GOP Not Allowed to Talk About the "Will of the Public"

John Boehner can't stop talking about the "will of the public" these days. Now that the Republicans have won the House, he keeps saying over and over that the Democrats must go along with Republican plans from now on because they have to listen to the... will of the public.

Well, here's what I don't remember -- the Republicans giving a damn about the will of the public after the 2008 elections. The American people spoke as loudly and clearly as I have ever seen in any election in my lifetime. They gave the House and the Senate by overwhelming margins to the Democrats. They also gave the Democrats the White House, and along with it, complete control of Washington. And did the Republicans listen to the will of the public, then? No, they blocked that will at every turn.

So, you'll excuse me now if I'm not buying the sudden increased interest the GOP has in listening to the American people and the results of an election. They never for one second respected the results of the 2008 election. They didn't give a damn what the American people wanted.

And that's their right as the opposition party, but they don't get to pretend now that they respect the results of an election and take it as a mandate to go in a certain political direction. And the Democrats would be damned fools if they fell for that trick.

By the way, the GOP has a funny definition of what the American people want. Here is the popularity, according to recent polls, of the different pieces of legislation they just opposed:

  1. Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- 77%
  1. START Treaty -- 67%
  1. Dream Act -- 54%
  1. Tax Cuts for Only the Middle Class and Not the Rich -- 67%
  1. 9/11 Responders Bill -- 99% (no polling on this, but who on God's green earth was against this)

By the way, the Obama administration has been given tremendous credit by the media for passing three out of five of these priorties. Really? Not one of the things they got through had popularity less than 67%. In fact, they conceded to the Republicans on an issue where they had two-thirds of the country behind them (no tax cuts for the rich).

The Republicans certainly don't get any credit for these bills passing despite their best efforts. In fact, they opposed these universally popular proposals -- and defeated some of them. And they spent the last two years completely and utterly ignoring the will of the voters. So, the next time they come with that nonsense line, someone should shove the real truth down their throats.

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The Worst Republican Senate Candidates of 2010, Part 1

This is the first part of two posts analyzing patterns in the 2010 Senate midterm elections. The second part can be found here.

The 2010 congressional midterm elections constituted, by and large, a victory for the Republican Party. In the Senate Republicans gained six seats. While this was somewhat below expectations, it was much better than Republican hopes just after 2008 – when many expected the party to actually lose seats.

The Senate results provide some interesting fodder for analysis. The table below indicates which Republicans Senate candidates did the worst in 2008. It does so by taking the Republican margin of victory or defeat in a given state and subtracting this by the Cook PVI of the state (the Cook PVI is how a state would be expected to vote in a presidential election in the event of an exact tie nationwide). Given that Republicans won the nationwide vote this year, the average Republican candidate would be expected to do better than the state’s PVI. A bad Republican candidate would actually do worse than the state’s PVI.

Let’s take a look at this table:

State Republican Margin Cook PVI Republican Overperformance South Dakota 100.00% 8.9% 91.10% North Dakota 53.91% 10.4% 43.51% Kansas 43.72% 11.5% 32.22% Iowa 31.05% -1.0%32.05% Idaho 46.25% 17.4% 28.85% Oklahoma 44.50% 16.9% 27.60% Florida 28.69% 1.8% 26.89% South Carolina 33.83% 7.8% 26.03% New Hampshire 23.22% -1.6%24.82% Arizona 24.14% 6.1% 18.04% Alabama 30.47% 13.2% 17.27% Ohio 17.44% 0.7% 16.74% Georgia 19.31% 6.8% 12.51% Arkansas 20.96% 8.8% 12.16% Missouri 13.60% 3.1% 10.50% Illinois 1.60% -7.7%9.30% Louisiana 18.88% 9.7% 9.18% Utah 28.79% 20.2% 8.59% Indiana 14.58% 6.2% 8.38% North Carolina 11.77% 4.3% 7.47% Wisconsin 4.84% -2.4%7.24% Pennsylvania 2.02% -2.0%4.02% Kentucky 11.47% 10.4% 1.07% Washington -4.73%-5.0%0.27% Alaska 11.94% 13.4% -1.46% Colorado -1.63%0.2% -1.83% California -10.01%-7.4%-2.61% Nevada -5.74%-1.3%-4.44% Connecticut -11.94%-7.1%-4.84% Delaware -16.58%-7.0%-9.58% Oregon -17.98%-4.0%-13.98% New York (S) -27.84%-10.2%-17.64% Maryland -26.44%-8.5%-17.94% West Virginia -10.07%7.9% -17.97% Vermont -33.41%-13.4%-20.01% New York -34.10%-10.2%-23.90% Hawaii -53.24%-12.5%-40.74% Total/Average 5.54% 2.3% 8.08%

(Note: The data in Alaska and Florida refer to the official candidates nominated by the parties, not the independent candidates – Senator Lisa Murkowski and Governor Charlie Crist – who ran in the respective states).

This table reveals some fascinating trends. There is a very clear pattern: the worst Republican candidates ran in the bluest states – and the bluer the state, the more the Republican underperformed. This does not just mean that these Republicans lost, but that they lost by more than the average Republican was supposed to in the state. Republican candidates did worse than the state’s PVI in thirteen states; nine of these states had a Democratic PVI.

There seems to be a PVI tipping point at which Republicans start underperforming: when a state is more than 5% Democratic than the nation (PVI D+5). Only one Republican in the nine states that fit this category overperformed the state PVI (Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois ).

Something is puzzling about this pattern. It is true that states like Connecticut or Maryland will probably vote Democratic even in Republican victories. The Cook PVI predicts that Democrats will win by X% in the event of a national tie in the popular vote. One would thus have expected Republican candidates to do better than this in 2010, given that 2010 was the strongest Republican performance in a generation.

Yet this did not happen. In a lot of blue states Democrats actually did better than the Cook PVI would project them to do – that is, said blue states behaved like the Democrats had actually won the popular vote, which they certainly did not in 2010. The bluer the state, the stronger this pattern.

There are a couple of reasons why this might be. The first thing that comes to mind is the money and recruiting game. The Republican Party, reasonably enough, does not expect its candidates to win in places like New York and Maryland . So it puts less effort into Republican candidates in those states. They get less money – and therefore less advertising, less ground game, and so on. Nobody had any idea who the Republican candidate in Vermont was, for instance. That probably contributes to Republican underperformance in deep-blue states.

The second factor might be a flaw in the model the table uses. Democratic and Republican strongholds, for whatever reason, behave differently from “uniform swing” models. In almost all the counties President Barack Obama won, for instance, he improved upon President Bill Clinton 1992 and 1996 performance – despite the fact that Mr. Clinton won by similar margins in the popular vote. This holds true from San Francisco to rural Mississippi . In the 2010 Massachusetts special Senate election, the most Democratic areas of Massachusetts swung least towards Republican Senator Scott Brown. The fact that the worst Republican candidates ran in the bluest states fits the pattern.

The table presents another startling pattern, which will be discussed in the next post: there are surprisingly few Republicans who did worse than they were supposed to in red states.



Potential to Push Green Policies forward in the New Congress?

The Tea Party is making its presence known in Washington this week. Even before freshmen lawmakers were sworn in, party leader Senator Jim DeMint was trying to push the GOP to the right by criticizing what the conservatives call Rinos: Republicans in name only (so much for the big tent party).

I expect the 112th Congress to include many more of these demands to show far-right credentials. But believe it or not, I also think it will present opportunities to move key environmental priorities forward.

Sure, this Congress includes a larger percentage of people with completely crazies ideas than the previous one and there is no doubt that it is going to be harder to improve the health of our people, air, water, and land.  But that doesn’t mean environmental progress has to come to screeching halt.

Indeed, we have never relied on one party alone to achieve green goals. From the launch of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Nixon to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 signed by the first President Bush, the environmental movement has succeeded only when we garnered bipartisan support.

And even now, in the midst of Tea Party fervor, we have the potential to do it again. Why? Because I see signs that the GOP hasn’t lost all its ability to moderate and reach across the aisle.

One of the most surprising signs comes from a Tea Party darling himself. Patrick Toomey won a Senate seat from Pennsylvania thanks in part to a Sarah Palin endorsement and a lot of antiestablishment rhetoric. And yet this week Toomey said that he may not vote for everything Tea Party standard bearer Jim DeMint asks for—including opposing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which he said he would have supported.

Toomey also went so far as to co-author an op-ed in USA Today with Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. Together they wrote: “Cross-party alliances often make for the most effective partnerships.”

But here is what I find most revealing about the GOP’s relationship to the far right: new Majority Leader John Boehner did not give any influential posts on House committees to Tea Party lawmakers. The positions he did offer were minor at best.

Why would he undercut a political force he himself benefitted from in the November elections? Because he knows that races are won or lost according to the independent voter. In the past few elections, those voters have been swinging back and forth between parties.

Boehner and his colleagues know that just because they got the independents in 2010 doesn’t mean they will keep them the next time.

The Cook Political Report has already issued its assessment of which lawmakers are vulnerable in 2012. That means the lawmakers being sworn in this week are already running for election, and if there are running in a pendulum district, they can’t indulge all their ideological insanity and expect to keep their seats.

Of course, it is completely possible that the GOP will plunge into Civil War and the Tea Party faction will head into the 2012 elections with greater influence. But I think it is more probable that GOP lawmakers will try to distance themselves from the craziness.

That leaves those of us who care about the environment and public health with an important job to do: we have to present lawmakers with opportunities to demonstrate their sanity.

We are not going to pass a cap and trade bill through this Congress, but there are openings on the legislative agenda to build bipartisan backing for common sense solutions.

Reforming the rules governing toxics to keep our children safe from cancer and other diseases, using the transportation bill to promote American jobs, and passing an energy bill that helps America do more using less energy—all of these policies are good for American families and all of them have garnered some GOP support in the past.

Now we need to work with all the leaders who want to build a cleaner future for America—and prove they are sane lawmakers.

This blog was originally posted on the NRDC Action Fund blog, The Markup.



Analyzing the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, Part 2




The Winds of Change in Georgia, Part 1

This is the first part of two posts describing a fascinating election in Georgia. The second part can be found here.

Georgia is a red state. It votes reliably Republican; the Republican Party controls every level of Georgia’s state government. It would be miraculous for Barack Obama to win the state in 2012.

However, Georgia used to be a very blue state. It belonged to the Solid South, a Democratic stronghold for generations. As early as 1948, however, the first signs of change came. Backlash against the Civil Rights movement and the growth of Republican suburbia eventually destroyed the Democratic Party in Georgia.

(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 1980 Georgia Senate Election

I have come across a very interesting election which illustrates this shift. To the best of my knowledge there is not any election similar to what happened in the 1980 Georgia Senate election:

This election posed incumbent Democratic Senator Herman Talmadge against Republican challenger Mack Mattingly.

At this time Georgia was definitely beginning to shift Republican, like its fellow southern states. At the same time, however, Democrats continued to hold great strength in the rural areas. Local Democrats consistently outperformed their presidential candidates (indeed, it would take until the late 1990s for Republicans to begin consistently winning statewide elections).

Democratic Senator Talmadge is a very interesting figure. He was one of the last of the old-style Southern Democrats. This meant that he was an economic liberal, dedicated to improving the lot of the white rural Georgian farmer through government programs. It also meant that he was strongly conservative in most other things, including race. Like all old-style Southern Democrats, Senator Talmadge was a strong proponent of segregation.

Talmadge would probably have won in normal circumstances (Georgia was still pretty Democratic at a local level in 1980). However, he had the misfortune to be caught up in a finance scandal.  This, along with a tough primary challenge and Georgia’s slowly reddening trend, led to his historic loss. Republican Mack Mattingly thus became the second Republican Senator in Georgia, ever. The previous Republican Senator had held office more than a century before Mattingly.

Let's compare Mattingly's coalition with Senator John McCain's coalition in the 2008 presidential election.

Republicans in 2008

McCain won Georgia, unsurprisingly. His coalition is a very typical Republican coalition today; he won and lost the same areas that Republicans usually win and lose today.

Notice the vast difference between McCain’s coalition of 2008 and Mattingly’s coalition of 1980. Republicans nowadays in Georgia generally win based on a coalition of rural whites and suburban whites living north of Atlanta. The city of Atlanta itself, heavily minority, is a Democratic stronghold. But suburban Republican strength north of Atlanta severely diminishes Democratic margins coming out of the city. In good elections, Republicans can even win the metropolitan area entirely. In closer elections, such as 2008, they can rely on the ever-more Republican rural white vote to do the rest of the job.

It should be noted that suburban Atlanta is well on its way to becoming minority-majority. Nevertheless, Republicans are at the moment still able to get good margins out of it.

Republicans in 1980

In 1980, the Republican coalition was almost the exact opposite of this. Republican Senator Mattingly’s greatest strength came out of the Atlanta metropolis. He actually won the heavily-minority counties in Atlanta itself, something unheard of for any Republican today. On the other hand, Mattingly performed extremely poorly with rural whites, who strongly preferred his Democratic opponent. Today it would be unheard of for any Republican to do as poorly as Mattingly did in rural Georgia.

Another fascinating difference: compare how the cities voted in the two elections. In 2008 Barack Obama won every single county home to a city listed in the map above. In 1980, Democrat Herman Talmadge lost all of these places except for Macon. It wasn’t just Atlanta that voted Republican in that election; so did all the smaller cities outside of it. Today all of these places vote Democratic.

There are two constants between these two elections. In both 1980 and 2008, Republicans were able to win Atlanta’s northern suburbs and rural northern Georgia. In 1980 Republicans did better in the suburbs; in 2008 they did better in rural northern Georgia. Both times these two areas proved key for the Republican victory.

The Black Vote

There is one final concern which has not been touched upon: the role of Georgia’s black population in all this. African-Americans compose almost one-third of Georgia’s population, and their presence was a key influence (or perhaps “the” key influence) in Georgia’s Republican shift.

In 1980 Republican candidate Mack Mattingly won areas with substantial black populations, most notably the heavily-black city of Atlanta itself. Surely Democratic Senator Herman Talmadge’s dedicated support to segregation wouldn’t have appealed to the black vote.

So did Republicans win the black vote in this 1980 election?

This is in fact the reason that I decided to write this analysis in the first place, and the next post will examine this question.




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