Category Archives: Election Analysis

Mapping Out the
Open Seat Opportunities

By Jim Ellis

US-House-of-Representatives-balance-of-power-November-2017Nov. 16, 2017 — If the Democrats are to capture the House majority next year, they will have to score well in the burgeoning open seat category, but so far the map does not appear particularly favorable for them. Though a strong showing in the 2017 odd-year elections, particularly in Virginia, gives them a boost headed into the midterm vote, Democrats still have a significant task ahead in order to gain ground within the House open seat universe.

Witnessing six new retirement announcements since the end of October, in part because the Dec. 11 Texas candidate filing deadline for 2018 is fast approaching thus forcing early campaign decisions, the open-seat contingent has significantly changed during the past month.

Currently, counting the PA-18 vacant seat that will be decided in a March 13 special election, 36 seats are coming open next year. Monday’s retirement pronouncement from Lone Star State Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston) brings the Democratic open protect count to 11 seats, meaning 25 incumbent-less Republican districts remain.

But, carefully looking at the GOP open-seat inventory yields very few highly competitive districts. One can argue, and we do, that the number of endangered Republican seats is only two: retiring veteran Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Miami) South Florida district, and south New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s (R-Ventnor City) CD.

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The Roy Moore Polling

By Jim Ellis

Left: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) | Right: Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D)

Left: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) | Right: Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D)

Nov. 16, 2017 — Last evening’s political news featured heavy coverage of a new National Republican Senatorial Committee poll that produced bad news for Alabama GOP special Senate nominee Roy Moore, but not enough information was released to determine the reliability aspect. In fact, the NRSC didn’t even release the name of the polling company with which they contracted to conduct the survey.

This is significant because their finding that Democrat Doug Jones is leading Judge Moore, 51-39 percent, is clearly out of line with every other poll taken in the corresponding time frame. It is also interesting that they would even release such a poll considering the Republican candidate is doing so badly. It does, however, justify their previous position of cutting the Moore Campaign from additional funding because of the sexual impropriety allegations against the candidate that has dominated recent news coverage.

Below are the post-scandal publicly reported surveys as complied by the Ballotpedia website:

• National Republican Senatorial Committee (Nov. 12-13)
No pollster credited
Jones 51%; Moore 39%
500 Sample

• Fox10 (Mobile) (Nov. 13)
News Strategy Research
Moore 49%; Jones 43%
3,000 Sample (Automated)

• Emerson College Polling Society (Nov. 9-11)
Moore 55%; Jones 45%
600 Polling Sample

• JMC Analytics & Polling (Nov. 9-11)
Jones 46%; Moore 42%
575 Sample

• Decision Desk HQ (Nov. 9)
Moore 46%; Jones 46%
515 Sample

As we can see, the NRSC poll returns the most inconsistent results in comparison to the other available data during the same time frame; the period just after the Moore sexual scandal broke.

Additionally, because the NRSC did not release the name of their pollster or the survey methodology, not enough information exists to determine if their data are skewed in any particular manner.

The lack of available information does not necessarily mean that the Senatorial Committee’s results are inaccurate. It is curious, however, that the other results — and, all have larger sample sizes than the reported NRSC calling universe — finds much different ballot test margins.

Interestingly, the Fox10 poll from a local Mobile television affiliate, which is the latest released survey prior to the NRSC study, and the Emerson College Polling Society find the complete opposite result and their methodologies utilize much larger sample sizes within the studied polling grouping. The Fox10 3,000-person sampling universe clearly suggests that the questionnaire responses were obtained through an automated device, but such does not necessarily mean this poll is less accurate than the live operator polls.

The Alabama race continues to deteriorate, and it is becoming more evident that Jones is now in a strong position to win. But, despite all the negative news coverage, this phantom NRSC poll is the only one that shows him trailing badly.

The other survey to find him dropping behind, from JMC Analytics, featured a sampling universe where 56 percent of the respondents are female, a potential skew in Jones’ favor since this subset broke his way, 46-40 percent. In comparison, men favored the Democrat only 46-45 percent in the JMC crosstabs. Therefore, with a sample where the Democratic-leaning female sector was over-sampled by approximately five percentage points, correcting this skew likely brings the Jones’ 46-42 percent ballot test result back into a tied range.

The NRSC results and partial poll release is intriguing to say the least. Hopefully, we will see more substantiation of their data later today.

A New Nominee; Another Retirement

By Jim Ellis

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Nov. 15, 2017 — Though almost all of the weekend political media coverage focused on the Alabama Senate campaign and the sexual impropriety allegations against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), over 800 miles from the heart of Dixie another group of Republicans was choosing a nominee to fill a US House vacancy.

In late October, yet another sex scandal-tainted political figure, Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh), succumbed to the pressure against him and announced that he would resign from the House. Quickly, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called the special election to fill the new vacancy for March 13. Each 18th District political party organization then had the responsibility of meeting in convention to choose their respective congressional nominee.

On Saturday, 215 Republican conferees from the CD’s four counties decided among three candidates, all members of the Pennsylvania legislature. An additional state representative, Jason Ortitay (R-Bridgeville), originally announced that he, too, would stand for nomination but decided the morning of the convention to withdraw.

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The Alabama Debacle

By Jim Ellis

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Nov. 14, 2017 — Senate Republicans have a major advantage in the current election cycle, but may be on the precipice of giving it away.

Looking at the 2018 Senate map, Republicans have only to defend eight of the 33 in-cycle seats. Considering that six of the eight are the safe Republican states of Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming and the Democrats need a net gain of three conversion seats to claim the majority, it appears unattainable even if the latter party converts legitimate targets in politically marginal Nevada and now open Arizona.

But the mathematics change if Democrats score an unlikely upset in the Alabama special election on Dec. 12, and the latest unfolding events there suggest that such an outcome is far more likely to happen.

As we know, Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, the twice removed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice, has been accused of sexual impropriety with at least one teenage girl when he was 32 years old in 1979. Washington, DC Republicans, who appear to be taking the Washington Post story and the woman’s allegations at face value, are urging Moore to remove himself from the race. Alabama Republicans are still standing firm for Moore, refusing to accept the story without proof. For his part, Judge Moore denies the incident happened.

Three polls have already surfaced telling us that Moore has suffered a major hit. Earlier surveys found him leading in low double-digits, but Opinion Savvy, Gravis Marketing, and JMC Analytics & Polling immediately went into the field to test the Alabama electorate’s reaction.

Opinion Savvy (Nov. 10; 515 likely Alabama special election voters) conducted their survey just hours after the Moore story broke. Their results find that Moore’s lead has evaporated into a 46-46 percent tie with Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former US Attorney.

Gravis Marketing launched their poll just as quickly (Nov. 10; 478 likely Alabama voters) and finds a similar ballot test tally: 48-46 percent in Moore’s favor.

JMC Analytics (Nov. 9-11; 575 registered Alabama voters) sees Jones pulling into a 46-42 percent lead (48-44 percent when leaners to both candidates are added), but an over-sampling of female voters could account for the Democratic advantage. Fifty-six percent of the survey respondents were female and they break for Jones, 46-40 percent. Men favor the Democrat 46-45 percent.

Considering these polls were taken immediately as the story was breaking and the questionnaires included an explanation of what was being said about him, the results for Moore are not devastating. For the most part, Republican voters are taking Moore’s side while Democrats believe the accuser. The fact that the division is roughly even suggests that Moore has a chance to rebound if he can effectively tell his story.

While Republican leaders may be calling upon Judge Moore to remove himself from the ticket, realistically and legally, he cannot. Under Alabama election law, the ballot cannot be changed within 76 days of the election. That period began Sept. 28. Now comes talk that Gov. Kay Ivey (R) could be approached to postpone the election, or call a special session of the legislature to pass a new emergency election statute. The governor says she is not inclined to even think about such an option.

Additionally, some absentee packets containing Moore’s name have already mailed, thus making it logistically difficult, if not illegal, to inject a new ballot into the campaign. Therefore, the outlook is virtually certain that the election will proceed as scheduled on Dec. 12.

Another idea suggests that the Senate refuse to seat Moore if he wins the election. Should all Democrats vote against Moore, only three Republicans would need to break ranks to keep the seat in abeyance. Presumably, the state could then call a new election, but there would be nothing preventing Moore from running again. Should that be the case, Gov. Ivey then could appoint another interim senator or even keep Sen. Luther Strange (R) in the position. Also, a new election would allow him to run again, too.

For their part, Democrats are remaining publicly quiet. They are likely doing so for two reasons. First, they are adopting the old axiom, “if one’s political opponents are in process of destroying themselves don’t stop them.” Second, they may soon be faced with another vote to eject a senator. Should New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez be found guilty in his corruption trial, there will likely be a move to expel him. Democrats would find themselves in a bind if they make a public spectacle of denying entry to Moore, and then quickly pivot to do the opposite in order to save Menendez.

The Roy Moore saga is far from over but at the outset, the situation appears perilous for Republicans. Since losing this seat would endanger their majority standing in 2018, the stakes for how the majority leadership chooses to handle the Alabama situation becomes even more challenging.

Analyzing the Virginia Victory

virginia-2017-election-map

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 10, 2017 — Now that the political dust is settling over the Old Dominion, we are better able to analyze the Democrats’ Virginia victory.

While Democrats retained all three of the statewide positions they previously held: governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, they almost succeeded (and, still may) in capturing the state House of Delegates. Prior to the vote, this was thought to be an unattainable task for one election. Though most of the news analysis suggests the result translates into a statewide backlash against President Trump, looking deeper into the numbers indicates that such may be only partially true.

It appears the Democratic sweep came about largely because of overwhelming strength in Northern Virginia. While the anti-Trump analysis may be too simplistic to explain the entire state’s voting pattern, we can ascertain that such is the case in the northern sector.

To re-cap the House of Delegates, Democrats teeter on wresting the majority away from Republicans. Two of the races have turned the Republicans’ way as the final canvass in Fairfax County and Newport News have placed the GOP incumbents ahead by just a few votes, 12 to be specific in the latter case.

Five campaigns, including the two aforementioned, are not officially called. Should all of the current race leaders remain in their respective positions through what are sure to be recounts and legal challenges, Republicans will maintain a 51-49 chamber majority, meaning a huge net gain of 15 seats for the Democrats.

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Election Day: Before vs. After

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 10, 2017 — Voters went to the polls in three places Tuesday to elect two governors, state legislators, and a new member of Congress. Multiple local elections, including mayoral contests in 59 of the nation’s largest cities, with New York, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Charlotte among them, also were on the various ballots.

Much was written and discussed about the Virginia gubernatorial election leading into Election Day, clearly the most important contest from a political perspective. It appeared clear that the campaign between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie was a tight one. That proved not to be the case with Northam’s nine-point win.

Polling suggested that either candidate could win. Most surveys showed either a dead heat or Northam maintaining a small lead. Research for the last Virginia gubernatorial race, that in 2013 when Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) was elected, badly under-estimated Republican strength. Therefore, should the same methodologies be present in this latest data, Gillespie’s chances of victory may be better than the raw numbers indicate. That line of thinking was dashed by the results.

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A Virtual Tie in Virginia



Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) — latest campaign ad



Ed Gillespie (R) – latest campaign ad


By Jim Ellis

Nov. 7, 2017 — On the dawn of today’s Virginia governor’s race, significant movement is apparent in the final pre-election polls.

At the end of last week, we previously reported that Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) had a lead of 3.7 percentage points when mean averaging seven realm polls conducted between Oct. 15-28. The latest six studies, all commissioned during the Oct. 29-Nov. 2 period, show Republican Ed Gillespie closing the gap even further, reducing Northam’s lead to a miniscule 1.0 percent.

At least one of the latest half-dozen comes from a pollster with a poor reliability record. Here, Roanoke University (Oct. 29-Nov. 2; 781 likely Virginia voters) finds the two candidates tied at 47 percent, which actually appears in line with the other published polls. Usually, the Roanoke data proves to be an outlier.

The survey giving Northam his best showing comes from Gravis Marketing (Oct. 30-Nov. 3; 1,143 registered Virginia voters via Interactive Voice Response system) where the lieutenant governor posts a 48-43 percent edge, consistent with results from data released last week. Gravis, not screening for likely voters, however, could explain why their results show a bigger spread than the others. The newest poll, from the New York Times/Siena University (Oct. 29-Nov. 2; 785 likely Virginia voters), finds Northam carrying a three-point edge, 43-40 percent, but with a larger undecided factor than the other studies.

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Rep. Lamar Smith to Retire

By Jim Ellis

Texas US Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio)

Texas US Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio)

Nov. 6, 2017 — Veteran Texas US Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) rather surprisingly announced late last week that he will not seek a 17th term in the House next year. Smith was first elected in 1986, and has averaged 81.5 percent of the vote during his 16 election campaigns. The lowest win percentage of his long career (57 percent) actually came last November.

Prior to his election to Congress, Smith served for a short time on the Bexar County Commission and in the Texas House of Representatives. In the US House, his current 31 years of service ranks him #14 in seniority. He is in his final term as chairman of the House Science Committee. Previously, he was chairman of both the Judiciary Committee and House Ethics Committee.

Rep. Smith is the second Texas Republican to announce his retirement this week and third overall. Earlier, Dallas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, also a committee chairman (Financial Services), made public his intention to retire. They join Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Plano) who announced his own retirement months ago. On the Democratic side, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) is leaving his safe congressional seat to challenge Sen. Ted Cruz (R).

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High-Stakes Voting

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 3, 2017 — Three important campaigns will be decided Tuesday, and the stakes are actually quite high for both major political parties. The favored entity losing an upset contest in any of the venues would immediately darken the particular party’s 2018 outlook. New Jersey and Virginia voters will elect new governors in regular cycle campaigns, and the Utah special congressional election will also be settled.

New Jersey

Former US ambassador to Germany and Wall Street executive Phil Murphy (D)

Former US ambassador to Germany and Wall Street executive Phil Murphy (D)

The race between Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) and former US ambassador to Germany and Wall Street executive Phil Murphy (D) already seems decided. Polls for months have varied only slightly. The latest published polling numbers, those from Monmouth University (Oct. 27-31; 529 likely New Jersey voters), find Murphy holding steady with a 53-39 percent advantage. Virtually every poll has projected a margin of this size.

This campaign has seemed over since the beginning. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has historically poor approval ratings – still more than 70 percent negative – and research shows the voters do link Guadagno to the current governor despite the two of them having a frosty relationship.

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Hensarling Retirement:
Open Seat Effect

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, (TX-5)

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, (TX-5)

Nov. 2, 2017 — House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas) announced Tuesday that he will not seek a ninth term in Congress next year to represent Texas, the timing coinciding with his internal term limit as the major committee’s leader. Hensarling was first elected in 2002 when then-incumbent Pete Sessions (R-Dallas) decided to jump to a new safe north Dallas Republican district leaving open this south Dallas-anchored seat, which, at the time, was politically marginal.

In that redistricting year, Hensarling, a former aide to Sen. Phil Gramm (R) before taking positions in the private sector with financial and energy producing companies, won the Republican nomination outright against four other GOP candidates, scoring 53 percent of the vote. He went on to record a 58-40 percent November victory, and would then average 73 percent over his seven re-election campaigns without ever being seriously challenged.

Texas’ 5th Congressional District now encompasses a substantial part of east Dallas County, including the city of Mesquite, before stretching southeast to annex five full counties and a partial one. After Dallas and Mesquite, the district’s largest population centers are the cities of Palestine, Jacksonville, and Athens.

President Trump tallied a 63-34 percent victory over Hillary Clinton here in 2016, following Mitt Romney’s similar 64-34 percent margin four years earlier. Even Sen. John McCain in President Obama’s first winning election posted a 62-37 percent spread within the TX-5 confines. Therefore, the district is solidly Republican and should not be hotly contested in next year’s general election campaign.

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Two Polls; One Interesting, One Bad

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 1, 2017
— Two political polls were released into the public domain yesterday. The first survey is of interest because it already examines a budding open seat Arizona Senate Republican primary, and becomes the first gauge of how former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who had been challenging Sen. Jeff Flake (R), performs in a new situation.

Another in a series of Virginia gubernatorial polls was also published Monday as we begin the last week of the election contest. Here, we question the results’ accuracy.

Arizona Senate

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

Speculation has been hot and heavy during the past few days, the first time interval since Sen. Flake announced he would not seek a second term largely because of dismal re-election prospects. Culminating the early conjecture are Phoenix-based Data Orbital’s (DO) new conclusions (Oct. 26-28; 500 likely Arizona GOP primary voters) finding former state Sen. Ward leading a pack of potential Senate candidates, but with a margin that suggests the impending Republican primary is anybody’s game.

Looking at the DO results, Ward places first with 26 percent, followed by Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) at 19 percent, and former Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Mesa) coming next at 10 percent, while ex-Rep. John Shadegg (R-Scottsdale), Rep. David Schweikert (R-Fountain Hills/Scottsdale), and Arizona University Regent Jay Heiler score 6, 5, and 1 percent, respectively.

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Heller Down Again, But Not Out

By Jim Ellis

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

Oct. 31, 2017 — You may remember that JMC Analytics and Polling released an August survey that found Republican Danny Tarkanian, before he entered the Senate race, to be leading Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, 39-31 percent. On Friday, JMC released new polling results.

Immediately after the August poll was published, the Heller campaign circulated a Tarrance Group survey of its own that showed a completely different tally. This study projected the Senator ahead 55-33 percent among their universe of likely Republican primary voters. Now, Heller’s political operatives may need to counter again.

The latest JMC survey (Oct. 24-26; 500 likely Nevada primary voters answering an automated questionnaire) finds Tarkanian again leading the senator, but this time the margin is 44-38 percent, a slightly closer tally and with many more voters forming a decided opinion.

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Fast Action in Arizona

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

Oct. 30, 2017 — Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R) announcement Wednesday that he will not run for re-election has ignited a flurry of political activity in Arizona about who now might enter the newly open 2018 Senate race. Decisions are already being made, with many quickly saying they won’t run for the seat.

A great deal of attention surrounds 2nd District US Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) for obvious reasons, because she is likely the best Republican candidate on paper, but the congresswoman has yet to make a public statement about running for the Senate. Published reports, however, quote sources close to her as saying she is being “inundated” with supporters urging that she run.

Winning her first congressional election in 2014, a 161-vote victory over then-Rep. Ron Barber (D-Tucson) that proved to be the closest congressional result in the country that year, and then racking up 57 percent support over former state Rep. Matt Heinz (D) last year even though Hillary Clinton was scoring a five-percentage point win in her southeastern Arizona congressional district makes Rep. McSally a proven political commodity. As a freshman House member, she raised an eye-popping $7.7 million for her first re-election effort. This year, ranking high on Democratic target lists and drawing eight announced opponents including former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) who moved to Tucson right after losing to Sen. John McCain (R) in the 2016 election, Rep. McSally already has accumulated over $1.45 million for her next campaign.

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Two Stunning Polls

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 27, 2017 — A pair of eyebrow-raising polls were released mid-week, one for the 2018 North Dakota Senate race and the other for the impending Virginia gubernatorial campaign.

North Dakota Senate

Poll results show Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) trailing for first time.

Poll results show Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) trailing for first time.

The 1892 polling firm, which has a record of surveying North Dakota statewide races, went into the field for Republican senatorial candidate Tom Campbell, a state senator and agri-businessman from Grafton, ND.

The survey (Oct. 11-12; 500 registered North Dakota voters; 400 additional Republican primary voters) finds Sen. Campbell leading in a hypothetical GOP primary, and in rather astonishing fashion for this early in the election cycle, actually trending ahead of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D), 44-41 percent.

Sen. Campbell has a healthy lead among Republicans, topping former US Rep. Rick Berg, 32-24 percent, among others. Ex-Rep. Berg admits to be considering the race, but has not given tangible indications that he is beginning to construct a campaign. The poll did not test current US Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-Bismarck), however, who says he will decide about running sometime next year.

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The New Arizona Senate Race

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 26, 2017 — Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) surprised most in the political world during a speech a couple days ago from the Senate floor, and thereby to the nation, that he will not seek re-election for a second term.

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward

With the text of his retirement address devoted mostly to his long-enduring battle with President Trump, Sen. Flake admits to having “regrets” about leaving elected politics and over the nation’s current state of affairs. But, the more salient reason hastening his departure is likely the polling data that shows his standing among Republicans is worse than the Arizona electorate as a whole, and that he would likely lose to both GOP challenger Kelli Ward, a former state senator who held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent victory in the 2016 Republican primary, and US Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) in the general election.

Contrary to media and Democratic Party analyses, the Republicans’ chances of holding this Senate seat actually improve with Sen. Flake’s departure. It was clear that his presidential sparring with Trump had left him worse for wear, and the GOP will likely be able to nominate a less encumbered, and thereby stronger, general election candidate.

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