Democrats Face The Most Unfavorable Congressional Map In 100 Years

In legislative special elections Democrats are vastly outrunning President Clinton’s performance last November.  They even have done better in Congressional special elections.  But, even so, it might not be enough to overcome the record setting bias of the US Senate map.  Indeed, the US Senate map has never been so tilted toward the GOP since the direct election of Senators in 1913.

Consider this fun fact.  If, “Democrats were to win every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats representing places that Hillary Clinton won or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points — a pretty good midterm by historical standards — they could still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats.”  Yes, that is how bad it is for the party out of power.

There are a number of reasons for this.  Part of it has to due with the nature of Congressional districts: gerrymandering and Democrats clustering in urban areas have helped move the median seat to the right of the nation.  Then some of it just has to do with bad timing.  Democrats had a stellar year in 2006 and had a great year considering the map in 2012.  But, due to this, Democrats have to defend 25 of their 48 seats compared to the GOP’s 8 out of 52.  Worse, many of the seats Democrats are defending have trended rightward and showed their true leanings last November.

The larger trend here should significantly alarm Democrats.  Democrats have made significant inroads in California and NY State; liberal states with massive urban centers giving the party a huge popular vote edge in the Presidential contest.  They’ve even made inroads in red Texas due to urban centers.  But, NY and CA only elect 4 Senators (out of 100) and Texas still has a massive GOP edge in statewide contests.

Meanwhile, the GOP’s edge in rural states like West Virginia, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana and Montana, has grown exponentially.  Due to the nature of the Senate- these small states wield significant power.

Contrary to the cries of many Democrats, GOP gerrymandering has had little to do with the pro-GOP bias in Congress.  For example, in 2008, under lines drawn by many Democrats, the average Democrat won their House seat by 4.4 points compared to the President’s 7.3 percent victory.  That’s an almost 3 percent bias towards the GOP.

Fast-forward to today and the bias is even worse.  Trump lost the national popular vote by 2.1 percent.  Yet, the average Republican won their House seat by 3.4 percent and Senate seat by 3.6 percent.  That’s a “yuge” gap.  In fact, it’s the widest Senate gap in a century and the largest in a half century (except for 2012) for the House.

There is a fairly easy way to quantify this.  In 1980, there were 18 states that were five points more Democratic at the Presidential level than the nation.  There were 18 states likewise more Republican than the nation with 14 states in between.  Assuming all things being equal, all either had to do was win their friendly states Senate seats and 15 of the 28 Senate contests in the swing states.

Today, Republicans don’t even need to come close to do that.  Fifty-two Senate seats are in states where Republicans won the popular vote for President by five points more than the national result (at least R+2.9).  There are only 28 seats in states where the margin was at least 5 points more Democratic, and only 20 seats in swing states.  And Republicans own several of these swing state seats making the Democratic climb even steeper.

The national political climate, the GOP Senate’s dysfunction and its minimal 52 seat majority make the chamber look competitive.  But a deeper look reveals Democrats hold far more seats in red territory than the GOP in blue states.  The GOP does not hold a single seat in the 14 states that are more Democratic than the nation.  Meanwhile, Democrats hold six seats in states more Republican than the nation.  These Democrats have unique and individual brands but they have largely behaved the same as their liberal colleagues in opposing Trump.  Can they outrun that?

This has repercussions beyond just electoral politics.  Consider, in 2010 Democrats need sixty votes from all Democratic Senators, including 13 from states Obama lost in 2008.  It only took the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, a once in a generation political candidate and the strength of individual Senatorial candidates to acquire those sixty seats.  And, oh yes, a razor thin margin in Minnesota and an old GOP Senator in Pennsylvania flipping his allegiance.

It’s hard to see such events occurring today.  But, if the GOP wanted to acquire sixty seats all they would need to do is win all sixty seats in Trump states.  It’s unlikely this uniformity would happen but it showcases just how uphill the Democratic climb is to simply regain the majority in the chamber.

Democrats probably cannot count on a sixty seat majority for a generation or more.  Meanwhile, due to the elimination of the judicial filibuster, lower courts can be filled with conservative jurists without a single, Democratic vote needed.  Even if Democrats win the White House in 2020, they will likely see their preferred nominees blocked and compromise candidates be the only candidates to get through.

This is not even mentioning the Supreme Court.  The increasing polarization of the parties and the public has filtered in the courts (see Merrick Garland circa 2016).  As a result, the GOP could get one or two more jurists on the Court under Trump and then simply hunker down and wait out a Democratic President by using their majority to block his/her nominee/s.

Finally, even if Democrats win the House along with 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the Senate would likely kill or modify many of their ideas.  Progressive legislation the base is agitating for would likely never see the light of day.  That is what the Democratic Party faces today and if it stops them from having a success 2018 the party will also be locked out of power in the states and Congress for another decade.

 

New Poll Gives GOP Hope In Virginia And Here Is Why

There is not much good electoral news to be had for Republicans of late.  Sure, the party has held onto every Congressional seat up this year though they occurred in red turf.  But, down-ballot, the GOP has suffered losses in ruby red Oklahoma all the way to a light blue swing state senate district in New Hampshire.  Indeed, this district is a fairly accurate barometer of the political mood and has swung narrowly between the parties.

That said, many of the districts Democrats have been winning are sleepy little special elections with low turnout in an off year.  But, when the spotlight has gotten bigger, none so than GA-6, the party has been unable to cross the finishing line.  Might we be seeing the same thing in Virginia?  Republicans sure hope so and they got some good news on that front today.

A brand new, independent survey on the Virginia gubernatorial race from Monmouth finds the Governor’s race tied at 44 percent between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat (and former Republican) Ralph Northam.

After the dust had settled from the primary last month, Northam won impressively a contested primary while Ed Gillespie almost blew an easy primary.  As a result, the assumption was between this and Trump there was little shot of a Gillespie win here.  But the Monmouth poll shows he has a very real, albeit narrow path.  Further, despite the natural advantages Northam has with Trump and the blue NoVA suburbs, the state can still see big and unexpected electoral swings.

Per the study’s authors, “The Monmouth University Poll  also found some interesting regional differences in current vote intentions. Northam has a 13 point lead over Gillespie in Northern Virginia (50% to 37%) and a 9 point lead in the eastern part of the commonwealth (50%-41%). The race is virtually tied in the central region (43% Gillespie and 41% Northam), while Gillespie has an 18 point advantage in the western half of Virginia (52% to 34% for Northam). Four years ago, when McAuliffe won a narrow victory, the Democrat had a larger 22 point advantage over his Republican opponent in NoVa (58%-36%). Compared to the current poll, the Democrat had a similar 9 point margin in the east (51%-42%), but also had a 4 point edge in central Virginia (47%-43%). The 2013 Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, won the western region by 21 points (57%-36%) that year, which is similar to Gillespie’s current advantage there. When Gillespie himself lost an even narrower race for U.S. Senate the following year, his Democratic opponent Mark Warner claimed a 17 point advantage in NoVa and a 12 point win in the east (55%-43%). Gillespie actually beat Warner by 6 points in central Virginia (52%-46%) and by 19 points in the west (58%-39%).”

The regional breakdown is interesting here.  The best comparison to this year might be the 2013 Governor’s race and the 2014 Senate contest.  In the latter contest, Gillespie almost upset Warner (if not for Fairfax county).  Current Governor Terry McAuliffe won by a more comfortable 2.5 percent.

McAuliffe’s win was predicated on a better result in NoVA and the eastern portion of the state, home to affluent Democrats and minorities.  Warner, due to his time as Governor, outperformed McAuliffe in the Western portion of the state which helped make up for his poor performance in NoVA.

Gillespie lost to Warner by 17 percent in NoVA and according to this poll he is exceeding it.  This is probably because Gillespie is the type of Republican the more affluent Republicans in the Northern Virginia suburbs can support (ie. Bob McDonnell).  If Gillespie can exceed his numbers in NoVA in the age of Trump he definitely is on target to be competitive (at a minimum).

Northam hails from Eastern Virginia.  Reflecting the shifting preferences of voters, Northam, a former Republican turned Democrat, is winning the region by 9 percent.  However, this is a 3 point drop from Warner in 2014.  Northam will need to pad his margins in the region to win by the mid to high single digits.

Showcasing the differing natures of elections, Warner won Centra VA 52-46 based on his overperformance in Richmond.  Northam is losing it 43-41.  Again, this is probably because Gillespie is a conventional Republican and is campaigning on local and not federal issues.  The exact issues that can still win over fiscally moderate and socially liberal voters repelled by Trump.

Lastly, in Western Virginia, Gillespie has an 18 point edge compared to 19 point win in 2014.  Republicans should be happy with the poll results but by no means rest on their laurels.

This is but one poll and national trends have not been kind to the GOP.  However, as GA-6 showed, the GOP base can be mobilized if given the right incentive.  Secondly, if one digs into the cross-tabs the contours of the race show Gillespie is swimming against the President.

Among the 12 percent of voters who are undecided the President has a 22 percent approval rating compared to 60 percent who disapprove.  Gillespie is fortunate a significant chunk of these voters backed third party candidates last year making their support for Northam less likely against a conventional Republican.

Secondly, among Gillespie supporters 78 percent approve of the President and 18 percent disapprove.  That is a high number and it shows just how much Gillespie has to outperform the President to win.  Among all voters, the President is at 37 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval.  More worrying for Gillespie is a plurality of voters, 35 percent, of voters identified healthcare as the top issue.  If Trump were not a factor in the race (admittedly this is a hypothetical), Gillespie would lead 45 percent to 40 percent though many undecideds would still lean left.

It is not all bad news for Gillespie.  He does enjoy a narrow 42-38 edge among Independents and leads among non-college graduates by a bigger margin than Northam does with college grads.

Still, all in all, the poll is good news for Republicans at a time when they need it badly.  Combined with the Senate GOP finally being able to move Obamacare repeal forward they might say they have some sort of momentum.  It also helps when Democrats unveil a slogan stolen from a pizza company run by a registered Republican.

Virginia, despite trending blue, is showing its swing status.  Republicans hope it holds and this poll and recent political events should give them hope it will continue.

 

 

 

Democrats Still Lack Ideas

It is one of the biggest refrains of Democratic complains about Republicans during the era of Trump; obstruction works!  Republicans tried to block everything he did, never brought ideas to the table and were rewarded at the ballot box. Twice!  Why can’t we do the same?

Well, I can think of a few reasons why.  Obama’s agenda was politically toxic, he pursued an agenda unrelated to the major issue of the time (the economy) and he ignored any ideas Republicans threw out.  He also ignored the political makeup of his Congressional coalition as he sought to ram healthcare down Americans throats.  The result has been a loss of over 1,000 legislative seats, dozens of Congressional seats and 12 Senate seats. The party’s bench in many states has been decimated to the point they are running political neophytes in the majority of swing states and districts held by Republican incumbents next year.

Democrats, with Trump now in the White House, believe they can harness the power of the “Resistance” and the “Rising American Electorate” by adopting the GOP strategy of the last eight years.  One problem.  While Trump might be personally unpopular and the GOP’s health care plan is not viewed favorably (though topline poll numbers do not tell the whole story), Trump’s agenda is not.

Just look at Trump’s travel ban.  Last week, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found 60 percent of voters approved of Trump’s plan.  A solid majority, 56 percent, of Independents, and even 41 percent of Democrats agreed with the plan.

Maybe this is because Democrats lack ideas on how to deal with the threat.  For example, when we have witnessed terrorist attacks, whether here at home, or witnessed them abroad, the refrain from the Left is we cannot allow ourselves to be terrorized.  Comforting.  But hardly a solution.  Likewise, Bernie Sanders blaming terrorism on global warming hardly offers s solution to Americans who do not want to be killed.

You could argue the ban was crafted sloppily.  You’d be right.  The original rollout was terrible.  The revised ban even had notable flaws though its rollout was much, much smoother.  Yet, compared to arguments global warming causes terrorism it at least seems realistic.

The same dynamic is playing out on immigration.  Building a “big, beautiful wall,” is largely impractical.  But, that said, at least it brings attention to a major problem for border states and towns.

Democrats, on the other hand, talk a lot about compassion and the need to be accepting and progressive.  I can even agree with that sentiment.  But, those are not ideas.  They are feelings.  They do nothing to address the fact states have to spend billions on healthcare to educate and provide healthcare for these individuals.  Every nation on Earth defends its borders.  Why can’t we?

Part of the problem is Democrats know that espousing such a view is an electoral death-knell.  Democrats can’t say they don’t want to enforce immigration laws but they communicate it subtly through inaction.  This wins them an election every now and again but made their grasp on the White House incredibly fragile as Trump showed.

On healthcare and trade Democrats spend an inordinate amount of time calling out Republicans for wanting people to “die” but refusing to make changes to the ACA.  Democrats commonly lash out at big business and banks for having an unfair advantage but then solicit millions in donations and continue to give them favorable conditions through laws and trade agreements to the detriment of Joe and Jane.

It’s common for the party out of power to wander in the wilderness and try to find an appealing new message.  But, the party is increasingly split between big government, populists and identity politick progressives that are pulling the party in different directions.

In this light it is easy to see why party elders (largely part of the identity politick cult) have made the party’s core message “We are not Trump.”  That is fine and all but it does nothing to craft an appealing message, address the issues of the economy, terrorism, or health care, and puts the party at a disadvantage in understanding why the party is so locked out of power.

It’s interesting that when Democrats had a chance to recognize Trump’s appealing message last week they went in the opposite direction.  Speaking in Poland last week, Trump defended Western values and liberals went nuts.  The New York Times and Washington Post both put out articles calling it insensitive and tone-deaf.  Not to be outdone, Vox called it racist.

The Democratic message of today is one of pure opposition.  But the assumption the GOP ran on nothing in 2010 and 2014 is a farce.  Republicans ran on policies of deregulation and lower taxes.  They ran on limiting abortion and slowing destabilizing cultural change.

Democrats are not running on anything similar.  They’re essentially coddling the “resistance” to stay angry at everything Trump does.  This makes the party’s poll numbers look good but they also looked good in 2016.  We know how that turned out.

Democrats need to do more than posturing and virtue signaling.  They actually need to put out some policy ideas.  Better yet, simply signaling they sympathize and understand the problems of Americans outside urban and suburban oases on the coasts would be a good start.

According to a Hill report, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled its latest proposed bumper stickers for the midterm.  One that was widely mocked read, “Democrats 2018: I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

Yes, apparently voters have.  They seem to like them considering how utterly irrelevant the party is in dozens of states across the country.  In states dominated by Democrats, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and Oregon, to name a few, legislators have so paid off political interests (read: public unions) they are facing daunting billion dollar pension crises.  If Illinois and Oregon are any indication, Democrats don’t have the will or knowledge to address these issues.  Funny, how in the state I live in (Idaho), dominated by Republicans, has one of the healthiest pension systems in the nation (PERSI).

Democrats seem to think outright opposition, laughing at Trump and stoking their base will be enough to win big next November.  Maybe so.  But, right now, even soft Republicans and reluctant Trump backers are sticking with him (see Kansas, Montana, South Carolina and Georgia’s special election results).  Additionally, when Trump’s policies poll well because Democrats lack one voters might be saying, yet again, they are willing to support the party and the guy willing to confront the issues they face everyday.

 

 

Data Did Not Catch Trump’s Rise: Might It Be Underestimating Republicans

Fresh off another humbling loss in GA-6, Democrats are left wondering what happened that their star pupil, Jon Ossoff, was defeated by a bumbling, Planned Parenthood hating Republican (I’m only being a little fececious here).

They point to the fact the district was historically Republican, that it took an all out effort by the GOP to win, and that national factors doomed Ossoff in the end.  But, worse, despite a majority of not just public but internal polls showing Ossoff ahead until the end the party now has to question the validity of its own data.

Public pollsters have widely acknowledge they have struggled to address their woes.  These struggles were laid bare in 2012 when national polls underestimate Obama’s victory by almost four points.  In 2014, the polls were off by so much in Democrats favor they might have swung a key Senate race or two to the left.  But after missing the mark in Kentucky’s 2015 gubernatorial contest the worst blow came in 2016.

Pollsters utterly blew the 2016 election.  Though the average of national polls were off only by about two percent, in the swing states of Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and the not so swing state of Texas they were massively off they were off by margins of 5+ percent on average.  To put this in contest, not a single poll in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin showed Trump ahead after June.

But the worse news was Democrats own data analytics team the Clinton camp spent millions on being significantly off.  The coalition they expected to show up was supplanted by the white working class collectively showing a middle finger to their ancestral political roots.

Supposedly, Democrats, just as public pollsters have, revamped their ways.  They tailored new techniques to target harder to reach downscale, white or immigrant voters.  These new techniques supposedly have heralded a new Democratic resurgence and the Congressional GOP’s weakness in the era of Trump.

Some of this is simple math in reality.  Republicans have a 24 seat edge in Congress but Clinton won 23 districts held by a Republican.  By default, some of these districts like VA-10 in Northern Virginia would be vulnerable.

The problem is GA-6 was supposed to be the ultimate test case.  The DCCC and Ossoff campaign spent almost $2 million on focus groups, testing messages.  They also spent millions on polling.  Their internals showed them ahead.  Public polls until the last day of the race showed Ossoff ahead or tied.  They even showed him with a massive lead in the early vote (which never panned out).

Worse, Democrats and public pollsters were visibly shocked that so many Republicans and Independents came out for Handel.  Their surveys failed to capture a dynamic GOP pollsters and focus groups did, Pelosi is toxic for Democrats.  Instead, the Ossoff campaign’s internals showed them ahead up to Election Day.  Handel and the GOP’s lack of return surveys showing her ahead supposedly was proof she would lose.

Yet, just as they did in 2016, in the closing days of the race, the Republican leaning Trafalgar Group came out with a survey closest to the actual result in the race (Handel up two points and wins by four).

The question has to be asked if public and Democratic pollsters are this flummoxed about recent results might their analysis and expectations about GOP weakness be wrong?  The obvious answer is you bet.

Much of the political analysis whether it be from data aggregate FiveThirtyEight, the Cook Report, or Realclearpolitics is based on past results in midterms.  However, it gives little credence to the fact Republicans ran ahead of Trump in many purple states and districts.

Certainly, midterms have not been historically kind to the party in power, but we have never had a President like Trump before.  Last year, Republicans showed they could tailor their brand to the unique needs/dynamic of their districts.  They did and it worked!  Midterms might be a different animal Presidential elections but let’s keep in mind two things.  First, Trump lost many suburban, educated Clinton districts by big margins (VA-10 and CO-6 being obvious examples).  Second, Republicans have not suffered a series of retirements in these swing districts as would be expected if the party thought it was going to lose big.

The lack of solid results from data raises questions about what to expect next year, especially as it pertains to the suburban, educated districts in the Sunbelt and Southwest/east that Democrats will target.  If the data cannot accurately capture even close to the results in GA-6, missing political patterns obvious to even ad designers, how can they accurately capture what moderate voters are thinking?

Add all this together and you have a perfect storm for the generic ballot to expect Democrats to be currently leading by six points and Trump’s approval mired in the low 40’s.  But, if the data is suspect the actual numbers we are seeing is thus likely wrong.  Until pollsters can get their act together it is very likely we will see a surprise in 2018 that benefits Republicans significantly.

Does The Supreme Court Really Want To Set Limits On Partisan Redistricting?

Last Monday, the Supreme Court accepted hearing their first partisan redistricting case in more than a decade (last was in 2006).  The case revolves around Wisconsin’s current legislative maps, first drawn in 2011.

Specifically, the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Fair Elections Project and a group of individual voters sued the state in 2016 for drawing partisan maps that locked in heavily Republican legislative majorities despite the fact the state voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump by a mere 11,000 votes.

Initially, a federal district court ruled in November of last year Act 43 (the law creating the current maps) were unconstitutional on the grounds “The discriminatory effect is not explained by the political geography of Wisconsin nor is it justified by a legitimate state interest.” The ruling only impacted legislative and not Congressional maps. Unsurprisingly, the state GOP responded by appealing to the Supreme Court.

In it’s accepting of the case the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, slapped down the federal court’s ruling new maps had to be drawn by November 1st. The  This is not surprising considering even in cases of racial gerrymandering (see Virginia and North Carolina) the Supreme Court has been hesitant to burden states with onerous requirements like holding special elections or drawing new maps before the next regularly scheduled legislative/federal election.

Less surprising is the Supreme Court undertook the appeal.  The Supreme Court in both 2004 and 2006 looked at prior partisan redistricting cases but in both cases largely ruled in favor of the defendant (the states of Texas and Pennsylvania).  The Supreme Court’s verdicts largely centered on the fact that the plaintiffs never presented a valid way to measure when partisan gerrymandering violated the Constitutional rights of voters.

This go-round, the plaintiffs argue they are armed with such a measurement.  It is called the “Efficiency Gap” and simply measures the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast.  In the case of Wisconsin, the federal court found the gap was so large it impeded on Democratic voters rights of free association and the guarantee of equal protection by impeding their votes being translated into legislative districts.

Since the map was drawn, Republicans have enjoyed almost lock-step dominance in the state (except for a few months in 2012 when Democrats held a one-vote majority in the Senate).  Republicans currently enjoy a massive majority in the state senate and house.

The case could easily have national implications.  If the Supreme Court sides with the lower court, the out of power party across the country will have a new avenue to access power via court rulings challenging political maps.  In Maryland (Republicans) and Pennsylvania (Democrats) would have a leg up in their court challenges.

But, the Supreme Court ruling either way is no sure thing.  Past defendants have successfully argued that geographic and other variables are at play in determining legislative control of a state.  Additionally, voter affiliations change over time meaning a district can start leaning Democratic or Republican at the start of the decade and change (GA-6 anybody).

Indeed, Wisconsin Republicans have made these arguments.  The GOP argues they have a natural advantage because Democrats cluster in Madison and Milwaukee.  Further, Republicans argue they run superior candidates in swing districts (this is irrefutably true).

Notably, two of the three judges on the lower court that ruled against Wisconsin were Republican appointments.  One of the reasons they ruled against the state was because in 2012, Democrats in the state assembly won more votes than Republicans yet held only 39 seats.  After 2014 and last year their numbers are a paltry 34.

The plaintiffs believe this is because a majority of Democratic voters were packed into urban districts.  The result is a large number of wasted Democratic votes. While this is certainly true it is also true other variables have been at play over the last several years.

The Justice most likely to decide the case is Anthony Kennedy who in both the 2004 and 2006 cases said he was open to finding partisan gerrymandering discriminatory but unsure of how to do so.  Certainly, racial bias is a reason to throw out maps but partisanship is hard to disentangle from an inherently political process.

States are required to redraw their maps once every 10 years after the Census.  Starting with the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1962 in Baker vs. Carr that redistricting presented justiceable questions the courts began to get involved.  Soon after, in 1964, the Supreme Court established the idea of “one person, one vote” in Reynolds vs. Sims which eliminated rural areas being able to outweigh urban areas simply due to geography.

Since this time the Supreme Court has found racial gerrymandering unconstitutional, delineated rules on geographic boundaries and population differentials between districts.  But trying to decide what is and is not too political in redistricting is something the Supreme Court has never done.

Honestly, they should not try.  Discerning discriminatory racial intent is easier than pure partisanship.  Few rules and laws govern partisan map-making and thus the Supreme Court would be effectively making law.  From the standpoint of limited jurisprudence, such a ruling would open up a pandora’s box of case law.

It is also true that partisan affiliations and habits change over time and are subject to natural, non-political variables.  For example, once a Democrat does not equal always a Democrat.  Additionally, districts and their voters can change over time.  A map once thought to lock in a permanent majority can easily swing the other way within five election cycles.

Further, the quality of a candidate can matter as can the power of incumbency.  For example, local Democrats held dozens of Southern districts at the Congressional level for decades even as they consistently voted Republican for President.  Likewise, local legislators can easily outrun the partisan nature of a district due to local connections, constituent services and more.  All these factors matter explaining why the Supreme Court has been hesitant to rule in partisan gerrymandering cases.

If the Supreme Court did find in favor of the plantiffs based on the Efficiency Gap the court would essentially be saying only a certain level of partisanship is not just allowed in the process but also our politics.  Ironically, the result might be creating more partisanship as studies have shown more partisan members exist in swing districts than one-party districts (sorry mainstream narrative).

Ultimately, the Supreme Court would be wise to stay above the fray and find in favor of Wisconsin.  If not, they will once again be making laws and determining how much partisanship is allowed in the US.  That is not the role of any court!

 

The Democrats Climb To Take The House Is Still Steep

Talk to a lot of political operatives and election handicappers and a general narrative emerges.  The GOP House majority is in jeopardy.  Ironically, many of these same individuals a mere few months ago were saying the GOP majority was safe due to redistricting and natural voter clustering.

Quite a 180, eh?  It’s hard to blame them.  They are taking their cues from polls like Quinnipiac (released last week) which showed Democrats ahead 54-38 percent on the question of which party voters would like to see control Congress.

Ed Kilgore, a long-time Democratic analysts (notably wrong about both 2014 and 2016, said of the poll, “A new poll shows the kind of numbers that if they become common could definitely portend not just a ‘wave’ but a veritable tsunami. Quinnipiac’s latest national poll mainly drew attention for showing some really terrible assessments of Donald Trump. But its congressional generic ballot was a shocker.  Quinnipiac stated the poll was five points better for Democrats than it was for Republicans at their high-water mark in 2013.

It’s not impossible Democrats can take control of the House.  Writing for the Washington Examiner back in February, Michael Barone stated the 24 seats Democrats need to gain a majority is not an impossible number.  Swings in 2006 and 2010 featured many more seats switching hands.  However, the increased level of partisanship makes these gains harder to achieve.

So, clearly such gains are not impossible to achieve.  Proponents of an emerging wave point to the generic ballot numbers and Trump’s popularity.  On the generic ballot question, Democrats lead by about six points 18 months out.  Republicans had a similar lead in October, 2010.

But, here’s the thing.  The generic ballot question has often overestimated Democratic support.  For example, in 2006, Democrats garnered 52.3 percent of the House vote while Republicans got a meager 44 percent and change.  Yet, the Realclearpolitics average of polls on the eve of the election showed Democrats with an 11.5 percent lead.  Last year, the same bias emerged, though to a much lesser extent.  The final generic ballot had Republicans up by a .1 percent.  They won by about a point.  So, the generic ballot question has tended to overestimate Democrats success than Republicans.

Geography is also an important factor here (as is redistricting).  Republicans won the popular vote by about 6 percent in 2010.  They won 63 new seats.  Along with their gains in the states they set about ensuring they had a durable majority via redistricting.  As a result, Democrats will need a bigger margin than Republicans in 2010 to gain a majority.

This is a factor a lot of analysts missed in 2010.  Republicans, even without redistricting, are better distributed across the country and that means Democrats start at a natural disadvantage.  It is why a Clinton popular vote victory of 2 million votes results in losing a majority of House districts and a 306-232 Electoral College loss.

Put by somebody else, “The way district lines are currently drawn benefits Republicans by distributing GOP voters more efficiently than Democratic voters. So, all else being equal, we would probably expect Republicans to win more seats than Trump’s approval rating alone indicates,” Harrey Enten notes at FiveThirtyEight.com.

Before 2010, all Democrats needed to do was win the popular vote to take the House.  But, after 2010, when Republicans locked in their gains, the party’s efforts became tougher.  Doing some quick math, and building off the Daily Kos’s median seat district average, to win 24 seats Democrats might need as much as a 9 percent victory nationally to marginally take the House.

We can see if this analysis holds water by doing a simple analysis.  In 2006, Democrats won the House vote by 7.9 percent popular vote margin which translated into a 7.2 percent margin in the number of seats won (233-202).  In 2010, when Republicans won by 6.7 percent they held 11 percent more seats than Democrats (keep in mind these elections were fought under old lines.).  But fast forward to 2016 and a Republican win of a single percent led to them winning a whopping 55.4 percent of all seats.

Again, doing some quick math here, that means a GOP win of a single percent last year led to the GOP garnering an 11 percent advantage in the number of seats won.  Democrats would need a minimum of a six point victory nationally (all things being equal) to take the House as a result.

Historically, we have seen quite an influx of wave elections.  Supposedly, enthusiasm in these elections made the difference (or lack thereof).  So Democrats crashing town halls should matter right?  Well, anecdotally, if that were the case, then many party higher-ups would not be worried the party is failing to create a compelling message to draw back working class Millennials and older voters.

There are systemic disadvantages the party is facing.  Even in a wave election, no more than 10 to 15 percent of all House seats are really in play.  Splashing cold water on the idea dozens of seats can be in play even in a bad cycle for the incumbent party are these startling numbers from Ballotpedia.   In 2016, “380 of the 393 House incumbents seeking re-election won, resulting in an incumbency rate of 96.7%. The average margin of victory in U.S. House races was 37.1 percent.”   In 2014, the last midterm election, “[t]he average margin of victory was 35.8 percent in 2014, slightly higher than the average margin in 2012 of 31.8 percent,” Ballotpedia reported.  Further, 2014 saw only 49 out of 435 races were decided by margins of ten percent or less. while a whopping 318 seats were decided by 20 points or more.

Adding to the disadvantage Democrats face is the fact only 35 districts voted for the President of one party and a Congressional member of another.  There are 23 Clinton/GOP districts and 12 Trump/Democratic districts in America.  This means Democrats would need to hold all their Trump seats, flip every Clinton/GOP district and find another true red district to flip.  It is possible this could occur but the odds are against it.

We are long past the period when Democrats could flip dozens of Bush districts like they did in 2006.  Indeed, that year, Democrats won three districts that reelected Bush with over 60 percent of the vote (mostly in the South where Democrats are all but extinct).

Heading into 2006, 18 Republicans occupied seats in districts carried by John Kerry in 2004, and Democrats had to defend 42 of their own seats in districts carried by George W. Bush. Even so, Democrats were able to win back control of the House, making a net gain of 31 seats. In addition to winning 10 of the 18 Republican seats in districts carried by Kerry in 2004, Democrats won 20 Republican seats in districts carried by Bush and won an open seat previously held by then-Representative Bernie Sanders.  They even captured three districts in which Bush won at least 60 percent of the vote.  Of course, one also should not forget flipping seats costs money.

The RNC and NRCC are sitting on piles of dough.  Meanwhile, the DCCC and DNC are shadows of their former selves after relying so heavily on Clinton to fill their coffers.  For example, the RNC raised $9.6 million in April and had $41.4 million on hand while the DNC raised $4.7 million, had $8.8 million in the bank, but spent more than it raised.

All the above said, Trump’s weak approval ratings give Democrats hope.  If he keeps dropping his party may fracture and Democrats might be able to pick up the pieces.  Uh huh, does that not sound at all similar to 2016 when pollsters thought Trump had no shot with over 60 percent of voters disliking the candidate?

Trump’s approval started out at about 44 approving and 44 disapproving.  As of now, he sits around 40 percent for a drop of about four percent.  Even considering those strongly approving have dropped few voters have moved from approving to disapproving.  But consider that Obama, the last President to compare against, started out with 63 percent approval and 20 disapproving.  By the time of the midterms in 2010, he was underwater by four percent meaning his approval dropped by a whopping 25 percent.

The idea Trump is an albatross around Republican Congressional candidates necks has already been tested.  For example, while Democrats argue Kansas was about Trump the GOP candidate embraced Trump when polling showed the race neck and neck.  He won by seven points.  More recently, in Montana, Republican Greg Gianforte embraced Trump at virtually every turn and won by six points (outperforming his internal polling).

Democrats and pundits point to GA-6 as a bellwether for 2018.  But so much money has poured into the race is it really?  Right now, Democrats seem to lack the cash to turn all the suburban, red leaning districts like GA-6, into competitive contests.  Even if Democrats flip the district, the prohibitive cost of doing so would mean they would never be able to do something similar in 23 other districts.

Finally, there is one other factor to be considered.  Democratic weakness with the working class.  It is where the bulk of Trump’s support originated and continues to be found.  This is where the Democrats lack of a message matters.  Endlessly bashing trump while failing to put forth ideas that appeal to voters is not a recipe for a wave.

Democratic weaknesses with this voting group are compounded by the fact they are very efficiently distributed in many swing districts across the country.  As a result, many formerly Democratic districts such as in IA, MN, PA and OH, which could help anchor a Democratic majority, are out of reach for the party meaning they have to stretch their gains to even have a shot at controlling the House.

Therein lies the rub.  Democrats certainly cannot retake the House if they run 35 points behind with this group like they did in 2016.  Indeed, they may not even be able to take the House if they do as well with this group as they did in the wave election of 2006 (losing by 10 points).  Democrats did not even come close to this number in their best election in the last decade (2012).

These are formidable obstacles to overcome even in the best possible cycle for a political party.  If Democrats struggle in 2018, not only will they fail to have leverage in Congress, but in the states Republicans will likely remain strong and draw in another “safe” majority until 2030 (though keep in mind the “safe” GOP majority created by redistricting is now in “trouble”).  If Democrats don’ get the wave they expect in 2018, they could find themselves locked out of power for many years to come.

Moderate Wing of GOP Flexes Clout

Over the past several years the conservative wing of the GOP has flexed its considerable clout.  From Sequestration to the Fiscal Cliff to the Government Shutdown to pushing out Speaker Boehner, conservative members have pushed their party to take a hard right stance on many, many issues.

With control of all levers of government they are not letting up.  The so called Freedom Caucus, a group of about 30 conservative lawmakers, killed the first version of the AHCA when they decided  the bill did not repeal and replace Obamacare.

Depending on how you look at it, the revised AHCA is a victory for the Freedom Caucus and its power.  The only reason the bill came back up was because Paul Ryan and President Trump gave into many of the Caucus’s demands.  Most significantly, the new bill would let states opt out of many of the ACA’s most significant requirements.

But, this caused another headache for leadership and reflected the power of a rising group of Republicans, the Centrist/Moderate wing of the party.  When leadership gave into Freedom Caucus demands they lost a dozen fence sitting moderates.  The bill was unacceptable to members who wanted to protect the least fortunate.

As a result, leadership and conservatives had to huddle with moderates to carve out concessions for a number of them (including $8 billion in new funding to support coverage for people with preexisting conditions).  If the House was just the teaser for moderates power, the Senate is where they will determine the future of the law.

The bill is still more conservative than not.  Medicaid Expansion is repealed in two years (unless states can fund it), mandatory coverage for preexisting conditions is gone and moderates could only get a billion dollar slush fund in concession.  That said, moderates made sure states had to apply for a waiver to opt out of the ACA’s essential coverage requirements and they also were instrumental in passing the law.  Moderate Republicans are not fans of the law, but they made sure their voices were heard in the process.  Ultimately, they might have shaved some of the roughest edges off the law for the Senate.

Moderates did not just show clout on healthcare recently.  On the budget deal, moderates took the lead in negotiations and eliminated poison pills out of the final package.  They sidelined contentious issues like cuts to HUD and building a border wall and instead focused on increased spending for the military and border security.  Quietly, moderate leadership told the White House a lot of what they wanted to do to Sanctuary Cities and Planned Parenthood could be done administratively.

Moderates might have had their biggest success on Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order.  The initial draft of the bill would have allowed organizations to “discriminate” (according to some) in hiring and other decisions based on sexual orientation.  The EO released last Thursday simply makes it easier for religious institutions to engage in political activity (hint, they already do).

Already, in the Senate moderates are flexing their power.  As soon as the AHCA passed in the House word spread the Senate would not vote on the House bill.  Instead, a working group which has been in contact with House Leadership is crafting their own plan.  This is not surprising considering statewide races in which Senators run are a different beast than smaller and more homogeneous Congressional districts.

Moderate concerns over the bill in the Senate reflect those of moderates in the House.  Repealing Medicaid Expansion might cut off insurance access to those who are 138 percent or below the poverty line.  That is huge because more than half of the people that did not have coverage before the ACA fell below that income level.  While a majority of those still without insurance today are young and healthy, fully 30 percent have ongoing medical issues.  Repealing Medicaid Expansion would only make it tougher for them to gain access to care, let alone insurance.

The uninsured are largely poor and young.  Gaps in the law and court decisions have removed coverage requirements for millions of individuals.  For example, millions reside in states that have not expanded Medicaid (my home state of Idaho being one).  Additionally, the Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 to let states decide to expand Medicaid left millions in limbo and threw out the stick arm of the law.

This is not even including the millions who remain uninsured even with the ACA.  Of course, the government says a majority can afford coverage (20 percent out of 29 million) but I doubt the government really knows what affordable is to a single guy living on $25K a year in a city.

Considering these factors, it is not surprising to see why moderates in the House and several GOP Senators balk at the House bill.  By cutting back federal involvement in health insurance so sharply millions will likely lose coverage.  It is easy to see why members would be concerned.

There is also the electoral component.  The Daily Kos, the liberal cheer-leading arm, led off with a piece the other day about how so many moderates were endangered voting for the law.  Of the Republicans sitting in Clinton districts, 14 voted yes to 9 who voted no.  In fact, more Republicans sitting in Trump districts (11) voted no than Republicans in Clinton districts.  Considering the impacts of this bill it is little wonder why liberals are cheering.

But, moderates might have/will save the day for their party.  By changing the House bill the Senate might give the GOP a fighting chance to argue the bill does in some form protect the least fortunate.  Additionally, the Senate crafting a different and revised version might be just enough to allow the party to win over more of the public and piece together a conservative/moderate majority in the House/Senate on the piece of legislation.

Time will tell, but right now moderates are increasingly showing their clout on healthcare and other issues.  Who says centrism* is dead?

Note: Centrism today is a lot different from past electoral cycles.