Saturday, October 30, 2010

NC Early Voting: Comparing 2008 and 2010

Since we’re wrapping up early voting in North Carolina before the general election, here are some statistics that folks may find of interest:

· 2008: percentage of total absentee ballots cast of registered voters: 42
· 2010: percentage of total absentee ballots cast of registered voters (so far): 11.9

· Of all 2008 early votes cast, 51% were by registered Democrats, 30% by registered Republicans, and 18% by unaffiliated voters.
· Of all 2010 early votes cast (so far), 45% are by registered Democrats, 37% by registered Republicans, and 17% by registered unaffiliated voters.

This means, to me, that Republicans learned the Obama lesson of 2008 and are using early voting to bank core supporters—meaning that they are outperforming their state-wide voter registration figure of 32%. Along with the energy and enthusiasm levels of Republicans, this is a serious dent in Democrats’ performance from just two years ago.

Mecklenburg County is seeing an overperformance by registered Republicans to cast their votes (39% of early votes cast in Mecklenburg are from registered Republicans, who make up 28% of the voters), while Democratic voters are underperforming (registered Democrats make up 43%, compared to 46% of all registered voters). Especially noteworthy is that unaffiliated voters are significantly underperforming, making up only 18% of the early votes cast, compared to making up 26% of the registered voters in the county.

We know from the past exit polls that if you say you are identify with one party or the other, you will vote that way 89-93% of the time in NC (slightly higher levels for Reps than Dems, but still 9 in 10 times you vote that way). And independent (unaffiliated) voters voted 57/40 Rep/Dem in 06 and 53/45 Rep/Dem in 08. My bet this year is that independent voters break 60/40 Rep/Dem, so if that trend hold, Republicans may be making sufficient ground to overcome Democratic voter registration and patterns in a number of key races in the state.

In terms of voting by specific groups on a state-wide basis:

· Women who cast early vote in 08: 55% were registered Democrats, 28% were registered Republicans, and 17% were registered unaffiliated voters.
· Women who are casting early votes so far in 10: 51% registered Democrats, 35% registered Republicans, and 15% registered unaffiliated voters.

· Men who are casting early votes in 08: 47% registered Democrats, 33% registered Republicans, and 20% registered unaffiliated voters.
· Men who are casting early votes so far in 10: 40% registered Democrats, 40% registered Republicans, and 19% registered unaffiliated voters.

There appears, from the early voting patterns, to be a definite “gender gap” going on, but Republican women are making inroads within female voters. Registered male voters are definitely going back to their usual ways, which is Republican.

· White voters state-wide who cast early votes in 2008: 37% were registered Democrats, 42% registered Republicans, and 21% were registered unaffiliated voters.
· White voters who are casting early votes so far in 10 state-wide: 34% registered Democrats, 47% registered Republicans, and 19% registered unaffiliated voters. They make up 78% of all the early votes cast so far.

· Black voters state-wide who cast early votes in 2008: 89% were registered Democrats, 2% were registered Republicans, and 9 % were registered unaffiliated.
· Black voters who are casting early votes so far in 10 state-wide: 92% are registered Democrats, 1% registered Republicans, and 6% are registered unaffiliated. They make up 19% of all the early votes cast so far.

Of course, we won't know what these specific votes are until Tuesday, but I think with the typical party identification associated with voting preferences, we may be seeing the early waves of the expected Republican landslide. And these could be warning signs for conservative Democrats like Larry Kissell, Mike McIntyre, and Heath Shuler.

Friday, October 29, 2010

SC’s (as in, Scorched-earth Campaign) 5th Congressional District

It has been said that “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” and if that is the case, then the South Carolina 5th Congressional District’s cup runneth over—literally.

According to most reports, the race between Democratic incumbent John Spratt and Republican challenge Mick Mulvaney is one of the most expensive U.S. House races this election. It ranks in the top twenty, with over $3 million spent. And what has that $3 million bought? A scorched earth policy that leaves very few viewers of the air war with a positive taste in their mouth.

Now don’t get me wrong—money is critical to politics, as the saying goes. And with the media markets that are spread out across this sprawling district—from Charlotte to Columbia across to Florence & Myrtle Beach—there’s a need for each campaign to have the resources to fight a modern air war. But there’s a point in which saturation is beyond needed, and we’re starting to get collateral damage from all the carpet bombing.

Republicans have viewed this district as one that they have been after for some time—it’s a solid Republican district at the presidential level, but Spratt has been able to hold on due to the power of incumbency of office. And with that power of incumbency comes fundraising prowess, to the tune of $1.8 million so far, according to’s website. To match Spratt, Mulvaney has raised $1.3 million as well. Not bad for a challenger against a long-time serving incumbent.

But both amounts are dwarfed (if that’s possible) with the amount of money flowing into the district from outside interest groups. Over $3 million dollars have been spent outside of the candidates’ campaigns on the race, with over two million of that figure going against Spratt. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of House Republicans, has spent over a million dollars itself, but so to have groups such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the NRA, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

But the Spratt-Mulvaney race is attracting a new breed of groups—the “60 Plus Association,” “American Future Fund,” and the “Citizens for a Working America PAC.” These three groups have spent nearly half a million dollars to influence the race, mostly by running a scorched earth campaign of negative campaign ads against Spratt. Welcome to the new rules of the game when it comes to money and campaign advertising.

For those of us in the Charlotte media market who are inundated with these ads for SC’s 5th, just remember—there’s another $3 million being let loose in the North Carolina 8th Congressional District battleground between Kissell and Johnson. Charlotte just happens to be in the cross-hairs of multiple air wars that doesn’t show any sign of relenting until Nov. 3rd.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Is North Carolina Micro-America?

So here's the political landscape: a widely-unpopular chief executive who has a unified party control of the legislature. A moody electorate where the opposition political party is energized, the middle is irritated, and the controlling political party is apathetic and perhaps demoralized. A number of legislative seats are up for grabs, and political analysts (like me) are saying that one of the legislative chambers will flip to control by the opposition.

Sound familiar? No, I’m not talking about national politics—it’s North Carolina politics, and the situation that the Democrats find themselves in at the national level is just as evident at the state level of government as well.

First, some basic facts about Tar Heel state government: Democrats control the Governor’s Mansion and the General Assembly—in the NC House of Representatives, it’s a 68-52 majority, while in the NC Senate, it’s a 30-20 split. So Democrats have the most to loose, and Bev Perdue’s lack of popularity (only 35% approve, according to a PPP Poll) is akin to President Obama’s favorability (or lack thereof) rating. So there’s one similarity between Raleigh and Washington.

Second, like in the U.S. Congress, the vast majority of seats are “safe” for one party or the other—meaning that right now, I could safely predict that 20 Democrats and 19 Republican NC Senate candidates will return to Raleigh. That’s pretty close, figuring you need 26 for the majority (maybe a few more might help). Factor in three Senate seats that will most likely flip from Democratic to Republican control (one of them is David Hoyle’s seat in Gastonia, the other two are in the mountains), and you’ve got Republicans close to the magic number to control the NC Senate.

Out of eight “toss-up” seats that are left, two are Republican control (count those in the Republican column this year), and the other six Democratic-controlled seats have 3 “open” seats. These are critical, because even in a year like this, it’s better to have an incumbent in swing districts than someone the voters don’t know very well.

So, if you were to bet on a potential Republican take-over this year in the legislature, look to the NC Senate—it would be the first time Republicans controlled the upper chamber since the end of the nineteenth century.

For the NC House, it’s again a matter of “safe” seats dominating (Democrats controlling 55 seats, Republicans controlling 52 seats out of the 120 total) and a handful of “swing” seats that will determine who controls the lower chamber. Right now, Democrats have more “swing” districts to defend, with two of those seats being open. There is a possibility that when Nov. 2nd’s dust settles, we could see a potential 60-60 tie again (see 2002 for what happens next), or one party has a bare 61-59 control of the House.

Third, the “generic” ballot indicates that Republicans are up over Democrats, much like on the national scene. The GOP is benefiting from solid support from its base and the favor of independents, even though Democrats make up 48 percent of registered voters in the state.

Overall, the state-level political scene is a lot like the national scene—and it’s only going to result in more gridlock leading up to 2012.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ideological Purity = Minority Status?

An interesting (but flawed) argument was made in Sunday's New York Times regarding purging Blue Dog Democrats out of the party to establish some kind of ideological purity, much like what the GOP is going through. For both sides, such domination by the far-side of the "coalition" of either the Democratic or Republican parties would only relegate either one to minority status, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives.

With their D-Nominate scores, the noted political scientists Poole and Rosenthal create an ideological spectrum that ranks the most liberal to most conservative member of the U.S. House. Taking these rankings and using an independent analyst (such as Charlie Cook), one can identify those Democrats who are in most trouble in this year's mid-term election.

Here's what I found when I merged the two:

  • Taking the 40 most conservative Democratic seats in the U.S. House, 27 seats are listed as "Republican Lean" or "Democratic Toss-up" (the two most dangerous categories for Dems this year) meaning that seats like Heath Shuler, Larry Kissell, and John Spratt would be sacrificed...and move the Republicans twelve seats closer to majority party status.

  • If you took the "median" House Democrat (Bailey of the Iowa 1st), and looked at those seats to the left and those to right who are in trouble, only six Democrats who are "more liberal" are identified as in trouble. But to the "right" of the median Democrat, 63 Democrats are identified as being in trouble this election. If half of those 63 seats were lost (and imagine the "most conservative" Democrats lost to their Republican counterparts, which may happen this year), then you'd move the median Democrat more to the left--and move the Democratic Party into the minority in the U.S. House.

To expect pure ideological agreement in today's political environment is simply to invite minority status. If Democrats (and for that matter, Republicans as well) believe that only those who are "pure blood" in their ideological perspective are welcome into their party's coalition, then we'll have this "change" elections for the next many cycles. And the viciousness of electoral battles will only get more intense, particularly with the upcoming redistricting of congressional districts next year.

Do we really need more polarization in this nation? Be careful what ya ask for--you might just get it. Our governing and political system is intentionally designed to promote conflict--but it's also designed to enforce compromise, something few folks remember at this time in the game of politics. It's the middle ground where the battle lies in America's political landscape, and to sacrifice the middle means sacrificing a majority-party status.

Forget Election "Day"--It's Election "Month"

Election 2008 made those of us who teach campaigns & elections classes rewrite our entire lectures about early and absentee voting, especially here in North Carolina. The mass mobilization effort that the Obama campaign put together that year changed the Tar Heel state from a 13 point Republican state in 2004 to a solid purple competitive state (remember, Obama won North Carolina by only 0.4 percent) in 2008.

This shift from ruby-red to deep purple was due, in part, to the impact of early voting. Over 42 percent of all registered voters in North Carolina voted before Election Day in 2008, and over half of those who cast early ballots were registered Democrats, with registered Republicans making up only thirty percent of the early votes cast.

At the time and in my further analysis, I thought that this has changed the whole game of campaigning and electioneering in this state, and that if the rules of the game change, you need to change with them. Apparently the Republicans learned that lesson and are putting it to good use in 2010.

With their energized base, Republicans are taking advantage of early voting in significant ways, and especially targeting vulnerable Democrats. This year, all the convention wisdom is that Larry Kissell, the 8th Congressional District Democrat, has got a big-old bull’s eye painted on him. But there are two other congressional races that perhaps folks aren’t paying attention to, but the old gut feeling tells me, watch these:

11th Congressional District: Heath Shuler may have been a popular quarterback, but like Kissell, he’s one of the dangered Southern conservative Democrats running in the N.C. mountains. No matter his talk about running against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republicans see this as possible prime pickin’, and early voting in the 11th (as of October 18) seems to indicate that the GOP groundwar is in full force. The NC Civitas Institute is reporting daily analyses on early voting and shows that while Democrats have cast over 15,299 early votes, Republicans are nipping at Heath’s heels with 14,368 votes.

7th Congressional District: along with Shuler and Kissell, Mike McIntyre cast a “no” vote on the Health Care Reform Act; no surprise, since he comes from the conservative 7th District down east of Charlotte. But the surprise is that he may be in more trouble than others think, especially if early voting is an indication. The 7th is second, only to the 11th, in early votes cast, and it's a pretty dead-even race (13,592 Dems to 12,753 Reps having cast their ballots).

So why is early voting important? Well, according to exit polls, we know that if someone identifies with one of the two major parties, there’s a 90 percent change they will vote for that party’s candidates. And if nearly 13,000 registered Republican voters have already cast their ballots in the 17th, well, you do the math.

Looks like the Republicans may have learned their lesson from 2008—don’t wait until November 2nd, but bank those ballots early and often. This could be an early wave lapping at November 2, with the tidel wave yet to appear. If so, Kissell, Shuler, and McIntyre better grab some life jackets.