Friday, January 29, 2016

The House and Senate in 2016

With all the recent Republican retirements could the House of Representatives flip to the Democrats?

No. There are currently only 7 districts that'll be competitive where a Republican is retiring. Democrats need to win 30 seats to get a a majority. Even if Democrats won every competitive district they'd still fall several seats short. And it's unlikely they'll win every competitive seat. Even with a wave. Which likely won't happen. History shows that a Presidential wave for an open seat happens for the party that doesn't have the White House, not the one that does.

What if the Republican nominee is Ted Cruz or Donald Trump? Surely then?

Not even then. It's far from certain that either Cruz or Trump would lose in a landslide. Most polls show Trump and Cruz only doing a few points worse than Marco Rubio in a general election. The RCP averages have Rubio winning by 2.5, Cruz winning by 1.3, and Trump losing by 2.7. But even if the Republican nominee does lose in a landslide there are two things which tell us that wouldn't doom Republican congressional candidates.

When Nixon and Reagan won big landslides in 1972 and 1984 the Democrats actually did better congressionally than they did four years earlier. People didn't vote congressionally as a reaction to fringe Democratic candidates George McGovern and Walter Mondale. They did vote big for Democrats in 2008 but that was a reaction to the Republican party not the Republican nominee.

The second thing is the type of candidates Cruz and Trump are. They have strong appeal to people on the fringe of the party, those that might be less active voters and might stay home if they weren't happy. So those people will vote. Establishment Republicans would be the ones that people believe would stay home, but they rarely stay home because they're loyal to the Republican party. Maybe they could be enticed to vote for Hillary Clinton but they're not going to pass up an opportunity to vote for an establishment Republican for congress.

Okay, okay. I get it. The Republicans keep the House. I suppose they keep the Senate too.

Not necessarily. Because the Senate has fewer races, 34 instead of 435, it's far more dependent on the circumstances of those races than the environment. With 435 races, the candidate quality tends to even out, but with the small number of senate contest that isn't necessarily the case. Democrats won five states Romney won in 2012. That alone should tell us that a big Clinton victory in a state doesn't mean Democrats will win the Senate seat. Here Democrats need to win 6 seats among 10 competitive. That's possible mathematically the way winning 30 in 28 competitive districts isn't. Democrats already look strong in Republican held Wisconsin and Illinois. If they can retain Colorado and Nevada they'd need only win two from Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Arizona to get to 50-50. Control of the Senate is very much in play.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trump, Cruz, and Sanders

The Presidential election has been dominated by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders, anti-establishment candidates. Sanders isn't simply a left wing Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, but they do have a lot in common.

Donald Trump is really running on one issue, his hard line on immigration. Some, but not all, of his supporters have gone to him due to this stance. Trump says the things they've thought privately but knew they couldn't get away with saying publicly. They've been told for years that they can't think illegal immigration is wrong because that's racist. Well, now they can. Beyond immigration Trump's support isn't ideological. He doesn't draw specifically from conservatives, libertarians, or moderates. It doesn't matter to many of his supporters what his positions are on issues and many of those positions are hazy. If you're pro-choice you can take past comments by Trump and figure he'll go your way when he's President.

Other than his stance on immigration there's no reason that Trump's supporters can't be firmly liberal or progressive. His supporters are angry at a Washington that isn't working for them but is working for those who are well connected. Trump is telling them that he knows this because he's been well connected and has been able to get government to do what he wants. Elect him and you'll finally have an insider representing you. Trump will make deals with the establishment Democrats, Republicans, and foreign governments. Because that's what he does. And he can't be bought! He'll work for the people who elected him.

Ted Cruz's support is often lumped together with Trump's. And it's true that he has anti-establishment support from people who think Washington isn't working for them. Cruz's supporters are firmly conservative, however, and have firm stances on the issues. And Ted Cruz supports those stances. Cruz is the opposite of Trump in that he's not promising to make deals for the American people. He's promising he won't make deals. He brags that no one in Washington can get along with him. Vote for Cruz and you'll have someone who won't waver from conservative positions. Of course, this is unrealistic. Cruz's supporters claim to support the Constitution. They should realize that there is not only an executive branch but also a legislative branch. These people are also elected. And you have to make deals with them.

Sanders is far closer to the left wing Cruz than the left wing Trump. That makes a lot of sense because Trump takes some support from the left and his support is about competency, not ideology. Like Cruz, Sanders argues that Washington isn't working for you. It's working for the 1%. While Cruz's supporters like it when the Texas senator takes on established Republican groups, Sanders got slapped down for pretty much calling Planned Parenthood insiders. It's okay to fight against Democratic business interests but not Democratic social groups. Sanders promises ideological purity that Hillary Clinton can't offer. Rather than cast other members of his party as the villains, as Cruz, does he casts Wall Street, corporations, and Republicans in those roles. Forget that many on Wall Street and corporations are firmly in the Democratic camp. His supporters think they're all Republicans.

Like Cruz's supporters Sanders' supporters think most of America agrees with them and that the only thing preventing policies they love from being implemented is the small cadre of insiders. When asked how he'd hope to get his policies through a Republican congress, Sanders gives a vague answer that the American people would have to rise up and make it happen. I assume Sanders believes that enough people agree with him that we could have progressive majorities in congress. If only those people would vote.

Part of Barack Obama's brand is his pragmatism. He'll settle for what's possible, not worry about what's not. These candidates are selling making what is impossible possible and that is an incredibly strong draw to the voter. We'll see how it translates Monday in Iowa.