Organizing by themes I: American politics

This site benefits/suffers/both from consisting of posts about a wide range of topics, all linked under the amorphous heading “data-driven storytelling.”

In an attempt to impose some coherent structure, I am organizing related posts both chronologically and thematically.

Given that I have multiple degrees in political science, with an emphasis on American politics, it is not surprising that I have written a few dozen posts in that field…and that is where I begin.

I Voted sticker

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I started by writing about the 2016 elections, many based on my own state-partisanship metric (which I validate here).

The absurdity of the Democratic “blue wall” in the Electoral College

Hillary Clinton’s performance in five key states (IA, MI, OH, PA, WI)

Why Democrats should look to the south (east and west)

How having (or not) a college degree impacted voting

An alternative argument about gerrymandering

An early foray into what I call “Clinton derangement”

The only statistic from 2016 that really matters

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Here are a few posts about presidential polling (before FiveThirtyEight jumped on the bandwagon)…

Be careful interpreting President Trump’s approval polls

…and the 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District (GA-6)

Ossoff and the future of the Democratic Party

Using GA-6 polls to discuss statistical significance testing (spoiler: I am not a fan)

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And then I started looking ahead to 2018…first to control of the United States House of Representatives (“House”). Note that posts are often cross-generic…

An alternative argument about gerrymandering

The impact of voting to repeal (and not replace) Obamacare (May 2017)

I debut my simple forecast model (June 2017)

Making more points about polls and probability

A March 2018 update

A followup March 2018 update (after which I stopped writing about the 2018 House elections)

…then the United States Senate

The view from May 2017

What it meant that the Senate voted NOT to repeal Obamacare in July 2017

The view from December 2017

…and, finally, races for governor in 2017 AND 2018.

The view from June 2017

A tangentially-related post may be found here.

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After Labor Day 2018, I developed models (based on “fundamentals” and polls) to “forecast” the Senate elections…

September 4

September 13

October 23

…and those for governor (the October 23 post addressed both sets of races)

September 16

These culminated in…

My Election Day cheat sheet

And my own assessment of how I did (spoiler: not half bad)

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Beginning in April 2019, I turned my attention to the 2020 elections.

First came a wicked early look at the relative standings of the dozens of women and men actually or potentially seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination:

April 2019

Then came a wicked early look at the 2020 presidential election itself.

April 2019

And, of course, a wicked early look at races for Senate (2020) and governor (2019-20).

With the first of regular updates to both the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and the 2020 presidential election in May 2019

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Finally, there are other politics posts that defy easy categorization.

I indulged in some speculative alternative history about the presidential elections of 1948 and 2000.

I delineated issue differences between Democrats and Republicans.

I got a bit personal here and here, concluding with the fact that, despite overlapping in the same residential college at Yale for two years, I did NOT know Associate Justice Brett Kavanagh at all.

I argued for the abolition of the Electoral College.

Until next time…

2018 Election Cheat Sheet: How did I do?

I should apologize to our younger daughter’s friend’s mother.

In my…determination…to be settled in front of the television with snacks and beverages at precisely 6 pm EST on November 6, 2018, I might have been a bit abrupt collecting our youngest daughter from a local taqueria where said friend’s mother had generously taken them to supper (after schlepping them and one other girl back from gymnastics class).

However, thanks to help from the same daughter, I was at my post at the appointed time. Our youngest daughter even carefully picked out all of the red M&M’s (plain and peanut) from their decorative bowls. There were no red cashews to extract (but they were still delicious).

I also had a blue mechanical pencil to mark my 2018 Election Guide, as well as an entire 12-pack of unflavored Polar Seltzer cans sitting on the floor to my left (as the evening turned into midnight and beyond, the line of empty blue cans on the floor emanating from the carton grew longer and longer).

And sitting within reaching distance of my right arm was this colorful fowl.

IMG_4010

You know it is a celebration in our home when “the rooster” makes an appearance. Rather than ice water, however, this evening it was filled with blue lagoons—which my wife Nell still cannot decide more closely resembles Windex or Scope.

As the early returns from Indiana and Kentucky were being tabulated on MSNBC, however, a sinking feeling set in that I would not be drinking as much of this cocktail as I had anticipated. I remembered from 2008 that Indiana’s Democratic pockets report much later than its eastern-half Republican counties, but Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly was trailing by well over 20 percentage points in a race that both FiveThirtyEight.com and I had labeled “Lean Democratic.” (Republican Mike Braun would eventually defeat Donnelly by 5.9 percentage points [points]) And Democrat Amy McGrath was not faring as well in the early tallies from the 7th Congressional District (CD) in Kentucky against incumbent Republican Andy Barr as I had hoped. (McGrath would eventually lose by 3.2 points.)

When polls closed at 7 pm EST in Vermont and Virginia, MSNBC almost immediately projected wins in their respective United States Senate (Senate) races for Independent Bernie Sanders and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine—meaning that the first calls of the night were for men I had voted for in 2016 in completely different contexts—Sanders in the Massachusetts Democratic Presidential Primary and Kaine as the Democratic nominee for vice president.

That sinking feeling only grew worse as the FiveThirtyEight.com “live tracker” of Democrats’ chances of regaining control of the United States House of Representatives (House) dipped below 50% around 8:30 or so. Nell, worried, yelled into the living room, “I am not hearing any whoops or cheers.”

At just before 9 pm (when it was already clear Republicans would not only maintain control of the Senate but add seats), the indefatigable Steve Kornacki  announced NBC was giving the Democrats only a 65% chance of regaining the House, projecting they would finish with between 216 (2 too few) and 232 House seats; this translates to a net gain of between 21 and 37 seats.

Finally, however, as votes were counted in Virginia and, especially, New York, both the FiveThirtyEight.com tracker and the NBC “big board” manned brilliantly by Kornacki creeped higher and higher.  I do not remember when MSNBC projected Democrat Abigail Spanberger had defeated two-term Republican Dave Brat in Virginia’s 7th CD, but it was then I realized the anticipated “blue wave” (at least in the House) would materialize. When Democrat Max Rose beat two-term incumbent Republican Dan Donovan in New York’s 11th CD (on Republican-leaning Staten Island), it was off to the races.

Finally, at just before 11 pm EST, MSNBC (OK, I cannot find when they made their call, but it was likely within a few minutes of CNN) projected a Democratic takeover of the House.

A few minutes later, a not-yet-asleep Nell came downstairs to say that one of our politically-like-minded downstairs neighbors had texted her appreciation of my (partially-restrained) whooping-dancing “We got the House! We got the House!”

For the first time since the election of Republican Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, accompanied by a Republican House and Senate, plus a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, I truly exhaled.

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In my previous post, I laid out a series of “projected” final margins for 17 (of 35) Senate races and all 36 governor’s races. In this post, I described two simple models of the number of House seats Democrats would net in 2018 based upon the change from 2016 in the Democratic (vs. Republican) margin in the total vote cast nationwide for the House. In 2016, Democrats lost the total national House vote by 1.1 points (while netting 6 seats as they improved by 4.7 points from 2014).

Votes are still being tabulated across the country, especially in California, but enough time has passed since Election Day to see how my projections compared to the actual margins (and to the FiveThirtyEight.com assessment of those same races), starting with the House.

House. According to the indispensable Cook Political Report vote tracker, as of 6 pm EST on November 18, 2018, nearly 110.7 million votes had been cast in House races. For perspective, 81.0 million, 86.8 million and 78.8 million House votes were cast in the last three midterm elections (2006, 2010, 2014), respectively. And that total was 129.8 million in the last presidential election year (2016). (House election data from the Cook tracker and here).

Democrats have thus far won 53.0% of those votes, compared to 45.7% for Republicans (and 1.3% for a smattering of third-party candidates) for a Democratic margin of 7.7 points…and an 8.8-point shift towards the Democrats from 2016 (and 13.5 points from 2014!)

According to my preferred “simple” model (change in margin only), a shift of 8.8 points would yield a gain of 26 seats (and give Democrats a 72% chance of regaining House control). My “complex” model (accounting also for whether the election was a midterm or not) was more bullish on the net seat gain (30) but more bearish on the probability (64%). Averaging across the two models yields a net of 28 seats and a 68% probability of Democratic House control.

Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight.com’s final House forecasts projected a Democratic national House margin of 9.2 points (the median of their Lite, Classic and Deluxe forecasts) and a net gain of 38 (ditto) seats. Using the FiveThirtyEight.com projected House margin ups my average projected House seat gains to 33 with an 82% chance of regaining control.

With three-seven House races yet to be called, the likeliest outcome is that Democrats will net 38 (36-41) House seats, widely geographically dispersed: six (with Republican David Valadao the likely winner in CD 21) in California; four each in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (+5 D, +1 R); three each in New York and Virginia; two each in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Texas; and one each in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia (with incumbent Republican Rob Woodall leading Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 419 votes[1]), Kansas, Maine, New Mexico (almost certainly), South Carolina and Washington. Incumbent Republican Mia Love also leads Ben McAdams by just 419 votes. Minnesota showed no net change as Democrats flipped the 2nd and 3rd CDs while Republicans flipped the 1st and  8th CDs.

Based on the information I had on the morning of Election Day, that is 5 (3-8) seats more than I projected Democrats to net, well below the average nine seats by which my models “missed” across 24 previous midterm elections—and consistent with my models underestimating gains/losses in “wave” elections.

FiveThirtyEight.com almost perfectly nailed the actual Democratic net gain of seats, though (as of this writing) they overestimated the Democratic national House margin by 1.5 points; historically, this is not an especially large difference.

Most fascinating, however, is that a net gain of 38 House seats would actually be one seat higher than the upper range of what NBC was projecting at 9 pm EST on Election Day. Vote counting may be laborious and require infinite patience, but it is ultimately rewarding.

Senate. Table 1 compares the actual margin (Democratic percentage of total vote minus Republican percentage of total vote) in 33 2018 U.S. Senate races; italicized states indicate Republican pickups while boldfaced states indicate Democratic pickups. I excluded California, where incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein beat fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon by 9.0 points, and the special election in Mississippi, where incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith will face Democrat Mike Espy in a November 27 runoff. The latter race should be an easy win for Hyde-Smith in ruby red Mississippi (18.5 points more Republican than the nation as a whole, according to my 3W-RDM), but Hyde-Smith’s recent comments may make this race closer than expected.

Table 1. Comparing projected to actual 2018 U.S. Senate election margins*

State 3W-RDM Actual Difference

(Projected – Actual)

AV Difference

(Projected – Actual)

JBWM 538.com JBWM 538.com
Hawaii 34.3 42.2 -11.2 11.2
Vermont 27.7 39.9 -1.3 1.3
Maryland 22.6 33.9 -3.3 3.3
Massachusetts 22.1 24.8 -1.3 1.3
New York 21.6 33.0 4.8 4.8
Rhode Island 18.0 23.0 -5.6 5.6
Connecticut 12.8 20.2 -1.2 1.2
Delaware 12.5 22.2 -4.7 4.7
Washington 12.1 17.0 -5.4 5.4
New Jersey 12.0 10.6 1.5 -0.9 1.5 0.9
New Mexico 6.5 23.5 5.3 5.3
Maine 5.9 19.0 -0.9 0.9
Michigan 2.2 6.6 -6.3 -4.6 6.3 4.6
Nevada 2.0 5.0 4.7 4.0 4.7 4.0
Virginia 1.5 16.0 0.2 0.2
Minnesota SE 1.5 10.6 1.4 1.0 1.4 1.0
Minnesota 1.5 24.1 2.7 2.7
Wisconsin 0.7 10.8 -0.8 -2.0 0.8 2.0
Pennsylvania -0.4 12.8 -2.0 1.3 2.0 1.3
Florida -3.4 -0.2 -2.2 -3.4 2.2 3.4
Ohio -5.8 6.4 -5.7 -5.0 5.7 5.0
Arizona -9.7 2.2 0.7 0.5 0.7 0.5
Texas -15.3 -2.6 3.2 1.9 3.2 1.9
Missouri -15.9 -6.0 -5.5 -7.0 5.5 7.0
Indiana -16.3 -5.9 -7.1 -9.6 7.1 9.6
Mississippi -18.5 -20.3 0.8 0.8
Montana -18.6 3.5 -0.2 -1.2 0.2 1.2
Tennessee -25.8 -10.8 -6.3 -5.4 6.3 5.4
Nebraska -25.8 -19.6 -4.7 4.7
North Dakota -29.4 -10.8 -2.4 -6.0 2.4 6.0
Utah -33.1 -32.2 -2.8 2.8
West Virginia -35.5 3.3 0.0 -4.2 0.0 4.2
Wyoming -45.7 -37.0 7.1 7.1
Average Difference

(all projected elections)

 

-1.7

 

-1.9

 

3.1

 

3.7

Average Difference

(both projections only)

 

-1.7

 

-2.5

 

3.1

 

3.6

      *Excluding California (two Democrats) and the special election in Mississippi (runoff

      November 27, 2018)

States are sorted from most-to-least Democratic, according to their 3W-RDM score. The table presents the numeric and absolute value of the difference between the actual and projected Democratic margins in each election for both JustBearWithMe (JBWM) and FiveThirtyEight.com. Two sets of averages are presented at the bottom of the table: one was calculated using every election projected (I only projected the 17 most “interesting” races, while FiveThirtyEight.com projected all 35) and one was calculated only using the 16 listed Senate elections projected by both JBWM and FiveThirtyEight.com.

With Democratic Senator Bill Nelson conceding to Republican Rick Scott in the Florida Senate race, and the runoff in Mississippi still likely to result in a Republican hold, Democrats appear to have lost a net of 2 Senate seats. Besides Florida, Republicans ousted Democratic incumbents in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota; they also won hard-fought races in Tennessee and Texas. Democrats, however, beat incumbent Republican Dean Heller in Nevada and won the open seat in Arizona vacated by Republican Jeff Flake.

My final back-of-the-envelope estimate was a loss of 0.9 Senate seats, while the median final FiveThirtyEight.com projection was a loss of 0.5 Senate seats; this is at most a 1.5 seat underestimate, depending on what happens in Mississippi, though I was slightly closer to the actual outcome. Both projections “called” the Florida and Indiana Senate races wrong—while FiveThirtyEight.com called the Missouri Senate race wrong as well.

Both JBWM and FiveThirtyEight.com overestimated Democratic margins in a swath of states stretching from North Dakota (average 4.2 points) south and east to Florida (2.8); states in which both projections overestimated the Democratic margin by at least four points were Ohio (5.4, on average), Michigan (5.5), Tennessee (5.9), Missouri (6.3) and Indiana (8.4). FiveThirtyEight.com also underestimated Republican margins in solidly Democratic Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Washington, as well as in solidly Republican Nebraska.

At the same time, both projections underestimated Democratic margins in Nevada (4.4) and, to a lesser extent, Texas (2.7); FiveThirtyEight.com also significantly underestimated Democratic margins in New Mexico, New York and Wyoming.

Overall, I overestimated Democratic Senate race margins by an average of 1.7 points (3.1 points in absolute terms) while FiveThirtyEight.com missed by an average of 1.9 points (3.7 in absolute terms). Only looking at the 16 Senate races we jointly assessed, FiveThirtyEight.com’s performance is slightly worse: overestimating Democratic margins by 2.5 points (though just 3.6 in absolute terms). This suggests FiveThirtyEight.com performed slightly better in Senate races in which the winner was clear well in advance.

Governor. Table 2 compares the current actual margin (Democratic percentage of total vote minus Republican percentage of total vote) in 35 2018 gubernatorial elections; italicized states indicate Republican pickups while boldfaced states indicate Democratic pickups. I excluded Nebraska because no polls were conducted of its gubernatorial election. States are again sorted from most-to-least Democratic.

Table 2. Comparing projected to actual 2018 U.S. Gubernatorial election margins**

State 3W-RDM Actual Difference

(Projected – Actual)

AV Difference

(Projected – Actual)

JBWM 538.com JBWM 538.com
Hawaii 34.3 29.0 -4.1 -1.1 4.1 1.1
Vermont 27.7 -15.0 -10.0 -3.6 10.0 3.6
California 23.2 22.6 5.7 5.2 5.7 5.2
Maryland 22.6 -12.7 -8.7 4.9 8.7 4.9
Massachusetts 22.1 -32.6 -2.7 1.4 2.7 1.4
New York 21.6 22.2 0.5 3.1 0.5 3.1
Rhode Island 18.0 15.5 0.1 -4.9 0.1 4.9
Illinois 14.7 15.4 -2.4 6.1 2.4 6.1
Connecticut 12.8 3.2 -3.9 -1.9 3.9 1.9
Oregon 8.7 6.4 -3.0 -0.1 3.0 0.1
New Mexico 6.5 14.4 5.2 5.0 5.2 5.0
Maine 5.9 7.6 -1.8 -4.7 1.8 4.7
Colorado 2.2 10.6 1.9 -1.8 1.9 1.8
Michigan 2.2 9.5 0.5 -0.2 0.5 0.2
Nevada 2.0 4.1 2.9 3.9 2.9 3.9
Minnesota 1.5 11.5 2.7 1.4 2.7 1.4
Wisconsin 0.7 1.2 -2.9 -0.5 2.9 0.5
New Hampshire 0.1 -7.0 -0.8 1.3 0.8 1.3
Pennsylvania -0.4 16.8 0.2 1.4 0.2 1.4
Florida -3.4 -0.4 -4.3 -4.6 4.3 4.6
Iowa -4.7 -2.7 -4.3 -3.5 4.3 3.5
Ohio -5.8 -4.2 -5.4 -5.7 5.4 5.7
Georgia -9.6 -1.4 -0.4 0.8 0.4 0.8
Arizona -9.7 -14.2 -2.5 -0.5 2.5 0.5
Texas -15.3 -13.3 2.6 3.6 2.6 3.6
South Carolina -15.7 -8.0 4.7 5.6 4.7 5.6
Alaska -19.2 -7.9 -5.1 -3.9 5.1 3.9
Kansas -23.4 4.5 7.1 5.8 7.1 5.8
Tennessee -25.8 -21.1 -5.7 -7.5 5.7 7.5
South Dakota -25.8 -3.4 -2.5 -0.9 2.5 0.9
Arkansas -28.2 -33.5 -3.5 -6.1 3.5 6.1
Alabama -28.4 -19.2 1.6 -3.0 1.6 3.0
Idaho -34.2 -21.6 -3.4 -5.2 3.4 5.2
Oklahoma -38.1 -12.1 -2.3 -4.9 2.3 4.9
Wyoming -45.7 -39.8 -4.2 -9.8 4.2 9.8
Average Projected-Actual -1.4 -0.7 3.4 3.5

      **Excluding Nebraska because no polls were conducted of its gubernatorial election

With Democrats Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams (sort of) in Georgia conceding to Republicans Ron DeSantis and Brian Kemp, respectively, Democrats netted six governor’s mansions. Democrats defeated Republican incumbents in Illinois and Wisconsin and won Republican-held open seats in Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada and New Mexico; Republican Mike Dunleavey beat Democrat Mark Begich to win the open Independent-held governor’s mansion in Alaska. At the same time, Republicans cut their losses by narrowly holding the governor’s mansions in Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio.

My final back-of-the-envelope estimate was a Democratic net gain of 9.2 governor’s mansions, while the median final FiveThirtyEight.com projection was 8.2 governor’s mansions. Both projections incorrectly “called” the gubernatorial elections in Florida, Iowa and Ohio for the Democratic candidate while mistakenly projecting a win in Kansas by Republican Kris Kobach over Democrat Laura Kelly.

Both JBWM and FiveThirtyEight.com overestimated Democratic margins by at least three points in Iowa (3.9 points on average), Idaho (4.3), Alaska (4.5), Florida (4.5), Arkansas (4.8), Ohio (5.5), Tennessee (6.6), Vermont (6.8) and Wyoming (7.0)—and, to a lesser extent Connecticut (2.9); all but Vermont[2] are at least 3.4 points more Republican than the nation as a whole. However, both projections underestimated Democratic margins in Nevada (3.4), New Mexico (5.1), South Carolina (5.2), California (5.5) and Kansas (6.5)—and to a lesser extent Texas (3.1); I addressed the woes besetting Kansas Republicans here.

Overall, I overestimated Democratic gubernatorial election margins by an average of 1.4 points (3.4 points in absolute terms) while FiveThirtyEight.com did so by an average of just 0.7 points (3.5 in absolute terms). Clearly, while both forecasts were identical in terms of correct and incorrect “calls,” FiveThirtyEight.com did a better job of assessing election probabilities and final margins.

Summary. Across all 51 Senate and gubernatorial elections “projected” by both JBWM and FiveThirtyEight.com, my projections overestimated Democratic margins by 1.5 percentage points on average, only slightly worse than the FiveThirtyEight.com average overestimation of 1.3 points. This is almost exactly the latter’s overestimation of the total national House Democratic margin by, at most, 1.5 points, suggesting that the 2018 midterm electorate was slightly more Republican than pollsters estimated (though well within historic parameters). The average miss in either direction of 3.4-3.5 points was also well within the range of recent elections.

However, these averages mask wide variation in Democratic under- and over-performance. In races with both a Senate and a gubernatorial election, Democrats had the most disappointing showings in Florida, Ohio and, especially, Tennessee; they also underperformed in Senate races in mostly Democratic states and in gubernatorial elections in mostly Republican states. Underperformance in two traditional presidential swing states—Florida and Ohio—could be of some concern to Democrats as they try to unseat President Trump in 2020.

On the brighter side, states where Democrats overperformed—California, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas—are all in the southwest (as is Arizona, where Democrats won a Senate race for the first time since 1988), an area of the country trending sharply Democratic. The closer-than-expected race for governor in South Carolina plus very close losses for governor in Florida and Georgia may also herald improved Democratic prospects in the southeast.

Besides geography, did state partisanship determine which state electorates were more or less Democratic than anticipated? For FiveThirtyEight.com’s gubernatorial election projections, the answer is…maybe. The Pearson correlation[3] between a state’s 3W-RDM and its numeric difference in gubernatorial margin is +0.44, while for the absolute value of the difference it is -0.37, suggesting that the more Democratic the state, the more Democrats overperformed in that state’s race for governor, while missing less in absolute terms. However, this could simply be an artifact of FiveThirtyEight.com’s newly-minted methodology for projecting gubernatorial elections.

The bottom line. As of January 3, 2019, Democrats will control the U.S. House of Representatives—most likely by 31 seats—for the first time in eight years, despite slightly “underperforming” in the total national House vote (which they still won by nearly 8 points). Their net gain of ~38 seats is the highest Democratic total since the Watergate elections of 1974 (49). Moreover, turnout in House elections—nearly 111 million votes and counting—will be at least 35.2% higher than the average turnout in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Democrats did not regain the Senate—suffering disappointing losses in Florida, Indiana and Missouri (as well as Tennessee and Texas)—but by winning elections in two southwestern states (Arizona, Nevada), they held their losses to two (or one, if they pull off an upset in Mississippi in 18 days), ground they will almost certainly make up in 2020, when the map is more favorable to Democrats (or, at least, far less unfavorable). Finally, they netted six governor’s mansions (including holding on to win a closer-than-expected race in Connecticut), despite disappointing losses in Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio. Democrats will control governor’s mansions in 23 states—the most since the 2008 elections—which have a combined 280 electoral votes, meaning more than half of the nation’s population will have a Democratic governor.

Do not let a few disappointing results fool you. The Democratic wave in 2018 was strong and wide.

Until next time…

[1] We actually know Ms. Bourdeaux’s sister from our younger daughter’s former ballet class; following our move, we also share a dog park.

[2] Vermont voters may not have wanted to tell pollsters—in just three public polls—they were unwilling to vote for transgendered Democratic nominee Christine Hallquist.

[3] A number from -1.0 to +1.0 indicating the strength of the linear relationship between two variables. Briefly, a positive correlation means that as one variable increases the other variable does the same (and vice versa), while a negative correlation means that as one variable increases the other variable decreases (and vice versa). A correlation of zero means there is no association at all.

A plea to readers with two weeks until Election Day 2018 ends…

The 2018 midterm elections end in two weeks, on November 6, 2018.

I write “end” because early voting is underway in 28 states, including Massachusetts. In fact, it opened Monday, October 22, and so I dragged our two daughters to Brookline Town Hall so they could participate in the process. And, yes, I voted straight Democratic with the exception of governor.

The best habits start early as our youngest daughter’s backpack reveals.

I Voted sticker.JPG

Along those lines—as a former political-scientist-in-training, lifelong political junkie and huge fan of democracy, I cannot strongly encourage you enough to vote.

Please.

This plea applies both to my American readers and to my many international readers, whenever the opportunity next presents itself.

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I do three things in this post.

  1. Update analyses of 2018 elections for the United States House of Representatives (“House”), United States Senate (“Senate”) and governor.
  2. Attempt to quantify the Republican polling “bounce” following the September 27, 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and United States Court of Appeals Circuit Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.
  3. Reconsider House, Senate and gubernatorial election projections under two scenarios: one where polls underestimate Republican voting by 3 percentage points, and where polls underestimate Democratic voting by 3 percentage points.

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Updated analyses. As of Tuesday afternoon, October 23, 2018, the FiveThirtyEight forecast was that Democrats would win the national House vote by 8.9 percentage points. According to my “simple” model, that translates to an 89.8% probability Democrats net at least the 23 House seats they need to regain control of the House (projecting a 29 seat gain). By comparison, the FiveThirtyEight forecast is 85.8% and 40 seats—reasonably close to my less “complex” estimates.

Since I last wrote about Senate races, I created two new metrics.

  1. A weighted probability of Democratic victory
  2. A projected Democratic election day margin.

The victory probability is simply a weighted average of the “fundamentals” and adjusted polling average (APA) probabilities, with the latter increasing in weight based upon the number, recency and quality of published polls. I estimate the “fundamentals” probability by assuming a normal distribution whose standard deviation is that of my 3W-RDM measure (4.9), and I estimate the APA probability using a margin of error derived from the total sample size of all polls of each election conducted entirely in calendar year 2018, to which I add 3.0 to account for recent average polling bias (averaging across the last four elections in the table “Polling bias shifts from election to election”).

Weights are calculated using this formula:

#Polls/10 + #Sept/Oct Polls/2 + (Average Pollster Rating – 4.3) + %Sept/Oct Polls/10

For example, 51 total polls have been conducted since January 1, 2018 in the Florida Senate race, with 21 conducted since September 1, with an average pollster rating of 2.7 (using the letter-grade assigned by FiveThirtyEight on a scale where A+=4.3, A=4.0, etc.). Thus, the amount by which polls are weighted over fundamentals in this race is 51/10 + 21/2 + (2.7-4.3) + 41.2/10 = 5.1 + 10.5 – 1.6 + 4.1=18.1.

The “projected Democratic margin” is also the weighted average of the “fundamentals” and APA margins.

Table 1: Democratic Victory Probabilities and Margins in 10 Key 2018 Senate Elections

State Probability Democratic Victory Projected Democratic Margin Democratic Gain, Hold, Loss 3W-RDM
AZ 90.3% D+2.5 Gain R+9.7
FL 70.2% D+1.3 Hold R+3.4
IN 72.8% D+1.2 Hold R+16.3
MO 38.9% R+0.4 Loss R+15.9
MT 92.4% D+4.1 Hold R+18.6
NV 43.6% R+0.2 Hold D+2.0
ND 0.2% R+7.3 Loss R+29.4
TN 19.2% R+2.7 Hold R+25.8
TX 0.1% R+6.2 Hold R+15.3
WV 90.4% D+5.1 Hold R+35.5
  Lose 0.8 seats R+0.3 R+1 R+16.8

The rough-and-ready forecasts in Table 1 are consistent with anything from a Democratic loss of one seat to a Democratic gain of one seat, depending on outcomes of very close races in Missouri and Nevada (not to mention Florida, Indiana and, perhaps, Tennessee). In this, they are broadly in agreement with the FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast (19.0% chance Democrats regain Senate; average loss 0.5 seats), though they are far more bullish on Democratic chances in Missouri (61.1%), North Dakota (30.1%), Tennessee (24.5%) and Texas (21.5%), and more bearish on Arizona (63.4%).

Not to belabor the point, but given the extreme “redness” of these 10 states (16.8 percentage points more Republican than the nation, on average), even a net loss of “only” one Senate seat would be a moral victory of sorts for Democrats…though a net gain of two or more seats would be an actual victory, in that they would then control the Senate.

Table 2: Democratic Victory Probabilities and Margins in 19 Key 2018 Gubernatorial Elections

State Probability Democratic Victory Projected Democratic Margin Democratic Gain, Hold, Loss 3W-RDM
AK 18.8% R+2.3 Loss R+19.2
AZ 1.5% R+8.6 Hold R+9.7
CO 99.8% D+9.0 Hold D+2.2
CT 100.0% D+9.0 Hold D+12.8
FL 99.4% D+4.6 Gain R+3.4
GA 38.2% R+0.2 Hold R+9.6
IL 100.0% D+16.5 Gain D+14.7
IA 95.5% D+2.7 Gain R+4.7
KS 31.4% R+2.0 Hold R+23.4
ME 100.0% D+6.8 Gain D+5.9
MI 99.9% D+9.7 Gain D+2.2
MN 99.8% D+8.7 Hold D+1.5
NV 53.3% D+0.9 Gain D+2.0
NM 100.0% D+8.6 Gain D+6.5
OH 28.2% R+0.3 Hold R+5.8
OK 0.5% R+6.8 Hold R+38.1
OR 100.0% D+7.9 Hold D+8.7
SD 23.6% R+4.4 Hold R+25.8
WI 99.1% D+5.0 Gain D+0.7
AVE Gain 7.9 seats D+3.4 D+7 R+4.3

Table 2 presents Democratic victory probabilities and margins for those gubernatorial elections most likely to change partisan hands and/or with margin< 10 percentage points. This group of states is far more purple, averaging only 4.3 points more Republican than the nation as a whole.

The governor’s race in Alaska altered considerably on October 19, when Independent Governor Bill Walker suspended his reelection campaign and endorsed Democrat Mark Begich over Republican Mike Dunleavy, though the likely outcome (a Dunleavy win) remains the same. Otherwise, Democrats remain strongly favored to pick up governor’s mansions in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Wisconsin, losing only in Alaska (Walker was effectively a Democrat). Extremely close races in Georgia, Nevada and Ohio could go either way, while Democrats are within shouting distance in Kansas and South Dakota (albeit, with only two polls). At the same time, once-possible pickups in Arizona and Oklahoma now seem far less likely.

The bottom line (again, in broad agreement with FiveThirtyEight) is that Democrats appear poised to net between six and nine governor’s mansions, putting them tantalizingly close to a majority.

A Kavanaugh bounce? There is evidence of a pro-Republican bounce in polling following the sequence of events between the Judiciary hearings on September 27 and the final confirmation vote (50-48 in favor) on October 6, including the week-long FBI investigation, spurred by increased Republican enthusiasm and voting likelihood.

To quantify the bounce, I compared Senate and gubernatorial race polls, unskewed and weighted by pollster rating, conducted before (though after August 1) and after September 27; all polls had to be completed by September 26 or started no earlier than September 27.

Table 3: 2018 Polling Data in 16 Key 2018 Senate Elections, Before and After Ford-Kavanaugh Hearings 

State Adjusted Poll Average

8/1-9/26

Adjusted Poll Average

9/27-10/22

Difference

(Pre-Post)

3W-RDM
AZ D+3.0 (11) D+0.3 (8) -2.8 R+9.7
FL D+0.3 (14) D+2.1 (10) +1.9 R+3.4
IN D+1.9 (3) D+0.2 (8) -1.6 R+16.3
MI D+14.7 (9) D+12.4 (3) -2.3 D+2.2
MN D+5.9 (4) D+10.1 (3) +4.2 D+1.5
MS R+13.5 (1) D+1.4 (1) -14.9 R+18.5
MO R+1.6 (7) R+0.8 (7) -0.8 R+15.9
MT D+5.2 (6) D+3.7 (1) -1.5 R+18.6
NV D+0.2 (5) R+1.6 (5) -1.8 D+2.0
NJ D+7.2 (2) D+6.9 (5) -0.3 D+12.0
ND R+4.6 (1) R+12.9 (2) -8.3 R+29.4
OH D+12.2 (6) D+16.5 (2) +4.3 R+5.8
PA D+15.3 (7) D+14.4 (1) -0.9 R+0.4
TN D+0.3 (8) R+6.2 (5) -6.5 R+25.8
TX R+3.2 (10) R+7.0 (7) -3.8 R+15.3
WV D+8.2 (7) D+7.9 (4) -0.3 R+35.5
WI D+7.9 (4) D+9.7 (2) +1.8 D+0.7
AVE D+4.4 D+2.4 -2.0 R+10.4

On average across 17 key Senate races (Table 3), the Republican position in the polls improved by an average of 2.0 percentage points following the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings. And the more Republican the state, the more the Republican candidate’s position improved (r=0.48)—as can be seen in Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee and Texas (and also, surprisingly, in Democratic-leaning Michigan and Nevada). In fact, removing six states where the Democrat is strongly favored (albeit, four won by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in 2016; average 3W-RDM D+1.7), the Republican increase jumps to 3.7 percentage points (D+1.2 to R+2.6; r=0.31). At the same time, the bounce fades (-0.6; r=0.41) once you examine only states with at least two polls in both time periods.

Table 4: Polling Data in Selected 2018 Gubernatorial Elections, Before and After Ford-Kavanaugh Hearings

State Adjusted Poll Average

8/1-9/26

Adjusted Poll Average

9/27-10/19

Difference

(Pre-Post)

3W-RDM
AK R+0.9 (2) R+11.8 (2) -10.9 R+19.2
AZ R+6.5 (9) R+14.5 (6) -8.0 R+9.7
AR R+36.7 (1) R+37.7 (1) +1.0 R+28.2
CA D+10.6 (7) D+11.4 (4) +0.8 D+23.2
CO D+9.1 (2) D+7.5 (1) -1.6 D+2.2
CT D+8.5 (4) D+5.7 (3) -2.8 D+12.8
FL D+4.6 (13) D+4.7 (7) +0.1 R+3.4
GA D+1.9 (3) R+1.8 (6) -3.7 R+9.6
IL D+15.1 (4) D+17.6 (2) +2.5 R+16.3
KS R+0.4 (3) R+0.1 (1) +0.3 R+23.4
ME R+0.6 (1) D+7.8 (2) +8.4 D+5.9
MD R+16.9 (3) R+18.7 (2) -1.8 D+22.6
MA R+36.5 (2) R+38.8 (1) -2.3 D+22.1
MN D+6.9 (4) D+10.5 (3) +3.6 D+1.5
MI D+11.0 (8) D+11.2 (2) +0.1 D+2.2
NV D+2.1 (2) R+0.9 (4) -3.0 D+2.0
NH R+12.7 (2) R+13.7 (3) -1.0 D+0.1
NY D+1.0 (1) D+22.7 (2) +21.7 D+21.6
OH R+2.0 (5) D+1.3 (2) +3.3 R+5.8
OR D+7.0 (2) D+5.1 (1) -1.9 D+8.7
PA D+15.8 (6) D+11.4 (1) -4.4 R+0.4
RI D+7.3 (1) D+9.9 (2) +2.6 D+18.0
SC R+7.8 (2) R+23.7 (1) -15.9 R+15.7
TN R+14.5 (7) R+18.4 (3) -3.9 R+25.8
TX R+17.0 (8) R+20.1 (4) -3.1 R+15.3
WI D+3.3 (6) D+4.6 (2) +1.3 D+0.7
AVE R+1.8 R+2.6 -0.8 R+1.1

Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, New Mexico, Oklahoma have no polls after September 26

Hawaii had no polls between August 1 and September 26.

The trend was similar in 26 governor’s races (Table 4; average R+1.1)—an overall Republican increase of 0.8 percentage points, though once you remove New York (only one extreme outlier poll between August 1 and September 26), the increase becomes 1.7 percentage points. Again, the sharpest increases were in more Republican states (r=0.43), especially Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas (and, surprisingly, in purple-to-blue Connecticut, Nevada and Pennsylvania). Examining only states with at least two polls in both time periods, the Republican increase jumps to 1.5 percentage points (r=0.36).

So, the “Kavanaugh bounce” appears to have been roughly one-to-three percentage points, and it was most evident among Republican voters in Republican states—who may well have been “coming home” to their party anyway (the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings may only have started the process earlier). And there is evidence the bounce is fading somewhat—at least in House voting (which covers the entire nation rather than a Republican-leaning set of states). The FiveThirtyEight House forecast dropped from an 80.7% chance of a Democratic takeover on September 30 to 73.9% on October 4—but then started to increase again October 9. Similarly, the forecast was a 32.0% chance of a Democratic Senate takeover on September 30, but by October 11 the probability had dropped to 18.6%. After rising three percentage points since then, as of Tuesday afternoon, October 23, it stood at 18.9%; the gubernatorial forecast does not lend itself to an analogous comparison.

Alternate polling scenarios. That even a small Kavanaugh “bounce” was enough to reduce Democratic Senate and gubernatorial gains by one-to-two seats shows how close this election (or, at least, the binary outcome of “majority/minority status”) is.

This can be shown by increasing—or decreasing–every polling margin by three percentage points, consistent with the statistical “bias” polls have displayed in the last four even-numbered election years; the direction of that bias changes from year to year.

For the House, if the projected national Democratic margin in total vote was actually 5.9% (that is, a 7.0% election-to-election increase), the probability they regain control plummets to 25%, with an average net gain of only 20 seats, three fewer than necessary. By contrast, however, were the margin 11.9%, Democrats would be locks to regain House control (99.6% probability), netting an average of 40 seats. Put simply, this close to Election Day, Democrats could still fall achingly short of a House majority—or net as many as 20 more seats than necessary.

For the Senate, a pro-Democratic polling bias of three percentage points in the polls would result in losing seats in Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, while gaining zero seats; this is the nightmare scenario for Democrats. And while a pro-Republican polling bias of “only” two percentage points would mean winning in Arizona, that would still be a net loss of three Senate seats.

By the same token, a pro-Republican polling bias of three percentage points would almost certainly give them majority status in the Senate, as they still lose Heidi Heitkamp’s seat in North Dakota while winning seats in Arizona, Nevada and (possibly after a recount) Tennessee.

That is, this close to Election Day, a range of losing four Senate seats and gaining two seats remains plausible for Democrats.

Finally, in governor’s races, Democrats appear to be far enough ahead in key states that even a pro-Republican polling bias of three percentage points would still net them five governor’s mansions (win in Florida, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Wisconsin; lose in Alaska) with Iowa a virtual tie. But a pro-Democratic polling bias of three percentage points would truly unleash a blue gubernatorial tsunami: not only would they likely WIN in Alaska (and Iowa), they would most likely add Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota to their column. An historic net gain of 13 governor’s mansions could easily be in the offing.

**********

One overarching message from this barrage of data is that while pollsters do their best to model an unknown electorate and reduce uncertainty—the actual set of citizens who will turn out to vote remains, at best, a highly-educated guess and uncertainty (beyond just margin of error) still remains. Still, some good news for Democrats lies buried in a recent New York Times/Siena College poll. While the overall result was an eight percentage point lead for Republican Senator Ted Cruz (and among those whose certainty to vote is confirmed by prior voting behavior), Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke actually LED by three percentage points among those who said they were almost certain to vote.

The other overarching message, then, is simply that every vote counts—even the tiniest changes in the composition of the 2018 electorate could fundamentally who governs us for the next two years.

I cannot say this often or loudly enough…PLEASE VOTE!

Until next time…

Bipartisanship as patriotism

I started quietly screaming here.

But my deep revulsion for what the United States government, my government, the government elegantly outlined in our founding documents, is doing along our southern border (not the northern border with majority-northern-European Canada, mind you) boiled over the other night in this (annotated) 1,000+-word reply to a similar cri de coeur on the Bone and Silver blog.

The US faces an epistemological crisis. Some 20-25% of the population–primarily rural white Protestant men with at most a high school diploma (culturally conservative, isolationist, economically populist)–has been conditioned by right-wing propaganda (Fox News, talk radio mostly) for 30+ years to believe that all of their problems are caused by a long list of “others”: blacks (dangerous criminals), Spanish-speaking immigrants (drug-lord rapists and murderers who want your jobs), Muslims (terrorists), LGBQT folks (out to destroy your families), the mass media (lying to you), liberals (wimpy snowflakes who hate you and your values and *your* country) and the globalist-coastal elites (sending *your* jobs and country overseas, or something).

[Eds. note: I have no idea how large this segment of the population is. Trump’s 2016 share of the voting-age population was 25.0%, according to data from here and here. While not all Trump voters fit this characterization, an identical 25% (on average) support Trump’s recent immigration actions. And about 24% of American adults solely get their news from Fox News. The overlap between these groups is probably quite large, though well below 100%. Still, even if the percentage is only half of my upper limit—12.5%–that is still 1 in 8 Americans over the age of 18.] 

The crisis is that these Americans literally live in a different reality, with different news sources and accepted truths. This self-contained echo chamber is the only way they can sustain their paranoid grievances. And what they most fear is not loss of economic status but loss of racial/cultural status. They see an encroaching diverse modernity in which they have little-to-no status, which existentially terrifies them.

And so they cultishly follow an autocrat who echoes and validates their worst fears:  Mexicans and Muslims and transgendered folks and black athletes and liberals and Democrats and the media and China and our allies (Canada? Really?) are out to get *them*.

They are so deep in this twisted (yet infinitely self-justified) worldview that they no longer see these “others” as human beings, at some primitive level. *They* are animals who will “infest” (in 45’s words) THEIR country and destroy THEIR way of life. 

Yeah, you say, but they are outnumbered at least 3-1, so why is this happening?

This 20-25% of the population has an outsized influence on the Republican Party (which has cynically nurtured their paranoia for political gain since Nixon was first elected president in 1968), particularly which Republicans get nominated—and especially since the election of an urbane black man as president in 2008. That was a bridge too far for them, and for the Republican Party, who (to prevent losing nominations to further-right-wing candidates) vowed absolute opposition to him. They are also geographically dispersed across enough districts to elect enough like-minded Republicans to effectively control a majority of state houses and the United States House of Representatives. And, in a 17-person field, they coalesced around Trump early enough to allow him to win the nomination, sweeping aside an establishment that could not (or would not) coalesce around a more “mainstream” alternative (not that their choices were all that impressive). Once the Democrats nominated the equally-flawed Hillary Clinton, after Democrats had controlled the White House for 8 years…well, he still only won by 77,000 votes in three states (while losing the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points—the Electoral College’s Republican advantage at work again).

The thing is, 45’s policy advisors–including the all-but-Nazi Stephen Miller–truly think that they beat Clinton not because she was a bad candidate at the wrong time, but because they mistakenly believe that most of the country is as right-wing nationalist/racist as they are. Here, they are flat wrong, but for arcane structural reasons, it may still take a tidal wave of Democratic votes to wrest back the House this November (the Senate will be tougher, but I am optimistic). 

And as with any tribalist cult, they make up in passion and cunning what they lack in numbers, including voting at higher rates, while using every trick to maximize their electoral advantage (less through gerrymandering than through suppression). They do this because they legitimately see the “not-them” as Manichean enemies who must be stopped at all costs. For them, ends justify cruel, immoral and, yes, anti-democratic means: when push comes to shove, safety/security generally trumps (pun intended) liberal democracy. 

The thing is, though, even if Democrats win back the House (likely) and the Senate (30% chance?) and a bunch of state houses…actually, many good things will happen (if only by preventing more bad things from happening). But the crisis will still exist. This squeaky-wheel minority will, if anything, feel more aggrieved and more isolated and more desperate to fight inexorable change. And Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and the National Enquirer and Breitbart will continue to echo and amplify their increasingly-distorted reality, not only because it serves their own interests (and bottom-lines) to do so–they also genuinely fear the consequences of suddenly backing off decades of crazy-stroking. 

So how do we fix this? How do we get a sprawling, impossibly-diverse nation of nearly 400 million people back on the same “we are all in this together” page (begging the question whether, besides WWII, we ever were)? How do we get these reality-denying folks to accept the reality of climate change, the trade-offs between secure borders and nurturing compassion, the tragic consequences of an overly-gun-permissive society (the unique Constitutional protection afforded guns has morphed into Constitutional protection of THEIR way of life—restricting the former is a direct assault on the latter), the value of expertise, the benefits of a multi-cultural/multi-ethnic society (a wider talent pool, if nothing else), and so forth?

I have absolutely no idea.

But as I see one California couple raise nearly $15 million almost overnight on Facebook to provide legal services for these newly-detained immigrants and their lost children, as I see more and more Republicans abandoning/staring down their party (thank you, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker), as I see the mainstream media absolutely refusing to back down from their Constitutionally-protected duty to investigate and report and expose, as I see Robert Mueller—a lifelong Republicandiligently pursuing his own investigations, as I watch previously apathetic citizens taking to the streets in protest…I have hope that the “sensible” (if not always ideologically-unified) 75+% will regain the “values” upper-hand and restore everything I have always loved about my country. 

The aggrieved minority may never accept what we understand as reality, because it is too existentially painful. But they are still my fellow Americans, and I must share our nation with them, just as they have to share it with folks like me. All I can do is continue to call out their nonsense in the clearest possible terms in the perhaps-naive hope that enough of them will eventually snap out of it.

Otherwise…we may simply have to wait as their numbers shrink even further, as the demographers insist will happen. 

Do not give up on this country…we ARE better than this.

Upon further reflection, though, I do have one practical suggestion, however, though it may not appeal to everyone: active bipartisanship.

It is telling in this regard that my second-ever post presented my bipartisan bona fides. My goal was to insulate myself against criticism (yet to materialize) that my liberal Democratic views biased my political and cultural data analyses. My meticulous sourcing also serves that purpose—allowing critical readers to fact-check my assertions and draw their own conclusion. In this, my academic roots clearly show: transparency in methods, data and sources.

But I think that post also stemmed from my hope that sufficient elected Republicans would stand up to the newly-elected President, thwarting his most anti-democratic impulses.

Shockingly few Republican elected officials, however, have done so. Yes, Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine), John McCain (Arizona) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted NOT to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And Republican Senators Bob Corker (Tennessee) and Jeff Flake (Arizona), both of whom chose not to seek reelection in 2018, have at time publicly expressed deep reservations about President Trump.

But those moments have been few and far between. The reality is that Republicans, for all their protestations, have mostly voted for whatever President Trump has wanted. According to the FiveThirtyEight vote tracker, the median Republican United States Senator (51 currently serving) has voted with the President’s position a median 93.2% of the time, with 41 (80.4%) voting with his position at least 90% of the time; the “least” loyal Republican Senators were Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Collins, who still supported the President on at least 75% of votes. The obeisance was slightly higher for Republican members of the United States House of Representatives (US House; 235 currently serving who have cast at least one vote[1]): median support was 96.2%, with 193 (82.1%) voting with the President at least 90% of the time; the two least-loyal Republican House members have only voted with the President half of the time—Walter Jones (NC-3; 52.2%) and Justin Amash (MI-3; 53.0%). Curiously, the most vulnerable Republican House members, the 22 who represent congressional districts Clinton won in 2016, backed the President a median 97.0% of the time.

Instead, the few “profiles in courage” have come from state houses. Thirty-three states currently have Republican governors, with 16 having Democratic governors; Alaska Governor Bill Walker is an Independent.

Ohio Governor John Kasich famously challenged Trump from the (relative) left during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries and caucuses; he remains a vocal thorn in the President’s side. Three other Republican governors: Baker, Larry Hogan (Maryland), Phil Scott (Vermont)—remain enormously popular (68% approve/18% disapprove, on average) in states that are 24.1 percentage points more Democratic than the nation as a whole (using this calculation). Besides being genuinely likable, they remain popular by working—often in direct opposition to “their” President—closely with their states’ majority Democratic legislatures, carving out socially moderate-to-liberal and fiscally conservative positions.

Although I have lived in Massachusetts for most of the last 30 years, I never really followed Baker’s ascent, though I knew he was the chief Republican “up-and-comer” after his successful stint directing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care starting in 1999. In 2010, he was the Republican nominee against incumbent Democratic Governor Deval Patrick; Baker lost 48.4 to 42.0%.

charlie baker

A few months later, I was sitting in a Boston restaurant having lunch with my then-supervisor, when she nudged my arm. “Isn’t that himself?” she asked. I turned around to see Baker walk right near out table.That was when I realized how TALL he is (6’6”).

On August 25 of the previous year, Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy had died, after serving in the US Senate for almost 47 years. A special election to fill the seat through January 2013 was held on January 19, 2010. Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley and little-known Republican State Senator Scott Brown easily won their primaries, and the prevailing wisdom was that Coakley would easily prevail against Brown. Instead, Brown upset Coakley 51.9 to 47.1%. (I drove through central Massachusetts with both daughters the weekend before the election, seeing no Coakley signs but quite a few Brown signs; uh-oh, I thought).

Four years later, with Patrick term-limited, Coakley was now the Democratic nominee for governor, seemingly a stronger candidate after her upset defeat. Baker was again the Republican gubernatorial nominee. And this time he won, 48.4 to 46.5%.

I did not vote for Baker in 2014 (just as I did not vote for Republican gubernatorial nominee William Weld in 1990 when he was, in many ways, more liberal than Democratic nominee Jon Silber—I now regret that vote). However, watching the debates between Coakley and Baker, I was struck by how much I LIKED Baker. Where Coakley was robotic and stiff, Baker was warm and engaging. His Harvard-educated brilliance shown through, but with an appealing everyman demeanor: he was clearly enjoying himself.

Because I think Coakley, with her flaws, would still have been a good governor, I do not regret my vote. But neither was I particularly upset that Baker won.

And since then, I have only grown to respect Baker more. He is more fiscally conservative than I would prefer, but his consistent willingness to call out Trump when necessary, well, trumps those positions.

I was wavering on voting for him this November (regardless of who the Democratic nominee is) until he forcefully “revoked his decision to send National Guard helicopters and personnel to the Southwestern border,” citing the inhumane treatment of children by the Trump Administration.

That did it: Nell and I will be voting to reelect Baker this fall, even as we joyfully vote for Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and our member of Congress, Joseph P. Kennedy III, also a Democrat.

Here is also why I will be voting for Baker in four+ months.

If I am calling on select Republicans to defy their President and work in a bipartisan fashion with Democrats, it would be massively hypocritical for me not to support a more-than-reasonable Republican who has done exactly that. Every time I cheer a former Republican speaking out against the President on MSNBC, I need to be able to match that gesture with one of my own.

Simply put, I cannot ask someone to do something—be actively bipartisan—without being willing to do the same thing myself.

Moreover, the only way to break down the tribalist partisanship that causes us to see persons with the wrong “label” as a mortal enemy is to elevate bipartisanship into an act of patriotism.

The stakes of the Cold War were so monumental that partisanship was supposed to stop at the water’s edge: there was to be no squabbling over matters of life and death. While that was not always true, particularly as the Vietnam War divided the Democratic Party and Democrats took President Ronald Reagan to task for his aggressively anti-Soviet Union posturing, that credo still serves as an excellent model for reimagining bipartisanship as patriotism.

Would I still vote for Baker if he were not heavily favored to win, meaning Nell’s and my votes will in no way be decisive? I do not know, to be honest. But were he not so effective AND anti-Trump, he would not be so popular, so the question kind of answers itself.

It is exceptionally difficult for lifelong partisans like me—this will only be the second time I vote Republican—even to consider opposing point of view (though it can be done), let alone voting for a candidate of the opposite party. But I firmly believe these actions are the best—maybe the only—ways to begin to solve our current epistemological crisis.

Until next time…

[1] 240 overall

Why I chose…Dynamics of the Party System

In my two previous posts, I began to explain my choices for the Facebook book challenge I completed May 16 (seven covers over seven days, no explanations), addressing my interest in crime, both fictional and real.

I now turn away from crime (fictional and otherwise) and toward something far more sinister and horrifying.

Politics.

IMG_3760 (2).JPG

**********

I first encountered American politics in October 1972, having just turned six, as President Richard Nixon was cruising to reelection over my staunchly Democratic family’s choice, South Dakota Senator George McGovern. On a gray November morning four years later, I sat in the front seat of my mother’s car in the parking lot of my suburban Philadelphia elementary school, poring over the state-by-state returns from the previous day’s presidential election. It was my first election “win,” as Jimmy Carter, the Democratic former governor of Georgia, had barely edged Republican Gerald Ford; Ford would have prevailed had he won just 12,000 and 15,000 more votes in Ohio and Mississippi, respectively. Looking back, I think the nation would have won either way.

As the 1980 presidential election began (and I found myself drawn to California’s Democratic governor, Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr., who had nearly wrested the nomination from Carter less than four years earlier), I was in 8th grade, being taught American history by the exceptional Tom Collins. Mr. Collins presented history (and politics) not only through important events, but also through art, literature and music; this is when my fascination with American history in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s began. We followed the unfolding election in class, learning about the ideological spectrum in the process. I particularly remember Mr. Collins standing at the blackboard, placing various current political figures on a left-right continuum, later proclaiming that he himself, as a history teacher, needed to sit right in the middle.

In March 1980, a woman named Barbara Bush, whose husband George I vaguely knew was running for the Republican presidential nomination, addressed the student body at Bala Cynwyd Middle School. (see Philadelphia Inquirer story below) I remember little of what she said (other than being impressed this engaging woman was speaking to us at all), though I understood she was trying to get us to convince our parents to vote for her husband. That appearance may have helped, because on April 22, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Herbert Walker Bush beat former California governor Ronald Reagan in the Pennsylvania Republican presidential primary, 50 to 43%. Despite that victory, Bush lost the nomination to Reagan, becoming the latter’s vice-presidential running mate.

The_Philadelphia_Inquirer_Sat__Apr_19__1980_

And yet I did not truly become a hardcore political junkie until late 1982/early 1983, when a slew of famous (seriously, McGovern again?) and not-so-famous (who the heck is Reubin Askew?) Democrats began declaring themselves candidate for their party’s 1984 presidential nomination. Hard to believe now, given his eventual 18-point victory over former Vice President Walter Mondale, but Reagan appeared quite vulnerable then.

Who knows why “Fritz” Mondale quickly became my first political hero[1]; until I cast votes for then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008, my November 1984 vote for Mondale (I was still too young to vote in Pennsylvania’s April Democratic primary) was my proudest vote. Yes, he was an experienced hand with broadly similar liberal views, but it was more than that. What friends who preferred Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who would emerge as Mondale’s strongest challenger for the nomination, saw as “boring,” I saw as a gentle and genuine humility.

My attachment to Mondale was such that more than 20 years later, when I just joined Facebook, a high school friend asked me if I was still into Mondale. Yes, I responded, not taking the gentle gibe too seriously.  While many of my fellow high school students were apolitical (and most of their parents were centrist Republicans in the mold of the state’s two Senators, John Heinz and Arlen Specter), one of my closest friends was an avid Reagan supporter. Our friendly political sparring is a model of respectful disagreement I still try to follow.

That summer, I watched the Democratic National Convention gavel-to-gavel, though I chose to avoid the Republican National Convention.

And that fall, I enrolled in Yale University, where I pursued my interest in American electoral geography. In so doing, I helped to set up an undergraduate course, taught my senior year by friend and mentor David Mayhew, called “American Political Geography.”

Assigned in this course was the book pictured above: the 1983 revised edition of James L. Sundquist’s Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States; the first edition was published in 1973.

At first, I did not understand what this book had to do with electoral geography, which to my mind mostly involved tabulations of state-and-local election returns and/or beautiful color maps. It meant obscure works like Section and Party: Political Geography of Presidential Elections, from Andrew Jackson to Ronald Reagan, written in 1981 by two geographers, J. Clark Archer and Peter J. Taylor, or Kevin Phillips’ groundbreaking 1969 work The Emerging Republican Majority.

Reading the book, however, as I recall doing in the sunny bedroom of the off-campus apartment I shared with two male classmates, drinking a half-milk, half-coffee concoction from a tall blue mug, I began to understand.

Stepping back a second, what I really liked about the book was how readable it was. This was not the stilted academic prose from which I would later rebel, a rebellion that still informs my “annotated meandering” writing style. Instead, it carried the reader along almost the way a novel would, leaving her/him wondering “what happened next?”

Consider this paragraph that opens Chapter Seven: The Realignment of the 1890s:

“The prairie fire that swept the frontier states in 1890 was bound to move eastward. As third-party politicians began their quadrennial efforts to organize for the presidential election two years away, they had a solid regional foundation to build on—by far the strongest political base any off-year election had constructed for them since the Civil War. The western victories energized and inspired reformers everywhere. The men and women who had been catapulted into national prominence by these victories found themselves in the vanguard of national third-party politics. And they assumed that role with missionary zeal.”[2]

Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to politics, that is propulsive writing (“prairie fire that swept,” “energized and inspired,” “catapulted,” “missionary zeal”). Sure, Dynamics occasionally gets bogged down in details (an occupational hazard of non-fiction writing, I have found), but overall it is as close to a “page-turner” as an academic work of political science can get. Just as Mr. Collins did, Sundquist presents this sweeping review of American political history (focusing on the shifting coalitions support America’s ever-evolving political parties) on a “human” scale.

As for political geography, Sundquist grounds much of this history in geographic terms, understanding that party bases were primarily regional in nature. For example, in the decades after the Civil War, presidential elections were primarily waged between a solid Democratic South and an equally-Republican North (especially New England), (sound familiar, but with the parties reversed?). In short, Sundquist’s book deepened my understanding of what drove the numbers in those tabulations and the colors on those maps.

Sundquist, who died on February 17, 2016 at the age of 100, was a research fellow at the Brookings Institution from 1965 to 1985 (directing its Governmental Studies section for a time), after which he maintained a small office on an upper floor.

I was lucky enough to be an (unpaid) intern at Brookings in the summer of 1986. Two years later, fter graduating from Yale, I started a one-year stint as a governmental studies research assistant.

One dark night, I was still there well past 5 pm. Wandering the halls, I found myself in front of Sundquist’s office. A light was on; he was working inside. I quietly knocked on the door, and he called me into his office.

I recall little of our brief conversation other than praising Dynamics, but he was exceptionally friendly and expressed a sincere interest in my career plans. If I were already planning to apply to doctoral programs in political science, I would have sought his advice on that as well. We probably also talked about Professors Mayhew and Edward Tufte, who had changed my life in 1986 by telling me to “introduce yourself to David Mayhew.”

Afterward, I wondered why this lovely man had been “exiled” to an upper floor, but he seemed content with the situation, being an effectively-retired 73-year-old man.

In the end, I love Dynamics because it reminds me of something Tufte once said in class, “If your data are boring, then you have the wrong data.” There is no reason why any academic—or non-academic—work of non-fiction cannot be presented in both a thoroughly-researched and entertaining manner.

Rest in peace, Mr. Sundquist.

Honorable mentions.

I could fill this section with books by Mayhew (this being his most famous) and Tufte (especially this), all of which share Dynamics’ broad readability, or a handful of works on American electoral geography/political culture, but I instead choose these five titles (which proved harder than I expected).

Presidential Primaries and the Dynamics of Public Choice by Larry Bartels

I first encountered this book because I was the teaching assistant for a spring 1992 Harvard undergraduate course on the presidential nominating process; I read it right along with the students. At the time, there had only been a handful of presidential elections (1976, 1980, 1984, 1988) in which primary and caucus voters had completely selected each party’s nominee prior to the summer nominating conventions. This is why Bartels’ work was so exciting and groundbreaking: it was the first systematic study of how this process worked. I was so taken with it that I even tried to replicate some of its “momentum” graphics in my burgeoning doctoral thesis (the one I never finished).

An Economic Theory of Democracy by Anthony Downs

This highly-readable 1957 treatise about the way political parties are expected to behave under various political systems and voter distributions (e.g., the relative mix of liberal and conservative voters) is especially relevant today as American politics becomes ever-more polarized. For much of American history, enough voters were neither purely on the left nor purely on the right so that “median” voters were easy to locate. Two (and only two) stable political parties, one mostly center-left and one mostly center-right were thus forced to find common ground in a quest to win over these “median” voters. More recently, though, America has drifted toward a system in which most voters are firmly on one side or the other, making finding that common ground more elusive.

The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed by David Stockman

To a large degree, I love this excellent political memoir (Stockman served as Reagan’s first Director of the Office of Management and Budget) because I do not share its author’s ideological viewpoint. Stockman was a staunch fiscal conservative who genuinely believed in 1980 that a radical combination of deep personal income tax cuts and federal spending reductions would produce considerable long-term economic benefits. He was also the Cassandra who first warned about the mountain of red ink (massive federal budget deficits) that ultimately did result from passing the tax cuts without commensurate spending cuts. His observation that, politically speaking, tax cuts are fairly popular and easy to pass while spending cuts exact unbearable pain, yielded the book’s title. There may be better political memoirs, but few are more poignant.

[Quick observation: Mondale was pilloried for declaring in his acceptance speech that these already-looming deficits would require the next president to raise taxes, and that he was admitting up front that he would do so (which  both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton ultimately did, with both punished for their fiscal responsibility). That was a moment of rare political courage that got lost in raw political calculation. The triumph of politics, indeed.]

The American Voter by Angus Campbell, William E. Converse, Warren E. Miller and Donald E. Stokes

Before this landmark 1960 work, written by four political scientists and opinion researchers at the University of Michigan, the prevailing (somewhat naïve) view (see here, for example) was that voting decisions were based primarily on a combination of demographic traits, social class, inter-personal relationships and mass media. While this is not, strictly speaking, untrue, Campbell and his colleagues found something different: that voting decisions were almost exclusively based on party identification, itself usually acquired from one’s parents. This book, then, marks the beginning of the modern study of voting behavior—one that is far more “tribalistic” than we may want to believe.

Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher L. Hayes

OK, this page-turning modern classic is not, per se, a book about politics (much less a work of political science). However, I wanted to include at least one contemporary work (besides Mayhew’s recent books) addressing our current cultural and political climate, and other than this paradigm-shifting look at American history, this is the best, even after acknowledging that Nell and I are devoted watchers of the MSNBC weeknight 8-11 pm lineup[3]. Hayes uses a series of institutional “crises” (the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, the 2007-08 financial collapse, the failures of intelligence that led to the Iraq War, etc.) to illustrate how the laudable idea of meritocracy—the notion that societal advancement should be based solely on ability and achievement, not birthright or social class—slowly corrupted nearly every key American institution. In many ways, the system really is rigged, resulting in untenable economic inequalities, which both political parties need to find a way to address substantively sooner rather than later; color me optimistic.

To be continued…

[1] It may well have been a day in late 1982, as I stood in the upstairs parents’ bedroom of a close friend, leafing through a Newsweek magazine whose cover story previewed a possible Democratic presidential nomination battle between Mondale and Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy (who ultimately did not run). From what I was reading, Mondale seemed to have that Goldilocks “just right” quality.

[2] Sundquist, James L., 1983, Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the United States (revised edition). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, pg. 134.

[3] We usually start by watching the last few minutes of Hardball, as the girls are getting ready for bed. The girls then go to sleep in the latter half of “Chris,” definitely before the start of “Rachel.” Nell and the dog generally go to bed at “first commercial Lawrence.” Who needs clocks?