Author Archives: Jim Ellis

The Democracy Corps: Why the Dems Lost

Democratic strategist James Carville and pollster Stan Greenberg often come together to conduct electoral studies for the purpose of public education under an organization of their founding called The Democracy Corps. Their new 2010 post-election analysis was just released, which provides some interesting findings and may help explain the election’s “upside-down” effect.

The study was developed from a sampling universe of 2,587 voters from across the country. The live interviews were conducted by telephone, 333 of which were via cell phone. The data was accumulated through three different surveys during the November 1-3 period. The results of the first post-election study (Democracy Corps-Resurgent Republic) came from a subset of 1,000 voters, 111 of whom were using cell phones. The second (Democracy Corps-Campaign for America’s Future) used a different 1,000 voters from within the larger universe, 115 on cell phones, and the third (Democracy Corps-Women’s Voices, Women’s Votes) chose 804 voters, 107 of whom were using cell phones.

While turnout was down for Democratic voter groups across the board, the drop in support among certain subsets was very telling. While the traditional minority group Democratic vote within the African-American and Hispanic communities remained virtually constant when compared to 2006 and 2008, several other voting segments where Democrats did particularly well in the two previous elections did not come through for them in 2010. Among unmarried women, Democratic support was off 12 points, the largest negative number of any group tested. The Dems dropped nine points from their 2008 mark in the industrial Midwest, and eight points among non-southern white rural voters. Their strong ’06 and ’08 showing among suburban voters also receded eight points in 2010.

But, as was detected throughout the 2010 election cycle, the biggest switch away from Democrats and toward Republicans came within the Independent voter sector. When matched against the 2006 and 2008 electoral results, we can now see just how intense the swing became, and it appears the Independent pendulum made a rather unexpected complete and total swing during the four-year period just elapsed.

According to the various Democracy Corps data, Democrats enjoyed an 18-point advantage over Republicans in the 2006 election among Independent voters. This dropped to an eight-point edge in 2008. For the election just past, the Republican surge within this voting group was so large that it also reached the +18-point plateau, signaling that the Independent segment rather astonishingly made a complete full circle in just a four-year period. This confirms that the Independent voting behavior is the number one reason for the difference in the 2010 results as compared to the previous two elections.

The ideological make-up of the three voting universes (2006, 2008, 2010) also reveal a pattern. In 2006, according to previous Democracy Data information, those comprising the voter turnout model described themselves as 47% moderate, 32% conservative, and 20% liberal. In 2008, the segmentation was similar: 44% moderate, 34% conservative, 22% liberal. This year, it was the conservatives who surged to the top, with 42% of the sampled turnout self-identifying with this ideological group, as compared to 38% who claimed to be moderate and 20% liberal.

The ideological breakdown within the 2010 turnout model as compared to the previous two years is also not particularly surprising based upon the electoral results, but may help explain why the GOP landslide actually got stronger as voters moved down the ballot. With a larger and more intensely energized conservative voter block, it is more likely that they continued voting for the less publicized offices in greater numbers than the moderates and liberals. Thus, as predicted before the election, the conservative energy did prove to be the defining factor, but particularly so when analyzing the election’s “upside-down” effect. We are using this phrase to describe the landslide of 2010 and how it actually gained Republican strength down the ballot as opposed to losing it, which is more typical.

Expect more such data to be released by other sources in the coming weeks that will help fully explain why the American people voted as they did on November 2, 2010.

The Next Campaign: RNC Chairman

Late this coming January the members of the Republican National Committee will again choose an individual to lead them into the next election cycle. There is no question that the reign of current chairman Michael Steele has been controversial. The Committee has not reached the fund-raising plateaus found in previous election cycles; Steele has been at the center of many ill-advised comments; donors were disrespected; and the exiting political director leveled public charges of mismanagement at him. Still, the Republicans had one of their most successful elections in history while Steele was in control and it is under this backdrop that the 168 voting members of the Republican National Committee will make their leadership decision.

The Chairman himself has not officially announced a re-election bid, but indications point to him seeking another term. Two challengers already are officially opposing him. Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan chairman who ran two years ago, is back for another go and Ann Wagner, the ex-national committeewoman from Missouri and US Ambassador to Luxembourg, announced her candidacy yesterday. Others who might join the fray are Maria Cino, a former Republican National Convention director and ex-RNC chief of staff, and former Political Director Gentry Collins, the very man who wrote the highly publicized missive against Steele as he departed the Committee. The race is on! Expect major fireworks.

The House in 2012: The Vulnerables

Talk is already beginning about which of the newly elected and veteran House members will be on the hot seat in 2012, but little will be clear until redistricting is complete. Remembering that all multi-district states will change their congressional maps in 2011 (or early 2012), it is virtually impossible to project today which of the current incumbents will have bumpy re-election roads in 2012.

Looking at the reapportionment formula, a calculation that will be final and official before the end of this year, where will both Republicans and Democrats either protect a large number of their current seats or make substantial gains?

One of the top such states had not been decided until just before Thanksgiving. The New York state Senate is the key to the state’s redistricting process and it appears that Republicans have won enough undecided races to claim a small majority. If the GOP Senate majority becomes official, then count on a court-drawn 2012 map as they will have the necessary votes to block the Democratic plan coming from the House. Assuming NY-1 holds for the Democrats (the lone outstanding congressional race in the country), the GOP gained six seats in the 2010 election giving them a grand total of eight in the state, still a rather paltry total for a delegation of 29 members but an improvement over the 27-2 split from the current Congress. New York will lose at least one seat in reapportionment and, considering the probable population trends, the representation reduction should come from either New York City or Long Island. If the Democrats gain control of the Senate, a prospect that now appears unlikely, watch for a map that allows their party to regain some of the seats they lost in November.

If you’re looking for a place where Republicans are poised to make gains, watch North Carolina. With Democratic Gov. Bev Purdue having no veto over redistricting legislation, the new Republican legislature has full control of the map drawing process. The Tar Heel State is the place where the GOP has the opportunity to gain the largest number of US House seats. With Republicans usually winning the statewide vote, Democrats control the congressional delegation 8-5, and the GOP only pulled to within this number with Renee Ellmers’ upset win over Rep. Bob Etheridge in NC-2. The Republicans’ first priority will be to improve Ellmers’ seat and then look to give several Democratic incumbents more difficult seats. Reps. Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7), Larry Kissell (D-NC-8), Heath Shuler (D-NC-11), and Brad Miller (D-NC-13) could all find themselves in much more competitive political situations under a Republican-drawn map.

Expected to gain four seats, Texas will again attract great redistricting attention. Republicans now enjoy a 23-9 margin in the congressional delegation and it will be hard to exceed this ratio, even when considering the four new seats with which an enlarged GOP legislative majority can play.

Republicans also control the pen in the more Democratic or marginal states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. This helps the GOP dramatically, because each state will lose at least one district. Ohio appears headed for a two-seat reduction. Since the GOP has virtually maximized the size of their representation in at least PA and OH, they will need such power just to protect what they have.

The Democrats will certainly take a loss in Massachusetts, as the Bay State’s 10-member Democratic delegation will be reduced by one seat. This Democratic loss, however, will be offset in Louisiana as the 6-1 Republican line-up will drop to 5-1. The lone Democratic seat, the New Orleans-based 2nd district, enjoys Voting Rights protection and will not be collapsed.

California, which could be a Democratic gain state, and Florida, the site of the best GOP map of the 2001 redistricting cycle, are big question marks. Ballot initiatives created a redistricting commission in California and made stringent map-drawing requirements upon the legislature in Florida, so the current outlook in both states is cloudy.

Much will happen in the coming redistricting year making early 2012 congressional predictions most difficult and unreliable. Those who thought the 2010 cycle was long and grueling haven’t seen anything yet.

Two More House Races Conceded; One Remains

As expected, two more U.S. House seats were finalized yesterday, as Reps. Dan Maffei (D-NY-25) and Solomon Ortiz (D-TX-27) ended recount action and conceded their seats to Republican challengers.

In Upstate New York, former Syracuse city councilwoman Ann Marie Buerkle (R) is now the official winner of her state’s 25th congressional district, returning the seat to the GOP column after one term of Democratic Party representation. Together, Republican former Reps. George Wortley and Jim Walsh represented the district for a combined 26 years before Maffei won in 2008. Buerkle’s final, but still yet-to-be certified margin is 567 votes. Depending upon how New York redistricting unfolds in 2012, expect Mr. Maffei to again become an active candidate, if not for Congress, then for another office.

In southeast Texas, Rep. Ortiz also ended his recount operation, thus more than likely bringing an end to his 28-year congressional career. The 73-year-old veteran politician telephoned Republican Blake Farenthold to officially concede and congratulate him on his victory. Since TX-27 is a Voting Rights district, it would be expected to return to the Democrats in 2012, but redistricting and the fact that Texas is likely to gain four new congressional seats could give Farenthold a more Republican district and a place to land. Though Rep. Ortiz is unlikely to run for Congress again, watch for his son, soon-to-be ex-state Rep. Solomon Ortiz, Jr. to test the waters. Like his father, the south Texas voters also defeated the younger Ortiz.

Back in New York, the count continues in NY-1, now the only congressional district in the country that remains unresolved. There, incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop (D) has climbed back into the lead with all ballots counted. His advantage is 235 votes, but more than 2,000 votes have been challenged by one of the candidates. Republican Randy Altschuler issued official challenges to 1,261 votes, while Bishop objects to 790. It would take quite a swing for Altschuler to overcome this late lead.

Assuming NY-1 stays in the Democratic column, the Republicans will have gained 63 seats in the 2010 election and the party division for the 112th House of Representatives will be 241 Republicans and 194 Democrats.

Early Poll Shows Obama in 2012 Dogfight

As we know from this past election, two years is a lifetime in modern-day American electoral politics but a new Quinnipiac University poll does indicate weakness in a proposed President Obama re-election drive. The national survey, conducted November 8-15 of 2,424 registered voters throughout the United States shows the President below 50% against all tested Republicans and having only a nine-point lead over a candidate whom 81% of the people could not identify.

Ex-Massachusetts Governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mitt Romney fared the best against the President in the national poll, leading him 45-44%. Former Arkansas Governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee trailed Mr. Obama 44-46%; ex-Alaska Governor and ’08 Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin finds herself in a 40-48% deficit situation; and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is behind only 36-45%. It is Daniels whom over 80% of the sampled individuals could not identify.

The poll is of little significance because the election is two years away and will be decided by voters within individual states as opposed to a simple national vote. While national public opinion polls certainly provide clues as to how voters view the presidential candidates, which is helpful in gauging a campaign’s progress, it does not translate into predicting whether a challenger can successfully obtain the 270 Electoral Votes needed to win the White House.

Best news for Obama in the poll: Democrats want to see the President run for re-election by better than a 2:1 spread (64:27%). Worst news for him: by a margin of 43:49% the aggregate sampling universe does not feel he deserves re-election.

The Republicans Take Another Race

It appears the Republicans have won another congressional race. With counting now complete, but unofficial, GOP challenger Ann Marie Buerkle now leads Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY-25) by 567 votes, 104,374 to 103,807. There likely will be a recount, and trailing candidate Maffei is likely to challenge what he believes are questionable ballots, but his chances of overturning these results are slim.

Should this margin hold for Buerkle, the Republicans will have gained 63 seats in the House, bringing the total to 241 Rs and 193 Democrats. One race, NY-1, is still outstanding. Of the ten closest campaigns, only two remain in recounts (KY-6 and TX-27), not counting such eventuality in NY-1 and 25. The KY-6 and TX-27 races will soon become official, with Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY-6) being re-elected and Republican challenger Blake Farenthold defeating Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX-27).

The other races, AZ-7 (Grijalva), AZ-8 (Giffords), CA-11 (McNerney), CA-20 (Costa), IL-8 (Walsh), and NC-2 (Ellmers) have all been decided. The two listed last saw Democratic incumbents Melissa Bean (D-IL-8) and Bob Etheridge (D-NC-2) conceding defeat last week.

NY-1, located on the eastern-most part of Long Island, may end up as the closest race in the country. Originally, it appeared that Rep. Tim Bishop (D) had won a 51-49% victory on Election Night, but a major voting machine error changed the outcome and placed GOP challenger Randy Altschuler in the lead by just under 400 votes. With the slow New York absentee ballot counting process continuing, and a smattering of military and overseas votes still eligible to be received through tomorrow, the race has now closed to a 15-vote margin, with Bishop now back in the lead. The town of Brookhaven is the only place not completely reporting. It is the only Long Island town that stretches all the way from the north to the south shore. Its population is close to 450,000. Brookhaven broke closely for President Obama in 2008, which actually might be a good sign for Altschuler considering the region significantly under-performed the Democratic statewide total (62.2%) in that year. Considering the 2010 turnout pattern in the rest of the state, the final absentee ballots in this area could easily break for Altschuler. With the race being a virtual tie, however, either candidate still can win.

Regardless of the final result in NY-1, a recount will follow. Likewise in NY-25, though Buerkle’s 500+ vote margin will undoubtedly be greater than the final difference in the Long Island seat.

With Maffei’s defeat, 24 first-term incumbents (22 Democrats; 2 Republicans) did not survive their first re-election effort. It remains to be seen just how many of these defeated freshmen maintain hopes of re-capturing their seat and run again in 2012.

2012 Senate Polls – Already!

Public Policy Polling is already releasing new and rather interesting data on proposed 2012 U.S. Senate match-ups. The firm is testing two first-term Democrats, both of whom appear vulnerable because they are from states that tend to vote Republican in national elections. Though the polls certainly show incumbent vulnerability and foretell close races, each Democratic Senator is in better political shape that one might guess considering the results of our most recent election.

In Virginia, the clear choice among Republicans to challenge Sen. Jim Webb (D) is none other than the man who lost the seat in 2006, former Senator and Governor George Allen (R). When asked of 400 “usual” GOP VA primary voters, 46% answered that Allen would be their choice. Eighteen percent prefer soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA-7), though there is no indication that the Congressman would entertain a statewide race since he will already be one of the top congressional leaders. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli places third with 16%, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA-11) are tied with 4% apiece.

In hypothetical general election match-ups (11/10-13; 551 registered VA voters) Webb leads Allen 49-45%; the Senator has a 49-38% advantage over Bolling; and the margin is 49-39% in a Webb-Cuccinelli pairing.

Since Sen. Webb has been somewhat circumspect when answering questions about whether or not he will run for re-election, PPP tested former Gov. and current Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine in his stead. The Democrat leads each of the potentially serious Republican contenders. Kaine’s advantage over Allen is 50-44%; 48-41% against Bolling; and 50-40% when paired with AG Cuccinelli.

The third Democrat tested was Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA-5), who just lost his seat to Rep-Elect Bob Hurt on November 2nd. In these trial heats, two of the three Republicans lead the outgoing Congressman, but even here the margin is very tight. Allen tops Perriello 47-42%; Bolling leads him by a single point, 42-41%; but Perriello manages to maintain a slight 44-41% advantage over Cuccinelli.

This particular small-sample poll does not have very positive opinions about any of the contenders. Kaine scores the best with a 43:40% favorable to unfavorable personal approval ratio. All of the others are hung with negative ratings above their positive scores.

Considering that the Republicans just gained three House seats in the Virginia delegation, these results are basically welcome news for the Democrats. Since Virginia, along with New Jersey and New York, each led the nation in turnout drop-off from 2008 (each state registered more than 47% drop-off; that is, 47% of the people who voted in the 2008 presidential election did not return to cast a ballot in 2010), still suggests that the Democrats are more than competitive in a high turnout election, such as would be expected in the next presidential election. It looks like a long Senate campaign ahead for Old Dominion voters and it appears that either side can win.

The other state PPP tested is Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D) faces the voters for the first time after unseating three-term Sen. Conrad Burns (R) back in 2006. Here, Tester does not fare as well as his colleague Sen. Webb, but is certainly in position for a strong re-election bid.

According to the Public Policy Polling results (10/11-13; 1,176 registered MT voters), at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) leads Sen. Tester 48-46%. The Senator leads former Lt. Gov. nominee Steve Daines (R) 48-37%, but trails former Governor and Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot 42-49%.

This early data suggests that Montanans, too, can expect another close, rough and tumble campaign season in 2012. Protecting only 10 of 33 seats in the next cycle, the GOP would need a net gain of four to secure a new majority. Along with Nebraska, Virginia and Montana are top states on the potential Republican conversion list.