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

 

“They Vote Against Their Own Self-Interest”

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

There’s a common refrain among both parties of the American political system. Members of Group X always vote for the opposing party. But it doesn’t make sense for Group X to be so antagonistic against us. Our party’s policies are actually much more in line with what members of Group X believe. They’re voting against their own self-interest. If only members of Group X woke up and saw the light, they’d be voting for our party all the time.

For Democrats, Group X is generally the working class white southern vote. Poor white southerners, the line goes, benefit much more from Democratic economic policies than from Republican economic policies. Yet they vote strongly Republican. Why, Democrats lament, do poor white southerners continually vote against their own self-interest? If only they realized this, they would start voting Democratic.

For Republicans, Group X is the black (and, to a lesser extent, Latino) vote. I recently listened to a conservative radio host talk extensively about how it just didn’t make sense for the African-American community to be so Democratic. Black churches, for instance, are bastions of Democratic strength, yet their social policies are much more in line with Republican social policies than Democratic ones. African-Americans and Hispanics in general hold very socially conservative views on things such as religion and gay marriage; it doesn’t make sense for them to be voting Democratic when those beliefs are so opposed to Democratic ones. I’m not asking for much, the radio host said, just 30% of the black vote. It’s ridiculous to be losing African-Americans 10-to-90.

In my opinion, these arguments are less valid than they seem. Both poor white southerners and African-Americans have very good reasons to vote for the parties that they do. In both the Democratic and Republican Party there are a subtle (and sometimes not very subtle) currents of hostility towards white southerners and African-Americans, respectively. You don’t have to be in politics very long to be aware of this. White southerners and African-Americans will naturally be reluctant to vote for a party whose fundamental narrative, in many ways, paints themselves as antagonists. Voters aren’t stupid, unlike what many people say.

 

 

Why Republicans Aren’t Serious About Reducing the Deficit

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Republicans talk a good game about why the United States must reduce its debt. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan:

We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.

On this current path, when my three children — who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old — are raising their own children, the federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.

No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.

Frankly, it’s one of my greatest concerns as a parent — and I know many of you feel the same way.

Mr. Ryan then proposed a plan whose purpose is purportedly to solve America’s debt problems. To its credit, this plan cuts trillions of dollars in spending. It bravely – or cruelly, depending on your political orientation – cuts the sacred Medicare program.

But then Mr. Ryan’s plan does something very strange, at least if its purpose is to reduce the deficit.

To cut the deficit one has to cut spending and raise taxes. Supply-siders argue that cutting taxes will lead to more revenues raised. Perhaps in a world in which taxation levels are at 90% or 70% that is true, but right now in the United States we’re definitely not at that level (the highest tax bracket is currently 35%). So one have to raise taxes to solve the deficit.

Instead of raising taxes, however, Mr. Ryan cuts trillions of dollars in taxes in his plan.

This is not something unique to this particular Republican. As a whole, the Republican Party steadfastly refused to allow a single dime in revenue increases during the debt ceiling debate. It proudly advocated extending the Bush tax cuts for everybody before that. Fighting against tax increases is a very core element of the Republican program today. The Republican Party does this because it goes against their philosophy of small government.

Now, that’s absolutely fine; there’s nothing wrong with arguing against tax increases. The Republican Party believes that America should lower taxes and lower spending. That’s a philosophy that it will try selling to the American people during election time, and then America will have a debate over that philosophy.

But there is a problem when Republicans sell their proposals as a way to solve the deficit. Cutting taxes and cutting spending does not solve the deficit anymore than “tax and spend liberals” do. Cutting taxes increases the deficit. That’s simply a fact (unless taxes are 70%, which they aren’t in this country).

The Ryan proposal, like most Republican proposals, is a proposal to change America to be more like what Paul Ryan wants America to be like. That may be a better America or a worse America. I personally believe that enacting Ryan’s plan hurts America; many Americans, for very valid reasons, believe that it helps America.

But when Mr. Ryan – or other Republican politicians – sells his proposal as a way to cut the deficit, that’s disingenuous. The plan simply isn’t a way to cut the deficit; it has too many trillions of deficit-raising tax-cuts inside it. It’s fine for Mr. Ryan to advertise his plan as the Republican vision of what America should be like. It’s not fine for him to advertise the plan as a way to cut the deficit. That’s not what Republicans really want; otherwise they would be willing to accept tax increases.

All in all, any Republican who’s not willing to increase taxes is not serious about cutting the deficit, full stop. And since almost no Republican nowadays will agree to tax increases, then the Republican Party as a whole really isn’t serious about reducing America’s debt. It certainly talks a good game. But when push comes to shove, what the Republican Party really wants is to change American to be more like it’s vision of what America should be like (rather than cut the deficit). That’s absolutely fine on its merits. Just don’t pretend that you’re trying to reduce the deficit when you do that.

 

 

Why Republicans Aren’t Serious About Reducing the Deficit

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Republicans talk a good game about why the United States must reduce its debt. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan:

We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.

On this current path, when my three children — who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old — are raising their own children, the federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.

No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.

Frankly, it’s one of my greatest concerns as a parent — and I know many of you feel the same way.

Mr. Ryan then proposed a plan whose purpose is purportedly to solve America’s debt problems. To its credit, this plan cuts trillions of dollars in spending. It bravely – or cruelly, depending on your political orientation – cuts the sacred Medicare program.

But then Mr. Ryan’s plan does something very strange, at least if its purpose is to reduce the deficit.

To cut the deficit one has to cut spending and raise taxes. Supply-siders argue that cutting taxes will lead to more revenues raised. Perhaps in a world in which taxation levels are at 90% or 70% that is true, but right now in the United States we’re definitely not at that level (the highest tax bracket is currently 35%). So one have to raise taxes to solve the deficit.

Instead of raising taxes, however, Mr. Ryan cuts trillions of dollars in taxes in his plan.

This is not something unique to this particular Republican. As a whole, the Republican Party steadfastly refused to allow a single dime in revenue increases during the debt ceiling debate. It proudly advocated extending the Bush tax cuts for everybody before that. Fighting against tax increases is a very core element of the Republican program today. The Republican Party does this because it goes against their philosophy of small government.

Now, that’s absolutely fine; there’s nothing wrong with arguing against tax increases. The Republican Party believes that America should lower taxes and lower spending. That’s a philosophy that it will try selling to the American people during election time, and then America will have a debate over that philosophy.

But there is a problem when Republicans sell their proposals as a way to solve the deficit. Cutting taxes and cutting spending does not solve the deficit anymore than “tax and spend liberals” do. Cutting taxes increases the deficit. That’s simply a fact (unless taxes are 70%, which they aren’t in this country).

The Ryan proposal, like most Republican proposals, is a proposal to change America to be more like what Paul Ryan wants America to be like. That may be a better America or a worse America. I personally believe that enacting Ryan’s plan hurts America; many Americans, for very valid reasons, believe that it helps America.

But when Mr. Ryan – or other Republican politicians – sells his proposal as a way to cut the deficit, that’s disingenuous. The plan simply isn’t a way to cut the deficit; it has too many trillions of deficit-raising tax-cuts inside it. It’s fine for Mr. Ryan to advertise his plan as the Republican vision of what America should be like. It’s not fine for him to advertise the plan as a way to cut the deficit. That’s not what Republicans really want; otherwise they would be willing to accept tax increases.

All in all, any Republican who’s not willing to increase taxes is not serious about cutting the deficit, full stop. And since almost no Republican nowadays will agree to tax increases, then the Republican Party as a whole really isn’t serious about reducing America’s debt. It certainly talks a good game. But when push comes to shove, what the Republican Party really wants is to change American to be more like it’s vision of what America should be like (rather than cut the deficit). That’s absolutely fine on its merits. Just don’t pretend that you’re trying to reduce the deficit when you do that.

 

 

A Surprising Difference Between Rick Perry and George W. Bush

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

Texas Governor Rick Perry has just entered the 2012 Republican primary, and already the governor is shaking things up. Mr. Perry has jumped to the top of the polls, neck-in-neck with former Governor Mitt Romney.

Unsurprisingly, Mr. Perry’s quick rise has invited comparisons to former President George W. Bush. Both, after all, were or are Republican governors of the state of Texas. Both speak with the same Texas drawl. Democrats will be quick to embellish these similarities, attacking Mr. Perry as a clone of the unpopular Mr. Bush.

There is, however, one surprising difference between the two Texas governors.

Rick Perry has campaigned as a proud conservative warrior. He gained national attention for suggesting, mostly as a political ploy, that Texas could secede from the union. He has called the Federal Reserve as acting “treasonous.”  He hosted a prayer rally for the nation just before announcing his candidacy. In the few days since he has declared his candidacy, Mr. Perry has thrown out more red meat than the Republican field has seen for months.

In 2000, on the other hand, Governor George W. Bush campaigned as a moderate. This may surprise a number of people, especially those whose opinion of Mr. Bush is more negative. But it’s the truth: Mr. Bush played much on the theme of “compassionate conservatism” in 2000. In the area of foreign policy, he promised an end to the foreign “misadventures” that the Clinton administration was so fond of getting into. Mr. Bush spent much time talking about the bipartisan success he’d had working with the Democratic Texas legislature. He promised to continue doing this as president.

Of course, the events of September 11th fundamentally upturned Mr. Bush’s presidency; after that, he spoke no longer about compassionate conservatism. Who knows what Mr. Bush might have done had America not been attacked then.

Be as that may, the fact remains that Mr. Bush and Mr. Perry campaigned and are campaigning on two very different themes. Mr. Perry is advertising himself as a conservative firebrand. Mr. Bush advertised himself as a “compassionate conservative.” The two are very different themes, and observers of the 2012 Republican primary may well be advised to pay attention to the difference.

 

 

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