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.


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.


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.



Inside the Nomination Process

By: Inoljt, 

I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with a lawyer who had worked at the former Bush administration. This individual’s job was guiding and selecting presidential nominees for various posts in government. He was quite young; perhaps in his 30s or 40s. It was quite interesting listening to what he had to say.

Most nominations – around 90%, according to this lawyer – had almost no presidential involvement. This was due to how much stuff the president had on his plate; he generally only personally involved himself in those nominations which required Senate confirmation.

In general, the president gave an outline of what he wanted, such as an individual holding an ideological viewpoint similar to his. Then the staff did all the legwork of choosing, vetting, and sending through the nomination. The president only signed approval at the end. He might sign through multiple nominations, such as a list of eight nominees, at one time.

There is, of course, a background check. Generally the CIA or FBI goes around asking all the people you know for information. They then, with more important nominations, try to go around asking your contacts for more contacts.

Finally, the president prized diversity – something that was quite surprising but encouraging to hear. According to the former lawyer, this was not always very easy to achieve. It’s easy to find diverse candidates in places like New York or Los Angeles, he said. But in places like Minnesota or Missouri it’s a lot harder. The difficulty was multiplied by the fact that the president was looking for nominees of a conservative mind-set. Minorities, of course, are much more likely to vote Democratic and hold liberal views. Finding, for instance, a conservative non-white accomplished lawyer in North Carolina is actually a non-trivial task.

The lawyer told a story about a time they had submitted a list of eight candidates to the president to be signed. The first seven were white males; “we didn’t do it purposedly; it just happened to be that way,” he stated.

The eighth nominee was for Puerto Rico, and had a name similar to Eduardo Perez (I forget the exact name). After looking at the names and signing the president joked, “What, you couldn’t find another white male for Puerto Rico?”

All in all, the conversation was very interesting and informative. A lot of the day-by-day things that go into running the country are unrecorded by the media. It’s good to get some insight into what actually goes on inside things such as the nomination process.

Why Don’t Hmong-Americans Vote Republican?

By: Inoljt,

Perhaps no group in America has suffered more from Communism than the Hmong community.

The CIA first recruited the Hmong, impoverished tribes living in the hills of Southeast Asia, to help fight the Communists in Vietnam and Laos. When the Communists won in Vietnam and then Laos, the Hmong were persecuted and sent to camps for their anti-communist role. Eventually many found their way as refugees to the United States. They faced opposition from the Clinton administration, but strong support from Republicans enabled most to come to America as immigrants.

How do the Hmong vote?

It’s not always easy to pick out the voting patterns of smaller communities, like the Hmong. One has to take account of many confounding factors, ranging from participation rates to the voting patterns of other communities.

Nevertheless, it seems pretty clear that the Hmong vote Democratic.

There are several lines of evidence behind this statement. Firstly, Hmong elected officials – individuals such as former Minnesota State Representative Cy Thao and former Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua – belong to the Democratic Party. Secondly, Democratic candidates tend to attend official Hmong events. For instance, only Democratic candidate Al Franken attended this Hmong townhall meeting; Republican candidate Norm Coleman was invited but declined the invitation.

Finally, polls indicate that the Hmong vote Democratic. This poll found that 57% of Hmong identify as Democrats, while a mere 4% identify as Republicans. Done before the 2008 presidential election, it also showed Democrat Barack Obama gaining 65% of the Hmong vote, to Republican John McCain’s 4% support.

Those are some pretty stunning numbers. Even if the poll is badly flawed, or has a very leftward bias, it seems safe to say that the Hmong are a strong Democratic constituency.

There is a good reason for this; the Hmong community is quite poor. Indeed, 30.2% of Hmong-Americans receive public assistance income, more than triple the rate amongst Americans overall. Democratic economic policies tend to favor the poor more, and this is a strong draw for the Hmong.

But it’s still quite shocking that the draw of the Democratic Party’s economic policies is so strong as to produce a 57-4 registration advantage among the Hmong. One would think that the Republican Party would do better. After all, Republican lobbying is the reason why many Hmong are today in America, instead of refugee camps in Thailand.

Moreover, the Democratic Party is closer ideologically to the Communist Party which the Hmong fought for decades. This is why Cubans and Vietnamese-Americans, also refugees from Commmunist persecution, vote Republican. And the Hmong have certainly suffered from Communism; Democratic Hmong politicians Cy Thao and Mee Moua both had families who came from Thailand refugee camps.

The ultimate irony is that the very economic policies which put the Democratic Party closer on the ideological spectrum to the Communist Party are the reason why the Hmong vote Democratic.



What It’s Like To Be A Republican Legislator in California

I recently had the opportunity to visit California’s State Assembly and watch the legislature in action. I think this opportunity provided me a deeper understanding of the problem ailing California politics.

The first thing to know is that, if you’re a Republican legislator in California, you are always, always losing. The Democratic Party always sets the agenda. Then a Democratic Assemblyman will introduce a bill. Sometimes the bill is uncontroversial – something like National Mitochrondria Day. Other times the bill is heatedly partisan.

When the bill is partisan, the Republicans will stand up and argue against it. They will be heated. They will be angry – indeed, Republican legislators generally have a much angrier tone than their Democratic counterparts. They will talk about how the Constitution is being violated, how America’s Founding Fathers would look aghast at the bill, how America is a country of liberty, and how the bill is infringing upon America’s freedoms.

And then, when voting time comes, the Republicans lose. The bill they so hate inevitably passes. This is because California is a Democratic state, and the Democrats therefore have a majority. The result is that day in, day out Republicans are losing. They lose every single time. They spend every single minute in the legislature losing.

Except on one issue. California, you see, requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes (and, until recently, to pass the budget). There are barely enough Republicans in the chamber to deny Democrats the two-thirds majority.

So here, on this one issue, a Republican legislator can win. And what an important issue! Taxes and budgets, after all, are the most important priority for any state.

The California Republican Party blankly refuses to allow tax increases of any kind. Not a dollar, not a dime, not a cent. It never, ever cooperates with the Democratic Party.

It probably feels very good, too, for Republican legislators so tired of losing all the time. How immensely satisfying it must feel for a California Republican legislator to win a victory. Republicans can even tell themselves that they’re doing the state good, since high taxes are of course what’s ruining California.

What’s really hurting California, however, is the legislative gridlock that results from the Republican Party’s refusal to compromise. The party knows that California is a Democratic stronghold, so it will never hold power. But because California requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes (and, until recently, pass a budget), Republicans can be hostage-takers. That is essentially the only role that California’s Republican Party has.

Eventually the Democratic Party will gain the necessary two-thirds majority. They are already very close, and California is trending left. Then Republicans will truly have no power. One hopes that will provide them enough incentive to change their ideology and politicians in a way that garners more support from California’s diverse population. Otherwise, the party will wither away into nothingness.



Packing Native Americans

This is the last part in a series of posts examining how to create super-packed districts of one race. The other posts in this series pack AsiansblacksHispanics, and whites.

Packing Native Americans

Alone out of all the ethnicities examined, there are not enough Native Americans in the United States to form a majority Native American congressional district. Indeed, Native Americans compose a mere 0.9% of America’s total population.

Native American living patterns tend to be extremely segregated. Native American reservations tend to be 90-100% Native American; outside the reservation their numbers drop to nearly zero. There are not enough reservations in any state to make a congressional district merely by joining together all the reservations.

The five states with the highest percentage of Native Americans are Alaska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and finally Montana. Unfortunately, all these states - with the exception of Oklahoma - have extremely small population sizes. This makes it very difficult to pack Native Americans. Oklahoma is the exception, but its Native American population is too integrated to effectively pack.

As it turns out, the most Native American district possible is found in Arizona. Take a look at Arizona’s racial demographics. Native Americans are black in this picture (so the darker-colored precincts tend to be more Native American).

From this, it is possible to draw this district:

This is a 26.9% Native American district. There are in fact more Native Americans in this district than Hispanics.

The district goes into several cities which have respectable Native American populations. Here is Flagstaff:

This city, located in northern Arizona, has enough Native Americans that the entire city was put into the district.

Here is Phoenix:

Phoenix is the key to this district. Surprisingly, it has a decent Native American population. It also composes more than half of Arizona’s population. Phoenix thus provides the population padding necessary to create this district.

Finally, here is Tucson:

Overall, this district is quite liberal; it gave President Barack Obama 58.9% of the vote in the 2008 presidential election. Given the fact that Arizona is both a fairly conservative state and Senator John McCain’s home state at the same time, this is quite a good performance for the Democrats. It is all the more impressive considering that the district is barely one-fourth Hispanic.

It does appear that Native Americans voted Democratic, in Arizona at least. But there may be another factor at work here. In many of the Phoenix precincts Native Americans were less than 10% of the population; their voting power was not very great. Nor was the Hispanic population especially great, and Hispanics were certainly not a majority of the electorate. Yet these precincts still voted fairly Democratic. It may be – and this is just a hypothesis – that Native Americans tend to live in areas in which white voters are more liberal.




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