Thursday, May 31, 2018

Things to Watch For in the California Primary

The primary is only five days away, although 1.6 million ballots have already been received by the counties. That sounds like a lot but 11.6 million ballots were mailed out. In 2016 there were only 10.0 million vote by mail voters and 3.1 million returned ballots. In 2014 there were 2.1 million ballots returned. I don't know how many VBM voters there were then, but there were considerably less. It's not unusual for the bulk of the ballots to be returned in the last few days or on election day.

So far the electorate is 45%D/34%R. That's closer to the 2014 electorate 44%D/36%R than the 2016 that was 49%D/34%R. But it still isn't as Republican as 2014. While an 11 point disadvantage is a bad position to be in Republicans have a larger registration disadvantage than they did even in 2016. Two years ago registration was D+18. It's now D+19. So a more Republican electorate with a less Republican voter pool is a positive sign for them.

Because of top two the primary isn't just will one Republican or one Democrat beat another, but will a party get shutout. Polls are indicating Democrat Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox make top two. I'm predicting Republican Travis Allen for third. The Senate race is anyone's guess. Polling has been terrible with most of the polls including only one or two Republicans. The last PPIC poll didn't include any. They included just Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de Leon and were proud of themselves when those candidates finished first and second. Yes, really. Will de Leon finish second? His polling has been lackluster, but the polls have too. He could get anywhere from 8% to 20%. A Republican might consolidate a significant portion of the Republican vote. We just don't know. While it'll be interesting to watch which candidates emerge in contested congressional races what's more interesting is whether one party or the other gets shut out by having none of their candidates finish top two. This is definitely possible for Democrats in CA-39 and 48 and for both parties in CA-49. CA-49 could be two Democrats, two Republicans, or a Republican and a Democrat.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

California Primary VBM Returns

The question I keep asking in this blog is whether November will be a blue wave. That’s not a question I’ll address in this post. The question here is what is going to happen in the California primary, specifically will top two result in Democrats or Republicans getting shut out in key statewide and congressional races.

Don’t pay attention to the two recent polls you’ve seen. Both are garbage, as they don’t reflect the actual electorate. PPIC’s senate poll only includes two candidates and no Republicans. That’s not what’s on the ballot and their poll won’t reflect the actual results because of that.

In 2014 69.4% of the ballots were VBM. This keeps increasing, so the VBM vote should tell us a lot about how people are voting. Fortunately we have nearly a million returned ballots already.

In 2014 VBM ballots were 44.0%D/36.4%R for a Democratic margin of 7.6%. This electorate produced an average statewide two party result of Democrats 56% Republicans 44%. In 2016 the electorate was 49.0%D/33.8%R. This margin of 15.2% produced a Democratic 70%-30% result in the Presidential and Senate vote. Since there were only two races in 2016 the sample size was smaller, The results were fairly consistent.

These two elections give us only two data points so any extrapolation will be guessing. The Republican Presidential primary was irrelevant since Donald Trump had already sewn up the nomination and the Senate race featured no prominent Republican. So while a D+15 electorate probably should have something like a Democratic margin of 61%-39% it was much higher.

The congressional races produced a similar result, although it wasn’t nearly as large. There were 37 districts with at least one Republican and one Democrat on the ballot in both 2014 and 2016. In 2014 these districts had an average result of Democrats 52%-48%. In 2016 it was Democrats 60%-40%. So even with only a 7.6% gain in the electorate Democrats increased their vote margin by 16%.

Now that we’re done with the primer, let’s get to the results. Right now the VBM ballots are 44%D/34%R, D+10. The good news for Democrats is that it isn’t the D+8 it was in 2014. The bad news is that it isn’t the D+15 in 2016. I don’t think this is going to change that much. That doesn’t mean the electorate will be D+11, just the VBM ballots. Of course those are a high percentage of the ballots.

If all the races worked consistently based on “somewhere in the middle” predictions would be easy. Too bad they aren’t.

Let’s look at the 7 Republican districts Hillary Clinton won. The data is here.

Jeff Denham has been fairly consistent in his performance in each primary. The make-up of the electorate hasn’t varied much in each election either. So it’s safe to guess that Republicans could get 57-59% of the vote. There is another Republican on the ballot, but there was also in 2016. Robert Hodges got only 10% of the vote.

Possibility of Democrats getting shut out of top two: Very low. The final margin may be illuminating but there’s no reason to watch ballot returns closely.

Ballot returns are D+15 right now, an increase even over 2016. That may indicate some trending towards the Democrats, although this is a primary and not the general election. You don’t get bonus points for doing better in a primary. Valadao’s primary margin dropped from 33% to 11% in 2016. That looked like a red flag that he was in trouble. His winning margin in the general election fell from 16% to 13% in 2016. I don’t know what the electorate would have to look like for Democrats to beat David Valadao. We ca address that in the general.

Possibility of Democrats getting shut out of top two: None. Valadao is the only Republican on the ballot. His opponent, TJ Cox, is the only Democrat. They’ve both already made top two.

The primary electorate is slightly more Democratic than 2016. The numbers would suggest an encouraging trend for Democrats if they were for the general election.

Possibility of Democrats getting shut out of top two: None. Steve Knight is the only Republican on the ballot.

Ed Royce is retiring and there are six Democrats and seven Republicans running to succeed him. There are two things to look at when looking at whether a party can get shut out of top two. The first is how many candidates a party has. If one party has only two and the other party has more than the other party could be in danger. Four of the Democrats are seen as serious candidates and three Republicans are. That would seem to favor Republicans but splitting the vote three ways could weaken that chance.

The second thing to look at is vote share. Republicans won the district by 41 and 21 points the last two cycles. That’s bad news for Democrats. They couldn’t crack 40% even in a year that was heavily Democratic. There were roughly 73k votes in the Democratic Presidential primary and only 58k in the Republican primary. Yet Ed Royce got 85k votes and Brett Murdock only got 56k.

This was a nothing race that didn’t matter. This year’s race is one where Democrats are spending money. So they should be able to win some Royce voters. The electorate is R+13. It was R+10 in 2016.

Possibility of Democrats getting shut out of top two: Medium. There are a lot of serious candidates and if they’re splitting a share in the low 40’s they might not have one candidate stand out.

Possibility of Republicans getting shut out of top two: Low. There are less serious Republicans and Republicans could get 60% of the vote. If the vote is 60%-40%, then a Republican has to get at least 20% and there’s no way two Democrats can get more than that.

Of the seven Clinton districts this district is probably the least likely to flip. Democrats have never come close, the district is very Republican, and Walters is a scandal free Republican.

Possibility of Democrats getting shut out of top two: None. Walters is the only Republican candidate.

This is a pretty Republican district but it could start trending away from Republicans. Rohrabacher margin in the general sank from 28% to 17% and the district is running stronger for Democrats with VBMs. Still, the returns are R+11 and there are only two serious Republicans running. There is a plethora of Democrats. That seems to be set up for a Democratic shut out.

Possibility of Democrats getting shut out of top two: Medium. How strong is Scott Baugh and how will Democrats split the vote?

Possibility of Republicans getting shut out of top two: Very low. There are only two serious Republicans and the GOP should get at least 55% of the vote. You get two candidates having more votes than any Republican if you’re only getting 45%.

This district is trending seriously Democratic. Darrell Issa was weaker in the primary and in the general election. Democrats are overperforming VBM ballots. They’ve dropped from R+8 to R+1. Issa only got 50% of the vote with R+8 VBM. Three Democrats have raised over $1.5 million and a fourth Democrat, Doug Applegate, was the 2016 candidate who did so well. His fundraising is good, just not as good as others.

The perception is that there are only two serious Republicans, Diane Harkey and Rocky Chavez. Kristin Gaspar was mayor of Encinitas and Brian Maryott is Mayor Pro-Tem in San Juan Capistrano.

Possibility of Democrats getting shut out of top two: High? Low? No idea. They could get half the vote or they could do worse. They could have one or two strong candidates or split the vote four ways.

Possibility of Republicans getting shut out of top two: High? Low? No idea. Republicans are seen as having less serious candidates and they’ve gotten a higher vote share in the past. But they might have more serious candidates than people think and their vote share might be smaller. I’d guess the Democrats are in more danger of getting shut out than Republicans since Democrats are attacking Rocky Chavez and he’s seen as the candidate who could give Republicans two in top two. On the other hand, Republicans are attacking any Democrat. That tells me they aren’t as concerned and figure they have at least one spot wrapped up.

There are some other districts to watch.

The VBM returns on CA-3 are trending heavily Republican. In 2014 returns were D+5. In 2016 they were D+10. This year it’s D+0.5. This district is a bit unusual, as it’s a mix of Democratic leaning suburbs and Republican leaning rural areas. VBM returns have been light here and it’s possible that Democratic leaning Solano county is behind on reporting ballots. If this holds, Republicans might take more votes in the primary than Democrats. I’m not saying John Garamendi is endangered, but people will talk about him as if he is.

Ami Bera took the district in 2012 and pulled off narrow wins in both Republican heavy 2014 and Democratic heavy 2016. It’d be unusual if this district weren’t in play and VBM returns show it between 2014 and 2016 right now.

I’m not ready to proclaim Jerry McNerney to be endangered but Republicans got more primary votes in both 2012 and 2014. Early VBM returns show the margin to be very close to 2014. So it’s very possible we’ll be talking about the district after the primary.

Some Democrats think that because Devin Nunes is close to Donald Trump that he’s in trouble. While the VBMs are less Republican than in years past there aren’t enough Democratic ballots for Nunes to worry.

Like CA-9 Republicans got more primary votes in 2012 and 2014 in CA-24. Democratic VBM returns are down in this district. So a close primary vote is likely.

CA-36 and 52
These used to be swing districts but they aren’t any more. Democratic incumbents should win easily.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

California Polling

There's a new USC Dornsife/LA Times poll out and I'm not going to link it. Why? Because it's such an embarrassing poll for USC that they should really quit polling. It's an entirely online poll. There are good reasons to do online polling but polls that were entirely online produced some really funky results in 2016. They aren't as accurate as polls that include phone calls.

The poll was conducted between April 18 and May 18. I've never heard of doing over a period of a month because the data is inconsistent. The people who answered in the early part of the poll could've made up their mind or even voted by the later part of the poll. Their answers are meaningless. That's why polls are conducted over 3-4 days.

This poll has roughly 40% undecideds in both the gubernatorial and senate race. That's really strange so close to the election and inconsistent with other recent polls. A poll with that many undecideds doesn't tell us how people will vote. The 2014 primary had 4.5 million votes. So far over 500,000 ballots have been returned. So 10-12% of the voters have not only made up their minds but their vote is set. At this point a pollster should have two samples, people who have voted and people who will vote. That'll give them an accurate idea where the election is.

California political data expert Paul Mitchell on why pollsters are so wrong on California polling. California has a ton of data on who votes. Yet pollsters ignore it. Mitchell shows the share of voters by partisanship, geography, and ethnicity. Latino turnout in primaries has hovered around 12%. Yet the pollsters are showing on average a 24% Latino electorate. They look at what share of registered voters Latinos are and decide that's who is going to vote.

California has party registration. So we know the share of the electorate each party had in the past and we can get a good idea of how that fits in this year by looking at how the VBM returns compare to previous years. Right now it's 44%D/33%R. That's slightly more Democratic than 2014, 44%D/36%R, but less than 2016, 49%D/34%R. Mitchell points out that Republican average 31% of the voters in the public polls but have been 38% of the voters in the last three gubernatorial primaries. Republican share could certainly be lower this year due to Republicans re-registering as NPP but that's a lot lower.

Getting party ID correct is vital in top two. The biggest primary question is whether two Democrats make top two in the senate and gubernatorial races. A poll with 30% Republicans may miss that.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

How Will the California Primary Translate?

Is this a Democratic year? Do the special elections tell us that or are they unique one offs? One good way to tell will be the California primaries. Since it’s top two and everyone can vote for anyone it mirrors the conditions in November. So California will be a good indicator.

In order to give us an idea of what the primary results will tell us we’ll first look at the California general elections.

There were 29 congressional districts where a Republican faced off with a Democrat in the general elections in 2012, 2014, and 2016. The other 24 districts either didn’t have a Republican or a Democrat in one of those three general elections. Keep in mind that these 33 districts aren’t representative of California as a whole, just the districts where the two parties faced off. There are some heavily Democratic districts in there but many of the other 24 are the most heavily Democratic. So Republicans did better here than they did statewide.

Democrats got 54.6% of the vote in these districts in 2012, 51.6% in 2014, and 57.2% in 2016. So 2014 was a Republican year, 2016 a Democratic year, and 2012 in the middle. I want to reiterate that these aren’t the statewide vote. Democrats got 62.0% of the congressional vote statewide in 2012, 57.7% in 2014, and 64.8% in 2016. These numbers shouldn’t be taken as an accurate reflection of the statewide share either, however, since each district didn’t have a Republican and a Democrat running. In 2016, for example, these totals represent 60 Democrats and only 44 Republicans.

There’s a twist when looking at the primary, however. Even though 2014 was a very Republican general election the primary was actually even more Republican. In 6 statewide races Democrats got 56.3% of the two party vote in the primary but actually did better in the general election, getting 57.5%.

On the other hand, Democrats got 70% of the two party Presidential vote in the 2016 primary but only 66% in the general election. Hillary Clinton blew out Donald Trump in the general election but the primary was even more Democratic.

There are 13 congressional districts where the margin of victory for one party was 10% or less in one of the four primary or general elections in 2014 and 2016. They are CA-3, 7, 9, 10, 16, 21, 24, 26, 31, 36, 39, 49, and 52. There are 2 other districts that weren’t that close in any of the four elections, CA-45 and 48. Those 2 are expected to be close this year.

In 2014 Republicans averaged a margin of victory of 13.6% in the primary in these 15 districts. That dropped to only 5.8% in the general election. In 2016 Democrats had an average margin of victory of 1.2% in the primary and 2.4% in the general election.

The statewide primaries for senator, governor, and other downballot races should tell us a lot about what kind of year we should expect. If Democrats are close to the 70% they got in 2016 we should see a very Democratic year. Even when they did get 70% they didn’t win any district that they didn’t get more votes in during the June primary. If it’s a heavily Democratic primary Democrats shouldn’t count on winning any district in November that they don’t win in June. The Democratic statewide vote share in June is closer to the 56% of 2014 there won’t be a blue wave, although we should expect Democrats to make gains on their totals in November.

There’s a huge middle ground here between 56% and 70% and chances are the average statewide vote will fall between 2014 and 2016. Is it possible for Democrats to get more than 70% in a statewide vote? I don’t think so. The last election was a perfect storm for them. Competitive Democratic primaries with uncompetitive Republican ones in a Democratic year. I can’t see that replicated.

We don’t know what the primary statewide vote would have to be for Democrats not to make much in the way of gains but we probably can tell how Democratic the year is based on where it falls between 56% and 70%.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Gavin Newsom's Strategy Could Backfire

California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom is out with an ad linking John Cox to Donald Trump and saying he's too conservative for California.

The LA Times has deduced that Newsome is doing this to help Cox get conservative votes. That'll propel him into the top two and Newsom would be better off facing a Republican than a Democrat. This was done by Claire McCaskill to great success in the 2010 Missouri Senate race. These ads could certainly help Cox, siphoning off votes from his conservative rival Travis Allen. Mission accomplished! High fives all around!


There's a big difference in California. Unlike Missouri, California has no Republican primary, only top two. It'll be a race where everyone can vote. That includes independents and moderate Republicans. In the 2016 election there were voters who vote Republican but voted for Hillary Clinton. In CA-39 Ed Royce won 57%-43%. He won 58%-42% in 2012. That's pretty consistent. The district went from Mitt Romney winning 51%-47% to Hillary Clinton winning 51%-43%. In 2012, Royce overperformed Romney's margin by 12%. In 2016 he overperformed Trump by 22%.

It's possible that these once loyal Republican voters will vote Democratic in 2018. They've already done it once. Their reason for voting Democratic then was Donald Trump. That's the same Donald Trump that Newsom is tying Cox to. These ads could drive suburban voters from Cox to a Democratic alternative like the moderate Antonio Villaraigosa. While Cox may pick up Allen voters, he might lose some to Villaraigosa. Cox might end up with a net loss in the mix while Villaraigosa gains. Newsom could help get the result he's trying to prevent.