Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Colorado Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze the Colorado Senate election, one of the few Democratic victories that night. In this election,  Democrat Michael Bennett narrowly defeated Republican Ken Buck.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Colorado’s Senate Election

The results of the Colorado Senate election, like many other elections throughout 2010, closely matched the results of President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election. In fact, this senate election may have followed Mr. Obama’s performance more closely than any other election in 2010:

Only one county switched hands from 2008 to 2010: rural Chaffee County, which Senator Bennet won by a mere 44 votes.

This indicates that Colorado is a fairly polarized state. Its Republican parts go heavily Republican; its Democratic parts go heavily Democratic. Democratic candidate Michael Bennett did a full 7.3 percentage points worse than Mr. Obama, yet didn’t lose a single county that Mr. Obama won.

Notice too that both Mr. Bennett and Mr. Obama carve out a “C” of counties that they win in the middle of the state. When Democrats are able to do this, they generally win. When Republicans make inroads into the “C,” Republicans generally win. Republican candidate Ken Buck failed to make the necessary inroads into this territory, which is why he lost.

The Suburbs

Why did Mr. Bennett do so much worse than Mr. Obama?

Let's take a look at Mr. Obama's coalition first:

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

In 2008, Mr. Obama won Colorado by 9.0%. Interestingly, Colorado was the most important swing state that year. If Mr. Obama had lost all the states he did worse in than Colorado, he would have still won the election. But if he had lost all those states and Colorado, Senator John McCain would be president.

As this map shows, the Democrats get their votes from Boulder and Denver. Republicans get their votes from Colorado Springs and the rural areas. Take a particular look at the smaller blue circles around Denver. These are Denver’s suburbs, swing territory which Mr. Obama does quite well in. Also note the smaller red circle to the upper-left of Colorado Springs (Douglas County). Although it doesn’t look like it in this map, Douglas County is a Republican stronghold. Mr. Obama does remarkably well there, which is why the Republican margin of victory is so small.

Now let's move to the 2010 Senate election

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

In 2010 Mr. Bennett does a bit worse than Mr. Obama in the Denver suburbs; his margins are much smaller. Republican Ken Buck also is able to win Douglas County by a more normal margin for a Republican. The reason why Mr. Bennett does worse than Mr. Obama is mainly because of his weaker performance in the Denver suburbs.

Crucially, however, Democratic candidate Michael Bennett still wins the suburbs. Had he lost them, Colorado would today have a Republican senator.

Rural Colorado

A very interesting fact is revealed if one compares the shift of Colorado from 2008 to 2010:

This map illustrates that shift. Red counties became more Republican from 2008 to 2010; blue counties became more Democratic. This does not necessarily mean that a county which shifted Republican voted for the Republican (or vice versa). For instance, Denver shifted Republican from 2008 to 2010, but it still voted strongly Democratic in both elections.

Curiously, Democratic candidate Michael Bennett did better than Mr. Obama in a lot of Colorado’s most Republican areas. He improved substantially in the sparsely populated, strongly Republican rural counties – in particular the eastern part of the state. Mr. Bennett was involved in education in Denver before the election, so he has no local connection to rural Colorado.

There are several possibilities on why this happened. It seems that in presidential elections Republican areas vote more strongly Republican, and vice versa for Democratic areas. The map above could have been due to Republican and Democratic strongholds being less partisan during mid-term elections.

Another possibility is that the third-party vote had something to do with it. Neither candidate in 2010 was able to reach 50% of the vote, meaning that the third-party vote was relatively strong. If a third-party candidate takes a significant share of the vote, then mathematically Democrat margins will decrease in Democratic areas, and Republican margins will decrease in Republican areas.

Then there is the hypothesis that the president was a bad fit for rural Republican Colorado. He might have therefore have done worse than the average Democrat. Intuitively this explanation makes sense; Mr. Obama is not the type of person who appeals to rural Republicans.

Conclusions

One always must be careful to say that a particular state is trending for one party or the other. Nevertheless, the result of the 2010 senate election does seem to indicate that Colorado is moving Democratic.

2010 was the worst year in a generation for Democrats; Democrats throughout the country lost elections. In Colorado, a state that Bill Clinton lost in 1996, one would have expected Republican candidate Ken Buck to win.

Mr. Buck was admittedly a weaker-than-average candidate; he made some mistakes on abortion and the 17th Amendment. Yet, on the other hand, Mr. Buck was relatively untainted by scandal. He wasn’t obviously crazy, and he didn’t do stupid things like tell a bunch of Latino students that they looked Asian. In addition, the Democratic candidate Michael Bennett wasn’t a very exciting candidate. He doesn’t inspire passion amongst Democrats; most people still have no idea who he is.

Yet Mr. Buck didn’t win – he lost to an unexciting Democratic in the best Republican year in a generation. Republicans should have won the suburbs around Denver in 2010; they were doing so everywhere else in the country. The fact that they failed to do so is a very powerful indicator of Colorado’s Democratic trend.

--inoljt

 

Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Ohio Gubernatorial Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze the Ohio gubernatorial election, in which Republican John Kasich narrowly defeated Democrat Ted Strickland.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Ohio’s Gubernatorial Election

In most of the 2010 midterm elections, Democratic performances were strikingly similar to President Barack Obama’s performance in 2008. If a place had generally voted Democratic in the past, but didn’t vote for Mr. Obama – it tended not to vote Democratic in 2010 either. An example of this is southwest Pennsylvania. The same holds true for places that generally voted Republican in the past but went for Mr. Obama this time (e.g. the Houston and Salt Lake City metropolitan areas.)

Ohio’s gubernatorial election was an exception to this trend. Democratic former Governor Ted Strickland built a very traditional Democratic coalition in Ohio:

(A note: Credit for the first three maps in this post goes to the New York Times.)

This map is strikingly similar to previous Democratic performances in Ohio, and less similar to Mr. Obama’s. Mr. Obama did unusually well in Columbus and Cincinnati and unusually badly in the Ohio’s northeast unionized industrial corridor. Mr. Strickland depended less on Columbus and Cincinnati and more on the northeast.

Ohio’s 2010 gubernatorial election looks very similar to previous elections. Here, for instance, is President George W. Bush in 2004:

Even more similarly, we can look at President Bill Clinton’s victory in 1996. Of course, Mr. Clinton won Ohio by a decent margin while Mr. Strickland lost. But if you simply imagine the Republican margins widening and the Democratic margins decreasing, you get something very similar to Mr. Strickland’s map:

One can go further back – to the 1976 presidential election or even the 1940 presidential election – and get similar results. (Note that in the link for the 1976 presidential election, blue indicates Republican victories while red indicates Democratic victories; this is the opposite of the norm.)

Republican Governor John Kasich thus won a victory based off electoral patterns more than three generations old.

Two Unusual Patterns

Let’s compare Mr. Kasich’s performance with Senator John McCain’s performance:

This is a very unusual map. When most Republicans win, Republican strongholds shift more to the Republican candidate, while Democratic strongholds shift less.

This did not happen with Mr. Kasich. Rather, Mr. Kasich seems to have improved the most in the more populated areas of Ohio (Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland). He actually does worse than Mr. McCain in a number of Republican counties.

Notice also how Mr. Strickland improves upon Mr. Obama along the southeastern border of Ohio. This is not an accident; Mr. Strickland’s area of improvement directly traces the old congressional district he represented before becoming governor.

Here is a map of Ohio’s congressional districts. Mr. Strickland represented the 6th congressional district in the map:


There is one final interesting note about the 2010 Ohio gubernatorial election. Republican candidate John Kasich lost much of Appalachian southeastern Ohio. This is a rare occurrence; that part of Ohio is economically liberal but socially conservative and quite poor. It usually votes Republican but will occasionally go for a Democratic candidate.

Generally, this only happens when the Republican candidate is losing. That Mr. Kasich lost southeastern Ohio but still won the state is a rare thing.

The Democratic Party is in trouble in this part of America; it has gone from Clinton country to one of the few areas where Barack Obama did worse than John Kerry. The Democratic officeholders in this region are gradually being swept out of office.

Yet Mr. Strickland was able to win soundly in Appalachian Ohio, despite losing the state during the strongest Republican wave in a generation. That is quite a unique accomplishment. It offers a ray of hope to Democrats in Appalachian America.

--Inoljt

 

 

Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Pennsylvania Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze the Pennsylvania Senate election, in which Republican Pat Toomey won a narrow victory over Democrat Joe Sestak in a Democratic-leaning state.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Pennsylvania’s Political Structure

This map, modified from the New York Times website, provides a very useful visualization of the election. Democratic strength in Pennsylvania is very concentrated. The black vote helps Democrats win Philadelphia (by an enormous margin) and Pittsburgh (by a lesser one). Working-class whites in places like Erie, Scranton (which is the blue dot at the top-right corner of the map), and southwest Pennsylvania also generally vote Democratic. Or they used to, at any rate. Finally, wealthy whites in the suburbs of Philadelphia and the LeHigh Valley are also voting increasingly Democratic.

Republicans, on the other hand, generally win everywhere else. They are dominant in rural, conservative central Pennsylvania and the exurbs of the Philadelphia metropolis.

A strong Democrat will win all the areas of the Democratic base and then expand to win areas of the Republican coalition. Here is President Barack Obama, for instance:

Mr. Obama doesn’t just win the Democratic base, he does quite strongly in the exurbs of Philadelphia. Notice how much better he does in the Republican stronghold of Lancaster County (the biggest red circle in the first map) than Mr. Sestak does.

A strong Republican candidate, on the other hand, will win all the areas of the Republican base and then expand to win areas of the Democratic coalition. Republican Governor Tom Corbett, for instance, actually won Allegheny County, which Pittsburgh is located in.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey didn’t do so well. He won the Republican parts of Pennsylvania, but lost the Democratic parts of Pennsylvania. In normal elections, when this happens the result looks something like this:

This is the 2004 presidential election, in which Senator John Kerry barely won Pennsylvania. He did this without making any gains into Republican Pennsylvania. The Democratic parts of Pennsylvania just barely outnumber the Republican parts of Pennsylvania, which is why Pennsylvania is a Democratic-leaning state.

In 2010, however, Mr. Toomey – riding on a strong Republican wave – was able to overwhelm the Democratic parts of Pennsylvania. Mr. Toomey was able to squeeze enough blood out of the Republican exurbs and rural counties to win.

This is a fascinating result because it doesn’t happen that often. More often the result looks like 2004. The 2010 Pennsylvania Senate election thus constitutes a model of a Republican overwhelming Philadelphia and Pittsburgh without making many gains into Democratic territory.

Comparisons

Let’s compare Mr. Toomey’s performance with Mr. Obama’s performance:

As this image shows, there was a very uniform shift rightwards from 2008 to 2010; almost every county moved Republican by double-digits.

There are some interesting subtleties here. The Republican exurbs of Philadelphia, where Mr. Obama did so well, snapped back very strongly rightwards. On the other hand, Mr. Sestak actually did better in parts of southwest Pennsylvania – a Republican-trending region which was particularly uninspired by Mr. Obama.

There is an economic dimension to this. Republican Pat Toomey ran a campaign based on themes, such as free trade, which appealed more to well-off voters. Democrat Joe Sestak, on the other hand, ran a campaign based on more populist themes. We thus see Mr. Toomey doing particularly well in the rich parts of Pennsylvania, such as the LeHigh Valley or Lancaster County. Conversely, he actually did a bit worse than Senator John McCain in the poorest parts of the state: the Appalachian southwest and the city of Philadelphia.

Conclusions

Throughout the entire campaign, Democratic candidate Joe Sestak polled considerably behind Republican Pat Toomey. It was only at the end that he started catching up, as Pennsylvania’s Democratic nature asserted itself. However, Mr. Sestak couldn’t quite make it all the way; the Republican wave in 2010 was just too strong.

All in all, these results were very “normal.” This is in the sense that both candidates built very normal coalitions; neither did well in places Republicans or Democrats don’t usually do well in. The state itself shifted fairly uniformly from 2008. No one place behaved like an outlier (unlike the case with other states).

The 2010 Senate election thus constitutes a perfect example of just what a narrow Republican victory in Pennsylvania looks like.

--Inoljt

 

The 2010 Midterm Elections, and the Black Shift Republican

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

Republican strategists often refer to the African-American community with a tone of hopelessness. Blacks are just so, so amazingly Democratic. No matter what the Republican Party does, these people think, the black vote inevitably ends up giving Democrats more than 85% of the vote. Even when the Republican candidate himself or herself is African-American, the black community still votes around 80% Democratic. This hopelessness is especially pronounced in the age of Obama, an individual to whom the black vote is uniquely loyal (as the first black president).

It is true that blacks vote very, very Democratic. In other ways, however, they behave quite like other groups of voters.

Take the 2010 midterms elections. These were a disaster for the Democratic Party, which took a pounding and lost the House of Representatives. The Democratic share of the vote plummeted, hurt by a weak economy and unpopular policies:


Democratic Republican Margin 2010 House Elections 44.8 51.6 6.8 2008 House Elections 53.2 42.5 10.7 2008 Presidential Election 52.87 45.6 7.27

In this rightward shift, everybody voted more Republican than in 2008. Every region of the country was redder. Women voted more Republican. Men did. Republicans did. Independents did, especially so. Democrats did too. With regards to ethnicity, Americans of every race and nationality voted more Republican. Hispanics did. Asians did. Native Americans and Pacific Islanders did. Whites did, very much so.

So did blacks:


Democratic Republican Margin Black Vote: 2010 House Elections 89 9 80 Black Vote: 2008 House Elections 93 5 88 Black Vote: 2008 Presidential Election 95 4 91

Now, this table obviously shows that blacks still voted very Democratic in 2010. The point, however, is that – like everybody else – blacks also shifted Republican in 2010. The presence of President Barack Obama did not magically prevent Republicans from gaining black votes in 2010.

It is true that Republicans gained less amongst blacks:


2010 Republican Improvement From…
2008 House Elections 2008 Presidential Election Overall 17.5 14.1 Blacks 8 11

Partly this is because blacks are a highly Democratic constituency. When the nation as a whole shifts Republican, highly loyal Democrats move less rightwards than the average. Partly this is due to Mr. Obama’s popularity amongst blacks.

Without this rightward shift in the black vote, however Republican victories in Illinois or Pennsylvania’s senate races would have been a lot closer – or turned into losses altogether. The same holds true for close Republican victories in the Ohio and Florida gubernatorial elections. Democrats would probably hold a handful more House seats, from North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district to Alabama’s 2nd congressional district.

If Republicans had done the same amongst blacks as they did in 2008, Democrats would have won a number of races they lost. The Republican gain amongst blacks played an important part of their overall national victory.

 

California’s Unusual Black Vote in 2010

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

The black vote is one of the most reliably Democratic constituencies out there. Blacks commonly give Democratic candidates more than 90% of the vote; Democratic presidential candidates in 2000, 2004, and 2008 won 90%, 89%, and 95% of blacks respectively.

Blacks were as reliably Democratic as ever in the 2010 midterm elections. The black vote undoubtedly saved many a Democrat from defeat. Exit polls indicate that 89% of blacks nationwide voted for a Democratic congressman.

In California, however, blacks seemed to have been quite a bit more Republican than this. The table below indicates the black support, according to exit polls, gained by Republicans in California’s statewide races:

2010 Black Vote Democratic Republican Nationwide (House of Representatives) 89 9 California Governor 77 21 California Senator 80 17

This can be graphed as below:

 

Link to Graph of 2010 Black Vote For Republicans

 

Now, a word of caution before analyzing these results: exit polls are notoriously unreliable. It is entirely possible that a bad sample skewed these results (although since it appears that the polls for the two California races were separately done, this may be less likely).

If the exit polls prove correct, however, California blacks voted significantly more Republican than blacks elsewhere in the nation. Generally speaking, it is quite a feat for a Republican to get more than 15% of the black vote.

Yet in 2010 Republican candidates in California did this twice. These were not especially impressive candidates; both lost pretty badly. Nevertheless, they got a degree of black support one would only expect Republican to pull during a landslide victory.

Whether this degree of black support is something recent, or whether blacks in California have always voted this way, is hard to tell. According to exit polls, in 2008 they gave 94% of the vote to the Democratic candidate. In 2004 they gave 86% of the vote for Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (this was an election she won by a landslide). On the other hand, in 2004 a relatively paltry 70% voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides (who lost by a landslide).

Looking at the results does seem to indicate that blacks in California have been consistently more Republican than blacks nationwide, if not to the extent they were in 2010.

There are several reasons why this might have happened. Several years ago a blogger named dreaminonempty did a fascinating analysis, in which (s)he found that the blacks living in extremely non-black states tended to support Democrats less. For instance, blacks residing in states with higher black populations were more disapproving of President George W. Bush. This was the graph the blogger created:

 

Link to dreaminonempty's Graph

 

Califonia is a state with a relatively low black population. Moreover, blacks in California are unusually integrated and getting more so. Places traditionally associated with the black community are rapidly diversifying. For instance, today Oakland is barely more than one-fourth black and Compton is less than one-third black.

California, then, constitutes a good example of dreaminonempty’s hypothesis. Its relatively racially integrated communities may have something to do with a less monolithically Democratic black vote.

Republicans should not start celebrating yet, however. Their relative strength amongst the black vote has very little to do with Republican success at appealing to minorities, and much more to do with the characteristics of California’s black community. If the party is ever to regain competitiveness in California, it must begin reaching out to minorities. Judging by the 2010 election results, this is still a challenge the party has yet to overcome. 

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

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