Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mid-Term Musings

I don't typically like to comment on political races until I have had a chance to take a in-depth look at the detailed election results and exit polls. After all, I am a data guy. I look for answers and insights in the data to try to put everything in context.

However, I know there is a lot of interest from my readers on my thoughts on the mid-term election results so I will share a few musings about the mid-terms based on what I watched last night on the cable tv channels and the limited data I have reviewed so far.

Senate Races

The Senate races pretty much followed the themes that I laid out in my blog post, "Sensing the Senate Races-2014" that I published on the eve of the election.

I profiled 13 states where I thought the Republicans had a path to majority control. They appear to have won 11 of the 13 with Louisiana still likely to be added to their majority in the December run-off. The only state on my list of the first tier list of targets that they were not able to win was New Hampshire. However, I had assessed a win in New Hampshire to involve very long odds.

I had Virginia as a secondary target based on the polls in the state, however, I was on right on target when I stated, "when I look at the 4 point Obama margin ( in 2012) and the fact that minority and young voters will not likely turn out like they did two years ago, it seems Gillespie could make this a race in the end." He certainly did.

Governor Races

This was the most under-reported story of the night as the networks were so focused on the Senate races. It is almost hard to believe that the Republicans won gubernatorial races in red states like Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland.  Consider the Obama margins in these three states in 2012---Illinois +17, Massachusetts +23, Maryland +26.

In addition, Republicans won these other states which are all blue or swing states---Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio and only lost in deep blue Connecticut by 3 points and Rhode Island by 4 points.

All in all, Democrats now hold only 18 out of 50 governor offices. To put that in perspective, there are now more states where gay marriage is legal than there are Democrat governors!

Wave or Not?

I try never to get caught up with the emotion and hype in the aftermath of elections. We are hearing this election called a wave but we heard similar descriptions when the Democrats won in 2008 and 2012. Or the GOP in 2010.

In the aftermath of the 2012 election there were many political commentators who were flooding the
flooding the airwaves with opinions that the Republican Party had to fundamentally overhaul their positions on the issues to be successful in the future.  They argue that there had been a fundamental seismic shift in the voting demographics that is younger, less White and more liberal.

I disagreed and this is what I wrote three days after the 2012 election after reviewing the exit poll data on that election.

There clearly was a solid group of voters who would vote for Barack Obama.  That was proven in 2008 and 2012.  It is just not clear to me that this voting bloc is sustainable or repeatable.  Obama is not going to be on the ballot again.  The symbol will be gone and all that will be left is the substance of the Democrat positions that are not exactly wildly popular.  Republicans should take heart and not be too quick to alter their core positions.  This comes through in the exit polling for 2012 even considering the demographic advantage that the Democrats had in voters this year.

I have not analyzed any exit polls in detail this year but I suspect that Democrats lost big in this election cycle primarily because black voters did not turn out as they did in 2008 and 2012 for Obama and young voters stayed home having lost their love affair with Obama.

I did look at some limited exit poll data on North Carolina which seems to confirm my thoughts. Black voters made up about 28% of the total vote in 2012. This year they made up 21%.  That is a 7% swing of voters who voted for Hagan 96% of the time. That is the election right there. Tillis won by 2%.

During the campaign, President Obama made a hand scratching statement to a rally of supporters in Maryland when he said, "You've got to get that cousin Pookie sitting at home on the couch" to get out and vote. Guess what? Cousin Pookie never got off the couch. There is now a GOP Governor in a state that Obama won by 26 points two years ago.

The bigger question is why do the Democrats have a problem in turning out voters in non-Presidential years?

Mercenaries and Patriots

Democrats seems to have a problem turning out voters in mid-term elections because, first of all, they have more low interest voters than Republicans. Poll after poll shows that they don't pay as much attention and are less informed as a general rule than are Republican voters.

They seem to only get engaged in Presidential years when it is hard to ignore politics and and you can't go anywhere without hearing about it.

It also seems to be the case that many Democrat voters are engaged primarily by what the political process means to them personally. It is mostly about what the government does for them in dollars and cents. In that respect they are very similar to mercenaries in an army. The party's voters are primarily composed of special interest blocks of voters who depend on government. They are primarily interested in furthering their individual interest through government.

I think this is the fundamental flaw in the Democrat party model right now. They can only expand their numbers by recruiting more mercenaries to their army. Whether it is expanding government benefits, opening the border to future voters or providing government special subsidies to  "the right" businesses, their base largely is dependent on government.

Republicans, on the other hand, are more interested in what government does generally as well as what government could do to them. Republicans don't vote as mercenaries to serve their own interests, but for the interests of the country. Therefore, Republicans can more generally be counted on to go to the polls year in and year out and the numbers seem to bear that out.

Over the years many countries who have relied on mercenary armies have learned that they are inherently unreliable. I don't think it is any different in politics. People motivated by beliefs will beat people motivated by bucks in the end.

This is why the Democrats had such a hard time understanding the Tea Party movement when it started out of nowhere. They just could not understand how so many people could get so ginned up when they weren't getting anything out of it individually. It was totally foreign to the way they understood the psychology of voters. Remember when Nancy Pelosi derided the grassroots Tea Party and called them "astroturf"? She thought it was fake because she just could not believe that people would show up without getting paid to do it.

Interesting Insights
  • Democrats and the mainstream media like to refer to "racist" and "anti-immigration" Republicans but has anyone looked at the election results in South Carolina? Tim Scott, the black Senator who had been appointed by Governor Nikki Haley last year, and was running for the remainder of the full term, got 85% of the votes of white men in the election. He only got 16% of the vote of black men!  By the way, Scott also got almost 100,000 more votes than white Senator Lindsay Graham who was running for re-election. Nikki Haley (the daughter of Indian immigrants) was re-elected 56%-41%. 
  • Speaker John Boehner lives near me and was re-elected in the 8th Congressional District of Ohio.  However, I found it interesting that Boehner only captured 65% of the vote in his home county.  That is about 7 points below what John Kasich drew in the county. Boehner also had a lower percentage vote than all the other state officeholders on the ballot. The last few years have definitely taken a toll of Boehner's popularity with the hometown folks.
  • In Ohio, generally all local tax increases have to go before a vote if it means the property tax millage will go up. This includes school, police, fire and other issues. Starting in the late 1970's these issues started to have increased difficulty in passing. People started to get fed up with high taxes. This has been a continuing theme for the last several decades. What I found interesting in looking at the results of Tuesday's election in Hamilton County (my home) was that most tax levy issues passed with rather comfortable margins. This included a 1/4 cent increase in the local sales tax in the country to pay for repairs and refurbishment of Cincinnati's Union Terminal, the iconic art-deco railroad terminal built in the 1930's, which is now  a museum center. In fact, the vote wasn't even close with a 65%-35% margin despite the fact that household budgets are being squeezed by the economy.  I think this is a potentially interesting development.  Does it signal increased interest in government actually doing the things government is supposed to do and a willingness to support these efforts? We will see.
  • The margin of the Cory Gardner win in Colorado was surprising to me coming in a state that voted for Obama twice and which also just two years ago passed the most liberal pot laws in the country. That win seems to have been driven by Gardner's ability to win the suburbs of Denver that Obama had won in the previous elections. It appears that a number of Obama's "soccer moms" have become "security moms".  For example, by a 63%-25% margin, Colorado voters were in favor of U.S. military action against ISIS.  At the same time, 61% thought abortion should be always legal (28%) or mostly legal (33%). In the end, Gardner won married women by 49%-47%. Does this indicate that one's head is more valuable than one's uterus? It appears so.
More on the mid-terms later when I have more time to analyze the results in detail.

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