Potential Ticket Splitting?

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 14, 2020 — We’ve seen a preponderance of straight-line party voting in the past few elections, but two new surveys testing both the presidential and US Senate campaigns in respective states suggest a split ticket result could possibly occur.

Two polls were released earlier this week, one from Michigan and the other Montana, which find a constant sample plurality that suggests the respondents might vote for different party candidates in the presidential and US Senate race. In both cases, the respective Senate candidate is polling better than the same party’s trailing presidential contender.

In Michigan, Siena College/New York Times surveyed the Wolverine State electorate (Oct. 8-11; 614 likely Michigan voters, live interview) and finds that former vice president Joe Biden leads President Trump, 48-40 percent, but the same sample finds Democrat Sen. Gary Peters leading challenger John James (R) by only a 43-42 percent margin. Therefore, we see a net seven-point swing toward the Republican candidate as the voters move down the ballot.

We see a potentially similar pattern developing in Montana, but the parties are reversed. Here, Public Policy Polling surveyed the Big Sky Country voter sample (Oct. 9-10; 798 Montana voters, interactive voice response system) and notes that President Trump is topping Biden, 52-46 percent, yet in the Senate race, Sen. Steve Daines (R) and Gov. Steve Bullock (D) are tied at 48 percent preference. These results translate into a six-point net swing toward the Democratic candidate after the individual voter professes his or her presidential preference.

Both of these patterns appear unusual for contemporary election cycles that now see sometimes less than five percent of party members straying from their organization’s nominee while Independents follow their own predictable track. This tells us that non-affiliated voters in these two states may be acting more like true independents, which would constitute a relative break in the voting prototypes that have come to the forefront during this decade.

Neither Michigan nor Montana register voters by political parties; therefore, both pollsters asked self-identifying questions. And, as expected, it is the independents that are the leaners since the partisan loyalty for the respective nominated candidate remains strong.

In Michigan, 97 percent of Democrats support Biden and 90 percent of Republicans are voting for Trump. The main difference is among the self-identified Independents who are breaking 48-31 percent for Biden. Overall, the Biden slight partisan advantage and his decided lead within the Independent sector account for the overall eight percentage point spread in this poll.

The situation changes somewhat when we look at how the sample breaks in the Senate race. Here, James fares slightly better among the partisans, taking 90 percent of Republicans as compared to Sen. Peters commanding an 87 percent loyalty factor among Democrats. While the incumbent still draws more within the Independent sector than the challenger, the spread is tighter, 43-32 percent. Combined with the partisan numbers, the decreased Democratic spread from Independents helps dissipate the overall statewide lead to only one percentage point.

The Montana numbers are a bit different. President Trump has a greater partisan loyalty that does Joe Biden in the state, 92 percent among Republicans as compared to 89 percent within the smaller Democratic Party base, while the Independents split almost evenly, 48-47 percent, in favor of Biden.

Here, the Senate race plays a bit differently, as Gov. Bullock fares slightly better within the partisan base, 90 to 85 percent, and has a five point, 49-44 percent, advantage among the Independents.

What might be more interesting in the Montana Senate race is that there appears, at least according to this poll, to feature no gender gap. Women break evenly, 48-48 percent, for both candidates, while men divide 48-47 percent for Bullock. In the presidential race, President Trump is actually running better with women (53-46 percent) than men (50-46 percent).

While these campaigns are far from over even though a short time remains in the election cycle, interesting presidential and senatorial patterns appear to be developing, which are well worth monitoring.

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