Analyzing the South Carolina Gubernatorial Election, Part 1

This is the first part of three posts analyzing the 2010 South Carolina gubernatorial election, in which Republican Nikki Haley won a closer-than-expected victory over Democrat Vincent Sheheen. The main focus of these posts will be to explore whether a racial effect accounted for Ms. Haley’s unexpected poor performance.

The next post can be found here.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying. This is also part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections.)

Link to Map of South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election

It was the October, 2010 in South Carolina. Nikki Haley, Republican candidate for South Carolina governor, was cruising. She was a conservative candidate – endorsed by none other than Sarah Palin herself – running in a conservative state, in the best Republican year in a generation.

Opinion polls showed the Republican politician leading by double-digits. Even the most pessimistic gave Ms. Haley a high single digit lead.

On election day, however, Ms. Haley won by only 4.5%:

Link to Map of Margins South Carolina, 2010 Gubernatorial Election

What could have accounted for Ms. Haley’s poor performance?

Several factors come to mind. Ms. Haley was not an uncontroversial candidate; her positions were conservative even for South Carolina. The Democratic candidate, Vincent Sheheen, might have been an unnaturally talented campaigner. And there is always the factor of randomness to take into account. There were hundreds of races in November; the polls would inevitably be inaccurate on one or two, and this race just happened to be one of them.

Or perhaps there is another explanation – a particularly ugly one, but one that lurks at the back of everybody’s head. Ms. Haley was an woman of Indian heritage running to govern South Carolina, a state with not exactly the most innocent racial history. Throughout the campaign, Ms. Haley was subject to attacks that implicitly played up the racial angle: she had had affairs with white men (unfortunately for the accusers, this attack doesn’t work as well against women), she wasn’t Christian or was only pretending to be one, and so on.

It is not unimaginable that a sort of Bradley effect took place in South Carolina, that a number of normally steadfast Republicans balked at voting for the first non-white and female governor in history.

This is a serious accusation, and therefore needs serious evidence. The next post will therefore begin an extensive examination of whether Ms. Haley’s race undermined her performance.




Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Illinois Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will focus on the Illinois Senate election, in which Republican candidate Mark Kirk pulled out a close Republican victory in a strongly Democratic 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.)

Illinois’s Senatorial Election

Link to Map of Illinois, 2010 Senate Election

Senator Mark Kirk’s victory follows the contours of a previous post, titled Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois. This post argued:

So what does Mr. Kirk have to do? Say that he gets 35% of the vote in Cook County – propelled by inner-ring suburban strength and minority apathy – and wins a landslide everywhere else in the state (for instance, a 3:2 margin). This gives him 50.3% of the vote in the 2008 Illinois electorate. If white Republicans downstate turn out, and minorities in Chicago do not, Mr. Kirk may get bumped up to a 2-3% victory.

As it turns out, this is almost exactly what actually happened in the election.

The previous analysis divided Illinois into three sections: Chicago, the suburbs of Chicago, and downstate Illinois. Let’s take a look at what Mr. Kirk did in each part of Illinois.


Illinois is generally a Democratic stronghold. Cook County, home to the city of Chicago, composes more than 40% of the state’s population, and Democrats always win by a landslide in the county. Republicans have to stretch themselves to the limit everywhere else in the state – winning even the areas that normally vote Democratic – to get close.

But Republicans also must dampen Democratic margins in Cook County. This happens if Republicans can do well in the parts of Cook County outside Chicago, which are whiter and more conservative. In the city of Chicago itself, most voters are so Democratic that they will prefer not voting to casting the ballot for a Republican. There, low turn-out is more important for Republicans than actually winning over voters.

In 2010, Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias won 64.3% of the vote in Cook County.

At first glance, this sounds quite good. Winning 64.3% of the vote is nothing to sniff at. No president has ever won that much of the popular vote in history.

But Senator John Kerry won 70.2% of the vote in Cook County. And President Barack Obama took 76.2% of the vote. In modern Illinois politics, a Democratic candidate who takes only 64.3% of the vote in Cook County is in deep trouble.

Chicago’s Suburbs

“Previewing Senate Elections, Illinois” stated that:

The true test of Mark Kirk’s candidacy will come in the Chicago suburbs…

He will not just have to win the suburbs, but turn the clock back two decades – back to the glory years in which Republicans won around 70% of the vote in DuPage County. (Mr. Kirk will probably not have to do that well, given rising Republican strength downstate.)

Is this doable? Given that Republicans seem to be winning suburbs everywhere this year, it is certainly possible. Mr. Kirk, moreover, has spent a decade representing a Chicago suburb congressional district; this is why Republicans have nominated him.

As it turned out, Mr. Kirk passed the test with flying colors. His moderate image and suburban origin led to double-digit victories in every one of the collar counties surrounding Cook County.

In the past, Republicans have won Illinois through massive support in the Chicago’s suburbs to offset the Democratic advantage in Chicago itself. Mr. Kirk was able to somewhat replicate this model in 2010:

Link to Table Comparing Dupage and Cook County Margins

This strength did not extend to all Republicans. Republican candidate Bill Brady, for instance, still won the Chicago suburbs. But his margins were just the slightest bit off – a high single-digit rather than double-digit victory here; a 15-point rather than 20-point margin there – and ultimately this led to Mr. Brady’s defeat.

Downstate Illinois

Imagine that the year is 1990, and Republican Mark Kirk pulls the exact same numbers in the Chicago metropolis.

Most analysts in that year would say that Mr. Kirk is on his way to a sure loss – after all, Democrats are quite competitive in downstate Illinois, and Mr. Kirk just hasn’t squeezed enough juice from the collar counties.

Today, however, downstate Illinois has trended firmly Republican. Without this trend Mr. Kirk would not have won.

Here is an illustration of Illinois in the 1992 presidential election:

Link to Map of Illinois, 1992 Presidential Election

President Bill Clinton is doing quite well, winning almost every single county downstate – many by double-digits. Compare this to President Barack Obama’s performance:

Link to Map of Illinois, 2008 Presidential Election

Mr. Obama is actually doing much better in Illinois than Mr. Clinton, and yet he loses a number of the downstate counties Mr. Clinton won.

This illustrates the shift in downstate Illinois to the Republican side, and in 2010 Mr. Kirk took full advantage of that trend to win re-election.


The post “Previewing Senate Elections: Illinois” concluded by mapping, somewhat light-heartedly, a hypothetical Republican victory:

Link to Map of Hypothetical Republican Victory in Illinois

Mr. Kirk’s victory ended up looking extremely similar:

Link to Map of Actual Republican Victory in Illinois

All in all, it is always exciting to see a Republican victory in a Democratic stronghold, or a Democratic victory in a Republican stronghold. Mr. Kirk’s victory is the first time a Republican has won Illinois in quite a while. It constitutes one of the Republican Party’s greatest triumphs in the 2010 midterm elections.



The Future of the Asian-American Vote

Asians are one of the most ignored constituencies in American politics. When most politicians think about the Asian vote, they don’t.

Yet the Asian-American population is increasing, both in absolute terms and relative ones. By 2050, the Census estimates that Asians will compose 7.8% of the American population. Although their voting rates will still fall far short of this, the population is becoming more influential. Predicting their future voting path therefore has some utility.

In previous posts, this blogger has argued that the Latino vote will likely trend Republican, as Latinos follow the path of previous immigrants and become more assimilated.

Will the same happen for Asian-Americans?

Probably not:

Link to Graph of Asian Vote Over Time

As the graph above shows, the Asian vote has steadily moved Democratic, in quite a significant manner. In 1992 Republican President George H.W. Bush won 55% of the Asian vote while losing the popular vote. 12 years later, his son won only 41% of Asians, despite winning the popular vote.

The trend also does not look bright for the Republican Party. Asian-Americans who have been born in the United States are, if anything, more Democratic than those who immigrated into the country (to be fair, the latter group dominates the Asian population and will continue to do so unless immigration is drastically curtailed).

Take, for instance, the Vietnamese-American population – strong supporters of the Republican Party. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, after conducting an extensive exit poll of Asians (perhaps the only detailed exit poll of the group in the country), found that:

Vietnamese American voters gave McCain the strongest support of all Asian ethnic groups at 67%. However, further analysis of Vietnamese American voters revealed 69% of those born in the U.S. and 60% of those 18-29 years old voted for Obama. Among Vietnamese American respondents, 15% were born in the U.S. and 25% were between the ages of 18 and 29.

The analysis goes on to conclude that:

AALDEF’s exit poll data shows that younger, U.S.-born, more recently naturalized, and English proficient Asian American citizens voted for Barack Obama for President by wide margins. Older, foreign-born citizens with limited English proficiency and who had been naturalized more than ten years ago voted in greater proportions for McCain.

There are several explanations for why this is happening. One quite plausible argument is that immigration has shifted the Asian-American population from Orange County anti-communists to Silicon Valley liberals.

Another revealing insight can be gained by comparing Asians to another very Democratic group: Jews. In many ways the two have a startling amount in common. Both groups are highly educated; both are primarily located in urban metropolitan areas; both have achieved substantial success in American society; and both have encountered quite similar types of discrimination. Even the stereotypes are similar.

Given these similarities, it is very conceivable that Asians could end up voting like Jews – one of the most liberal-minded groups in the nation.



The Biggest Threat to President Barack Obama’s Re-election Chances

Almost everybody agrees that President Barack Obama’s re-election chances depend almost exclusively on one thing: the state of the American economy. If, for instance, unemployment is below 7% by November 2012, Mr. Obama could very well win a Reagan-style blow-out. If, on the other hand, unemployment is still in double-digits by November 2012, Mr. Obama may as well kiss his re-election chances goodbye.

The second scenario would probably occur in the event of another recession. The greatest danger, therefore, to the president’s re-election chances would be something that would hurt the economy badly enough to knock it back into recession.

What could cause such an event?

There are a number of possibilities, ranging from the very unlikely to the frighteningly possible. The latter – “the frighteningly possible” – actually has occupied the front pages of newspapers for almost a year. This is the continuing European debt crisis, which started with Greece, moved to Ireland, and is currently searching for its next victim.

The worst case scenario would involve a country such as Italy – the world’s seventh largest economy – going bankrupt, or a collapse of the euro (and with it, the European Union). Such scenarios are far-fetched, but quite within the realm of possible. They are what many analysts spend hours worrying about every day.

A bankruptcy of a major European country, such as Spain or Italy, would do major damage to the United States. As Paul Krugman writes:


Nor can the rest of the world look on smugly at Europe’s woes. Taken as a whole, the European Union, not the United States, is the world’s largest economy; the European Union is fully coequal with America in the running of the global trading system; Europe is the world’s most important source of foreign aid; and Europe is, whatever some Americans may think, a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism. A troubled Europe is bad for everyone else.

Indeed, the United States has already experienced the consequences of Europe’s debt troubles, minor as they may seem compared to the worst-case scenario. It is no coincidence that job growth, after increasing steadily in the spring of 2010, stalled right as Greece’s budget woes hit the front pages that summer.

The most troubling thing about all this, for Mr. Obama, is how little control he has over this event. It is Germany, not America, which holds the fate of the European Union in its hands; German decisions – or, more specifically, the decisions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – will either save or destroy the European Union. Mr. Obama can successfully influence Germany; indeed, his behind-the-scenes lobbying was one factor behind the trillion-dollar European bail-out fund. But ultimately the fate of Europe, and with it the American economy, may lie in Germany’s hands.

And whither goes the American economy, so goes Mr. Obama’s re-election chances. In the end the president may lose re-election because of events thousands of miles away, over which he has precious little control, which seemingly have nothing to do with American politics.




The Worst Republican Senate Candidates of 2010, Part 2

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

The previous post presented a table ranking the worst Republican candidates in the 2010 midterm elections. The model used to create the table is also explained in the previous post.

Let’s take a look at this table once again:

State                Margin (R) Cook PVI 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).

There are six possible outcomes which are possible here. This post will look at each outcome.

Outcome #1: A Republican candidate, running in a red state, wins while overperforming.

This outcome was by far the most common in the November elections: indeed, 18 Senate races fit this category. In a way this is not too surprising: the definition of overperforming here is doing better than the state’s Cook PVI (how a state would be expected to vote in a presidential election in the event of an exact tie nationwide). The average Republican should have “overperformed” in this sense, given how Republican a year it was.

Another factor is incumbency. Red states generally had Republican incumbents. Facing little serious competition in a Republican year and benefiting from their incumbency status, these people were probably expected to overperform – and they did.

Outcome #2: A Republican candidate, running in a red state, wins while underperforming.

Technically this did not happen once in this election. The race that comes closest is Alaska , where Republican candidate Joe Miller did better than the Democratic candidate while doing worse than Alaska ’s political lean (on the other hand, he still lost to Independent Lisa Murkowski).

This is actually quite surprising. There were twenty-one Senate contests in red states – and in just one (or zero, depending on how you count) did the Republican underperform while still winning.

In fact, this outcome is quite rare, for whatever reason, throughout American politics. If a Republican underperforms in a red state, he or she usually loses. Rarely does a Republican candidate underperform in a red state but still win (another variant along the same theme: out of the counties Senator John McCain won, he almost always improved on Republican performances in 1992 and 1996). Why this happens is something of a continuing mystery to this blogger.

Outcome #3: A Republican candidate, running in a red state, loses while underperforming.

This was another rare occurrence in the 2010 Senate elections. Only two states fit this category: West Virginia and Colorado . The performance of Democratic candidate Joe Manchin is especially remarkable. Mr. Manchin was the only Senate Democrat to win in a deep red state this year, and his name stands out as an outlier everywhere in the table.

Outcome #4: A Republican candidate, running in a blue state, wins while overperforming.

There are five states that fit this category: Illinois , Iowa , New Hampshire , Pennsylvania , and Wisconsin . These account for three of the Republican pick-ups this cycle. Interestingly, four of these states are in the Midwest , where Democrats were pummeled this year.

Among these states, Illinois stands out the most. It is the only deep blue state that a Republican candidate overperformed in. Although much of this is due to other factors – the continuing Blagojevich scandal, the weakness of the Democratic candidate – credit goes to Republican Mark Kirk for an outstanding overperformance.

Outcome #5: A Republican candidate, running in a blue state, loses while overperforming.

This is another outcome that, for whatever reason, rarely seems to happen in American politics; if Republicans overperform in blue states, they generally tend to win.

In 2010 this happened in exactly one state: Washington , where Republican candidate Dino Rossi did 0.27% better than the Cook PVI, but still lost.

Outcome #6: A Republican candidate, running in a blue state, loses while underperforming.

This was the second-most common outcome in 2010; ten states fit this category. These states tended to be the bluest states in America . The fact that Republicans tended to underperform a state’s political lean in the deepest-blue states is another strange pattern in American politics. This is something that the previous post analyzes extensively.

All in all, the table reveals a lot of surprising patterns – things which were not expected when this blogger initially made it. And as for the worst Republican candidate in 2010? That was Campbell Cavasso of Hawaii, who won a mere fifth of the vote against the Democratic institution Daniel Inouye.




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