Monday, April 24, 2017

Political Parties

In the 2016 election many Bernie Sanders' supporters had a fundamental misunderstanding what political parties are. At their core they are a group of people who come together to support multiple candidates. Political parties tend to form on ideological lines. So it becomes a way for people who share a group of political positions to come together. In parliamentary countries there tend to be a lot of political parties and some parties focus narrowly on specific issues, not taking a stand on other issues. People in these parties support each other's candidacy and it provides a vehicle for donors and volunteers to latch onto. People know what the Democrats roughly stand for. They don't know what an independent stands for unless they look at his or her stances on the issues. An independent is just one candidate and a republic is set up where you have to win many elections to govern. Any time you group candidates together, for any reason, you pretty much have a political party.

Bernie Sanders hasn't wanted to join a political party and many of his supporters haven't either. Sanders, however, chose to run as a Democrat last year and the Democratic party is a group of individuals who've banded together to support other Democrats. Not independents. Since independents don't support all Democrats why should Democrats support independents? The Democratic party had rules that Sanders and his supporters chaffed at following. If he didn't want to follow those rules he shouldn't have become a Democrat. If he wanted to make up the rules himself he should've run as an independent or formed his own political party or like minded people. He chose to do neither.

The American political system has mostly been a two party system from the beginning. That means that one party often needs to get more than half the vote in each election and a party needs to get more than half in more than half the elections. The parties have always had firm, usually opposing, positions on issues. And they've operated on the idea that no one needs to adhere to all those beliefs, that people in their party need only support something in the half to two thirds of those positions. There's never been any strict requirement that to support a party you had to have a particular stance on an issue.

And there's good reason for that. Take abortion. While the numbers have varied a bit, about half of America is pro-choice and the other half is pro-life. If everyone who is pro-choice voted Democratic and everyone who is pro-life voted Republican each party would win roughly half the elections. That'd work fine. But pro-choice voters don't all support the Democratic party.

As you can see in this poll 36% of Republicans support abortion being legal in almost all cases. So Democrats aren't getting their votes. But that balances out, because 24% of Democrats think abortion should be illegal in almost all cases. That's because these people agree with their political party on most other issues. Democrats wouldn't win that many elections without their pro-life voters.

That's why it's perplexing that Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez declared, “every candidate who runs as a Democrat should do the same, because every woman should be able to make her own health choices. Period.” The logical conclusion from what Perez is saying that every Democratic candidate has to be pro-choice and, by logical extension, every Democratic voter does too.

This is a suicidal party position. If voters who are pro-life even vote for independents, and not Republicans, Democrats are going to lose most elections. They'll be a small minority in the House, Senate, and won't win the Presidency. Because there are only a few places where people who are pro-choice and support Democrats are the majority of voters. I can't imagine this is a path Democrats will go down.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

GA-6: Is a Wave Building?

Last night was the GA-6 primary election. Democrats Jon Osoff failed to get the 50% he needed to avoid a run-off but he had a very strong showing, getting 48% of the vote. He'll face Republican Karen Handel in a run-off. While he may be at a disadvantage in a fairly Republican district, it's a positive sign that Democrats lost this seat 51%-49%. Here are things to consider:

1) It's not necessary for Democrats to win this seat for them to do well in 2018. Republicans won only one House special election in 2010 and that was the quirky jungle primary in HI-1 where Democrats actually got 58% of the vote. They won no special elections from the Democrats in 2014. Yes, they had the big senate win in Massachusetts, but they actually didn't win the senate that year. Winning this seat won't give them the majority. Winning 24 seats in November 2018 will. And they don't need a win to be enthusiastic.

2) Last week some people jumped on the KS-4 result, saying that Republicans won a district Trump won by 27 points by only 8. That's a gain of 19 points! If they can do that everywhere they'll gain over 100 seats! Trump won GA-6 by 1.5 points. Republicans won it by 2 in the special. Oops. So now they're pointing out that Tom Price won the district by 23. That's a gain of 21 points!

3) There are a few problems with applying that everywhere. Jon Osoff spent $8 million, a total Democrats won't match in swing districts in 2018. This was the only race and got 100% Democratic focus. Republicans couldn't push one candidate, only run against Osoff. The biggest difference, however, is that there might be few open seats in competitive districts. Running against an incumbent can be tough, as he or she has a ton of capital with the voters. Open seats are much easier to win and Democrats likely will be favorites in any open swing district. So far six Republicans are retiring. None are in swing districts. At least one Democratic seat, MN-1, is one that should be competitive.

4) Republicans are looking for reasons a wave isn't building, a few of them are detailed above. That's denial. A wave could be building. If one is, these are the results you expect to see in special elections. One thing Republicans can't change is that their party has control of the White House. As they know, that can be a big motivator for the opposition. I doubt opposition to Donald Trump is going to drop. The party with the White House is less motivated. Many people will feel the President they voted for hasn't lived up to expectations. People just expect too much and are disappointed. So they don't go to the polls in mid-terms.

It's way too early to judge whether there's a wave building. In 2010 there were real indications until January of that year. In 2014 there were none. The wave was a surprise on election night. But a wave could be building.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

KS-4 Special Election Means Something or It Doesn't

Last night there was a special election in KS-4 a red district centered in Wichita. Republican Rob Estes won 53%-45%, a lackluster performance considering that Mike Pompeo won 61%-30% a few months ago.

Why It Means Something
The most obvious answer is that if Republicans are winning districts they won by 31 points by only 8 in 2018 they are going to lose a lot of seats. In 2008 and 2010 there were a number of special elections where the Democrats, in the former, and Republicans, in the latter, overperformed what they normally would do. These were signs that a wave was coming.

Why It Means Nothing
There were also elections in those cycles that swung the other way, where Republicans overperformed in 2008 and Democrats overperformed in 2010. This falsely led the parties to think there might not be a wave. On the other hand there were special elections in the 2004 and 2012 cycles where Democrats overperformed. These weren't indicative of a wave. It should be noted that the Kansas environment is positive for Democrats. Governor Sam Brownback is unpopular and Rob Estes is the state treasurer. That won't be the case in GA-6 or MT-AL, so those races might show if this close race was due more to Kansas or the national environment.

When will we know whether this election meant something? Possibly not until after the 2018 election. And that's not helpful at all.

Monday, April 3, 2017

CA-34 Special Still Looks Like a Surprise

Take a good look at this data. It's the VBM returns for the CA-34 special election through Friday. Election day is tomorrow. Despite being only 16% of registered voters Asians are 35% of the returned ballots. Latinos are 49% of registered voters but are only 28% of returned ballots. Voters 18-24 have been only 5% of the returned ballots despite being 10% of voters. Voters age 65+, on the other hand, are 44% of all returned ballots and they are only 19% of voters.

There are still going to be a lot more votes with late VBMs and election day ballots and this could be less than 25% of all ballots cast. But special elections tend to be much heavier VBM than regularly scheduled elections. And we really don't have any reason to believe election day voters are going to be much different. There may be reason for Jimmy Gomez to be nervous about making the run-off.