Will Virginia Be A Bellwether For Next Year

All the excitement is on the Democratic side.  Right?  At least that is the general consensus going into this off-year’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey.  Republicans are certain to lose New Jersey (how much lower can Chris Christie’s approval go) and it seemed certain Virginia would stay blue.  President Trump had a sub-forty approval rating nationally and in Virginia (until recently).  Worse, the GOP candidate, Ed Gillespie, who should have won his primary barely squeaked by with a narrow victory.

But, the polls out of Virginia do not make the race a foregone conclusion.  The latest surveys have shown a deadlocked or near deadlocked contest.  The last two surveys on the contest, from Suffolk and Mason-Dixon have found the race tied or a one point affair.  Of course, the devil is usually in the details.  Mason-Dixon found more black voters and Democrats undecided than Republicans meaning if they turn out Gillespie is in trouble.  But the recent surveys in Virginia and their data-points also indicate despite all the anger Democrats have turned towards Trump they might still be struggling to motivate their base.

This matters not just for Virginia but also elections next year.  White, college educated liberals, have historically always turned out for the party.  But, last year, and more recently in GA-6, the party learned the hard way they cannot count on Obamaesque levels of turnout among minorities.  Hispanics turned out in force in California but they failed to come close to their total electoral power in Colorado or Florida.

Amid all the hand-wringing among Democrats is a continual worry they simply will be unable to turn out their base in sufficient numbers to swing key Congressional and Senate contests.  Hope for increased minority turnout in GA-6 fizzled and many of the legislative districts Democrats have flipped in special elections have been low-turnout sleepy affairs or in GOP controlled Oklahoma (where voters are angry about the GOP taking an axe to the education budget).

If Democrats cannot turn out minorities next year, which have become an increasingly crucial part of the party’s upstairs/downstairs coalition they’ll have problems.  Winning districts in CA that voted for Clinton but are held by Republicans would be brutal and in FL, CO and VA, the party’s hopes of winning additional seats becomes a long-shot.

This is to say nothing of the even more crucial statewide and legislative contests across the nation next year.  If Democrats hope to have any chance to capitalize on minority growth in the next decade they will need to win positions of power in the states to actually realize these gains.

This poses a problem for Democrats.  In Ohio, the party is incredibly reliant on the state’s black population.  It failed in November.  In Florida and Colorado, while Hispanic turnout increased, the voting block is not lockstep in support of the party and in GA-6 there is even the question whether any more minorities can be convinced to vote.  Have Democrats reached the point where they have maximized their turnout among minorities in the short-term?

Of course this is all speculative.  But if Virginia falls flat, even if Democrats hold all statewide offices and make gains in the State House, it indicates Democrats have serious problems for a multitude of reasons.

First, it would seem to indicate smart Republicans can outrun and distance themselves from Trump.  They might be able to win over voters who disapprove of Trump (aka circa 2016).  Secondly, if Virginia, a state demographically made for the party is tepid on the Democratic nominee it signals the base really is more bark than bite.  Virginia has a 20% black population, a burgeoning Asian and Hispanic voting bloc and is one of the most affluent and educated states in the country.  If Democrats can barely win here can they expect to compete in districts tailor-made for them against a sitting GOP incumbent?

Come November we’ll see.

 

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To Gerrymander Or Not To Gerrymander?

Gerrymandering is a decennial and highly partisan sport for American politicians and consultants.  And nowhere has it been more so than in three states, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Texas.  Indeed, so partisan has it become that Democrats have convinced an appellate court to side with their interests and force the state of Wisconsin to appeal to the Supreme Court (oral arguments are scheduled for next month).

Gerrymandering can take many forms, some insidious, some partisan, and some plain racial.  In Wisconsin, new territory is being charted in the form of a map that is too partisan.  No Supreme Court ruling has found a map can be too partisan.  The drawing of Congressional and legislative lines is by its very nature a partisan action.

In Wisconsin specifically, GOP officials in 2011 drew a map that locked in their assembly majorities from 2010.  Under unified GOP control the state drew lines that locked Democrats into political irrelevancy (kind of like Illinois, but Democrats did it there so it is fine).

For example, in 2008, the state legislative lines had a slight GOP lean.  That election, Democrats won 57 percent of the assembly vote and garnered 52 seats to the GOP’s 46 seats with 43 percent of the vote (a conservative Independent caucused with Republicans).  In 2012, the changed maps showed their effects.  Democrats won 53 percent of the assembly vote but won a mere 39 seats to the GOP’s 60.  In 2016, Republicans won 53 percent of the assembly vote and an eye-popping 64 seats.

Such results have prompted liberal scholars to come up with mathematical tests to assess whether a map passes the partisan smell test.  In prior court rulings, all but one conservative jurist, Anthony Kennedy, have closed the door on ever saying a map is too partisan.  Liberals would say maps should be non-partisan and ram it down the states throats if they could get away with it.

Using mathematical tests to assess partisanship is fine and all but determining at which point it crosses the line is the difficult part.  More so, can the mathematical model account for partisan or cultural changes over time?

For example, just look at the state of West Virginia (a mostly white state like Wisconsin).  The current map was passed in 2011 by a Democratic Governor and a Democratic legislature.  Last year, every single legislative district voted for Trump.  Today, those Democratic maps have produced a GOP majority in the legislature, an all GOP US House delegation and a GOP Governor.  The mathematical tests used to assess partisanship and violation of one’s 1st Amendment rights would say West Virginia violates this idea.  But one could easily argue, in turn, West Virginians made the choice to vote Republican irregardless of partisanship.  That’s the tricky nature of determining what is and is not too partisan.

Voters move, opinions change over time and it is unlikely a mathematical model of any kind can account for this.  Plus, it would be hard to rationalize being able to meet other state and legal redistricting requirements (compactness, keeping communities of interest together, etc.) on top of this one without seeing some tortured legislative districts.

Certainly, Wisconsin’s situation is unique but one thing it is not is racially based.  The state is more than 90 percent white meaning the map is based exclusively on partisanship.  The same cannot be said for maps in the South.  Specifically Texas and North Carolina (though Alabama deserves a mention here to).  In both states, legislative and Congressional maps have been shot down by the courts over their racial intent.

Unlike partisanship, racial mapmaking has been a big no, no in this country for decades as first defined by the Voting Rights Act.  As a result, many states had to get “preclearance” from the Department of Justice if any electoral changes were made in the state (think changing precinct lines.  Yes, I kid you not).  The Supreme Court saw fit to strike down this aspect of the VRA in 2013 but left the rest of the law intact.Not surprisingly though, the history of race dominated their processes.

In Texas, the state has seen a booming population due to the influx of Hispanics and Asians.  Easily 50 percent of the population growth in the state from 2000-2010 was Hispanic.  But the state GOP, having controlled all statewide offices since 1994 and the legislature since the new millennium worked hard to draw lines that locked in their majorities.  As a result, the Congressional lines of the state resulted in a 24-12 GOP Congressional delegation and lopsided legislative majorities.

Democrats and civil rights groups cried foul even before 2012 and a San Antonio District Court in 2011 found the lines were a racial gerrymander.  The District Court drew temporary lines for 2012 but the Supreme Court struck them down for imposing a burden on the state.  In 2013, Texas made much of the 2011 District Court map permanent.

But a flurry of new rulings have again brought racial gerrymandering to the forefront.  Earlier in the year, a different District Court found the 2011 maps were unconstitutional and soon after the same court found the current 2013 lines were as well.  Specifically, the District Court found two Congressional districts (could have been much worse for the GOP) were racial gerrymanders for splitting up Hispanic communities.  In turn, the GOP appealed to the US Supreme Court and in a one-page order, Justice Alito ordered a stay on the District Court’s ruling.

Similar to Texas, North Carolina’s legislative and Congressional maps have been the subject of racial line drawing.  Interestingly, due to a quirk in state law that allows the legislature to approve new lines without the Governor’s approval the new legislative GOP majorities in 2011 rammed through a partisan map in the fullest.  For decades, Democrats in North Carolina who controlled the legislature did the same thing and now the GOP was returning the favor.

The 2012 results highlighted the significant change.  That year, Democrats won the Congressional and legislative vote 51-49 in the state.  But, the 6-5 Democratic Congressional majority turned into a 10-3 GOP majority and the party gained seats in the legislature (Romney did also win the state).

Due to this the GOP gained a super-majority in the state legislature and with Governor McCrory helming the state the GOP ushered in a plethora of conservative legislation.  However, a series of lawsuits making their way through the courts came to a head this year when it was ruled the state had racially gerrymandered 28 state legislative districts.  Failing an appeal to the US Supreme Court and getting no help from the state’s new Democratic Governor, the legislature redrew the lines and explicitly argued the new lines were meant to emphasize partisanship and not race (a strange admission but one so far the highest court in the land has accepted).

Complicating matters further in many Southern states is the fact race and partisanship go hand in hand.  When 95 percent of blacks support Democrats it is easy to pack them into one district or a handful of districts arguing they can elect the “candidate of their choice,” while maximizing your partisan gain.  The Supreme Court in recent years has handed defeats to Virginia and Alabama based on overturning these arguments as opponents of the maps have cited how it limits the ability of black voters to maximize their voting power.  Such is the contradiction of the Voting Rights Act.

In turn, the Voting Rights Act is showing its age.  No longer is the country divided along two major colors (black and white).  As the country becomes more diverse, courts will continue to disagree with each other and the Supreme Court will find it hard to keep their decisions rational and logical.

Gerrymandering is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.  For all the cries of non-partisan redistricting commissions, many state legislatures are opposed to handing over such power.  Additionally, in states like Illinois and Maryland, the courts often short-circuit such efforts (where efforts are actually led by Republicans).

In sum, two major themes run through American political redistricting.  The first is redistricting is partisan in nature but at what point does partisanship infringe on the right to free speech and association?  Secondly, how does one disentangle race and polarization in an era in the South where 90 percent of whites in some states vote Republican and 90 percent of blacks vote Democrat?

The next few years could go a long way in determining the answers to these questions.

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.

 

 

 

The Most Important New Hampshire Special Election You Haven’t Heard About

Next week, a special election for one of New Hampshire’s 24 state senate districts will be held.  The district, District 16, formerly held by a Democrat won’t change the partisan makeup of the chamber.  Republicans will hold a 14-10 majority even if they fail to gain the seat.  But, the district’s results will tell us much about Republicans can expect to spare in districts that intersect with Obama/Trump “pivot” counties next year.

Now, for some background.  The district had a GOP Senator representing it since 1970.  Until last year when then candidate Scott McGilvray won the open seat by two points.  The district voted for Hillary Clinton by .3 percent at the same time.  McGilvray is leaving the seat and former state senator David Boutin is vying for his old seat against Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh.

New Hampshire is an interesting state.  From the 70’s to the 90’s the “Live free or die” state was a Republican bastion.  But, since 1992 the state has backed Democratic Presidential candidates in every election except 2000.

Since the 90s an equilibrium in power at the state level has occurred.  Democrats, until last year, held the Governorship for all of two years in the last twenty (meaning they have won nine of the last 11 gubernatorial elections).  Yet, short of 2007-2010 the GOP has held at least one chamber of the legislature.  Now, for the first time in the state’s history its federal delegation is completely made up of Democrats while all the levers of power in the state are held by Republicans.

Legislative special elections this year have not gotten nearly as much attention as Congressional contests.  So far, this year, 34 special legislative elections have been held.  Republicans flipped a conservative seat in Louisiana while Democrats have flipped a swing New Hampshire house seat, a blue-collar formerly Republican assembly district in NY state and two suburban districts in Oklahoma.  Unsurprisingly, while Democrats have so far outrun Clinton in legislative special elections they have done best in Oklahoma (run by an unpopular GOP Governor) and flipped swingy districts in NY and NH.  Republicans have held easily seats in Connecticut where the Democratic controlled legislature and Governor cannot even agree on a simple budget.

These results suggest state dynamics matter more than Trump’s popularity.  However, such a proposition will be seriously tested in this near dead even district.  It will be hard for Republicans to ignore the results of this election if a popular, former state senator loses the seat.  If Boutin wins, a pro-union Republican, it would indicate smart GOP incumbents can weather the Trump backlash.  But, if he loses, and GOP turnout is depressed, Republicans will need to start acknowledging unless things change in DC they will be in serious trouble.

Democrats are undoubtedly more excited about this contest than Republicans.  The GOP will still strongly control the chamber regardless of the result and Boutin would not help the party advance some of its goals such as right to work legislation.  Democrats also view many down-ballot contests such as these as precursors to 2018.  State Republicans want to win this but may find enthusiasm is lacking due to Trump and the opposition he has inspired.

In the end, whatever happens next Tuesday won’t change much in Granite state politics.  Or the nation’s.  But it could be a precursor to a big shake-up at the federal level next year.

 

 

 

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/10/11/gerrymandering_isnt_to_blame_for_dc_impasse_120300.html

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!