bush won reelection with 286 electoral votes and 50.7% of the popular vote.  However, he failed to make any traction in Midwestern states that have voted Democratic consistently starting since 1992 or earlier (MN, MI, PA, WI).  These states are often considered the Democratic firewall.  Everytime the states look in play, as PA and WI did in 2004, they revert to form and back the Democratic nominee for President?

So what has changed in these states in the last two weeks to perhaps put them back in play this cycle?  The polls and on the ground evidence of rising GOP enthusiasm and shifting voter preferences.  Prior to the first Presidential debate Barack Obama seemed to have MI, WI, PA and MN in the bag.  Now, according to RCP’s average of polls in the states, he only has MN in the bag.  Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are again rated as toss-ups by RCP and far more importantly for the Romney campaign they have made serious inroads into Ohio, which looked increasingly like a Obama state this year.

In Michigan the President now only leads by 4.4 points.  Prior to the debate the President was approaching a double-digit average lead in the state.  Michigan has many built-in Democratic advantages in presidential cycles.  A left leaning suburban electorate and heavily minority Detroit electorate usually ensure them victory in even good GOP years (2004).  But in 2010 the GOP was able to turn the state’s suburban electorate right and there is some evidence that electorate is still leaning that way this cycle.  Even so, Romney will need strong rural support to pull off an upset in the state.

In Wisconsin, a GOP target state since 2000, the President’s lead has been deeply cut into.  Prior to the debate he was threatening to run away with the race.  But since then the President’s lead has virtually disappeared and he only leads by 2.3%.  Wisconsin is unusual in that it has a highly conservative suburban vote and a moderate Democratic leaning rural vote.  In the 2012 gubernatorial recall this dynamic was on display.  For Romney to capture Wisconsin he needs to get every vote he can out of the suburbs and win moderate rural voters.

Much as Wisconsin has been a target state for the GOP in recent presidential elections so has Pennsylvania.  In many ways PA mirrors Michigan in where its electorate’s allegiances lie.  Urban Philly is like urban Detroit.  Suburban Philly is like suburban Detroit and rural Pennsylvania is a near perfect image of rural Michigan.  In the RCP average Obama leads in the state by 4.5%.  Obama’s advantage in the state runs deep as he has a formidable ground operation and urban Philly provides him quite a deep vote cushion.  The Romney camp counters that if they can turn suburban voters their way and win traditionally Democratic white voters in the Southwest of the state they can off-set Obama’s advantages.  We will see.

Obama’s firewall is by no means collapsing.  But it is showing signs of strain.  Other non firewall, swing states such as VA, FL and yes even OH have begun to swing Romney’s way in the last few weeks.  In the West CO and NV has seen significant movement to Romney’s side.  If Obama starts losing WI, PA or MI in the polls leading up to election day it is a sign his reelection campaign is poised on a knife-edge November 6th.

Will Romney help down-ballot Republicans in Idaho?

Most people in the US, including every Idaho voter, know where Idaho’s four electoral votes for President are going.  What is less clear to many people is how the candidates for President will affect down-ballot races here in Idaho.  It is generally accepted that President Obama at best will have no effect on Democratic candidates running local and legislative races here in Idaho.  But at worst, he could be a major drag for many Democratic candidates.  What is less clear is how much of an effect Romney, a Mormon, will have in Idaho?

No legislative district personifies close races than legislative district 18.  By most accounts this is the swingiest district in the state and looks to remain so after redistricting.  In 2004 the district has one Democratic Senator and two Republican Representatives.  From 2006-2010 the district had an all Democratic delegation in the legislature.  Since 2010 the District has had a split delegation of a GOP Senator and one Democratic and GOP Representative.

In 2006 the district gave well over 50% of its vote to Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady.  In 2008 the district gave about 51% of its vote to President Obama.  Come 2010 the district gave over 50% of its vote to GOP Governor Butch Otter in his bid for reelection.  All this sets up for an interesting set of races in 2012.

Minus one candidate all the people running in District 18 are known commodities.  Representative Julie Ellsworth (R) had represented the district from 1996-2006 and ran unsuccessfully twice more before winning again in 2010.  Representative Phyllis King has represented the district since 2006 and ran unsuccessfully in 2002 and 2004.  Senator Mitch Toryanski first ran in 2010 and won.  Both Ellsworth and Toryanski face familiar competition this year.  Janie Ward Endelking, a former teacher and administrator, is challenging Ellsworth again (lost in 2010).  Meanwhile, former Representative Branden Durst, is challenging Toryanski again for the state Senate.  The one unknown is Phyllis King’s competition in Brad Bolicek.  He narrowly won a contested primary and appears to be not well-known in the district.

The district, true to form, has demographics that reflect its swing nature.  It has pockets of affluence off the old Highway 21 (Republican leaning) and Amity Road (Democratic leaning), low-income areas off Vista and middle-income households centered around the Columbia Village area.  It has pockets of left leaning affluent business people  teachers, Boise State University employees and students.  The district also has plenty of young, middle-income, GOP leaning voters.  The district is almost 100% white according to the 2010 census.  Lastly, the district had a sizable Mormon population.

This is where Romney might give the GOP candidates a boost.  If Romney can boost Mormon turnout in the district even a few points than Toryanski and Ellsworth can win reelection easily.  Bolicek might even be able to unseat King.  But if Mormon turnout does not increase than the races will be tighter.

Of course there are other races where Romney could make a difference.  In the two races for Ada County Commissioner, Romney could help the two Republican incumbents.  If he needed any help, Romney could likely have helped Mike Simpson )R-ID) in the 2nd Congressional District.

One big race Romney could help Republicans with is in the 29th district based in Bannock County.  The district has a retiring Democratic state Senator and two Republican state Representatives   Bilyeau (D), retiring was an endangered incumbent virtually every year, but even more so this year due to redistricting and the fact Romney is on the ticket.  Apparently this year running was not worth it.  Instead, Democratic state rep. Roy Lacey will face Greg Romriell in a possibly GOP year.  If Independents and Mormons act true to form they will vote for Romney and against Obama, and likely vote Bilyeau out.

So with all this said I do need to remind everybody these are simply educated guesses.  Romney could have no impact in Idaho considering the state is already ruby red.  It is more likely Romney will increase Mormon turnout in the swing states of Colorado and Nevada than Idaho.  Still, having a Mormon at the top of the ticket for the GOP could drive turnout and for the GOP that could only be a good thing in Idaho.