Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

Cory Booker: set to be the next senator from New Jersey | Harry J Enten

Any idea that Booker’s Republican rival, Steve Lonegan, has momentum is wishful. Polling says the Democrat is a banker

There seems a belief in some quarters that Republican Steve Lonegan has gained momentum against Democrat Cory Booker in the US Senate special election in New Jersey this Wednesday. Beyond the fact that a Tea Party candidate stands little chance of defeating a Democrat in a state that went for President Obama by nearly 18pt in the last election, the numbers really don’t suggest any trouble for Booker.

Booker holds a 12pt lead per the Real Clear Politics average, with a little over two days to go. I can’t think of a single campaign polled this extensively in the past decade, in a non-primary, major statewide election, that had a greater than 12pt error. That’s hundreds and hundreds of races. But this is a special election, you might say, where turnout is going to be low.

We can look back to the 2013 Senate special election race in Massachusetts, just a few months ago, for a similar example. Turnout in Massachusetts was low. The polls, however, remained accurate. Democrat Ed Markey led by 12.3pt in the Real Clear Politics average and went on to win by a little over 10pt.

It’s not that low turnout doesn’t increase the chance of a polling error; it’s that any error is not likely to be large enough to allow a Lonegan victory.

The reason is that any good pollster (pdf) is already accounting for the low turnout typical of an election taking place on a Wednesday in the middle of October. They are projecting who is going to vote and who isn’t. That’s potentially a part of the reason why Booker is leading by 12pt, instead of 15 or 20pt.

Isn’t there a chance the pollsters are way-off? But even when pollsters don’t do a good job modeling the electorate, 12pt is still too big a hill to climb. Consider the 2010 Nevada Senate race, where it was clear pollsters simply couldn’t figure out what was going on with Latino voters. The final polls had Harry Reid down by a little less than 3pt. He won by 5.5pt – an 8pt polling error. That’s still far short of 12pt.

What about pollster accuracy when a candidate is cutting the lead, as Lonegan has (from 16pt to 13pt, to 10pt, in the last three Monmouth surveys)? We can look to the case of Scott Brown in 2010. That was also a special election taking place at an odd time (the middle of January) and in which the Republican candidate in a blue state came up dramatically from behind.

The problem for Lonegan is that the late movement for Scott Brown had already occurred by this point. Every poll conducted by a legitimate pollster in the final week of that campaign had Brown leading. There hasn’t been a single poll in the 2013 New Jersey Senate race that has had anything but a Booker margin of at least 10pt.

The biggest obstacle for the Lonegan comeback story, though, is that any “momentum” he has gained isn’t coming at the expense of support for Booker. The last four Monmouth surveys have Booker holding steady at 53%, 54%, 53%, and 52% respectively. There is no statistically significant difference between these percentages. The last two Quinnipiac polls of likely voters also have Booker at 53%.

The only percentage that has changed is Lonegan’s, which is nice and all for him, but it doesn’t cut it when your opponent is over 50%. Even if Lonegan picked up every undecided voter (and my guess is many won’t vote), he would lose by half-a-dozen points. Chances are, however, that Steve Lonegan is not going to pick up every undecided voter.

The smart bet here is to average the Monmouth and Quinnipiac surveys to project an 11pt Booker win. That’s certainly disappointing to some Booker supporters, as is a campaign that has revealed Booker as more neoliberal and less accomplished than some of his supporters like to believe.

Yet, a win is a win. And Cory Booker is poised to win a spot as the next United States senator from New Jersey. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Has gerrymandering made politics more partisan? Ted Cruz argues not | Harry J Enten

Redistricting is blamed for polarising Congress. But Ted Cruz shows the cause is red-state voters’ choice of strict conservatives

I have written about gerrymandering before, but the issue is back to the fore because numerous commentators have posited a link between gerrymandering and the shutdown. Gerrymandering is now commonly given as the reason why congressional districts appear to be producing more conservative and/or Tea Party-allied Republican representatives.

I still believe the supposed effects of gerrymandering on political polarization in the House of Representatives are being overstated. And fine work from Nate Cohn and Sean Trende explains the point very well. I just have one more thing to add to the argument: what about Ted Cruz?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is seen as a figurehead for Tea Party conservatives. It’s even been reported that House Republicans have been taking directions from him in refusing to pass a clean continuing resolution without defunding or delaying Obamacare. So did gerrymandering create Ted Cruz, too?

The answer, of course, is no. Ted Cruz was elected to the United States Senate; he has never served in the House. Senators are voted for in state-wide elections, which means that redistricting and gerrymandering logically can’t apply. Yet, Cruz is as conservative as, if not more conservative than, the House GOP members who, many believe, are keeping the government shut down and flirting with debt default.

Admittedly, Ted Cruz is just one elected official, but he’s played a larger-than-life role in the current crisis. And, more importantly perhaps, he is part of a larger trend in the United States Senate, in three ways.

First, Cruz is from the state of Texas. And Texas is a deep red state, which makes it characteristic of a pattern of states becoming more polarized. As I’ve noted before, there used to be a great many states that were very competitive in national elections. In 1976, almost half the states in the union came within 3pt of the nationwide vote in the presidential election. A more impressive 30-plus states were within 5pt. Today, the numbers aren’t even close to that.

There were only eight states that came within 3pt of the national vote in the 2012 presidential race. That number only rises to ten when we include states where the margin was within 5pt of the nationwide margin – only a third of the number there were in 1976. Even if you expanded the list to include those within 10pt, you’d still only get to 14 states.

It’s fairly clear, then, that people are “self-sorting” on the state level. As Sean Trende shows, this filters down to the congressional district level rather well. The number of districts that most would call “competitive” under even the Democratic-written district lines of the 1990s would have been about the same.

Second, Cruz’s election was one of many where voters decided that they wanted their senatorial vote to reflect their presidential vote. Just 20 years ago, a similar party allocation in the Senate featured many more blue state Republicans and red state Democrats. In 1993, 49% of the Democrats’ Senate caucus came from states that had voted more Republican than the nation as a whole in the prior presidential election. That percentage has been cut in half, to only 25% in 2013.

It’s the same story with the Republican Senate caucus. Republicans from blue states were 28% of the Senate Republicans in 1993. Today, the percentage is only 16%.

So, what we have is increased polarization in the voting patterns of states on the presidential level, which has translated down to the senatorial level. Note, as Nate Silver has shown, this is the same phenomenon that is occurring on the congressional district level – even when controlling for changing districting lines.

The third factor is that the increased polarization of the states seems to be reflected in the senators’ voting records. The Senate (as well as the House) is now more polarized than it’s been in the past 135 years. How do we know?

The people over at Voteview score each roll-call vote: -1 is most liberal, while +1 is most conservative, per Voteview’s “DW nominate” score. They then were kind enough to map the average difference between the Senate’s Democratic and Republican caucus. This shows that there have been increasing differences in the average voting scores of the Republican and Democratic Senate caucuses, respectively, since the 1976 election. The polarization accelerated after the 1992 election.

It’s simply not possible that gerrymandering was the sole cause of this trend. It’s not as though anyone can, all of a sudden, start moving around state lines.

Now, none of this is to say that gerrymandering isn’t responsible for some part of the polarization in Washington. The median Democratic and Republican House district is more polarized than the median Democratic and Republican Senate seat. The House caucuses have more extreme voting records than the Senate’s. Some of that is, again, due to self-sorting on the state level more locally, but not all of it can be accounted for that way.

The Senate shows, however, that the sharp upswing in polarization we see today is largely the product of natural voting patterns. And these manifest themselves on the state level without any gerrymandering. Texas put Ted Cruz in the Senate not because someone redrew Texas’ state lines, but because Texas voters became, on average, more conservative. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

What the Virginia governor’s race tells us about the 2014 midterms | Harry J Enten

Against trend, Democrat Terry McAuliffe is set to win. After running a strong conservative, Republicans should take a hint

I’m hesitant to read too much into elections that don’t occur during the midterms or presidential election years. If off-year elections were all that predictive, Democrats would have done well in the 2002 midterms. Still, Republicans should pay attention to what’s looking increasingly like a Democratic win in the making in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election; that ought to make them at least a little worried for the 2014 midterms.

Historically, whichever party is in the White House loses the Virginia gubernatorial election, just as the White House’s party loses House seats in midterm elections. The last time this did not happen was 40 years ago, in 1973.

Moreover, Virginia’s voting patterns these days mirror the nation’s nearly perfectly. President Obama won nationally and in Virginia by 3.9pt. Democrat Tim Kaine won his 2012 senatorial race with 53% of the vote, while Democrats nationally took 54% of the senatorial vote. Both elections featured electorates in which whites now make up 70%, or a little more, during presidential years, and closer to 75% in non-presidential years.

That’s why we’d expect, all other things being equal, the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, to win Virginia’s gubernatorial election. And voters in Virginia did appear, at first, likely to follow the historical pattern. The first two polls which accounted for the higher white turnout in off-year and midterm elections had Cuccinelli leading Democrat Terry McAuliffe by 3pt and 10pt, respectively.

Then, something started to happen at the end of spring: voters got to know Ken Cuccinelli. Groups supporting McAuliffe and McAuliffe himself, aided by his background as a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee and for Bill and Hillary Clinton, pounded the airwaves – pointing out Cuccinelli’s very conservative positions on contraception, gay rights, and now, the government shutdown.

The result is that McAuliffe has jumped ahead to a mid single-digit lead with a little less than a month to go before the election. Polling at this point has generally been reliably predictive of who will win.

Now, it would be one thing if McAuliffe were winning because of some factor or factors unique to the state of Virginia, but I don’t think we can claim that. The incumbent Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, has faced criticism on grounds of ethics, yet his approval rating is relatively high. McDonnell also led McAuliffe in a pollsters’ hypothetical matchup, if he could have run again.

McAuliffe himself isn’t exactly Mr Popularity. His net favorable ratings are, at best, even, though most polls have his favorable rating below his net favorable rating. In other words, he’s not exactly the type of candidate you’d expect to break an election history pattern in a positive way for his party.

No, the real problem for Republicans in Virginia is Cuccinelli. While McAuliffe may rank slightly below a net positive favorable rating, Cuccinelli’s net favorable is 15-20pt in the red.

Voters simply think Cuccinelli is too rightwing: 43% of voters believe he is too conservative, which is up significantly from when he led in the polls in spring. That compares with only only 35% who believe McAuliffe is too liberal (and that’s more or less where it had been earlier in the campaign).

Therein lies the issue for Republicans nationwide, Cuccinelli embodies their present identity in many ways. Both are becoming deeply unpopular for conservative positions, and both are partying with Ted Cruz – even though they probably know that it doesn’t look good from the general electorate’s point of view.

Meanwhile, McAuliffe looks a lot like Democrats nationally. Both are not well-liked (you could even say, disliked), but they’re not seen as extremist – and, crucially, they look great when compared to the other guy.

None is this is to say a McAuliffe win means Democrats in the 2014 midterms are going to break the historical loss trend – as McAuliffe looks as though he’s going to do in Virginia. In fact, I don’t think Democrats will win seats in the House and will almost certainly lose some in the Senate. It would be a victory of sorts, though, if they can keep any losses to a minimum.

So, Republicans should have a bit of a sinking feeling when looking at Virginia. When presented with the choice between ugly and uglier, Virginians seem to have decided to go with ugly. This may not end up being predictive of next year’s midterms, but it should be unsettling, to say the least, to Republicans nationally. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Wendy Davis and Texas are a problem for Democrats | Harry J Enten

The Lone Star state isn’t blue yet. A big push for Wendy Davis’ guv race takes resources from more winnable red-leaning states

Those who have followed my writing know that I don’t think Wendy Davis has a very good chance of being elected governor of Texas. She trails in early polling, there hasn’t been a major Texas Democratic statewide officer holder in 20 years, and the state’s demographic changes indicate a landscape that is much further away from being competitive than many Democrats argue. But there’s more to it than that: Davis’ campaign could have bad ramifications for Democrats outside of Texas.

Many Democrats want to argue that even if Davis doesn’t win, it’s worth competing in the state. I don’t disagree. You never know what’s going to happen in any election, and any organizing efforts are likely to hasten (even if not greatly) the chance of a Democrat winning down the road.

The issue is that resources are always limited. Sure, there are mega donors who will donate to every candidate they can. There are also volunteers who will hit the ground in Texas. There are, however, plenty of donors who will pick and choose their campaigns. There are folks who might go down to Texas to help Davis, when they could be somewhere else.

The dollars and volunteers spent for Davis lessens the opportunity that they be spent in other places. That’s a problem for Democrats given that they have a real opportunity to make major gubernatorial gains in 2014.

Democrats are far better positioned to regain control of the governor’s mansions in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. All these states have had at least one poll come out over the past year indicating that a Democrat led in the race for governor, which cannot be said about Texas.

Florida and Pennsylvania are major swing states in presidential elections. Democrats in Florida could use the governor’s powers to block some very conservative legislation passed by the state’s legislation, while Democrats in Pennsylvania won’t have to listen to their governor’s homophobic remarks. Democrats hold large early leads in both states with very unpopular governors.

Maine’s Governor Paul LePage has made comments that you’d expect from a deeply red state, not one from the blue state of Maine. He only won last time because of a three-way contest, which will again be the case this year. The Democrats are favored, yet will need to ensure the independent candidate Eliot Cutler doesn’t give LePage a second term.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is well below 50% against an unknown opponent in this bluish state. His approval rating is well below 50%. I know Democrats would love to take out the governor who signed right to work into law in the ultimate labor state of Michigan.

South Carolina is most intriguing because there it’s the ultimate southern state. There aren’t any major demographic changes happening in South Carolina, though Republican Governor Nikki Haley has struggled to keep approval rating above water. She only won by 5pt in 2010, even as Republicans won big time nationally.

Democrats also want to hold seats in Arkansas, Connecticut, and Illinois. Polls indicate that those races won’t be easy to won, but they are all more competitive than Texas is.

Republicans would absolutely love the effort and money that would have gone to any one of the eight states above go to Texas. They know that Texas won’t be competitive for at least 10-20 years, if demographic voting patterns hold. No amount of money will change that significantly, while money could alter one of the states mentioned here.

Indeed, Democrats seem to have sort of fantasy on Texas that I can only describe as a naive childhood crush on a pinup when the nice girl next door yearns for attention. Democrats continuously pledge to make Texas blue, though the math just isn’t there. They do when there are other states that are far more for the taking.

The gap between how Georgia and the country votes is shrinking by the day, as the percentage white people make up in Georgia is dropping fast. It’s the reason why Michelle Nunn is competitive in a Senate race in the Peach State. President Obama lost the state by only single digits, unlike Texas.

Arizona is a state where the growing Latino population has at least made it possible for Democrats to win statewide. There has actually been a Democratic governor in the past ten years. Richard Carmona only lost a Senate race there by 3pt in 2012, and Democrats actually control a majority of the state’s House’s seats. None of this can be said for Texas.

Overall, Texas and Wendy Davis’ efforts in the state are not just the fun type of tease for Democrats, but one that are probably taking resources out from other states. Making an effort in every state is important, though when Twitter hashtags like “Stand with Wendy” are dominating it may be too much of a good thing.

Democrats have a real chance to win back the majority of governorships in 2014, and they have the ability to take advantage of the changing demographic tides in Arizona and Georgia. The question is whether or not Wendy Davis and Democrats in Texas will get in the way. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Facing government shutdown, Obama’s party can’t bank on 1996 mythology | Harry J Enten

Convention says Republicans got blamed for the last shutdowns, helping Clinton win in 1996. In reality, it was the economy, stupid

We are less than a week from a possible government shutdown, thanks to the inability of congressional Republicans and President Obama to reach a budget compromise. Much of the disagreement stems from the determination of some Republicans use the budget bill to defund Obamacare. Given the imminence of the threat, much reference has been made to the previous government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996.

For those who don’t remember, 1995-96 featured congressional Republicans led by Newt Gingrich taking on Democratic President Bill Clinton. The conventional wisdom now is that Clinton won the political battle over the shutdowns. Some have taken that a step further and believe Gingrich’s “defeat” cost Republicans in the 1996 election.

The former is definitely true. Republicans clearly took more blame for the shutdowns 17 years ago. Today, though, the “margin of blame” is 16pt smaller – with Americans surveyed only 3pt more likely to blame congressional Republicans than the president (the margin was 19pt in 1995-96). That suggests that Republicans are much in better shape now than they were then.

But even if the polling today did look like 1995-96, I would argue that this looming shutdown will offer nowhere such a clear win for Obama and the Democrats as it did for Clinton. The 1996 elections didn’t differ at all from what you’d expect – given the state of the economy and the outcomes of congressional elections in presidential years when there is split government.

Take a look at presidential and congressional approval from 1995-1996. This allows us to see what impact the budget had on the different parties’ overall stature because of the shutdowns.

You would have expected Congress to see a steep decline in 1995-1996 because of the budget shutdown, but that simply didn’t happen. Check out this graph from Charles Franklin, with the key points of budget shutdown included.

As now, congressional approval was already in the can back in 1995. There was perhaps a slight decline in congressional approval going into 1996, but it’s a point or two at most.

The same pattern held with President Clinton. Here’s a chart from the same time period, created by the Monkey Cage‘s John Sides.

Clinton’s approval rating just after the shutdowns was, if anything, slightly lower than before it. In other words, he really didn’t win much in terms of his standing. He didn’t gain ground in his approval rating, and didn’t lose less than Congress.

Clinton’s major increase in presidential approval occurred in the months after the shutdown. Those ratings corresponded very well with a major increase, also, in congressional approval. That’s not surprising, given that both approval ratings tend to move in unison with one another. Congressional and presidential approval in this case moved up – because the economy was improving.

Perhaps counterintuitively, both Clinton and congressional Republicans actually saw their standing improve in the ballot test for the November 1996 elections. Clinton opened up about a 6pt edge on Republican Bob Dole in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, when he had been tied prior to it. Congressional Republicans closed a 5pt deficit, to a 1pt deficit, in the national House vote ballot.

Both of those margins pretty much held through the election. Congressional Republicans would gain a little bit on congressional Democrats. Both Clinton and Dole ran away from Reform party candidate Ross Perot (Clinton slightly more so). It looks as though most people did not determine their vote based on their view of the government shutdown.

Indeed, only 10% of Americans said the government shutdown was their greatest reservation about Republicans, following the 1996 vote, per a post-election poll. The exit polls didn’t even ask about it.

There just isn’t much sign that 1996 differed from what you’d expect, given the fundamentals. Clinton won the national vote by a little less than 9pt over Dole. One would think that if the shutdown had really hurt Republicans over the long term, then Clinton would have done far better than the economy would suggest. That simply didn’t happen.

Of the seven economic fundamental models displayed by Brendan Nyhan, two underestimated Clinton’s vote, three overestimated it, and two pretty much nailed it. That’s what you would expect to happen if there were no big event that overrode the 1996 election.

The same holds for the House. House Democrats gained two seats over their 1994 showing, but that’s well within expectations. The result was less of a loss than Republicans went on to suffer in 2008 or 2012, or then Democrats sustained in 1992, for instance. It’s equal to the loss Republicans took in 2000. Only once since 1952 has the majority party gained more than three seats in a presidential election year, when the other party controlled the White House.

In short, there’s just no clear evidence that House Republicans suffered, even if they were largely blamed for the shutdown.

In fact, Senate Republicans actually picked up two seats in 1996. Some might say that Democrats would gladly settle for a two-seat Republican gain in 2014. While that’s true, you have to know the baseline going into the 1996 elections: Republicans controlled 56% of the class up for re-election; they ended up winning 62% of the class thanks to wins in the south.

The reverse will be true in 2014. Democrats will control 60% of the seats up for election in 2014. Republicans have a lot more opportunity to pick up seats. They are playing offense mostly in the south, as they were in 1996. If Republicans were to win 62% of the seats in play in 2014, they’d pick up eight seats.

Now, I don’t think Republicans will gain eight seats in 2014. To me, one would be wise not to project too much correlation between the 1995-96 shutdown and a possible one in 2013. This is a midterm election, not a presidential election year. Congressional and presidential approvals are both in worse shape now than they were then. And polling puts Obama in worse shape than Clinton was at this point, as he faces a possible shutdown.

For those who look to the 1995-96 shutdown as a sign that it will have major electoral implications, look again. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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, 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. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

After winning the Democratic primary for Senate, what next for Cory Booker? | Harry J Enten

Booker will almost certainly be New Jersey’s next junior senator, but we may then hear less from Newark’s publicity-hungry mayor

Cory Booker has won the Democratic primary for United States senator from New Jersey. But what’s up next?

Booker must first win the general election on 16 October to become senator. That is likely going to happen. A Republican hasn’t been elected to the Senate from New Jersey since Clifford Case in 1972. The last person to come close was Bob Franks in 2000.

Franks was a moderate Republican who was supported by the Log Cabin Republicans. He was against banning gay adoptions in Washington, DC. He also benefitted greatly from the perception that his Democratic opponent Jon Corzine was trying to by the race with his own money. This belief was so widely held that the normally pro-Democratic New York Times actually endorsed Franks.

Still, Franks came up 3pt short. The odds are far longer for Republican nominee Steve Lonegan. Lonegan is anything but moderate. He is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, supports a full repeal of Obamacare and uses the phrase “illegal alien amnesty” to describe those undocumented immigrants hoping for a pathway to citizenship.

The polling reflects Booker’s advantage over Lonegan. Booker is ahead by nearly 20pt in an average of the last three polls. Just as importantly, he is over 50%. That means that even if every single undecided voter went for Lonegan, Booker would still win by about 5pt. Chances are, however, that undecideds will break proportionally to those already decided. If that were to happen, Booker would win by about 20pt.

Once Booker wins, he’ll enter an elective body that has, historically, prided itself on seniority. That might prove difficult for a new junior senator. We should not expect him to make a grand opening as an ideological bomb-thrower, a la Ted Cruz. The record does not support it.

Booker’s record, in any case, is as a moderate liberal. He’s been someone who is liberal on social issues, while centrist on financial issues. You can see this in his strongly pro-gay rights history, even as he’s maintained close ties to the financial industry. You might remember Booker not being a big fan of President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s former private equity firm, Bain Capital.

Per, Booker’s public statements most closely mirror those of his mentor, former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. It was Bradley who reformed the tax code in 1986 and favored merit pay for teachers, which nearly cost him re-election in 1990. Booker, like Bradley, is also in favor of merit pay.

Booker would, therefore, probably be right in the middle of the Democratic caucus. In a more recent context, this would place him slightly to the right of then junior Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Booker is more moderate on economic issues.

That said, it isn’t Booker’s style to stay quiet. He isn’t likely to put his nose to the grindstone and table pieces of legislation that please your tax accountant and nobody else. This is a man who thrives on the affection of fans on Twitter, who runs into buildings that are on fire, who likes to be heard.

So, if Booker isn’t going to make very liberal comments or pass very progressive legislation, then how will he make his presence felt? He’ll do what Obama promised to do when running for president: reach across the aisle.

Booker has a history of wheeling and dealing with Republicans. He’s buddy-buddy with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He’s worked with Republicans on school vouchers.

As NBC’s First Read noted last week, Booker could very well work with someone like Republican Senator Rand Paul on legislation. Both have a libertarian bent. Perhaps, it will be on education or prison reform. Between them, they have massive social media followings, which they could leverage to upset the old guard in the Senate.

Of course, a lot of this easier said than done. Jay Newton-Small analyzes that Booker will get “a backbench seat in a hated institution where he’ll be expected to dim his wattage, at least in the short term”.

Thus, we should expect Cory Booker to make more noise than the average junior senator, but he’ll probably be more contained than he has been as the Twitter-friendly mayor of Newark. But the sure bet at this point is that Booker will be a senator. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds