Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Some thoughts going into Election Evening

Here are some random thoughts on the US and NC elections prior to the polls closing at 7:30 (in the Old North State).

1. NC's US Senate Race could be a nail-bitter throughout the night.

The term 'constantly consistent' could be used to describe how the contest between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis has been since the early summer.  The polls leading up to today have shown a race within the bounds of margins of error:

Based on the mid-term election fundamentals in North Carolina, this should be (by all accounts) a lean-GOP seat this year, but I think the level of polarization and competitiveness that North Carolina experiences in presidential years has bled over into mid-term years (more on both the lean-GOP and competitiveness in a moment).

The result is that most predictions are for a pure toss-up among those analysts (Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg) who use a variety of quantitative and qualitative measures, while the 'modeling' folks (538, Washington Post, HuffPost) are more likely to show a lean-Hagan tilt to the race.

It is still up in the air as to whether the U.S. Senate will need the N.C. race to determine whether the GOP claims control of the upper chamber of Congress or not. My thinking right now: there are many pathways (and a few obstacles) that the GOP can have to claim the 6 additional seats to capture majority control of the Senate. Both North Carolina and New Hampshire are probably more "canary in the coalmine" indicates of how the GOP may fare: if NC and NH remain in Democratic hands, then the Republicans will need some combination of red-states, such as Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana (most likely to go to run-off) and then one competitive purple state, say Iowa or Colorado, to make their numbers work--combined with holding both Georgia and Kansas, two states they probably hadn't bet on contesting.

2. Do we continue to see a polarized electorate?

Based on research from the 2012's general election by the American National Election Study, the traditional electorate looks something like this in a presidential year:

Granted, this isn't a presidential election year, so mid-term electorates generally become more Republican, more white, and older in comparison.

But when it comes to the polarization effect, the classification that one identifies with has a strong connection to one's voting behavior.

Between strong partisans to leaning-independents, the likelihood is that they will vote for their party 85 to 99 percent of the time.  Only "pure independents"--usually less than 15 percent of the national electorate--are the swing voters.

And here in North Carolina, we see a similar, albeit more "center-right" when it comes to independent voters, in voting behavior:

So we have an idea of how these voters will behavior when they show up--that's the next big question, though.

3. Who Shows Up?

In North Carolina, the lean-GOP factor in mid-terms are quite noticeable. Granted, the rise of North Carolina's unaffiliated voters has been quite dramatic over the past few election cycles:

But the question remains: do unaffiliated voters show up at the same rate as partisan registered voters?

With the marked boxes of the past two mid-term elections (2006 and 2010), registered unaffiliated voters don't show at the same level of partisan registered voters.

What this tells us is that the electorate, in past mid-terms in North Carolina, should lean to the right, in comparison to the pool of eligible, registered voters overall.

So, what might we see this year in terms of an electorate? Well, since we already have some votes cast (1.1M+ in early ballots), we see something that may appear "out of the ordinary" when it comes to mid-terms in the Old North State:

Registered Democrats are 48 percent of the early in person ballots that came in with 7 reduced days, while registered Republicans were 32 percent and registered unaffiliated voters were 20 percent.  This is much more in line with a presidential year percentage basis of early in person ballots than a mid-term electorate, which is typically 45 D/37 R/18 U.

Among those 2014 voters who cast in person early ballots and how they voted in 2010:

The notable thing is that one third of registered unaffiliated voters and one quarter of registered Democrats did not participate in 2010, either by not being registered, not living in the state, or simply not voting.

4. But even if these folks do show up to cast ballots, will they have anything in North Carolina beyond a competitive U.S. Senate race?

Not likely.

Nationally, the percentage of competitive U.S. House of Representative races has declined substantially, to basically a hand-full of races that aren't in one camp or the other.

In North Carolina, we mirror that trend with 13 non-competitive congressional districts, and with only one flipping tonight due to the current incumbent (Democrat Mike McIntyre in the 7th) not running for re-election.

This is due partly to redistricting and gerrymandering, and due partly to voters becoming locked into voting for their party candidates both at the top and going down the ballot.

This impacts even the North Carolina General Assembly, with the connection between how a legislative district voted for Obama and how the district voted for the Democratic legislative candidate.

So, in the end, the predictions I would make are the following:

  • Republicans retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Republicans gain majority control of the U.S. Senate, but the pathway there is unclear. I suspect Alaska, Arkansas, and Colorado flip to make the 51 needed, and there may be some other states that flip as well--most likely Iowa, Louisiana (in a December run-off). If Kansas goes independent, then the GOP needs Georgia, either tonight or in January, to build on the numbers.
  • North Carolina's Senate race may come down to a 2-3 percent margin of victory; right now, it seems like it could stay Democratic, but no bets as it is a coin-toss.
  • Republicans continue to have majority control of both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly: biggest question is, can Democrats break the 3/5 supermajority to crack the veto-override numbers in one or the other? If Democrats can, slight favor to doing so in the House rather than the Senate.
  • With GOP control of Congress, expect more partisan gridlock between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. And it won't be just in Congress as well--one of the key questions out of the National American Election Studies from 2012 was a question, "is there anything you like about the Democratic or Republican parties?" Sorting by partisanship and identification, you get this:

Partisans love their party, don't like the opposition, and even independent leaners are mirror images of each other.  Pure independents--well, a 'pox on both parties' is best to describe them.

Oh, and one other prediction: we won't get through Wednesday before someone asks "so what about 2016's presidential election?"