Author Archives: Jim Ellis

A Quick Look at Election Day Trends

On Election morn, the Senate now appears to be the body with the most question marks. With the House trending toward a Republican majority, the Senate GOP races are now apparently closing in upon majority status, too. Throughout electoral history there has never been an election where the House flipped to a different party without the Senate. Thus, if the Republicans do gain control of the House and not the Senate, 2010 will make history because this will be the first time such a configuration has occurred.

The latest trends suggest that Nevada (Majority Leader Harry Reid), Illinois (Burris open), Pennsylvania (Specter open), and Colorado (appointed Sen. Michael Bennet), are all tilting the GOP’s way. Add those to the Democratic states of Arkansas, Indiana, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, all of which that secure in the Republican column, and that would mean the party is realistically approaching 49 seats. Thus, one of the following states would have to vote Republican to force a 50-50 tie: California, Connecticut, Washington, or West Virginia. Two wins in these four states would mean a companion Senate Republican majority.

In the final day, California looks to be tightening but incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer still has a slight lead. In Connecticut, Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal looks to have a lead beyond the margin of error. The race in Washington is approaching dead heat status; and in West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin has a slight lead, but is by no means secure. The Republicans need to throw a perfect political game tonight, and though attaining the majority in the Senate is still unlikely, one can at least see the goal from the current Republican perch.

The Last Re-Cap

As you know, tomorrow is Election Day and the 2010 cycle will soon be at a close, more than likely entering the history books as a defining vote to alter direction in public policy. While Democrats will likely hold onto the Senate by a vote or two, Republicans do appear positioned to regain control of the House of Representatives – but the size of the assumed new majority remains a question. The GOP also looks to hit or break the number 30 in gubernatorial offices held. The party may also control a record number of state legislative chambers when the sun rises on November 3rd.

In the Senate, the late trends favor Democrats in Connecticut (Richard Blumenthal) and West Virginia (Joe Manchin). Illinois remains too close to call between Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL-10) and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D). Incumbent Democrats appear to be headed for close victories in California (Sen. Boxer) and Washington (Sen. Murray), but neither can be rated as secure just one day before the final voting.

Republicans look strong in all of their open seats, especially with Rand Paul pulling away from Attorney General Jack Conway in Kentucky. Alaska has turned into a debacle, with GOP nominee Joe Miller’s campaign deteriorating daily. The question remains as to whether Sen. Lisa Murkowski can win re-election as a write-in candidate. It is unlikely that Democrat Scott McAdams will benefit from enough of a GOP split and pull through with a win. Late trends appear to favor the Republican candidates in Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey), Colorado (Ken Buck), and Nevada (Sharron Angle). Four Democratic states are headed the Republicans’ way: Arkansas (Rep. John Boozman defeating Sen. Blanche Lincoln), Indiana (former Sen. Dan Coats returning), North Dakota (Gov. John Hoeven succeeding Sen. Byron Dorgan), and Wisconsin (Ron Johnson unseating Sen. Russ Feingold).

In the House, Republicans look to have a net gain of 35 seats nailed down with another 22 trending their way or simply being too close to call. Upsets are definitely possible in CA-47 (Loretta Sanchez), CT-5 (Chris Murphy), FL-22 (Ron Klein), IL-17 (Phil Hare), MS-4 (Gene Taylor), NY-20 (Scott Murphy), OH-6 (Charlie Wilson), OH-18 (Zack Space), PA-8 (Patrick Murphy), PA-10 (Chris Carney), PA-12 (Mark Critz), TX-23 (Ciro Rodriguez), TX-27 (Solomon Ortiz), and VA-11 (Gerry Connolly).

Eight races in the Democratic column still appear too close to call: AZ-5 (Harry Mitchell), AZ-7 (Raul Grijalva), AR-1 (Open-Marion Berry), GA-8 (Jim Marshall), NJ-3 (John Adler), NM-1 (Martin Heinrich), SD-AL (Stephanie Herseth Sandlin), and WV-1 (Open-Alan Mollohan). Two GOP seats, IL-10 (Open-Mark Kirk) and HI-1 (Charles Djou) also remain as Toss-ups with one day remaining.

New entries to the Republican conversion list based upon late breaking data include CO-3 (John Salazar), FL-2 (Allen Boyd), MI-7 (Mark Schauer), and SC-5 (John Spratt). Spratt, Paul Kanjorski (PA-11) and Chet Edwards (TX-17) appear to be the most senior members heading for apparent defeat. Most of the others are freshmen and sophomores.
Though the 22 seats in our Upset and Toss-up categories are not over, the GOP will likely win the preponderance of these campaigns. Thus, a GOP gain number in the low 50s is quite possible tomorrow night.

In the Governors races, the Republicans are poised to end the night with approximately 30 state houses in their column; a gain of six or more. Of the campaigns still rated as too close to call, only Florida has major national redistricting implications. If Democrat Alex Sink can score a victory in the Sunshine State, the map will likely be drawn by a federal three-judge panel, the normal course of action when the political parties divide a state’s executive and legislative branches of government. The other toss-ups, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont have little or no affect upon congressional redistricting. The big conversion prizes apparently headed the GOP’s way are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. All are key in the next redistricting fight.

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.