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.