Saturday, October 12, 2013

Democratic Takeover of the House Unlikely But Within Reach

Based on the latest voter survey data from Quinnipiac, I have been able to produce some estimates of voter congressional preference by state. The data show, if the election were held today, most states are leaning Democratic. Public opinion suggests the Democrats will have some opportunities to pick up seats in the midterms.

Voter Congressional Preference
Dark blue = +15% Democratic; Medium blue = 5-10% Democratic; Light blue = 0-5% Democratic
Dark red = +15% Republican; Medium red = 5-10% Republican; Light red = 0-5% Republican

What remains unclear is whether the Democrats can retake the House. A state-by-state, district-by-district analysis indicates this outcome is unlikely but possible. Below is a summary of districts that could be in contention in 2014, based on the polling data.

Potential Democratic Gains - 53 seats

California - 6 seats (Projected statewide vote: 23% D)

Believe it or not, the Republicans still control quite a few seats in California. This leaves them vulnerable to substantial Democratic gains.

Seats in contention: CA10 (Jeff Denham), CA21 (David Valadoa), CA25 (Buck McKeon), CA31 (Gary Miller), CA39 (Ed Royce), and CA49 (Darrell Issa).

New York - 5 seats (Projected statewide vote: 31% D)

The Republicans only hold six seats in New York, but New York is so heavily Democratic that many of these seats are vulnerable in a Democratic wave.

Seats in contention: NY2 (Peter King), NY11 (Michael Grimm), NY19 (Christopher Gibson), NY22 (Richard Hanna), and NY23 (Tom Reed).

Pennsylvania - 5 seats (15% D)

The Republicans did a good job of gerrymandering this state. They hold 13 out of 18 seats in a state that leans Democratic. However, they should have some concern if voter preference breaks substantially in favor of the Democrats, since several Republic districts mainly contain moderate suburbs. No wonder Charlie Dent seems so worried.

Seats in contention: PA6 (Jim Gerlach), PA7 (Patrick Meehan), PA8 (Michael Fitzpatrick), PA15 (Charles Dent), and PA16 (Joseph Pitts).

Michigan - 5 seats (14% D)

Similar to Pennsylvania, 9 out of 14 seats are Republican in a Democratic leaning state. This gerrymandering feat gives the Democrats plenty of opportunities.

Seats in contention: MI3 (Justin Amash), MI6 (Fred Upton), MI7 (Tim Walberg), MI8 (Mike Rogers), and MI11 (Kerry Bentivolio).

Virginia - 5 seats (12% D)

Virginia is trending Democratic, contains a large number of federal workers, and elected a disproportionate number of Republicans (8 out of 11) in the last election. That's a recipe for disaster for the GOP. As many as five Republican incumbents could lose due to a shutdown backlash.

Seats in contention: VA1 (Bob Whitman), VA2 (Scott Rigell), VA4 (Randy Forbes), VA5 (Robert Hurt), and VA10 (Frank Wolf).

Florida - 4 seats (8% D) Gerrymandering in Florida is not as lopsided as other states. 17 out of 27 states are Republican in a state that is essentially 50/50. Still, the sheer size of Florida and trending demographics leaves the Democrats with a few opportunities.

Seats in contention: FL7 (John Mica), FL13 (Bill Young), FL25 (Mario Diaz-Balart), and FL27 (Ileana Ros-Lehtinen).

Illinois - 4 seats (15% D) This state is Democratic and gerrymandered in favor of the same party. Six Republicans remain in the delegation and several should be worried about reelection.

Seats in contention: IL6 (Peter Roskam), IL13 (Rodney Davis), IL14 (Randy Hultgren) and IL16 (Adam Kinzinger).

New Jersey - 3 seats (22% D)

New Jersey is a heavily Democratic state with an equally split delegation. A few Republicans may lose in a Democratic year.

Seats in contention: NJ2 (Frank Lobiondo), NJ3 (John Runyan), and NJ5 (Scott Garrett).

Wisconsin - 3 seats (12% D) Republicans hold 5 out of 8 seats. A few could easily flip to the Democrats in this purple state.

Seats in contention: WI1 (Paul Ryan), WI7 (Sean Duffy), and WI8 (Reid Ribble).

Ohio - 2 seats (8% D)

The Republicans masterfully gerrymandered this purple state to take 12 out of 16 seats. Ohio is just red enough for this majority to be more durable than the Republican delegations in PA and MI. However, the Democrats will still have a few opportunities to pick up some seats.

Seats in contention: OH10 (Michael Turner) and OH14 (David Joyce).

Minnesota - 2 seats (15% D)

Minnesota is one of the few states with little gerrymandering. As a result, a strong Democratic election could lead to an overwhelmingly lopsided delegation in this bluish-purplish state.

Seats in contention: MN2 (John Kline) and MN3 (Erik Paulsen).

Iowa - 2 seats (8% D)

Same as MN.

Seats in contention: IA3 (Tom Latham) and IA4 (Steve King).

Colorado - 2 seats (14% D)

Seats in contention: CO3 (Scott Tipton) and CO6 (Mike Coffman).

Washington - 2 seats (17% D)

Seats in contention: WA3 (Jaime Beutler) and WA8 (David Reichert).

Other seats: NV3 (Joseph Heck), IN2 (Jackie Walorski), and NE2 (Lee Terry).

Potential Republican Gains - 4 seats

GA12 (John Barrow), NC7 (Mike McIntyre), WV3 (Nick Rahall) and UT4 (Jim Matheson).

The Bottom Line

Few Democrats represent truly Republican-leaning districts. In the south and midwest, most Democrats in red districts were defeated in 2010 and 2012. Hence, if the Democrats carry momentum into the 2014 election, only a small handful of Democrats will be beatable. On the other hand, as many as 50 or so Republicans represent suburban districts in which they could be defeated in a Democratic wave. This fact leaves open the possibility of a Democratic takeover of the House.

Nevertheless, this outcome is made unlikely by several factors. First, one cannot assume the Democrats will maintain their momentum. An election without Democratic momentum will likely lead to little change in the House. Second, many of the 50 seats up for grabs will not switch parties. Only a handful of the above districts held by Republicans voted for Obama in 2012. Moreover, about half of these districts lean Republican by at least four or five points. Such an advantage will be difficult for the Democrats to overcome, even in a wave year. Hence, if the shutdown results in persistent difficulties for the Republicans, the most likely outcome is a very close split in the House. An actual takeover by the Democrats seems to be possible (maybe even plausible), but not likely.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Demographic Realities: Part III

The following is the third and final installment about the impact of minority growth on national politics in the U.S. I have shown that, assuming present political coalitions remain in place, the Republican Party will be a minority party in national politics by 2024. This last post will examine strategies the Republican Party can pursue to avoid this outcome.

There are five identifiable strategies Republicans can take:

Strategy 1: Stay the course

Upside: The Republican Party can remain a fairly conservative organization, both on economic and social issues. If a backlash against center-left policies envelopes the country, the Republican Party could step in and possibly reestablish the dominance of conservative politics.

Downside: With the coming demographic tidal wave, this strategy is almost assured to fail. Moreover, the country is very different from what it was in the late 1960s when the Republican Party pivoted to the right and reaped the benefits of voter wariness with liberalism. The Democratic Party remains too cautious to ever be seen as a fringe leftist party like the one voters turned against in the late 1960s. The overall attitude of moderate suburban voters is the Republican Party--not the Democratic Party--has become too extreme.

Strategy 2: Sellout the base and attract suburban voters

Upside: The dominant Republican Party of the 1970s and 1980s was build on well-educated caucasian suburban voters. Sometime in the last twenty years the the party drifted away from this approach. The Democratic Party has become the choice of establishment white voters. Also, the Republican Party is not performing that great among young caucasian voters (achieving about a 50/50 split). If perhaps the Republican Party could moderate its social positions and focus on lower taxes and limited government, it might be able to win 65% to 70% of caucasian voters, enough to still win many midwestern and northeastern states.

Downside: This strategy might alienate conservative whites in the South, while doing little to address lower-income minority voters. A third socially conservative party could split from the Republican Party. In a sense, the Republicans would have the same problem the Democratic Party had from the 1950s to 1980s--an inability to hold the South while still only making marginal gain in the North. Further compounding the problem is the fact all of the demographic growth in the House and Elector College is in the South and Southwest. Hence, this strategy would improve Republican performance in states with diminishing influence on national elections.

Strategy 3: Sellout the base and attract working class minorities

Upside: Working class minorities represent the backbone of the Democratic Party. If the Republicans could steal the base of the Democrats (like they did in the 1970s and 80s with whites), they could return to dominance. The Republicans could soften their positions on immigration and some economic issues. They could emphasize social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage (or bring back "law and order" issues). This strategy might improve Republican performance among latinos in particular.

Downside: First, this strategy would further push powerful suburban voters out of the Republican Party. Second, it might not even be that effective in stealing the Democratic based. When President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, black voters simply became more tolerant of the practice. This episode suggests minority voters, while more socially conservative than other Democratic voters, do not have hardened positions. A substantial shift on immigration issues may help, but not without damaging the Republican Party with socially conservative white voters. On this note, the Democrats could easily counter by simply demanding more drastic concessions on immigration, which would force the Republican to depress their base or renege on its concessions to minorities.

Strategy 4: Don't sell out the base, but try to reach out to specific minority groups

Upside: Some fast-growing minority groups, such as Asians, south Asians, affluent latinos, and multi-ethnic voters, may be easier for the Republican Party to attract than core minority groups (i.e. blacks and working class latinos). These groups are also fast growing and could become a formidable force in some key states like California. Republicans could make inroads with these groups if they repackage their image as a more inclusive party. Because these groups tend to be more economically and socially conservative, the party would not have to change its policies substantially.

Downside: Attracting votes from specific minority groups without targeting core minorities might simply be too little, too late. This strategy might be most effective when combined with some combination of the other approaches.

Strategy 5: Reinvent and rebrand conservatism

Upside: Conservatives worked hard to rebrand themselves after the Great Depression debacle. They became internationalists and eventually found new policy positions that attracted voters (such as lower taxes). After Democrats inevitably overstep their political mandates, the Republicans could reintroduce themselves to a generation of young voters. Perhaps they could find a new "boogieman" (Islam?) toattract socially conservative voters. This New Republican Party could emerge with an entirely new coalition with new ideas.

Downside: It is not clear how the Republicans can actually implement this strategy. This approach requires serious intellection heft. Another drawback is it still involves selling-out the base on issues like same-sex marriage.

Going forward I am not sure what the best strategy is for the Republican Party. Most likely, the best approach is to rely on some combination of these strategies. Almost all possible responses involve some sort of shift to the left for the Republican Party and national politics. The Republican Party may remain a force, but it seems the country is shifting decidedly to the left. This future is far from shocking, considering the significant movement rightward during the late twentieth century. Compared to other developed nations, the United State will remain right-of-center.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Demographic Realities: Part II

I now continue my series on demographic realities and U.S. politics. In the last post, I showed most states are trending Democratic due to the growth in minority voters. I will now examine the effects of these shifts on national politics.

The maps show the 2012 election results in comparison with the predicted election results in 2024. The data suggest, if Republicans continue to lose 75 to 80% of minority voters, the red states of North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Texas will become Democratic leaning purple states. Republican support in Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina will also weaken considerably, although I expect these states to continue supporting Republican presidential candidates.

Perhaps most important, a slew of current Democratic leaning states will no longer be competitive. Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington will become solidly Democratic states by 2024--in a similar fashion as happened in California about a decade ago. This movement is significant because Democrats only need to defend states Obama won in 2012 in order to win a majority of the Electoral College. With these five states no longer competitive, the opportunities for Republicans to chip away at the Obama electoral map will diminish substantially.

Meanwhile, as the West and South become more Democratic leaning, the dynamics in the Midwest and Northeast will remain essentially unchanged. The blue states will remain blue (or become more blue) and the red states will remain red. The only exception to this pattern will be Maine--a small and electorally unimportant state--that will shift from being solidly Democratic to being purple. Iowa and New Hampshire will become more competitive, but will remain Democratic leaning as well.

Clearly, with the shift of the West and the Southeast in favor of the Democrats, the Electoral College will overwhelmingly favor Democratic presidential candidates. As one can see from the chart, Democrats already enjoy a modest advantage in the Electoral College with about 50 more votes solidly Democratic than solidly Republican. However, by 2024, this advantage is predicted to become almost insurmountable. About 40% of electoral votes will be solidly Democratic, meaning Democrats will only need to win a few of the most Democratically leaning purple states in order to carry the election. In contrast, deeply red states will only comprise about 15% of electoral votes. Thus, Republicans will need to virtually run the table in the battleground states to elect a President. In the most likely scenario, Democrats will carry between 375-450 electoral votes--a landslide by any standard.

The Senate, on the other hand, is less likely to be impacted. Twenty states will remain Republican leaning, down modestly from twenty-four in 2012. About one-quarter of seats will still represent deeply red states. Thus, all indications are that Democrats will maintain their majority, while Republicans will control enough seats to slow legislation under the current filibuster rules. If, however, filibuster rules are changed, the shift of several large southern states into the Democratic column could change the balance-of-power more considerably. In order to win simple majority votes Democrats will only need to win of over liberal senators and moderate left-of-center senators, rather than the most conservative Democratic senators.

Finally, of the two chambers, the U.S. House of Representatives will be the most impacted by the demographic trends. At present, about two-thirds of seats represent states that voted for Obama in 2012. This distribution of seats would suggest the Democrats should control the House. Nevertheless, because of Gerrymandering and other geographic factors, the Republicans have been fairly successful at winning seats in Democratic leaning states. In fact, Republicans won 60% of the districts within the 13 competitive states that voted for Obama. By winning a large number rural and suburban districts in these Democratic states, Republicans have been able to stave off demographic realities and maintain control of the House.

However, an analysis of trends in several large Southwestern and Southeastern states, indicates the House will shift decisively into Democratic control by 2024. As the below chart shows, only 20% of seats will represent Republican leaning states in 2024. An additional 44 seats will represent districts within deeply blue states in comparison with the 2012 baseline. (This shift to heavily Democratic states is significant since only about 30% of such seats are represented by Republicans in the current Congress.)

Exactly how much the movement of several large states into the Democratic column will change the composition of the House is unclear. Much of the change depends on the extent to which each party controls redistricting in these key states. Even so, Republicans will likely lose a minimum of 20 seats over the next twelve years, enough to put Democrats in control of the House. If Democrats gain control of redistricting in some key states like Florida and Pennsylvania, the Republicans could face catastrophic loses in the 2022 and 2024 elections. As many as 60 seats could shift to Democrats over the next decade. The most likely scenario is a process that leads to a 30-40 seat movement in favor of Democrats. Such a change would give Democrats an unambiguous majority in both legislative chambers.

Given the anticipated demographic realities facing the two political parties, I expect the Democratic Party will regain unilateral control of the federal government by 2024. The executive and legislative branches will look much like they did from 2009-10, after Obama was first elected. If anything, the Democrats will have an even tighter grip on power because the 2009-10 majorities relied on a large number of conservative Democrats who were elected during the 2006 and 2008 wave elections. The 2024 majority in the House, in particular, will be much more durable because it will be built upon fundamental demographic changes, rather than short-term dissatisfaction with Republicans. The Republicans will still be relatively strong in about 20 states, giving them a formidable presence in state and local governments throughout some regions of the country. At the federal level, however, the Republican Party will become a minority party by 2024.

In Part III of the series, I propose a few ways in which the Republican Party might try to adjust to the growth in minority voters and avoid the above scenario.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Demographic Realities: Part I

A few days ago, the Census Bureau estimated the majority of 0-5 year olds are now minorities. This development implies the Republican Party, which loses minority voters by more than three-to-one, faces an ominous future. However, a more careful assessment on how the political landscape will be impacted is in order. In this three part series, I explore the impacts of the demographic realities facing the Republican Party over the next 10-15 years. In this analysis, I assume caucasian voters will continue to gradually trend Republican and minority voters will continue to vote 75-80% Democratic for the foreseeable future.

First, while a national estimate of minority children is interesting, state level estimates on the percentage of children who are minorities are far more informative. The first map shows the percent of the population under age 20 that is minority in each state. These data provide with a good sense of the partisan composition of new voters in each region.

Strikingly, although the majority of children are still caucasian nationally, several key states already have majority-minority populations among the underage. In California and Texas--the two largest states--over 60% of children are minorities, suggesting Democrats will be all but assured strong support among new voters in these states. Even in conservative Texas, Democrats will likely have 55-60% support among young voters. Moreover, in 13 states, the underage population is already majority-minority. These states include the electoral battlegrounds of Arizona, Florida, and Georgia.

Another concern for Republicans is that, even in most historically homogeneous northern states such as Oregon and Massachusetts, the percentage of children who are minorities has surpassed 20%. Since caucasian voters typically split about evenly in these states, the substantial minority populations assure Democratic majorities among new voters.

Another indication of a state's demographic trend is the extent to which the young are more diverse than their elderly counterparts. The more the young differ from the old, the more faster the state's demographics are expected to change. The second map shows the demographic momentum in each state, represented as the percent of children who are minorities minus the percent of senior citizens who are minorities.

Not surprisingly, the southwestern states and Florida are quickly becoming dominated by minorities. In these states, mostly caucasian elderly voters are being replaced by mostly minority voters. In other words, old Republican voters are being replaced by new Democratic voters, suggesting these states will trend Democratic in the near future. Most of the Southeast, Northwest and Northeast (except upper New England) are also trending toward minorities at a slower, but marked pace.

The Midwest is more mixed. A few states like Minnesota and Illinois have minority populations that are growing moderately quickly. On the other hand, quite a few states like Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia have populations that are trending much more slowly toward minorities. Republicans can likely perform well in these states if they continue to gain support among caucasian voters.

Combining these two indicators above, I have predicted the partisan trend in each state over the next 10-15 years. This prediction is depicted in the map below. It show 34 states trending Democratic and nine states trending Republican.

Nine states are predicted to trend rapidly in favor of the Democrats. In these states, the Democratic vote share will increase at least 2% each presidential election cycle, holding other factors constant. These trends will have substantial electoral impacts because they account for about one-third the U.S. population. They include the electoral battlegrounds of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Florida, and Georgia. An additional 25 states will trend gradually to the Democrats. They account for nearly half of the U.S. population and include the swing states of Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Midwest is not expected to trend Republican. Rather, the Midwest will trend Democratic at a slower pace than the Southwest or Southeast. Although most Midwestern states have a smaller share of minorities, young minorities are just numerous enough to lead to a gradual shift to Democrats in Minnesota, Illinois, and (surprisingly) Pennsylvania. Most other Midwestern states, including Michigan and Ohio will remain basically unchanged.

Still more troubling for Republicans, only nine relatively small states are predicted to become more Republican. These states are limited to the upper Great Plains, Appalachia, and upper New England where young minorities have little presence. They account for less then 10 percent of the U.S population and only two battleground states (Iowa and New Hampshire). Additionally, the Republican trending states are likely to lose electoral clout after the next census due to slow population growth.

In part II, I examine the precise implications these partisan trends will have for the Electoral College and Congress.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Most States (Still) Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, But Public Opinion Near Tipping-point

With the recent failure of same-sex marriage legislation in Illinois, I thought I would examine the level of support for same-sex marriage in each individual state. Many have attempted to do this, but they have provided estimates that I consider implausible (with the exception of Nate Silver). Thus, I have developed my own model to estimate support for same-sex marriage in each state.

Although national support for same-sex marriage has crossed the 50% threshold, majorities in most states still do not support same-sex marriage. Support is concentrated in a dozen or so states in the Northeast and West Coast, where adults solidly support same-sex marriage. In 33 states--including Illinois--support is below 50%.

In almost all states outside of the South, however, public opinion on same-sex marriage is near a tipping-point. In most of the Midwest, support ranges between 45 and 50%. In every state outside of the South, support exceeds 40%. Given young adults overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, majority opposition to same-sex marriage will be relegated to the Deep South within the next five to ten years.

These facts should serve as a source of both optimism and caution among gay rights advocates. Much progress has been made for marriage equality and, in the near future, most of the country will support same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, same-sex marriage is still a little short of majority support in the Midwest. In midwestern states like Illinois, public opinion is near a tipping-point and majority support will emerge within the next few years. Still, advocates should be careful not to push equality legislation prematurely since they are still shy of majority support in most states.

Methodology: I will just sketch my methodology. I collected polling data on support for same-sex marriage across age and religious identification groups. I then estimated support for same-sex within each age-religion cell. Next, I calibrated these estimates to match polling data within each region (Midwest, Northeast, South, and West). Taking these estimates of support within each region-age-religion category, I calculated support in each state based on the state's region, religious composition, and age profile.