Margin of Σrror

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The approval rating of Congress is up. Yes, you read that right | Harry J Enten

Their stand against a war in Syria has pushed their approval up to 20%, which could make a difference in the midterm election

Trying to find an American who likes the job Congress is doing is like trying to find a parking space in New York City. A few months ago Congress’ approval rating was at historic lows. Today, it still stinks, but there are signs that, as President Obama flounders, Congress may be making a slight and potentially important comeback.

The HuffPollster aggregate has Congress’s approval rating up to 20%. It’s not just one outlier poll, either. CBS/NY-Times, CNN, Gallup and Reason-Rupe have Congress’ approval at its highest this year.

To be sure, 20% is quite low. It is, however, higher than congressional approval going into the 2012 election. Just 12% approved of Congress per the HuffPollster very sensitive trend among adults aggregate, which is used for consistency and to catch any last minute movement in the polls.

The reason for the increase could be any number of reasons, but the sudden increase is most likely from Syria. Congress has expressed a lot of skepticism over a possible war. This stance is in line with the American people, while President Obama’s initial position on attacking Syria was not. While Obama has changed his stance, a majority of Americans disapprove of his handling of the situation.

There’s no way to know if this is a temporary blip or the start of a new trend, though it certainly underestimates how well individual congress members are doing.

When we look at approval of a person’s own representative, polls show 30pt or higher approval than that of the Congress as a whole. Democrats generally like their Democratic congress member, and Republicans the same for their own. Republicans and Democrats may not even like their own caucus, yet still will vote for their own congressman. It’s why re-election rates for congress members are so high.

That’s not to say the 8pt improvement in overall congressional approval isn’t important. It definitely is.

David Jones and Monika McDermott found that, once controlling for a host of factors including the president’s approval and the state of the economy, a 10pt decrease in congressional approval costs majority party incumbents about 4pt in their re-election margin, while helping minority incumbents by about a point. Overall, a 10pt drop in congressional approval would lead on average to a 17 seat loss for the majority party.

Usually, this rise in congressional approval would be mitigated by a rise in the president’s approval. The president’s and Congress’ approval ratings tend to run in concert with each other, as demonstrated by Jim Stimson. That’s why it’s odd to see major gains for either party in Congress when the two branches are controlled by different parties (even if the US senate has a slim Democratic majority).

When one rises and the other falls, it can lead to historical anomalies. Consider 2012: President Obama’s approval was decent, even if not great. Congressional approval was at its all time low of 12%. And while a host of variables such as gerrymandering and urban packing, but all these factors kept Republican seat losses to a minimum, they lost the national House vote by over a point. It was the worst loss for the majority party in the national vote for a presidential year House election since 1948.

For 2014, it may be the opposite. Congress’s approval seems to be rising, while the president’s is dropping. Presidential approval is, in my opinion, more instrumental in determining the results of congressional elections, so a low Obama approval would be worse for the presidential party than a dropping congressional approval. But with congressional and presidential approval in concert against the Democrats, it could provide quite the punch back in the other direction from 2012.

Of course, we don’t know if the current congressional approval rating rise will hold. It could sink back into the deep abyss by 2014. If it does stay up, it doesn’t guarantee anything. Again, 20% approval isn’t great.

Still the rise in Congress’s approval rating, even if it is only to 20%, does in conjunction with the usual movement against the president’s party in midterms make Republican gains more likely.

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President Obama’s flailing approval ratings hurt his party | Harry J Enten

Obama’s approval rating is unlikely to rise by the 2014 midterm or 2016 presidential election, spelling danger for Democrats

President Obama’s standing with the American people is flagging. The Real Clear Politics average at the time of this writing has his net approval rating at -7.3pt. But does Obama’s approval rating matter now given that he never has to face re-election? And if it does matter, can he recover?

The answers are that it does matter – Obama’s approval rating can greatly affect the 2014 midterm elections and, to a lesser extent, the 2016 presidential election – and the historical odds of it recovering much seem to be slim.

In midterms, electorates often take out their frustration with the president on the their party’s congressional members. A poor presidential approval rating will only add to that frustration. A president likely needs an approval rating in the mid 60s, like Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W Bush in 2002, to avoid the curse of “midterm loss”.

In every non-wartime midterm election since 1938, simply knowing how many seats the president’s party controlled and the president’s approval rating goes a long way in determining how the midterm is going to shake out. Not counting 1974, because Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford took his place, more than 75% of the variation between the seats won in the House by the president’s party in the midterm is explained by the two aforementioned variables.

If the president’s approval rating were to hold, this very simple regression finds the Democrats would lose 30 seats in the House. Now, no one I’ve spoken to thinks that the president’s party is going to lose that many seats. The margin of error on this regression is large enough that no seat loss is possible with the president’s net approval rating of -7.5pt. Still, the chances of a major House loss for the president’s party are perhaps better than one might think, if the president’s position holds.

The effect of the president’s poor standing extends into the Senate elections. It’s much more difficult to model Senate elections over the long-term because not every senator is up for re-election in a given year. That said, the Senate is likely to be decided in states where President Obama lost in 2012. Democratic Senate candidates are likely going to try very hard to localize their races.

One race that they won’t be able to localize is the 2016 presidential election. To be sure, the incumbent president’s approval rating matters less when he is not running for re-election. Clinton’s high approval rating didn’t save Al Gore, while Hubert Humphrey nearly won even as Lyndon Johnson slumped. The factor that will matter most will be economic growth during 2016.

However, the president’s approval plays a role in the election to find his successor. Once we control for the economy, every 5pt increase in a president’s net approval rating increases his party’s candidate’s margin by 1pt in the presidential election per Drew Linzer. An election his party might have won by 1pt had the incumbent president had a +5pt net approval rating becomes an election the incumbent party loses by 1pt with a -5pt rating.

Of course, we’re still a long way from the midterm election and an even longer way from the presidential election in 2016. But the chances that the president can pick up ground before the midterm and even the next presidential election are not as good as one might think.
You may remember that Obama’s approval was in a similar position after the debt ceiling crisis in 2011, and he recovered. The difference is that we were heading into a president’s re-election year, when presidents regularly see their approval rating rise and fall. Going into a midterm or an election when the president does not run for re-election is a different story.

The president’s approval rating has never increased by more than 7pt from this point after re-election until the midterm election.

The greatest increase in a second term was 7pt for Bill Clinton in from this point until the 1998 midterm. The only other increase at all was 4pt for Ronald Reagan in 1986. Both of these years featured much stronger economies than we have now. All other presidents saw a decline in their approval rating. The average previously re-elected president loses about 10pt on their net approval from now until the midterm.

When we include presidents who were in their first term, 14 out of 16 saw a decline in their approval rating from now until the midterm. It is, in other words, unlikely that the president sees an increase in his approval. Add on the fact that most polls now are of adults and the likely electorate is probably going to lean more Republican, and it doesn’t look good for the Democrats.

2016 will almost certainly feature better turnout among the Democratic base of minority and youth voters than 2014. The issue is that of the six presidents who had won re-election and weren’t running in the next election, none have seen more than a 2pt improvement in their net approval rating from this point until the next presidential election. Clinton saw a 1pt increase and Eisenhower a 2pt increase. Neither of those increases would put Obama in positive net approval territory.

Now all that said, it’s certainly possible that President Obama’s approval rating will rebound. There have been great deviations in a president’s approval from this point in his presidency forward. It’s just that almost all movement has been in the negative direction. Maybe this time will be different.

If historical patterns hold, however, President Obama’s approval ratings will matter in the upcoming midterm and next presidential election, and they will likely be an albatross around the neck of the Democratic party.

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Bill de Blasio’s diverse coalition could clinch contest for New York mayor | Harry J Enten

Given New York’s ethnically divided politics, De Blasio leads the Democratic mayoral primary with historically broad support

Long-time followers of New York City politics know that the vote in city-wide elections usually breaks down along racial and ethnic lines. In this year’s comptroller race, for instance, Eliot Spitzer is winning black voters and losing white voters by a wide margin. The mayoral race, however, is a far different scenario.

The latest trio of mayoral polls puts Bill de Blasio just south of the 40% needed to avoid a runoff with likely second-place finisher Bill Thompson, who is 15pt to 20pt behind. De Blasio has made a late charge, but what’s truly surprising to me is how De Blasio is getting to 40%.

De Blasio is trying to hold together the most diverse coalition in modern history to win the Democratic primary for mayor. In the latest Quinnipiac poll (which is far from perfect, though will have to do), De Blasio is at 44% among Hispanic voters, 40% among white voters, and 37% among black voters. This is despite Thompson being black. So, given the margin of error on subsamples, we could say that De Blasio looks to be scoring equally well among all the main racial and/or ethnic groups.

Compare this racial coalition to that of the last white Democrat to win a mayoral primary, Mark Green in 2001. Green took 83% of whites, 29% of blacks, and only 16% of Latinos on his way to winning a runoff against Freddy Ferrer, who is Hispanic, 51% to 49%. The same racial divisions were evident to some degree in 2005 when Ferrer beat Anthony Weiner, in 1997, when Ruth Messinger defeated Al Sharpton, and in 1989, when David Dinkins topped Ed Koch.

Put another way, De Blasio is trying to achieve something unprecedented. A non-Jewish white candidate has not finished first in the Democratic New York mayoral primary in 44 years. De Blasio may be many things, but he’s not black or Jewish. For those us who use history as a guide, the lesson is that the only tradition that endures is the tradition of change.

Many have ascribed De Blasio’s winning coalition to the fact that he’s become the anti-Mike Bloomberg. De Blasio has run to the left in this Democratic primary – seemingly a smart move in a field crowded with competitive centrists. Yet, the data indicate that De Blasio’s edge is not necessarily down to being an anti-Bloomberg.

De Blasio is doing about as well with Bloomberg backers as he is with those who dislike the departing mayor. In a Public Policy Polling survey completed on Sunday night, De Blasio is at 37% among those who approve of Bloomberg and at 39% with those who disapprove. That matches a Marist poll conducted just a few days earlier.

My own guess is De Blasio has masterfully parlayed a mixture of biography and political positioning into broad appeal. De Blasio’s a white Brooklynite who promises to pay attention to the outer boroughs; this allows him to be competitive with moderate and conservative outer borough whites. He’s the most liberal of the major contenders: hence his backing from white progressives. His stances on policing, and astute ads featuring his biracial son, allow him to bring minorities into his coalition.

That is a team of voters who have brought De Blasio to the verge of winning the primary. The question is whether or not he’ll actually get to the magic 40%, to win outright in the first round. With De Blasio at 36%, 38%, and 39% in recently released polls, and with somewhere between 8% and 10% of voters undecided, it seems quite possible that he’ll make it – should the undecided vote break his way.

I still urge caution. In the last five competitive mayoral primaries, one of the two leading contenders received what they polled in pre-election polls but got no more. The other leading contender picked up the vast majority of undecideds. Normally, it’s the leading candidate of color who picks up the most support. The complicating factor is that Thompson is trailing among blacks by 10pt to 15pt, depending on the survey. So, who knows if history will hold?

Adding to the confusion is potential under-the-radar momentum for Bill Thompson. Thompson’s 25% in the Quinnipiac poll and 20% in the Marist survey are his two highest percentages in those surveys to date. He’s picked up 5pt in the last week per Quinnipiac, while De Blasio has dropped 4pt from 43% to 39%. If that is real momentum (and I don’t know if it is), then it could lead to a much closer election night than most predict.

Finally, there have been two instances in the past 16 years where a candidate fell short of 40% on election night yet reached it once absentee votes were counted. It took weeks before Messinger was declared to be over 40% in 1997. By then, they even held a runoff debate between Messinger and Sharpton!

De Blasio likely has got be more than 0.3pt on either side of 40.0% on election night for us to be confident that absentees would clinch it. The fact that De Blasio’s best numbers have come in the final weeks suggests that absentees may, in fact, be less likely to go for him than ballots cast on election day. That means that, unlike those who straddled 40% in years past, De Blasio is more likely to fall back, than spring forward in post-election day counts – if it’s on a knife edge.

Of course, none of this will matter if Bill de Blasio reaches 41%. If he does, it will cap a remarkable two months for the public advocate. If he doesn’t, Thompson’s likely to give him a good fight in the runoff, regardless of early polling. His favorables are as good as De Blasio’s, and Thompson has a tendency to close well.

But enough with my analysis, let’s hear what the voters have to say.

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It may be Labor Day weekend, but union power is waning | Harry J Enten

Union membership is decreasing in America and so is the political influence of unions in elections

It’s Labor Day weekend. For most, the weekend marks the end of the summer. A last hurrah before football starts and the kids go back to school. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned anything about “labor”. That’s cause while labor’s political influence is still poignant, it’s clearly not the powerhouse it once was.

Why do I say that?

1. Union household percentage is dropping

Politicians would fear labor if they made up a large percentage of the electorate. The 2012 exit poll put labor at 18% of the electorate. That’s not small, especially considering that union households went for Obama by 18pt. Indeed, the gap between union and non-union households is about the same as the gender gap we always here about.

The issue is that 18% is a far cry from the 34% unions made up in the 1976 election.

The percentage unions have made up in exit polls have dropped by 8pt since 2000 alone. 2000 marked a momentary spike that soon abated and the gradual decline continued. It’s been over a point drop per election on the whole. Year alone predicts 88% of the variation in union membership from election to election – meaning that there’s a powerful relationship between years gone by and the decline of labor as a percentage of the electorate.

As union households make up less of the electorate, there’s less of a reason that politicians need to adhere to their arguments. Republicans have to make less of an outreach, and Democrats don’t need to pander nearly as much. The populist appeal of Al Gore in 2000 may seem like a distant memory for future generations.

2. Union backing can be a bad thing … in New York City

No one expects that in a Republican state like Mississippi that being backed by a union is a good thing. Few people belong to unions in that south. One would think, however, that union backing would be a good thing where unions grow off the trees. In the largest city in the state with the most union members, labor should dominate.

That simply isn’t the case in New York City. The (Democratic) candidate backed by labor for New York City mayor has lost in every election since 1993. Part of that is no doubt because of crime and not labor negotiations. A good sized portion of it is, however, people who don’t belong to unions are overwhelmingly fearful of too much union influence and overly generous city contracts.

Republican (or whatever Mike Bloomberg is calling himself these days) mayors won’t bend, and people love it. While Democrat Bill Thompson won union households by 20pt in 2009, non-unions voted for Bloomberg by about 15pt.

In 2013, all the major newspapers in New York City passed over Thompson for the Democratic nomination. They didn’t do so because they thought he was unqualified. They did so because they didn’t like that he was backed by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Did I mention the Democratic candidate backed by the UFT hasn’t won a primary in a generation?

If unions can’t win in New York, where can they win?

3. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said “screw you” and won

The Wisconsin budget dispute of 2011 and subsequent recall of 2012 was perhaps the biggest blow to labor in a long while. Republican Governor Scott Walker led a Republican controlled legislature to make major changes to Wisconsin law. They limited collective bargaining of all non-emergency personnel to close a budget shortfall*.

Democrats and unions went crazy. They protested and staged sit-ins. Walker and the Republicans didn’t care. The Democrats and unions went to court and lost. They decided to force Walker into a recall election.

Walker not only won the recall in 2012, but he won it rather easily. He expanded his 6pt win in the prior election to 7pt in the recall. This was despite a very turnout among union households. They made up 32% of the recall electorate versus 27% in the prior gubernatorial election. In other words, a pretty large chunk. Walker was able to overcome this larger turnout by expanding his margin among non-unions households from 13pt to 22pt.

And make no mistake, the result was all about collective bargaining. 52% of voters approved of limiting collecting bargaining for government workers and of Walker’s handling of it. Walker won pretty much all of these voters, while losing the rest.

Conclusion:

The nation will celebrate labor this weekend, yet labor has to be worried politically. They are still a force in American politics, though their power is steadily waning.

*Note that this was a major difference between changes made in Wisconsin and the less successful efforts in Ohio. The lesson is people are less likely to stand for cuts to firefighters and policemen.

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The Democratic advantage in electoral college may be waning | Harry J Enten

President Obama and Hillary Clinton are polling much worse in Colorado and Iowa than nationally

President Obama won the 2012 presidential election by 3.9pt. He took the 2008 election by 7.3pt. Yet, these margins underestimated his true strength. United States presidential elections are decided in the electoral college. Obama gained an extra advantage there, but history and new polling suggests that the next Democratic nominee might not be able to hold it.

What do I mean by “extra advantage”? Obama won Colorado by a little less than 5.4pt in 2012, which is 1.5pt greater than his nationwide margin. If one had given every state Obama won by less than his margin in Colorado to Mitt Romney, Obama still would have won the electoral college by a 272-266 vote margin. That is, he won the “tipping point” state by a wider margin than the nationwide vote. Romney could have the national vote by a point, and he still would lost the election.

This could be a major problem for Republicans in upcoming elections. It would mean that they’d start off 1.5pt in the hole. The question is whether it will hold.

One could reasonably expect it to given that most states move the same percentage point to the right or left as the nation as a whole. So that as Obama lost 3.4pt off his nationwide margin in 2012, he lost, for example, 3.6pt off his margin in Colorado. Once you control for home state effect (eg John McCain did better in Arizona than a Republican from a different state would), over 97% of the differences in Obama’s margin between states in 2012 is predicted by just knowing his margin between states in 2008.

The issue is that what is reasonable isn’t always what is true. Check out this chart from Nicholas Miller. When the black bar ends above the middle line, the Democrats have a disadvantage in the electoral college relative to the national vote. When the black bar ends below the middle line, the Democrats have an advantage relative to the national vote.

It goes back and forth over time. If anything Republicans tend to do better in the electoral college than the national vote over the long haul. Over the past eight elections, however, Republicans have done better four times, while Democrats have done better four times (note that the chart was produced before the 2012 election).

How does current polling fit into this? Now, no one can expect that polling in 2013 to be too predictive of what will happen in 2016. President Obama’s approval rating may rise or fall. Hillary Clinton’s polling may rise or (most likely) fall to some degree. That said, there’s likely a higher correlation between how states rise and fall relative to the national rise and fall than the overall swing. So if one state is showing worse (or better) numbers for Obama or Clinton now compared to nationally, it has a decent chance of holding.

That’s why data from Colorado and Iowa could signal the end of the Democratic advantage in the electoral college. Colorado was, as mentioned, a tipping state with 9 electoral votes, while Iowa with 6 electoral votes has been slightly more Democratic than the nation as a whole.

Quinnipiac has conducted polls nationally and in both states recently. They looked at both Obama’s job approval rating, and how Hillary Clinton is faring against potential GOP challenger Chris Christie. The polling from both of those states say the Democratic grip on them may be waning.

We see that President Obama’s net approval rating is not great in the latest national Quinnipiac survey, but it’s over 10pt worse in both Colorado and Iowa. We know that presidential approval rating does at least a somewhat decent job at predicting presidential elections, and in this case, it seems to be doing so for 2016.

Christie is running well ahead of where he is nationally in both Iowa and Colorado. Instead of trailing Clinton, he’s either tied or in the lead. Again, the margins will change, but the point here is relative to the national vote, he’s doing better than he is nationally.

Some might point out that polling in Colorado has a tendency to undershoot the Democratic candidate. That’s true, though not to the extent that even if there were a bias here that it would erase the Republican lean compared to the national as a whole. We also have other polls from these states suggesting that it’s not a one time phenomenon. More than that, these numbers make sense.

Iowa is chock full of whites without a college degree – the group that has abandoned Obama the most over the past few months. This, as I’ve noted, is part of a longer term trend. The state’s voters are quite elastic in their voting choices per Nate Silver’s index, which means that they would be more likely to shift harder to the right (or left) if there is a shift nationally.

Colorado doesn’t have as many whites without a college degree, yet it’s not the state that many think it is. It’s actually whiter than the nation as a whole by 8pt, and its voters are more elastic. The voters there seem perturbed over new gun control laws. In addition, Clinton has always polled poorly in the west harkening back to her to 2008 run.

Thus, it seems that this polling data may very well be correct. If it is, then the historical trend will continue. The Democrats edge in the electoral college versus the national (popular) vote may not sustain itself through 2016.

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Were Republicans really the party of civil rights in the 1960s? | Harry J Enten

Once you control for region, it turns out that Democrats were actually more likely to support the 1964 Civil Rights Act

With Republicans having trouble with minorities, some like to point out that the party has a long history of standing up for civil rights compared to Democrats. Democrats, for example, were less likely to vote for the civil rights bills of the 1950s and 1960s. Democrats were more likely to filibuster. Yet, a closer look at the voting coalitions suggests a more complicated picture that ultimately explains why Republicans are not viewed as the party of civil rights.

Let’s use the 1964 Civil Rights Act as our focal point. It was arguably the most important of the many civil rights bills passed in the middle part of the 20th century. It outlawed many types of racial and sexual discrimination, including access to hotels, restaurants, and theaters. In the words of Vice President Biden, it was a big “f-ing deal”.

When we look at the party vote in both houses of Congress, it fits the historical pattern. Republicans are more in favor of the bill:

80% of Republicans in the House and Senate voted for the bill. Less than 70% of Democrats did. Indeed, Minority Leader Republican Everett Dirksen led the fight to end the filibuster. Meanwhile, Democrats such as Richard Russell of Georgia and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina tried as hard as they could to sustain a filibuster.

Of course, it was also Democrats who helped usher the bill through the House, Senate, and ultimately a Democratic president who signed it into law. The bill wouldn’t have passed without the support of Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana, a Democrat. Majority Whip Hubert Humphrey, who basically split the Democratic party in two with his 1948 Democratic National Convention speech calling for equal rights for all, kept tabs on individual members to ensure the bill had the numbers to overcome the filibuster.

Put another way, party affiliation seems to be somewhat predictive, but something seems to be missing. So, what factor did best predicting voting?

You don’t need to know too much history to understand that the South from the civil war to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 tended to be opposed to minority rights. This factor was separate from party identification or ideology. We can easily control for this variable by breaking up the voting by those states that were part of the confederacy and those that were not.

You can see that geography was far more predictive of voting coalitions on the Civil Rights than party affiliation. What linked Dirksen and Mansfield was the fact that they weren’t from the south. In fact, 90% of members of Congress from states (or territories) that were part of the Union voted in favor of the act, while less than 10% of members of Congress from the old Confederate states voted for it. This 80pt difference between regions is far greater than the 15pt difference between parties.

But what happens when we control for both party affiliation and region? As Sean Trende noted earlier this year, “sometimes relationships become apparent only after you control for other factors”.

In this case, it becomes clear that Democrats in the north and the south were more likely to vote for the bill than Republicans in the north and south respectively. This difference in both houses is statistically significant with over 95% confidence. It just so happened southerners made up a larger percentage of the Democratic than Republican caucus, which created the initial impression than Republicans were more in favor of the act.

Nearly 100% of Union state Democrats supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act compared to 85% of Republicans. None of the southern Republicans voted for the bill, while a small percentage of southern Democrats did.

The same pattern holds true when looking at ideology instead of party affiliation. The folks over at Voteview.com, who created DW-nominate scores to measure the ideology of congressmen and senators, found that the more liberal a congressman or senator was the more likely he would vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, once one controlled for a factor closely linked to geography.

That’s why Strom Thurmond left the Democratic party soon after the Civil Right Act passed. He recognized that of the two parties, it was the Republican party that was more hospitable to his message. The Republican candidate for president in 1964, Barry Goldwater, was one of the few non-Confederate state senators to vote against the bill. He carried his home state of Arizona and swept the deep southern states – a first for a Republican ever.

Now, it wasn’t that the Civil Rights Act was what turned the South against the Democrats or minorities against Republicans. Those patterns, as Trende showed, had been developing for a while. It was, however, a manifestation of these growing coalitions. The South gradually became home to the conservative party, while the north became home to the liberal party.

Today, the transformation is nearly complete. President Obama carried only 18% of former Confederate states, while taking 62% of non-Confederate states in 2012. Only 27% of southern senators are Democrats, while 62% of Union state senators are Democrats. And 29% of southern members in the House are Democrats compared to 54% in states or territories that were part of the Union.

Thus, it seems to me that minorities have a pretty good idea of what they are doing when joining the Democratic party. They recognize that the Democratic party of today looks and sounds a lot more like the Democratic party of the North that with near unity passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 than the southern Democrats of the era who blocked it, and today would, like Strom Thurmond, likely be Republicans.

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NYC mayor race: two weeks to go and the five questions that will matter | Harry J Enten

There’s a three-way brawl to make the runoff to be the next mayor. These five issues are key to predicting who will survive

The New York City mayoral race is turning the bend with the first round primary only two weeks away. The current polling indicates a close race between Bill de Blasio (to my surprise), Christine Quinn, and Bill Thompson to make the top-2 runoff, which is required considering that no candidate will reach 40%. To me, the winner will be determined by knowing the answer to these five questions.

1. What is the ethnic makeup of the electorate?

A pattern emerged in the last round of polling: de Blasio led among whites, Quinn led among Latinos, and Thompson led among blacks. Given this split, it’s important to know what percentage of each ethnicity/race will make up of the electorate.

The problem is pollsters cannot seem to agree on the question. Quinnipiac’s last poll put whites at 40%, blacks at 35%, and Latinos at only 15%. Marist’s had whites at 41%, blacks at 28%, and Latinos at 21%. The latter would bode better for Quinn given the current polling, while the prior would be a big boost for Thompson’s campaign.

My own estimate is that Marist is closer to the mark here, though both might be a little high on the percentage of whites who show up.

2. Will blacks actually vote for Thompson?

Perhaps the biggest surprise of this campaign season has been the supposed lack of black support for Bill Thompson, the only African-American in the race. A recent Marist poll had him only at 22%. This would be highly unusual given the high amount of black support he got in the 2009 primary and general election. Even in her doomed campaign of 2005, C Virginia Fields won a third of black of voters.

A look at past polling biases shows that minority candidates do better in Democratic primaries in New York City than the final polls suggest. In addition, Thompson yanked in his highest percentage of black voters in the last Quinnipiac poll at 39%. The fact is he’ll likely need that support in order to make the runoff.

My belief has been that he’ll get it, though history is meant to be broken.

3. Does the New York Times endorsement of Quinn make a difference?

Newspaper endorsements don’t usually matter, but the Times could be different. In fact, the only other paper I know that people believe holds the same sway is the Washington Post. Times readers are overwhelmingly Democratic and tend to be well-educated. In other words, they are prime voters in a Democratic primary for mayor.

These voters are de Blasio’s base. While many of them will likely be unpersuaded by the Times, not everyone (much to my dismay) pays that close of attention to elections. And despite what the candidates like to claim, the ideological differences between them are not very large. Add on the fact that many voters choices aren’t locked in, and it’s the perfect recipe for a chunk of voters to be swayed an endorsement.

4. Do Sal Albanese + John Liu + Erick Salgado + Anthony Weiner’s vote percentage equal 25%, 20%, or even less?

Christine Quinn has been at 24% +/- 3pt in 12 of the last 13 polls. In other words, she seems, at this point, to be stuck in neutral. It had seemed that getting at 25% would be enough to guarantee her a spot in the runoff. The reason is that the four candidates listed above were pulling in 25% of the vote, which meant that only de Blasio or Thompson, not both, could mathematically get over 25%.

The latest polling, however, indicates that Albanese, Liu, Salgado, and Weiner are not only falling short of 25%, but also 20%. Given that Quinn doesn’t seem to be picking up any steam and with a decent percentage of the electorate undecided, it seems possible that both de Blasio and Thompson can pass her.

Keep in mind that Quinn hasn’t been in any place but first or second in any poll over the past two years, though the last Quinnipiac poll was the closest she’s come to not making the runoff.

5. Does anyone actually show up to this thing?

I don’t think anyone has a clue about how many people vote on September 10th. A little less than 500,000 people showed up to vote in the last competitive Democratic primary for mayor in 2005. A little less than 800,000 showed up in 2001. In 2009, an uncompetitive primary produced only 330,000 voters.

The evidence suggests that a smaller turnout is probably best for Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson. de Blasio’s base of white well-educated liberals would show up in a blizzard, while Thompson has a lot of organizational support from unions and the few elected officials who actually hold sway over their communities.

Quinn’s core Latino support is less reliable to show-up. Even in Marist’s more optimistic Latino turnout model, the percentage they make up of the electorate falls from a registered to likely voter sample.

Conclusion

With two weeks to go, it’s anybody’s ball game in the New York City Mayoral race. If you know the answer to these five questions, you probably know who is still around after 10 September.

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Some Republicans are nuts, but the party leaders are not | Harry J Enten

There are extreme Republicans, but the leadership is not about to allow the party to go the way of the Whigs

News watchers these days have to strain their head not to hear a story about Republicans going off the deep end. Whether it be the asinine attempts to derail Obamacare in Congress, impeachment talks, or harsh voter identification laws passed in North Carolina, some of the more extreme members of the Republican party are front and center.

The question is whether or not these very conservative members are taking control of the Republican party and perhaps throwing it the way of the Whigs. I don’t just mean as talking-heads on Fox News. I mean leaders of the party.

I can think of two ways we can figure this out. First, we can look at who is leading the party in Congress, since they are elected by their fellow congressmen. Second, we can look at who the party is most likely to nominate in 2016.

On the first point, it’s important to remember that most congressmen have little power, even if they scream from the high tops. Loud members of this group include former Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Anthony Weiner. They may have appeared a lot on television, but didn’t hold much sway when it came to legislating. The key is to look at who chairs committees. These are the people who usher legislation through the US government. Those who hold the purse strings. The people who set the agenda. The people who hold sway.

It used to be that seniority was the main determinant of committee chairmanship, but that’s changed over the past 20 years. Other factors such party unity and the ability to fundraise are more important in determining chairmanships, which make it a good measure of where the center of power is. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is actually slightly more toward the middle than the median Republican. Per DW-nominate scores, which is based on roll call voting, even the more conservative Minority Whip John Cornyn is within a standard deviation of his party’s center.

The chairmen of the important committees also tend to be more moderate. Senators Grassley of Iowa, Hatch of Utah, and Shelby of Alabama are all more moderate than the caucus as a whole. In fact, Grassley is the 7th least conservative Republican in the Senate. Only the conservative Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who is still more moderate than Marco Rubio, is to the right part of the caucus.

This extends to the House as well. There is no score for Speaker Boehner, but Majority Leader Eric Cantor is more moderate than the potential 2016 presidential nominees per Nate Silver. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy is right in the middle of the Republican caucus per DW-nominate scores. The chairmen of the Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Transportation, and Ways and Means are all more moderate than the caucus as a whole. This includes Fred Upton of Energy and Commerce, who is more moderate than 80% of his caucus. Only Pete Sessions of the Rules Committee is more conservative than the caucus of a whole.

Probably more important is who the party’s presidential nominee is. This person projects the image of a party, and if (s)he wins, chooses the national party’s leadership. President Obama is a non-extreme liberal whose multiracial background echoes a party welcoming to moderates and a growing diverse population. The latter is part of the reason there have been calls for a Marco Rubio nomination.

Since the party reforms of the 1970s, a candidate backed by the establishment hasn’t lost the nomination. Even after the anti-establishment Tea Party surge of 2010, a relatively weak Mitt Romney was able to corral the nomination thanks to establishment support.

So who is the Republican establishment apparently supporting now? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. For the time being, the “selection” of Christie suggests a Republican leadership that isn’t about to go off the deep end. It tells the story of a party leadership that wants to win the White House and will do what it thinks is necessary to win.

Christie is not currently loved by the grassroots, though as Nate Cohn points out he can likely overcome the generally inaccurate early primary polling data. On the key issues that are important to the Republican base such as abortion and gay marriage, he’s not “moderate”. Christie is certainly no liberal on taxation issues. That’s likely why the Republican leadership is backing him, when they wouldn’t do the same for former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. He’s presentable to the different parts of the Republican base when it comes down to it, even if the numbers don’t say it right now.

Still, Christie is not that conservative on the whole. Yes, Christie is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and just vetoed gun control legislation. Abortion, however, is something most Americans are split on. Christie also signed a law banning gay conversion therapy, and he signed 10 different gun control laws recently. In other words, Christie is a kind of ideological hodgepodge. This can best be seen by looking at ideological ranking systems. This takes the subjectivity out of trying to parse out where exactly a candidate stands.

As Nate Silver did originally, you can average scores across different systems to get a good idea of where a candidate stands. In the case of Christie, he’d be the most moderate Republican candidate in the past 50 years.

Christie’s scoring on the two rankings we have available place him more toward the center than any other candidate to win a Republican nomination since 1964. Some of you might say that Christie is more conservative than these scores indicate. But it seems to me that for every issue where Christie takes a conservative stand, he takes a moderate stance. So that while he’s conservative on taxes, he’s for campaign finance reform and green energy.

The point is he’s more toward the center than previous nominees. He no doubt will move somewhat towards the right, once he wins a second term in November. Still, even a hard turn right would still leave him as relatively moderate. A Republican leadership that was looking to move more towards the right would not be interested in nominating this man or nominating the committee chairmen they are in congress. This is a party that wants to win. It’s a party leadership that at least right now is following the historical pattern of wanting to nominate a more moderate candidate, after losing the the presidential election in two consecutive cycles.

All of this point to a party that, on an electoral level, is still functioning. These are signs of a party that isn’t going away anytime soon and may win back all elected federal branches by 2016.

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Is Senator Lamar Alexander vulnerable to a primary challenge in Tennessee? | Harry J Enten

A new poll suggests he is – despite high approvals among Republican voters. But it depends on how you ask the question

Provided he continues to be the candidate, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will likely win re-election. There’s little sign Alexander is in trouble with the general electorate in this deep red state, and incumbent senators rarely lose in primaries. A new poll suggests, however, that Alexander is vulnerable in a primary against challenger Joe Carr.

The survey by Triton Polling said that Alexander would lose to a “credible conservative” challenger by 4pt. The question, though, is what and who is a “credible conservative”?

Does that mean someone who is more conservative than Alexander? Or does it just mean someone who isn’t Alexander? Because the question isn’t clear, it allows the respondent to assign whatever they want to the unnamed challenger (which it wouldn’t if expressed as “more conservative” or “more moderate”).

Moreover, the way the question is worded implies that Alexander, himself, is not sufficiently conservative. In the words of HuffPollster’s Mark Blumenthal via email, “it’s pretty obviously ‘leading’”. Blumenthal offered a few “more obvious” parallel questions that would use a similar technique: would you rather vote for “Eliot Spitzer or someone with a clean criminal record” and “Mitt Romney or someone who pays their fair share of taxes”. Simply put, Blumenthal says “it’s not a question a survey researcher would write … We don’t know how the respondents interpreted that phrase … so we don’t know how to interpret it.”

Alexander registers a 64% approval rating among Republicans, which matches prior polling from Vanderbilt University. Senators with 64% approval ratings generally don’t lose primary challenges; 64% is actually a better approval rating than Lindsey Graham has, and he is considered by some to be vulnerable to a primary challenge.

Tennessee also has a history of electing relatively moderate Republicans statewide. The state’s other US senator, Bob Corker, is more moderate than most Republican senators. The state’s Governor Bill Haslam is also more moderate than your average senator.

It’s important to point out, though, that for all that his approval rating is high, Alexander’s voting record is within the range that would make him vulnerable in a primary: he’s more moderate than Corker and much more so than most Republican senators. Previously elected senators who were either defeated or close to being defeated in the past decade were either moderate or had switched parties, as Arlen Specter did in Pennsylvania and Bob Smith in New Hampshire.

Richard Lugar, for instance, was in the 17th percentile for conservatism (that is, on a scale running from moderate to deep conservative) among sitting Republican senators: that is, 82% of Republican senators were more conservative than he was at the time of his primary defeat in 2012. Joe Lieberman was in the 18th percentile for liberalism among the Democratic caucus at the time of his primary defeat in 2006.

Lamar Alexander was in the 21st percentile for conservatism among sitting Republican senators in the previous Congress, per DW-Nominate scores. Given the departure of moderate Republicans Scott Brown, Lugar, and Olympia Snowe, he’s likely closer to the 15th percentile for conservatism in this Congress. In other words, 85% of sitting Republican senators are more conservative than Alexander is.

Compare this percentile to “vulnerable to a primary” Senators Graham and Mitch McConnell. Both of them are near the 50th percentile for conservatism – right in the middle of the Republican caucus. Fundamentals would suggest that they are less at risk of losing a primary to a challenge from the right.

So, it is possible that Lamar Alexander will lose his primary: on his voting record, he looks like senators who have lost. But the Triton poll’s ballot test neither confirms nor contradicts this. It’s a poorly written question. The properly written approval question indicates a senator who, at least for now, is safe from serious primary challenge.

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