Wednesday, November 5, 2014

As the Dust Settles. . . the 2014 Midterm Elections

The fight is over!  Let the fight commence!

First things first - the election is over, but there are still processes at work which would make it inaccurate to say that the electoral process is complete.  However that might be, let's run through what we got so far and see what explanations we can make and predictions we can level.

(1) The Senate is Taken by the Republicans

Why? Easy - lots and lots of convergent factors.

First, the president isn't popular right now.  In fact he is really unpopular - nearly as unpopular as our last president (which makes you wonder at how weird democracy is, eh?).  Anyway, because of that a sizable proportion of people who voted in this midterm weren't voting about their actual offices, but about how peeved they are at the man in the Oval Office. Point, Republicans

Secondly, midterm elections almost always result in the party identified with the president losing seats in the Senate - often quite a lot of states.  In fact, this has been the case since the end of the Second World War, and that is a long time - hell, four generations worth (the Second World War Generation, the Baby-Boomers, Gen-X, and the Millennials). Point, Republicans

Thirdly, look at the states that had senators stand for election this year - disproportionately Southern and Midwestern at a historical moment when the last of the conservative Democrats are retiring or simply beginning to lose the last of their long-fought turf battles.  This is a continued erosion of Democratic power in these areas, part of a process going on since the 1960s and the realignment of the major parties.  No big surprise, but also an interesting moment in history.  Look for this process to start getting muddier in the next two decades as Gen-Xers, Millennials, and ethno-national minorities become increasingly dominate in the political processes of these states (the Purpling!).  Point, Republicans

Fourth, this was a midterm election and the math in midterms skews, in the present party alignment, towards the Republicans.  Why?  Well, it is all about who votes in midterms. Consider - men vote at a relatively higher rate than women in midterm elections.  Fair enough.  White voters also vote at a relatively higher rate than non-white voters in midterm elections.  Okay.  Older voters, wealthier voters, and retired voters all make up higher relative rates in midterms than they do in presidential-year elections.  Thus, point Republicans. None of this is entirely surprising, by the way, and I can illustrate why with a conversation I had with the gentleman who delivered me a pizza yesterday so I could stay all but glued to the glowing television screen and monitors.  He handed me my pizza (grilled chicken, green pepper, and mushroom with light sauce on a thin crust - delicious) and I signed the receipt.  Then I asked him:

"So, did you vote today?"

He replied with a sigh, then said, "Nope.  I had to work a double."

I pointed out that he had a legal right to vote and that his boss had to give him a break to do so.

"Yeah, but that'd piss off my boss, and I need this job."

I nodded with empathy, added another buck to his tip and said good-bye.

The moral of this story?  Those who work at salaries, the working-class, are structurally less likely to participate in elections in general.  This same working-class is made up of voters who tend to be younger, made up of ethnic minorities, and poorer - and therefore, unsurprisingly, less formally educated as a rule in the field of politics.  Thus they value midterm elections less and are unwilling, or believe they are unable, to accept the costs and risks of participating in them rather than working - both generally and relative to their own behavior in presidential-election years. And these groups, well, they tend to vote for the Democrats. So it goes!

In other words, the Senate becoming Republican was, more than anything else, about systemic characteristics playing out. Which isn't to say that the Republicans didn't fight tooth and nail, they certainly did, but the bump received from this convergence is nothing to be ignored.

(2) The House of Representatives Becomes More Republican(ish)

Okay, this one is getting way less attention in the mass media than it deserves.  Most of the structural characteristics so important for the Senate races still hold for the House.  But cheese and crackers, the apparent dominance of the House by the Republicans is kinda' epic - they (probably - we'll see after the smoke clears and formal announcements are made in a couple races) gained ten seats in the House.  That is big - it means the Republicans have their largest majority in the House since - yeah, you guessed it, the Second World War.  Fascinating, right?  But ah, time to address that (ish) I put in the subtitle line!

The House Republicans are split between two rather substantially different factions.  On the one hand are the moderates, the Log Cabin Republicans, and the old "party" Republicans who identify with Nixon or Reagan or George H.W. Bush.  On the other hand is the Tea Party faction who, clearly, are as much a source of conflict in that house of Congress as interparty conflict, if not more, given that caucus is somewhat totally opposed to moderation and negotiation.  That conflict isn't going away, and likely will become worse as both sides of the internal war in the Republican party (and deny it all we might, that is essentially what it is, a wrestling match for the destiny of the party) take this election to be a confirmation of their own agendas' moral authority.  We'll see how that plays out, of course, but I think it is likely to at least stay messy.  And don't expect the House to be more, well, functional - even if it is apparently more functional it still may have a hard time playing well with the Senate and still neither body is in the land of veto override magic, so that whole President thing is still relevant - don't expect the massive uprooting of Obama's agenda to be accomplished in the next two years, no matter what crowing you're hearing out of the House.

(3) The States

The Republicans again come out, in part for all the same reasons, in the states looking rosy as well - this may be the most impressive accomplishment for the party, honestly, given it upset a number of the models predicting state outcomes - in fact the about 3/5ths of governors are Republican now and 2/3rds of state houses (bearing in mind that most of the legislatures are bicameral, so a number of states are split, rather than just being Republican only or Democrat only).  In the next few days these are the races I'm going to really look at to see what Republicans won, where they won, and what factions won - should be neat.

So, there it is.  What can we expect?  Well, honestly I'd say that at the state level we will see more scuffling with the Federal government and probably some of the classic post-Republican win scenarios (e.g. taxes get cut too much, debt goes up, then taxes go up again - you know, the Tax Cut Polka).  But at the Federal level, well, I'd expect things to be even more contentious - unless the moderate Republicans come to dominate the party.  If they do, well, there will be compromise and legislation will actually get passed. If they don't, well, the other thing.

I think the other thing is probably what we're going to see.

Television-news-parody shows writers, as well as talk show monologue writers, rejoice.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Rant on CNN and Horrible Background Music

I have CNN on the old television right now while I keep up my reading.  I have to say this is some truly, truly disappointing coverage.  The coverage on Virginia, in particular, is very bad - it reflects a complete ignorance of previous voting patterns and races and of political geography.  As one of my peers (who has asked to remain anonymous) who is a fellow academic, but in history, just wrote me saying, and I quote, "It is also not a bloody horse race. They are calling it like the Kentucky Derby."  
I couldn't agree more.  This sort of calling is irresponsible and totally misrepresents the nature of our electoral process in the United States and the tendency to under-report urban areas relative to urban areas.  Put simply - D quality at best reporting, CNN. 

Easy fix?  Bring in experts, not failed politicians, from each swing state and ask them about their particular state.  There are more than enough experienced regional journalists and academics who would gladly donate their time and expertise.  

Also, turn off that insane video game music.  Seriously.  I feel like I'm playing Contra, without the awesome. 

CNN's Producer of Visual Effects Like Maps and Stuff

Articles That Warm the Political Sciency Cockles of My Cold, Cold Heart

The Author consults with some of the great minds of modern political science.
So, after a midday lull things are getting interesting again in the internetsylverse.  Here are some of the more robust pieces I've found - prepare to nerd out.

+ + +

Although the polls could be wrong, there isn’t much disagreement about what they’re saying. Of the seven forecasting models tracked by The New York Times, all point to a Republican win, and most with about the same probability (75 percent) as FiveThirtyEight’s forecast. Furthermore, they agree on the outcome of all states but Kansas. These include models that rely on polls alone and those like FiveThirtyEight’s that account for polls along with other factors.
Those other factors — the so-called “fundamentals” — have tended to converge with the polls over the course of the year. If used properly, they can make a forecast more stable and reduce the statistical noise associated with polling. But they make little difference now, since even those models that once used the fundamentals no longer weigh them heavily. The modest exceptions are in Kansas and Alaska, where the polling has been sparse and (especially in Alaska’s case) potentially unreliable; the FiveThirtyEight model sees the fundamentals as favoring Republicans in each state. But it would still have Republicans favored on the basis of the polls alone in Alaska. And in Kansas, the fundamentals are not enough to make Republican Pat Roberts the favorite.
Nate Silver / "Final Update: Republicans Have a 3 in 4 Change of Winning the Senate" / FiveThirtyEight

+ + +
In October 2013, the Republican Party hit the lowest approval rate in its history. Most Americans blamed the GOP for the 16-day government shutdown after a prolonged and heated debate over the Affordable Care Act’s implementation.
“Republicans are no longer the party of business,” Bloomberg Businessweek proclaimed. Liberal publications such as The New Yorker and Rolling Stone agreed with the conservative New York Post that the Republicans had committed political suicide.
One year later, Republicans are set to win the biggest majority ever in the House of Representatives and, more important, take back the Senate in Tuesday’s midterm elections. So what happened?

Alvaro Guzman Bastida / "GOP: From Shutdown Villains to Kings of Congress?"/ Al Jazeera

+ + +
Regardless of how this all shakes out, there's an overwhelming sense that the next two years are likely to see more of the same gridlock. The first two years of Obama's second term have seen little movement on much of anything—the highlights, such as they are, included a government shutdown, the disastrous initial rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and a succession of foreign crises. In some ways, it's hard to imagine much less getting done in Washington than is already happening.
But here are two ways that conventional wisdom could be very wrong. First, things could get even more jammed up. Take presidential appointees. So far, 280 Obama appointees have been confirmed to federal courts. Some of those confirmations came only after Senate Democrats changed the rules to lower the threshold for confirmation to 50 votes—a move that, in turn, stemmed from unprecedented obstruction by Senate Republicans. The administration also has to staff various executive jobs, including Attorney General Eric Holder's replacement. It's easy to imagine that a GOP-controlled Senate would be a place for Obama appointments to go to die. On the other hand, some Republicans—especially moderates—see the next two years as a chance to move real legislation, to force Obama to agree to a set of compromises palatable to moderates in both parties.
David A. Graham  / "The Midterm Elections: A User's Guide" / The Atlantic

+ + +

 Darla Cameron, Ted Mellnik and Aaron Blake / "Key Senate Races" / The Washington Post

 + + +
No group is more solidly Republican than white men.* While the long-term trend is that the nation is growing more racially diverse -- and, in particular, seeing an increased percentage of the population that is Hispanic -- it's a slow evolution. As we noted in September when President Obama postponed action on immigration reform, the midterm electorate is significantly whiter (and less Hispanic) than in presidential elections. Meaning that an already friendly 2014 midterm will see an electorate built on top of the Republican base.
Philip Bump / "Why the 2014 Electorate is the Best Possible One for Republicans" / The Washington Post

The Good Stuff: Resources for Understanding the 2014 Midterm Elections

Your Political Scientist at Work on the Midterm Elections...
Let's face it - not all news media is created equal - some of it is junk food, some of it is biased beyond utility, and some of it is just poorly done.  I'll have none of that madness on AaPS - not a bit of it! So, where can you go to learn what you need to learn to feel like you understand today's elections, not to mention the fallout tomorrow? Dig on these sites:

Al Jazeera's "America Votes 2014"

The Atlantic's "The Midterm Elections: A User's Guide"

BBC's "US mid-term elections 2014" 

The Christian Science Monitor's "What will happen on Election Day? 5 scenarios for the Senate."

The Economist's "Elections / US mid-terms"

The New York Times' "Live Coverage of the Midterm Election"

Vox's "2014 Midterm Elections: Live updates, results, polls from Election Day"

The Washington Post's "Live Updates: Election 2014"

Also, I have decided to get some links to the coverage from states where the election is most contested, specifically from the most important news outlet(s) in the state:

Arkansas / The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's "2014 Elections"

Colorado / The Denver Post's "Election 2014"

Georgia / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Georgia Elections 2014 Live"

Iowa / The Des Moines Register's "Iowa Election 2014"

Kansas / The Kansas City Star's "Election"

Louisiana / The Advocate's "Elections" 
                / The Times-Picayune's "Politics"

New Hampshire / The Concord Monitor's "Campaign Monitor"
                           / The New Hampshire Union Leader "Politics" 

North Carolina / The News & Observer's "Politics & Government" 
                         / The Charlotte Observer's "Politics"

Virginia / The Richmond Times-Dispatch's "Virginia Politics"
              / The Roanoke Times' "Election 2014"

The Virginia Senate Campaign and the Sarvis Effect(?)

An image not from this campaign.  Unfortunately.
First question, from one of my students at UVA-Wise, Mr. Clark!

Do you think the Sarvis campaign in the Virginia Senator's race will hurt the Gillespie or the Warner campaign more at the polls?

Ah, an excellent question, and one that, weirdly enough, might require two answers.  Answer one, to a question you didn't really ask, which you didn't really ask, but I'm answering it nonetheless, is that honestly I don't believe that Sarvis is as relevant in this election as the last one he participated in, not because he should be irrelevant, but the media attention to his campaign seems more muted and, in general, I think that the discussion of candidates has been framed more in a more dialectical way.  I mean, heck, check out the Virginia senatorial debate on C-SPAN - simple fact of the matter is that Mr. Sarvis was just flat out left out - a pity, I'd think, just because he has a tendency to bring up issues in a way that is refreshingly different, whether you agree with his stances or not.

Secondly, I'd say that Sarvis hurts both candidates equally - he is an example of the libertarian urge as it stands in Virginia, and the broader Union, today - social libertarianism to the nth degree, deep skepticism of post-9/11 in-roads by the Feds and States on personal political liberty and privacy, and sensible economic libertarianism which is muted by a distrust of corporations as great as the distrust of the state.

Ultimate answer then - Sarvis probably won't balance the outcome one way or the other. After all, Warner has a pretty comfortable, though not mind-blowing, lead in the polls - check out RealClearPolitics for those - well within the margin of error.  I think this one is pretty much in the books.


Alright ladies and gentlemen, after a long, long hiatus (explanation in four letters?  PTSD - no apologies for getting saner!) I am back.  Today is Midterm Election Tuesday and I'll be live blogging all day!  I'm headed to the polls to vote then I'll be back here at the computer with the mass media pouring into my brain - if you have questions, feel free to shoot 'm to me!