Princeton Election Consortium

A first draft of electoral history. Since 2004

The Moore/Trump Test: 80% of GOP voters will support pretty much anything

December 12th, 2017, 9:11pm by Sam Wang


Today’s Alabama special election to replace Senator Luther Strange (R) is of obvious interest for two reasons. First and foremost, since the Senate is now 52 R, 48 D/I. After tonight, it will either stay the same, or become 51 R, 49 D/I. This would adversely affect the legislative ability of an already-dysfunctional Republican Congress.

Second is the emotionally wrenching nature of the race. The Republican candidate, Roy Moore, has attained worldwide fame…for bad reasons. A judge who has been ejected from office for violating his oath, he is also credibly accused of acting on his sexual attraction to teenage girls, and of molesting a 14-year-old (that’s 8th grade). He runs against Democrat Doug Jones, a rock-ribbed Alabaman who is known for prosecuting KKK members who killed little girls in a bombing. Despite all this, Moore has been slightly favored to win. No matter who wins, the closeness of this race tells us something useful about the current national landscape.

Basically, partisanship overrides other factors in the current national political environment. As I’ve written before, voters these days don’t change their minds during a campaign, and they vote straight party ticket. We can use Roy Moore – and before him, Donald Trump – to measure the loyalty of Republican voters to their party. Think of these two specimens as useful extreme cases, which tell us just how entrenched voters have become.

Consider 2016. Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2 percentage points, despite the fact that House Republican candidates beat Democratic candidates by an average of 1.1 percentage point. That 3-point difference demonstrates just how few voters were put off by the most disruptive Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater. If that difference arose from GOP voters switching to minor-party candidates, it means that as many as 3% of voters were Republicans who couldn’t vote for Trump. Since Republicans were about 48% of the popular vote, that means about 6% of otherwise-Republicans nationally couldn’t vote for Trump – and 94% stuck with him. Even if we only count the approximately 38% of survey respondents who approve of his performance, that means 79% of Republican voters currently support him.

Now let us turn to Alabama, a deep-red state. In three statewide races in which no sexual predator was representing the Republican party, we have the following results:

2014 Governor: Robert Bentley (R) 64%, Parker Griffith (D) 36%.
2012 President: Mitt Romney (R) 61%, Barack Obama (D) 39%.
2010 Governor: Robert Bentley (R) 58%, Ron Sparks (D) 42%.

The median of those three races is R+22%. The last six polls for today’s race give a median of Moore +6%. That’s a swing of 16 points, which would be consistent with 8% of Alabama voters being turned off by a child molester and switching to the Democrat. (It could also be more, if the difference comes from depressed GOP enthusiasm.) If 61% of Alabama voters are Republican-preferring, it means that only 13% of Alabama Republicans will take a Democrat over a molester – and 87% of them are still okay with Moore. Even if Jones pulls out a win, this percentage only drops to around 82% of Republicans.

Obviously, turnout affects these calculations. For example, if Jones wins by getting higher turnout in the African-American community, that would suggest that GOP voters are loyal, but too demoralized to vote. That would be a surprise in a special election, and worth watching out for.

As Nancy Pelosi has said, Donald Trump’s success proves that to Republican voters, “any mammal will do.” Counting Roy Moore as a mammal, today’s election fits with that idea.

Update, Wednesday morning 8:00AM: Jones did win, by 2 percentage points. Which means we can quantify the Alabama swing as 24% toward Democrats. It should be noted that over 15% of this swing occurred before the Washington Post bombshell. A 15-point swing is consistent with other special elections this year. Yesterday’s election could only be made possible by Trump’s deep unpopularity.

Exit polls showed that 91% of Republicans voted for Moore. The discrepancy between that and 82% suggests that turnout played a major role – see my Twitter feed for analytics from others quantifying this.

→ 9 CommentsTags: 2016 Election · Senate

Another SCOTUS partisan gerrymandering case in 2017-2018 goes forward!

December 8th, 2017, 11:12pm by Sam Wang


This is quite novel. We are still waiting for the decision in Gill v. Whitford, this year’s big partisan-gerrymandering case before the Supreme Court. However, it turns out it’s just the first case. Now there’s a second one: Benisek v. Lamone.

There are other cases pending in lower courts. Why would SCOTUS take any of them? The first obvious point is that whichever way things go, Justice Anthony Kennedy appears to be intent on laying down a doctrine that spans multiple cases. He may retire this year, and maybe he’s a man in a hurry.

I can think of reasons why the Supreme Court would want to take on the Maryland case sooner (rather than wait until it finishes with Whitford). First, the other cases in North Carolina and Pennsylvania have a certain family resemblance to Gill v. Whitford: they have delegations large enough to have multi-member delegations on both sides – and both are Republican gerrymanders. In a sense, they are redundant. For these cases, it would likely be sufficient to wait for whatever new law is made in Whitford.

Maryland, on the other hand, has novel features. For the politically-minded, it was committed by Democrats. A second ruling, coming soon after Whitford, would nail partisan gerrymandering as a bipartisan offense.

However, the Court may be more interested in a technical issue: there’s only one GOP seat remaining in Maryland. It was gerrymandered by spreading Democrats around as evenly as possible in the other 7 districts. I have offered a test that shows this, but it is distinct from the ones that are offered in a closely-divided state like Wisconsin.

Another way to establish that Maryland was gerrymandered is to look closely at how the districts were drawn. There are few enough districts (only eight) that one could reasonably hope to examine a single district. The focus of the plaintiffs’ case is the 6th, where Democrats were poached from the DC burbs to make it blue. This way of thinking about gerrymandering is not in Whitford.

Finally, there is a *great* human-interest angle. This suit was originally brought by Steve Shapiro, who lacked a law degree at the time. SCOTUS ruled that the lower court had to take him seriously. Now that’s impressive.

→ 11 CommentsTags: House · Redistricting

Politics & Polls #67: What happened in Virginia? with Larry Sabato and Geoffrey Skelley

November 17th, 2017, 9:48am by Sam Wang


Democrats scored big wins last week in New Jersey and Virginia elections. Julian Zelizer and I chew it over with Larry Sabato and Geoffrey Skelley. Plus a tiny bit about whether Alabama will elect a child molester as senator, or choose a Democrat who prosecutes KKK terrorists. Life is full of hard choices. All in the new Politics & Polls.

→ 6 CommentsTags: Politics · Senate

Fall Football Lecture: Can Math Help Fix Bugs in Democracy?

November 11th, 2017, 12:14pm by Sam Wang


During college football season, the Princeton Alumni Association hosts fall lectures for people who come back to campus for the home games. This morning I gave the pregame lecture for the Yale game. My topic: can math help repair partisan gerrymandering and the Electoral College? Great audience, great questions.

There is no video available. However, the slides are here. The real-life experience is possible, but only if I come visit!

→ 2 CommentsTags: President · Princeton · Redistricting · U.S. Institutions

Politics and Polls #66: Year of the Trumpquake

November 9th, 2017, 8:10pm by Sam Wang


Our podcast is ranked #12 in News and Politics on iTunes! Which is pretty cool.

Here, Julian Zelizer and I look back on the last 12 months, including what we did and didn’t foresee after last November’s Trumpquake. Added bonus: I do impression of Russian spy. All in the new Politics & Polls.

→ 2 CommentsTags: 2014 Election

Tuesday election trackers

November 6th, 2017, 9:50pm by Sam Wang


The DailyKos Elections tracking spreadsheet is here.

The New Jersey governor’s race is a foregone conclusion – the winner should be Phil Murphy (D), which would give Democrats full control of government.

Virginia governor’s race looks close: Northam (D) leads Gillespie (R) by 2.5 +/- 0.9 % (median +/- SEM, n=4). It’s closer than expected, given that in Virginia, the President’s party (R) usually underperforms the previous year’s Presidential-election performance – and Hillary Clinton won Virginia by 5 percentage points. Note that all of the Virginia House of Delegates (the lower chamber) is up for election. The Virginia Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans, doesn’t have any seats up this time around – that happens in 2019. If Gillespie wins, that raises the possibility of total Republican control over Virginia’s redistricting in 2021. For these reasons, Virginia is worth watching – and getting out the vote. Turnout is key; to follow that, here’s a tracker!

4:48pm: As of 4:00pm, median turnout in the NextGen America precincts has already matched total 2013 turnout. Polls close at 7:00pm.

10:00pm: In Virginia, Northam’s win is headed for 8-10%, larger than expected from polls. It’s a large error, over 6 points…but then again, it would have been weird if Northam had *not* outperformed Clinton’s 5-point win last November. Some in the press are saying it was a huge blow to Trump and the GOP, but as far as I can tell, it’s just a continuation of the longstanding Virginia trend of going against the President’s party one year later.

→ 15 CommentsTags: governors

Tomorrow on WPRB w/These Vibes Are Too Cosmic

November 6th, 2017, 9:17pm by Sam Wang


Tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6:45pm, I’ll go on WPRB Princeton 103.3 FM with Stevie Bergman, host of These Vibes Are Too Cosmic. Long-form college radio. She and her co-host Brian get great guests on scientific topics ranging from the paranormal to how alliances form on social media. It should be fun. NJ/PA area listeners and online WPRB fans, tune in!

→ Post a commentTags: 2018 Election · Redistricting

Today on WHYY Radio Times

October 19th, 2017, 5:18am by Sam Wang


Today at 10:00am Eastern, WHYY Radio Times host Marty Moss-Coane will have me on to talk about partisan gerrymandering. Her other guest is Carol Kuniholm of Fair Districts PA. Pennsylvania is the largest gerrymandered state and there are several lawsuits brewing, so our discussion will be most timely.
Listen to the show here!

Comments OffTags: Redistricting

Politics & Polls: What I saw in the Supreme Court

October 12th, 2017, 5:16pm by Sam Wang


Julian Zelizer and I talk about partisan gerrymandering, what I saw when I attended oral argument in Gill v. Whitford, and what it means for reform efforts nationwide. All in the new Politics & Polls.

→ 12 CommentsTags: Redistricting

Data Science in 30 Minutes: Partisan Gerrymandering

October 11th, 2017, 8:59pm by Sam Wang


Here’s a webinar on how data nerds can help fight partisan gerrymandering: You can help by joining state-level efforts, and by supporting our work.

→ 1 CommentTags: Redistricting