Coasting on Trump’s Coattails?

By Jim Ellis

President Trump

Dec. 11, 2020 — When examining 21st century electoral behavior, in an overwhelming number of states, we find that voters are choosing the US Senate contender of the party whose presidential candidate carries their particular electorate, and the 2020 vote is mostly no exception to such a premise. This pattern allows the various presidential nominees to develop political coattails and potentially bring in additional members of his party to both the Senate and House.

In November, the only state where voters swayed from that pattern was Maine, where Pine Tree State voters broke 52-43 percent in favor of Democrat Joe Biden at the top of the ticket but returned to the Republican column to re-elect Sen. Susan Collins by a 50-42 percent margin. And, as we will see when examining the data below, in the 2020 presidential race the coattail margin was not as determinative as it has been in other such campaigns during the past 20 years.

Though not legal victories in the sense that the first-place finisher did not obtain the office sought, the two Georgia Senate elections did yield Republican “wins,” if you will, since the GOP candidates finished ahead of their Democratic counterparts in a state that President Trump failed to carry.

Remember that all of the Georgia races finished with razor-thin margins, so the pattern is not particularly definable. While President Trump was losing to Biden by just 12,670 votes of 4.998-plus million ballots cast, Sen. David Perdue (R) outpaced Democrat Jon Ossoff with an 88,098-vote spread, and the aggregate special election Senate Republican vote total was 47,808 higher than the combined Democratic sum.

The patterns of how the Senate Republican candidates fared with President Trump leading the ticket are interesting in that they don’t yield a consistent flow. In the 35 Senate races from 34 states where such elections were conducted, President Trump carried 19 of the states hosting Senate races as compared to 15 for Mr. Biden. Simultaneously, Republican candidates placed first in 22 of the 35 Senate races.

In 10 of the states hosting a Senate race where President Trump won, the Republican Senate candidate, though winning in all 10 of those instances, ran behind the top of the ticket by an average of 2.2 percent. Conversely, however, in nine other states that President Trump won, he fell behind the GOP Senate candidate by an average of 2.8 percent.

Turning to the 16 states hosting Senate elections that Joe Biden carried (counting Georgia twice because of their two Senate campaigns), President Trump ran ahead of the losing Republican Senate candidate in nine states by an average percentage factor of 1.9, while he ran behind the losing Republican in four, and then behind the winning — or first-place — Republican in three more. In these latter situations, the deficit margin was 1.8 percent.

Therefore, with a split decision throughout the potential Senate coattail states, it appears wholly dependent upon the particular Senate campaign whether the President was a slight boost or minor burden to the down ballot candidate.

Below is a chart showing the Senate states and President Trump’s performance in each compared with the Republican Senate contender. In summary, despite strong opinions being waged on both sides of the pre-election argument – those being that Trump was a help or hinderance to the Senate Republican candidates – it appears that the controversial Republican president was not a severe factor in most of the Senate campaign results.

In the “Senate Winner” column, the percentage figure depicts either how far ahead of Trump (+) the Republican Senate candidate ran, or how far behind (-).

STATE TRUMP % WINNER R SENATE % WINNER
AL 62.0% Trump 60.1% Tuberville -1.9%
AK 52.8% Trump 53.9% Sullivan +1.1%
AZ 49.1% Biden 48.8% Kelly (R -0.3%)
AR 62.4% Trump 66.5% Cotton +4.1%
CO 41.9% Biden 44.2% Hickenlooper (R +2.3%)
DE 39.8% Biden 37.9% Coons (R -1.9%)
GA-A 49.3% Biden 49.7% Perdue +0.4%
GA-B 49.3% Biden 49.3% Aggregate R +0.1%
ID 63.8% Trump 62.6% Risch -1.2%
IL 40.5% Biden 38.8% Durbin (R -1.7%)
IA 52.8% Trump 50.8% Ernst -2.0%
KS 56.2% Trump 53.2% Marshall -3.0%
KY 62.1% Trump 57.8% McConnell -4.3%
LA 58.5% Trump 59.3% Cassidy +0.8%
ME 43.5% Biden 50.4% Collins +6.9%
MA 31.9% Biden 32.2% Markey (R +0.3%)
MI 47.8% Biden 48.2% Peters (R +0.3%)
MN 45.3% Biden 43.5% Smith (R -1.8%)
MS 57.6% Trump 54.1% Hyde-Smith -3.5%
MT 56.9% Trump 55.0% Daines -1.9%
NE 58.5% Trump 67.4% Sasse +8.9%
NH 45.4% Biden 41.0% Shaheen (R -4.4%)
NJ 41.4% Biden 40.9% Booker (R -0.5%)
NM 43.5% Biden 45.6% Lujan (R +2.1%)
NC 49.9% Trump 48.7% Tillis -1.2%
OK 65.4% Trump 62.9% Inhofe -2.5%
OR 40.4% Biden 39.3% Merkley (R -1.1%)
RI 38.6% Biden 33.3% Reed (R -5.3%)
SC 55.1% Trump 54.4% Graham -0.7%
SD 61.8% Trump 65.7% Rounds +3.9%
TN 60.7% Trump 62.2% Hagerty +1.5%
TX 52.1% Trump 53.5% Cornyn +1.4%
VA 44.0% Biden 43.9% Warner (R -0.1%)
WV 68.6% Trump 70.3% Capito +1.7%
WY 69.5% Trump 71.1% Lummis +1.6%
19R – 15D 19R – 15D

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