Monthly Archives: October 2010

Predicting Tuesday’s Turnout

Political scientists are nothing if not devotees of deductive reasoning. We take bits of historical data, add in opinion research data and form hypotheses about the possible range of outcomes in an election. This year that fairly straightforward deductive process seems to be a bit more challenging than in many past years. This is true because one of the underlying theses upon which so many assumptions would otherwise be built may, in fact, be less dependable than before. This anomaly lies at the foundation upon which so many predictive models have been built in years past and may make the business of predicting the outcomes of this year’s Congressional elections more challenging than it has been in recent years.

Pollsters, who provide us with most of the opinion research data that is used in modern political campaigning, have developed their own historical models for predicting voter turnout. They base these models on historical trends, demographic data, voter registration data and other factors to construct “likely voter” models that they can use to get closer to the likely actual result on Election Day. So they hope.

This year’s volatile political climate seems palpably different to those of us who have been out on the campaign trail observing the ups and downs of various campaigns and more importantly trying to gauge the level of intensity of the electorate regarding their desire to participate in this election.

Voter participation trends had been in a state of decline for several decades until the start of this century. Just as the 2008 presidential election year saw some rather profound changes in recent voter history with high levels of voter turnout among African-Americans and young people compared to previous elections, this year we may see some different trends, which make predicting Tuesday night’s outcome very difficult.

This year’s intensity numbers and primary turnout raw vote totals might suggest the potential for a dramatic swing away from a good number of incumbents that would not normally be detected using typical historical models.

The survey data that is currently publicly available would suggest that the GOP is likely to pick up enough seats to secure a House majority but fall short of the number necessary to do so in the Senate. As we wrote in Wednesday’s PRIsm Information Network Election Analysis Report, “Extrapolating the final trends, it appears that Republicans are likely to see a net gain exceeding 43 seats, thus giving them a new House majority. Landing somewhere between the 221-226 range is likely where the GOP will end election night, if these final readings are correct. Volatility, however, still remains.”

Our important disclaimer here is that our extrapolation is just that, a projection of past and current trends less than a week into the future. One of the hazards of this is that the turnout model used by every pollster, pundit and political scientist in the country might be wrong this year. If one takes into account the fact that raw vote totals in this summer’s Michigan Republican primary were slightly more than twice the raw vote totals for the commensurate Michigan Democratic primary, one could make the case for a greatly altered turnout model which, when applied nationwide, might suggest far more seats for the House Republicans than any conventional voter turnout model might suggest.

This is how some prognosticators get from our very conservative suggestion of a 43+ seat GOP net gain to over 60 as suggested by those who have extrapolated primary turnout numbers for next Tuesday’s general election. Unfortunately, the science of gauging voter intensity and translating that into a reliable voter turnout model is still in its infancy. While the current data analysis supports a 43-48 seat GOP net gain in the House, a 2- to 5-point swing in those turnout numbers could exceed this result by a substantial amount.

A Look at the Trend Setters on Election Night

Today we’ll look at which races are the most important to watch in order to detect any sort of national trend as the votes begin streaming in on Election Night. The first states to report their votes are Indiana and Kentucky. Both are must-wins for Republicans at the Senate level. In the House, the GOP can begin their move toward along a majority track with wins in two of the four most hotly contested House campaigns in the Hoosier and Blue Grass States: IN-2 (Rep. Donnelly vs. Walorski), IN-8 (Bucshon vs. Van Plaaten), IN-9 (Rep. Hill vs. Young), and KY-6 (Rep. Chandler vs. Barr). So keep a careful eye out there.

Next, we look to Pennsylvania. Of the nine most competitive Keystone State congressional races, including two already held by Republicans, the GOP must win five to keep on pace to gain House seats somewhere in the mid-40s range. Former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA-15), now in a toss-up US Senate battle with Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7), must convert the seat for the GOP in order for the party to gain significant ground.

Though New York is an important state, their ballot counting tends to be very time consuming, so results there will be very late in coming. Florida, then, becomes a better point state in the Eastern Time Zone. Marco Rubio (R) must nail down his three-way race for the Senate, and the GOP must gain at least three seats in the House. Incumbent Democratic Reps. Allen Boyd (FL-2), Alan Grayson (FL-8), Ron Klein (FL-22), and Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24) all could lose, as each are fighting strong Republican candidates. The open FL-25 seat also is a Republican must hold.

Other bellwether states appear to be Virginia (where the GOP needs two seats), Ohio (GOP +3; and the Senate race), and Michigan (+2). Republicans also will need to grab two more states in the east, most probably somewhere among NH-1 (Rep. Shea-Porter vs. Guinta), GA-8 (Rep. Marshall vs. Scott), SC-5 (Rep. Spratt vs. Mulvaney), and NC-8 (Rep. Kissell vs. Johnson). And they must win Senate races in all four of these states, a very achievable goal with less than one week remaining.

Therefore, before exiting the Eastern Time Zone and moving west to other results, the Republicans must have a net gain of one Senate seat and 18 congressional districts to have any chance at taking the majority in either house next Tuesday night.

The Latest House Count

A new perusal of all 435 US House campaigns suggests that Republicans continue to be in a strong position to command a new House majority when the actual voting takes place on Tuesday.

Right now, it appears that GOP candidates in 205 seats appear headed to victory on November 2, including 35 districts that lean to the Republican candidate. Democrats are in similar position in 204 campaigns with 40 seats (inclusive) leaning their way. The “lean R” and “lean D” categories are significant because these particular contests can still change during this last week of campaigning. There are 26 races that are still too close to definitively call, and remain in the toss-up category.

What makes the landscape tilt rather drastically to the Republicans is that 27 of the “lean R” campaigns are Democratic seats. New entries to this category, meaning a race with a Democratic incumbent that is rather decidedly shifting to the GOP are: AZ-1 (Ann Kirkpatrick), MS-1 (Travis Childers), NH-1 (Carol Shea-Porter), NY-23 (Bill Owens), and the WI-7 open seat (David Obey). These campaigns join some other Democratic seats that, for some time, have appeared as key Republican conversion opportunities. Such races are: CO-4 (Betsy Markey), FL-8 (Alan Grayson), FL-24 (Suzanne Kosmas), IL-11 (Debbie Halvorson), open IN-8 (Brad Ellsworth), NM-2 (Harry Teague), NY-24 (Michael Arcuri), ND-AL (Earl Pomeroy), OH-1 (Steve Driehaus), TX-17 (Chet Edwards), and the WA-3 open seat (Brian Baird).

Conversely, only two Republican seats appeared headed to the Democrats: the open DE-AL (Mike Castle) district, and that of Louisiana freshman Rep. Ahn “Joseph” Cao (LA-2). The other 37 seats in the category of “lean D” all are currently in the Democratic party’s hands. This type of race includes AL-2 (Bobby Bright), AZ-8 (Gabrielle Giffords), CT-4 (Jim Himes), CT-5 (Chris Murphy), KY-6 (Ben Chandler), MO-4 (Ike Skelton), NY-20 (Scott Murphy), NC-8 (Larry Kissell), and WA-2 (Rick Larsen) among others.

The 74 “lean” races are still in play, but are definitely trending toward the particular party. There is still enough leeway to suggest these campaigns are still very close, but there is discernible polling and voting history reason to currently cast them as most likely electing either the Republican or the Democratic candidate.

There are still 27 races that are too close to call. Added to the 74 seats where competitive action still remains, means an incredible 101 districts still remain on the active list. This is the highest number in the modern political era.

Colorado’s Tancredo Is For Real

A new Public Policy Polling survey (10/21-23; 818 likely Colorado voters) reveals that former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO-6), running for Governor on the Constitution Party ballot line, is making a major charge to overtake Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) and is in serious contention to win the race. Republican businessman Dan Maes, who won the GOP gubernatorial nomination after former Rep. Scott McInnis self-destructed in the August primary, has now faded away to single digits with an unfavorable rating of 75%. Tancredo, beginning the race with a 27:50% positive to negative personal favorability score, has improved his standing among the Colorado electorate to 45:44%, a major feat for someone running as a minor third-party candidate. The PPP ballot test now shows Hickenlooper leading Tancredo 47-44%, with Maes taking only 5% as the official Republican nominee. All the momentum is with the former Congressman who ran for President in 2008 on an anti-illegal immigration platform. Hickenlooper has now dropped below 50% and clearly has not clinched the race, contrary to early belief that the race is over.

Interestingly, the Tancredo surge has apparently not helped GOP Senatorial candidate Ken Buck. His race with appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) continues as a dead heat. The new PPP data shows the two candidates tied at 47%. With one week to go until Election Day, the Colorado Governor’s race now moves from likely Democrat to toss-up.

The Senate: Some Races Are Done … And Some Aren’t

As we enter the final week of the campaign season, which are the races that appear to be finished and which are still undetermined at this late date?

For Republicans striving to cobble together enough wins to create a net gain of 10 seats in order to wrest the Senate majority away from the Democrats, these are among a following races are secure:

  • Alabama, where Sen. Richard Shelby has been running virtually uncontested for the entire election cycle
  • Arizona, where Sen. John McCain has already won the tougher of his two campaigns: the 2010 Arizona Republican primary
  • Arkansas, proving to be a virtual certain GOP conversion as Rep. John Boozman (R-AR-3) continues to outpace embattled incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D) by double digits
  • Florida, where former state House Speaker Marco Rubio generally runs about 10 points ahead of the multi-candidate field that includes Republican-turned-Independent Gov. Charlie Crist
  • Idaho, where Sen. Mike Crapo has also been running virtually unopposed
  • Indiana, another GOP conversion state as former Sen. Dan Coats (R) is poised to win again after a 12-year absence from elected politics
  • Iowa, where Sen. Chuck Grassley’s victory for a sixth term will make him the only remaining Senator to come into office with Ronald Reagan
  • New Hampshire, another key GOP open seat that former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte appears set to retain
  • North Dakota, another GOP conversion as Gov. John Hoeven will romp to victory and take retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan’s seat from the Democrats
  • South Dakota, where Sen. John Thune is running unopposed

There are other states where the GOP has a lock on a Senate seat as well: Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah.

Conversely, Democrats have nailed down the following states:

  • Delaware, as New Castle County Executive Chris Coons will easily defeat Republican Christine O’Donnell, who scored the big upset of Rep. MIke Castle (R-DE-AL) but will cost the party any chance at converting this seat
  • Hawaii, where Sen. Dan Inouye will again win the seat he has held since 1962
  • Maryland, as Sen. Barbara Mikulski has had little in the way of opposition this year
  • New York, as both Sen. Chuck Schumer and appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will easily retain their seats
  • Oregon, where Sen. Ron Wyden will win a relatively easy election in what is proving to be a difficult political climate for Democrats even in the Beaver State
  • Vermont, as Sen. Patrick Leahy, who first won his seat in the Watergate year of 1974, will again be re-elected

Now … here are the seats that are still competitive with just a week to go:

  • Colorado, as this race between appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R) has consistently been a pure toss-up since the August primary
  • Connecticut, where Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) appears set to put this seat away for the Democrats, but businesswoman Linda McMahon (R) is still showing signs of life
  • Illinois, as state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL-10) continue to battle in what is becoming the state’s closest race
  • Kentucky, where both Republican Rand Paul (R) and Attorney General Jack Conway (D) are still flagging away against each other in a close campaign
  • Nevada, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) simply can’t put away Tea Party-backed Republican Sharron Angle (R) in a race that has been in toss-up status since June
  • Wisconsin, where Sen. Russ Feingold (D) continues to trail businessman Ron Johnson (R) in his quest for a fourth term

Others up for grabs include Alaska, California, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia.

If Republicans are to win control of the Senate, they must secure all races headed their way today, and win nine of the eleven seats that are still undetermined. With just one week to go, it looks like the GOP will make significant gains but fall short of winning absolute control of the chamber.