Democrats Recount Dreams

isIf Jill Stein, and Democrats, had their way this election would have turned out very, very differently.  Instead, the party is left chasing dreams of a recount leading to a surprise Clinton victory in 3 states, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

The rules for recounts in all 3 states vary.  Wisconsin law automatically calls for a recount only if the vote count is less than .25 percent.  Since Jill Stein lost by more than the required .25 percent she must pay for the costs of a recount.  Michigan and Pennsylvania only conduct recounts at taxpayer expense if a campaign presents evidence of voter fraud or proof of some sort of malfeasance.

Enter conspiracy theorists stage left.  Well, not exactly conspiracy theorists.  Rather, a group of election lawyers and computer scientists.  According to a Tuesday report from New York Magazine, this group approached the Clinton camp with evidence they believe suggests the Electoral College was rigged towards Donald Trump due to hacking.

The  article reports that a group that includes voting-rights attorney John Bonifaz and computer scientist J. Alex Halderman presented findings last week about Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to top Clinton campaign officials to try to persuade them to call for a recount.  Until Saturday it appeared the Clinton camp was unwilling to participate in the recounts.  However, they are now backing Stein’s recount efforts in Wisconsin.

Interestingly enough, the NYM article cites just one example of voter fraud even possibly occurring.  Wisconsin counties that used electronic voting machines favored Trump more than non-electronic voting machine counties.  As of this writing there is no clear indication of what the group is using to validate a recount in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

But in a Medium post on Wednesday, Halderman said the New York article “includes some incorrect numbers” and misrepresented his argument for recounts. According to Halderman, he laid out an argument based not on any specific suspicious vote counts but on evidence that voting machines could be hacked, and that using paper ballots as a reference point could help determine if there were hacks.  Well, while we are indulging coulds…

Considering this, we are forced to wonder what could drive a recount.  Michigan uses paper ballots read by an optical scanner (like my home state of Idaho’s Ada County) so that crosses them off the list.  The machines are never connected to the Internet at any time.

That left only a few states that fit the criteria for qualifying for a recount and being worth examining for a vote discrepancy based on type of voting method used.

The data magicians at FiveThirtyEight were kind enough to oblige and examined Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.  These states were all decided by less than 10 points and had a mix of electronic and paper voting.

The findings were less than spectacular for those who allege ballot fraud occurred.  Only 2 states, TX and Wisconsin showed any significant effect.  In Wisconsin, counties that used electronic voting favored Trump by 5.6 percent more than non-electronic voting counties.  In Texas, counties that used electronic voting methods actually favored Clinton by 2.7 percent.  However, when weighted by population the effects disappear.

Nevertheless, calls for recounts due to conspiracy theories and “democracy being stolen” abound.  And, by no means, are these theories only floating around Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Just look at this gem.  Here you have it folks, proof the election was rigged.  Nevermind the results had not been finalized meaning the tally was unofficial.  Likewise, this same “report” has alleged that Florida impossibly went for Trump on election day.  Making it worse, Trump won all his close states by “close margins.”  Stop the presses.  Trump stole the election.

This is just 1.  I could probably find 10 more from supposedly “reputable” sources.  The simple fact is there is not a shred of evidence the election was stolen from Clinton.  If it was, don’t you think the Trump campaign would want to win the popular vote too?  If they could change dozens of machines in at least 4 states why could they not pull it off and pad his margins in redder than red states like Texas?  What would it hurt to win Texas like Romney instead of by a mere 9 points?

Without a shred of evidence Democrats are left to rely on Jill Stein and a “group” of experts to show fraud occurred where there is no evidence it did.  Good luck with that.





The Electoral College Map Favored Republicans For Once

Since 2004, Republicans have griped that the Electoral College map is stacked against them. Even in Bush’s commanding victory he only carried 286 Electoral votes and lost states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The nomination of Donald Trump was expected to shake up the old red/blue divide because of his appeal to blue-collar whites. To a degree it did. David Byler over at RCP put together a cool chart tracking these changes compared to Romney’s two-party share of the vote.


Unsurprisingly, the chart shows red states stayed red, blue states stayed blue and to a degree purple states stayed purple. But, that masks some pretty significant shifts. For example, Trump ran 6 percent better in Ohio, 4 percent in Wisconsin, 3 percent better in Pennsylvania, 5 percent better in Michigan, 3 percent better in Florida, a whopping 8 percent better in Iowa and 6.5 percent better in Maine. For her part, Clinton made some deeply blue states a darker shade and actually came closer in Texas and Utah than Obama. But, this is the rub, she only did it in Coastal states like WA, OR and CA. Trump actually ran better in NY State, Rhode Island and Hawaii and Delaware than Romney did (for a full list of states Trump did better in than Romney see below).


However, unlike Trump, Clinton failed to flip any of these states into her column. Trump, due to his narrow advantages in the Midwest, flipped the states he needed to win a commanding Electoral College majority.
But, Trump flipped states in a way that was vastly different than Bush and prior Republican nominees had. The recipes for success in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, to pick just a few examples, were different than Trump’s. For example, in Iowa victory was gained by running up huge margins in Eastern Iowa to offset losses in Western Iowa. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were won by winning in the suburbs and winning or tying in rural areas. In Trump’s case, he won virtually everywhere in Iowa, lost the Philly suburbs substantially but offset those losses by winning big in rural areas and showcased his strength in Wisconsin’s rural areas even as turnout in red, suburban Milwaukee dropped.

For their part, Clinton and Democrats ran up big margins in the Colorado and Virginia suburbs. However, in transitioning Sun Belt states like North Carolina and perennial swing state Florida, the Clinton campaign did not do much better than Obama in the suburbs. They did notably worse in urban areas.


But here is the rub, the Democrats coalition in swing states did not outweigh the new GOP coalition in the Rust Belt. Just look at the math. Democrats won Colorado, Nevada and Virginia (states Bush took in 04) and it gave them 28 Electoral votes. But. Trump won IA, PA, WI, OH and MI and ME’s 2nd CD for a total of 71 votes (states Obama won in 08 and 012). Not a good trade-off.
For once, Republicans get the better end of the Electoral College. But, this view also obscures the fact the GOP got the better of the Electoral College in 2012 when several solid red states gained new votes due to the Census (most notably TX with 4 and AZ with 2).

Republicans certainly don’t have a lock on the map though. Just look at how narrowly Trump won Michigan (11,000 votes), Wisconsin (12,000 votes) and Pennsylvania (35,000) votes. Flip those states and Clinton or another Democrat in 2010 gets 52 Electoral votes and keeps Trump well below 270. Combine this with growing Democratic advantages in CO, NV and VA and they could afford to lose Ohio and Florida and still win.
To prove the point see the chart below.

It’s true short of Virginia most of these states are deeply red or blue. Running up big margins in California won’t change the Electoral College. Nor will coming closer in Texas or Utah. Sure, you could argue Arizona and Georgia are swing seats but for the most part the fundamentals and key county voter preferences showed Trump was likely to win them.
This does leave Democrats somewhat up a creek without a paddle. Whereas Republicans have finally broken through in the Rust Belt (even if their wins are fragile) Democrats have now invested 3 elections worth of effort to flip Texas, Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina. Right now they are batting 1-12. Moreover, the margins in Ohio and Iowa look more Texasesque this election than that befitting perennial swing states.

I recently wrote that this election was a realignment election not based on geography but culture. Right now, Republicans are benefiting from this shift because blue-collar, rural voters are trending their way and suburban voters at worse are splitting their votes in the Rust Belt. On the other hand Democrats have firmly aligned themselves with the culture of minorities, the young, refugees and college educated, urban women and men. So far though, or this election at least, that alliance did not reap many dividends.

That said, here is 1 last important point to keep in mind. After 2012, Republicans said they needed to moderate, pass immigration reform and work with Democrats to win young and urban voters. Instead, Trump won running against immigration reform, the establishment and the cultural tolerance of urban voters. There is no reason to believe that Democrats 4 or 8 years down the road cannot run on a platform similar to Clinton and win. Candidates matter, and let’s be honest, Clinton was a horrible one compared to Obama.

Do Democrats Do Worse When the Gender Gap is Bigger?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08:  A group of women react as voting results come in at Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's election night event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center November 8, 2016 in New York City. Clinton is running against Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 08: A group of women react as voting results come in at Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s election night event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center November 8, 2016 in New York City. Clinton is running against Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Exit polls show that the 2016 election is on course to showcase one of the widest gender gaps in American political history. Whereas Donald Trump won men by 12 percent Hillary Clinton won women by a similarly large 12 percent. That creates a whopping 24 percent gender gap.
Of course that is at the national level. In individual Senate and Gubernatorial contests, the margins vary. But we have now seen in the last 4 elections Democrats do incredibly well with female voters. And they have been crushed in 3 of them. So the question must be asked whether Democrats do worse when the gender gap is larger?
Aggregate data in recent elections certainly suggests so. In 2012, Democrats drove up the gender gap to a whopping 19 percent but won a mere 2 Senate seats, a dozen house seats and of course the Presidency. This gender gap could arguably be attributed to the stupidity of individual GOP candidates as anything else though.
The 2014 election was a different story. Democratic candidates across the country tried to paint Republicans as extremists on the issue of abortion. It didn’t work. Indeed, one could easily argue it backfired miserably.
Take the case of Colorado’s 2014 Senate contest. Mark Udall coasted to election in 2008 on the coattails of Obama’s election. That year he won 60 percent of the female vote and 54 percent overall. In 2010, his Senate colleague Michael Bennett won election against a Tea Party challenger on the back of a 17 percent margin among women. So, it seemed to make sense for Udall to target female voters.
But, the way Udall did it made no sense. He seemed solely devoted to driving up his margins among women at the expense of everybody else. The best example of this would be an ad his campaign released arguing Corey Gardner (his GOP opponent) would ban condoms. This sole devotion to the female vote seemed to work. He won 54 percent of women. But he lost over 60 percent of men and the election.
In another contest, the Iowa Senate race, Congressman Bruce Braley attacked Republican state senator Joni Ernst on her support for banning partial birth abortion. He ran ads attacking her over it. The attacks barely made a dent as she won by 7 percent and almost carried the female vote.
Nationally, exit polls from 2014 showed Democrats won the female vote for the House with 52 percent. But the margin Republicans won among men, 58 percent, easily outweighed Democratic margins among women.
These recent examples showcase the danger Democrats face in focusing largely on winning the female vote. It can backfire. Men are not nearly as receptive as women to abortion related ads and debates. Further, focusing on these social issues can take candidates attentions away from issues ALL voters care about (the economy, jobs, healthcare, etc.).
Additionally, it oversimplifies the female electorate’s voting preferences. Gender may be somewhat indicative of a partisan leaning but it is not nearly as predictive as geography, race and age.

Democrats consistently win 18-29 year old women, single women and black, Latino and Asian women. For that matter they also win black, Latino and Asian men.  Democrats real issue with men (and some women) is that they tend to be more blue-collar than women and more ideologically conservative. Moreover, the majority of men that vote are white men and Democrats have done horribly with this group.
Reflecting this struggle are similar Democratic problems among, married, white women. Take the case of this election. Donald Trump was viewed by most pundits and analysts as repugnant to all women. He was supposed to be the first GOP nominee in the modern era to lose white women. Instead, Trump won a majority of white women and actually won 45 percent of white women with college degrees.
These women in some respects reflect the partisan tendencies of their white, male counterparts. They want economic security, lower taxes and their children to be safe. The wedge issues of abortion, gay marriage and sexual rights have less salience to these women.
One should not expect the wedge issues that Democrats have hammered home for the last decade to go away. The party is simply too invested in them. But, after this and recent elections, Democrats need to realize that not all women are the same and driving up the gender gap does not automatically equal electoral success. Just as Mark Udall and more recently, Hillary Clinton.

Democrats Angry at Clinton for Lack of Economic Message Should Look in the Mirror

The exit polls from last Tuesday paint a grim picture for Democrats who are reeling from an electoral shellacking.  On the surface it looks like Hillary Clinton won voters on the economy.  Fully 39 percent of voters rated the economy as their most important issue and Clinton won them by 10 percent.  But when it came to who voters trusted most to handle the economy Trump won by a narrow 3 percent.  Additionally, among the voters who ranked the economy as poor Trump won almost 6-10 voters.
Democrats have rightly taken the Clinton campaign to task for its lack of a compelling economic message.  A 100 policy positions and 50 bills proposed in the first 100 days does not a theme make.  While the Clinton campaign does deserve a lot of blame for focusing on identity politics, intense scrutiny of Trump’s supporters and allegations of sexual assault, the party and its leaders also deserve quite a bit of blame.
As Democratic pollster Celinda Lake put it, “If Democrats don’t have something to offer on the economy we’re not going to win elections.”  Well, no duh.  But somehow the message voters sent you in 2010 and 2014 on that front did not penetrate the party’s group-think.
Democrats have spent thousands of hours in hundreds of campaigns over the last several years stressing issues from global warming to abortion and gay marriage.  Yes, they have talked about the economy but the way they have gone about it has cost them dozens of Congressional and hundreds of legislative seats.   You cannot argue for an economy that benefits everybody, embrace trade and shrug off the communities that feel left behind because of it.  Rational or not, these are real concerns voters have and Democrats have not addressed them in the past decade.
Part of the problem stems from the deep divide the party has on the economy.  Unsurprisingly, almost every member agrees inequality is bad.  But, many coastal Democrats (an increasingly large faction of the party) see trades as a boon to the economy (and their reelection prospects).  The remaining lawmakers in the Rust Belt do not.
The other part of the issue is that Democrats have increasingly catered to their up-scale, down-scale coalition at the expense of their older, former base.  You can see this by the language they use to talk about the economy such as “fair jobs” vs. “more jobs.”  Increasingly the party has increased its base in states they already dominate and have started to lose almost everywhere else.
It’s little secret Trump ran ahead of Romney among blue-collar, non-college educated whites.  But, it is where these gains were made that is crucial.  Trump made them in the Rust Belt whereas prior GOP nominees did it most in the already red South.  Preliminary analysis shows 10 states broke for Trump by 5 points more than they did Romney.  A whopping 8 of them were in the Midwest and included Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Indiana.
The Clinton campaign’s talking point that the Comey revelation stole their momentum in the final weeks has been getting lamer of late.  According to exit polls, late deciders broke for Trump by 5 percent nationally.  But in the states that mattered it was a different story.  In Michigan late deciders favored Trump by 11.  In Pennsylvania, Trump carried them by 17.  In Wisconsin, Trump won the 14 percent of late deciders by a massive 2-1 margin.  The majority of these voters did it because of the economy.
For the most part Democratic candidates parroted Clinton’s campaign themes on identity politics and a fair economy.  When surveys were showing voters concerned about the economy in their states and Gallup finding 6-10 parents felt their children would be worse off Democrats stayed the course of making the election solely about cultural, wedge issues.
Democrats can comfort themselves that they have won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 elections.  But, this covers up the fact they have only won 4 of the last 7 elections.  More importantly, they have only won a majority of the popular vote 2 out of 7 times.  Hardly something to celebrate.

Democrats Are Losing the Senate: Will Big House Gains Follow

comstock06-gwt-05042015-rjs-710ximg_4462Recent polls have shown Democrats are losing the Senate.  Sure-fire seats such as Wisconsin have suddenly become competitive, Ohio and Florida continue to tilt red and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire and Joe Heck in Nevada have established slim edges.  Missouri continues to be neck and neck but Democrats are now losing Indiana and North Carolina continues to be just out of reach.  The only state Democrats seem to have gained in is Pennsylvania (though the most recent poll found a tied contest).
Trump’s recent gains in the polls can largely be attributed to GOP resurgence down-ballot as well as a renewed GOP focus from endangered incumbents focusing on being a check on Clinton.  Democrats had largely hoped to take the Senate this cycle but they were also gunning heavily for the House.
Democrats regaining 30 seats and capturing the House was always a stretch but retaking some Democratic leaning and swing districts was always a possibility.  With Trump on the ticket Democratic hopes have risen and fallen.  Every time Clinton has commanded a substantial lead they have seen favorable internal polling (like early to mid-October).
But as the race has hit the home-stretch Democrats may be starting to realize they may not only lose the Senate but gain at most a dozen House seats.  There are multiple reasons for this and only a few are Democrats faults.
One is recruiting.  Early on Democrats failed to recruit strong challengers in suburban/rural districts in Pennsylvania and Ohio.  While Democrats believe some of their weaker, late recruits are showing strength at the end the odds are good Democrats will leave these seats on the table beyond 2016.
The biggest Democratic fault was having Clinton be their standardbearer.  It is true you could say the same of Republicans and Trump but whereas Republicans have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from Trump, many Democrats have embraced Clinton.  As a result, endangered Republicans can run as a check on Clinton.
As I mentioned before, not all the reasons for Democratic struggles are theirs.  The strength of many GOP incumbents, outside spending and demographics have hindered their efforts.
GOP incumbent strength has allowed many top-tier seats at the start of the cycle (FL-26, IA-1, IA-3, PA-8, VA-10 etc.) to remain barn-burners.  Democrats should be dominating these kinds of districts in liberal Eastern Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania, Democratic heavy Southern Florida and the Virginia suburbs.  Instead, at best their candidates are tied with GOP incumbents even with favorable turnout projections built into their internal polls.
Republicans have benefited strongly from outside spending.  While many conservative outlets and donors have not donated to Trump they have spent millions supporting Congressional GOP candidates.  It has helped many Republicans have built up their war chests in anticipation of tough reelections.  Additionally, the money Paul Ryan has raised for his party numbers in the millions.  If anything, Ryan is Boehner on steroids for raising money to protect his majority.
Lastly, demographics have actually hindered more than helped Democrats in their quest for seats in the House.  Sure, they can play in heavily Hispanic districts in CA and FL and suburban districts in MN, PA and VA.  But the Obama leaning, rural and white districts in IA, MN, OH and elsewhere that should be theirs on paper have not followed through.
A couple cases in point.  Democrats should be dominating in IA-1.  The district gave Obama 56 percent pf the vote in 2012.  Rod Blum, is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and has consistently opposed Obama.  He has endorsed Trump.  Blum should be a goner.  But instead, fueled by Trump’s strength in the district he has held his own against his Democratic challenger.
How about NV-4.  The district voted for Obama by 10 points in 2012 and is almost a majority-minority Hispanic district.  This seat should be blue.  But, instead, Democrats despite finding a top recruit have struggled to put it away as polls show Hispanics and blacks unlikely to vote and Republicans core voters, blue-collar whites, geared up to do so.
Democrats counter that their strength among college educated women, particularly white women, will pay dividends in the future.  They vote at a higher rate than college educated white men, are more Democratic and only growing as a share of the electorate.  That all may be true.  But it is scant comfort for Congressional leaders who will be irrelevant for another 2 years of divided government.

Early Voting Numbers Are Not All They Are Cracked Up To Be

Democrats are ecstatic over news that early voting among their party faithful is well ahead of 2012 numbers.  In fact, short of Florida and Iowa, the party is outpacing Republicans.  This has the party optimistic they can take marginal seats in Colorado and elsewhere.

But 2016 is not 2012.  Romney ran up significant margins in virtually every battleground state in 2012 yet still lost almost every single one of those states.  Additionally, the advent of new campaign technology makes the victories and defeats of former campaigns largely irrelevant.

Sure, you cannot dismiss the fact Democrats are using their organizational advantage to great effect.  But, the vote totals among partisans are really not that great.  Plus, it’s clear that the Trump and Clinton campaigns have taken divergent paths in getting voters to the polls.

Clinton has invested in an extremely data driven and micro targeting focused campaign.  This makes sense considering she is targeting low turnout voters and her campaign is uninspiring.  Trump, on the other hand, has eschewed data and campaign infrastructure (leaving it to the RNC) and focused on leveraging his celebrity and rhetoric to bring supporters to the polls.  In the primaries he used free media to significant effect and he has tried to do the same of late.

Historically, the conventional wisdom has followed a linear line of logic; Republicans win mail-in ballots, Democrats in-person early voting and Republicans win Election Day, in-person voting.  The elections are determined by the margins.

But this logic has always been far too simplistic.  Just because one identifies as a Republican or Democrat does not mean they will VOTE that way.  For example, many solid Republicans in Northern Florida still identify in voter rolls as Democrats.  Many moderate Republicans in New England vote solidly Democrat now.

Certainly, campaign software and technology has tried to keep apace of these changes.  They’d be foolish if they did not.  But, even the most sophisticated software cannot always be right.

In our hyper-partisan campaign cycles where party stalwarts have always lined up on two sides and Independents have preferred their personal leanings the theme for the parties has been to get their partisans out in force.  For the most part it probably has benefited the parties.

But this is not 2004, 2008 or even 2012.  This is 2016, an election year where evidence abounds registered Democrats are defecting to Trump and many white-collar, up-scale, white Republicans are defecting for Clinton.  Again, evidence abounds these voters might split their tickets down-ballot as well.  In New Hampshire and Pennsylvania Clinton has established solid leads.  Yet, in some polls both GOP Senate incumbents are pulling 15-20 percent support among Democrats. A vote for Clinton does not automatically equate to a vote for other down-ballot Democrats.

Add all this up and you find the numbers could mean many things.  But, it also is an indication that early voting numbers are not the end all be all.  Democrats would be wise to remember this.