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!

 

Nancy Pelosi Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving To Republicans

Nancy Pelosi is the gift that keeps on giving to Republicans and seems to continue to hold her party back.  After Jon Ossoff’s surprisingly large loss in GA-6 some Democrats are pointing the finger at their longtime House leader.  She appeared in almost every attack ad and at the end of the day seemed to be the galvanizing factor behind Republicans falling behind Handel.

Pelosi has seen this song and dance before.  After 2010 and 2014 she was blamed for the party’s losses but still managed to stay in power.  Still, the fire is not just coming from old opponents like her 2015 Leadership post opponent Tim Ryan (Ohio).  Kathleen Rice (New York) joined the call for her to step down, “We need a leadership change.  It’s time for Nancy Pelosi to go, and the entire leadership team.”

Tim Ryan, echoing a growing sentiment in the party, “We are heading into July, and I cannot believe I am saying this, but our party still doesn’t have a clear economic message.  Are you kidding me.”  He did not mention Pelosi but it was hardly supportive of Leadership.

Due to her long tenure, Pelosi is the consummate tactician.  She has allies across the ideological spectrum and has earned the loyalty of many senior Democrats.  She also appeals to the growing Black and Hispanic Caucuses in the party giving her a lock on leadership.

Pelosi has raised money for many in the party helping ensure leadership.  Like GOP counterpart Paul Ryan and John Boehner before him, she dispenses this among the party helping lock in her support.  But, unlike Paul Ryan, and even less milquetoast John Boehner, she is a lightning rod for the opposition.

It’s easy to see why.  Due to her long tenure she has supported actions bills and taken Congressional actions sure to fire up partisans of the opposite party.  She was instrumental in opposing Bush.  She passed Obamacare (twice), Cap and Trade, Dodd-Frank and called the Tea Party “astro-turf).

But, she also is not just unpopular with Republicans but also Independents.  This fact is what makes so many Democrats squeamish about her continuing tenure. Few Democrats expect to win Republicans but they need Independents in purple districts across the nation.

For every Democrats publicly question her tenure there are two more in private echoing such sentiments.  Consider Representative Seth Moulton (MA), a veteran and LBGT member, saying of such things, “We need to have that discussion.”  By we he means the party.  Internally!

Certainly political parties turn to the leaders of the opposition as boogeymen almost always.  Republicans did it way back with Tip O’Neill, Democrats with George Bush and now Democrats with Trump.  But, Republicans continue to find a potent weapon in attacking Pelosi and her San Francisco roots in red and purple districts.

Handel, who won Georgia’s hard fought contest the other night, felt so confident the attacks on Pelosi were working she aired them in Spanish.  The Congressional Leadership Fund, after focus groups showed attacking Pelosi and SF values worked, ran a multi-million dollar ad campaign based on San Franciscans thanking Ossoff for his campaign.

Nothing seems to drive the GOP base to unify more than Pelosi.  But, for a party out of power, her horrible numbers among Independents are even more worrying.  Anecdotal it may be, but a week before the election polls showed Ossoff winning a majority of Independents and 13 percent of Republicans.  The final Trafalgar poll of the race showing Handel up by two points and she was splitting Independents and winning 96 percent of Republicans.  Coincidence this happened right after CLC went up with their major ad buy featuring Pelosi?

This was desperately necessary.  The Ossoff campaign was vastly outspending Handel on the airwaves, had more campaign staff and had far more focus group centered messages than Handel.

It is unlikely Pelosi is going anywhere.  The same attributes that make her a liability for the party electorally also make her a lock for leadership as long as she wants it.  The genteel, old white liberal guard sitting in suburban Seattle, Portland, California and the like have no reason to worry electorally.  Likewise, the Black and Hispanic Caucus’s members sit only in competitive districts in wave elections (they usually still win).

This creates two problems for the party.  The first is creating a leadership cap.  It is notable that so many rising stars in the party’s Congressional ranks have left.  Young Democrats have either run for Governor, Senator or in the case of Xavier Bercerra, moved over to state office.  There is minimal grooming of future talent for leadership.

This in turn leads to generational divides along electoral and policy lines.  Democrats might have supported Clinton’s policies but few actually liked her personally.  Contrast that with an older, whiter GOP base that had more in common with Trump than young and diverse Democrats had with a 70 year old white women.

Electorally, the problem is obvious.  Pelosi is simply toxic to her party in nationalized contests for federal office.  Democrats took great care in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina to avoid those races being nationalized party for this reason.  But, Georgia was inevitable and at the end of the day Pelosi was simply to enticing a target not to attack.

The worst part of GA-6 for Democrats is that Jon Ossoff did everything he could to run away from her short of saying, “I will not vote for her for leadership.”  He ran as a problem solver and a centrist and still lost because he was tied to Pelosi by the simple fact of being a Democrat.  How can other Democrats outrun that in suburban Texas and Florida in places that resemble Georgia-6 in if not education level but partisan leanings?

Answer,  They cannot.  Until Pelosi leaves.  She won’t.  And that is a major problem for her party and keeps Republicans smiling as they win.

 

What Virginia Should Tell The GOP

All the excitement was supposed to be on the Democratic side.  But, as seems to be becoming increasingly common, the conventional wisdom is wrong.  For all the talk of a competitive Democratic primary, Ralph Northam coalesced the party around his more moderate progressive leadership as opposed to Tom Perrellio’s more ardent Sanders like rhetoric.

The excitement was all on the GOP side.  Former Congressman and RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, should have cruised to victory.  Instead, he barely managed to win by 4,000 votes against a little known Prince William County Supervisor, Corey Stewart.

Such a result is an ominous sign for the GOP.  The national political mood clearly favors Democrats and while I have been skeptical of Democrats taking the House in 2018 (I still am) this seems to indicate statewide Republicans might have a tougher task in even red and definitely purple states.  I say this because if a moderate candidate like Gillespie cannot draw in rural, Trump supporting voters in a purple state it means the GOP base is deeply divided.

Gillespie’s strength in the NoVA suburbs should make moderate, suburban Republican members of Congress happy.  It means they have a shot to run decently if they can thread the needle between distancing themselves from Trump, focusing on local issues and hitting on standard, GOP issues.

But, it should also tell rural and downscale suburb representing Republicans running away from Trump is not a great idea.  Gillespie’s little known challenger, Corey Stewart, was a former Trump surrogate in Virginia, and he staked his campaign on backing Trump.  Apparently, it almost paid off.

It is entirely possible we are reading to much into this.  Rural voters could simply have been put off by Gillespie’s insider history and will rally around him in November after registering their displeasure in the primary.  But, then again, the fact a giant favorite like Gillespie struggled so much against an underwhelming opponent might indicate primary challengers are waiting right around the corner for many in Congress if they cannot make both sides of the party happy.

Also, Democratic turnout easily surpassed the GOP’s.  Most analysts will probably say this indicates a problem for the GOP.  But, the GOP race always looked noncompetitive and the Democratic primary appeared far more exciting so it is hard to tell how much this played in the turnout game.  Keep in mind Virginia is a blue trending state so it is not like special elections in red states.  Democrats now actually have a deeper base to draw from in the state further exacerbating the turnout gap.

The real news was the closer than expected GOP primary and what it hints at for the GOP going forward into GA-6 next week and the elections next November!

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.

2016’s Electoral Outcomes Show the Shifting Nature of American Politics

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton might be political old-hands (despite Trump claiming he is an outsider) but the results of their  2016 battle showcased how American electoral politics is changing.  Ground zero for this shift was heavily Mormon Utah.

Donald Trump won Utah, but he did so by a much smaller margin than Mitt Romney did four years earlier.  Indeed, where Romney won the state with over 70 percent of the vote Trump did not even win a majority as he garnered only 45 percent.  One could argue a lot of possible Trump voters in a two candidate race went to third party candidate Evan McMullin but either way McMullin won 21 percent.

The top-line numbers are not what signifies the shift though.  Rather, it is how different sub-groups voted.  Older Mormons, particularly those over 35, supported Donald Trump in large numbers.  By contract, younger Mormons were far more likely to support McMullin or even Gary Johnson.

Unlike younger voters overall, younger Mormons are not any less conservative than their parents.  For example, according to a 2011 survey of Mormons by Pew, Mormans 18-29 years old were least likely to identify as Democrats at 2 percent and most likely to describe themselves as very conservative or conservative.  However, compared to the 30-49 age group only 50 percent of young Mormons identified as Republican compared to 55 percent of older Mormons.  Despite their conservative heritage, younger Mormons were also least likely to identify with the Tea Party, support a government with fewer services and more supportive of the idea immigrants are a benefit to the US.  But, on gay marriage and abortion, younger Mormons were as adamant as their parents they were morally wrong and most likely to attend church services.

McMullin’s vote share among younger Mormons was a manifestation of the feeling the GOP does not represent younger Mormons.  Of course, Clinton only got 27 percent of all Utah voters so there was also a wide scale rejection of Democratic politics.  Trumpian secular politics does not appeal to younger Mormons leaving an ideological void Independents like McMullin can occupy.  But down-ballot, these voters are also likely to remain Republican.

The Mormon shift is hardly the only example we can look to.  Consider the votes of younger Evangelicals.  Exit polls show Trump won the votes of 83 percent of all Evangelicals and well over a majority of younger Evangelicals.  But in suburban areas his numbers among this sub-group were much smaller than in rural areas.

A 2017 Pew study showed Evangelical Millennials are just as likely to believe in the immorality of abortion as previous generations.  But, just as among younger Mormons, they have seen a decline in economic conservative yet are just a tad less likely to identify as Republican but less likely to identify as Democrats.  Unlike younger Mormons though, they are more accepting of gay marriage.  So, in some ways, Trump’s moderate tone on social issues like LBGT issues played better with them than younger Mormons.

These shifting attitudes do not mean Mormons and Evangelicals are any less likely to attend church.  Additionally, despite starting the home school movement Christian Millennials have earned college degrees at a faster rate than any prior generation.  It’s just education has not shifted their voting preferences notably as it has other groups.  College educated Christians are more likely to attend church weekly than those with lower levels of education: “68% of evangelicals with degrees attend church weekly vs 55% without, 45% of Catholics with degrees vs 37% for those without, 85% of Mormons with degrees vs 72% for those without.”  Further, despite believing science and religion are compatible Millennial Christians are actually more likely to say the Bible is the literal or inspired word of God than their parents.

These fractures are just among two groups.  And while they disproportionately impact strongly GOP groups the same thing is playing out in the Democratic Party.  College educated and single women are increasingly being drawn into one form of the Democratic Party (we’ll call it Universalists) while the youngest, college educated Democrats are drawn to Bernie Sanders populist mantra.

What these fractures expose is just how much harder it will be for two political parties to represent the interests of so many different voting groups.  This does not mean a viable third party will form.  Our system is biased and set up to favor only two major parties at one time.

That said, it also means that power will likely shift more constantly despite gerrymandering and other efforts to permanently lock in power.  Red and blue states will not disappear overnight but party registration may become less important and ideological self-identification more so.

Voters are more likely to feel dissatisfied with one party and if that occurs but they are very conservative or very liberal they are more likely to stay home than vote.  Turnout could dip significantly time and time again as a result as both parties attempt to find short-term messages that appeal to as many groups at once as possible.  One thing is for sure.  It won’t be boring to watch.

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.