AP analysis finds Democratic voters hold an enthusiasm edge
By BILL BARROW
Sunday, August 12
ATLANTA (AP) — Democratic voters were more enthusiastic than Republicans in nearly a dozen federal special elections since President Donald Trump took office, an Associated Press analysis found, giving party leaders hope that even a series of narrow losses in GOP territory bodes well for them in November.
With the special elections now concluded ahead of the fall midterms, an AP review of nine House races and an Alabama special Senate election showed Democratic candidates consistently outperforming Republicans compared to the two parties’ usual vote totals in regular general elections.
The strong Democratic turnout is a key factor fueling the party’s hopes of regaining control of the House in November for the first time in eight years. It’s particularly significant because Democrats often struggle to turn out their voters when a presidential candidate isn’t on the ballot. The special election voting numbers could signal a change heading into the fall.
The latest indicator came Tuesday in Ohio, where Republican Troy Balderson holds a narrow lead over his Democratic rival, Danny O’Connor, setting up a potential recount in a suburban and small-town congressional district that President Donald Trump won by more than 11 percentage points and that Republicans have held since 1980.
The AP review went beyond percentage totals and compared special election raw vote totals to what Republicans and Democrats received from the same electorates in 2016. The methodology measures candidates’ performance as a percentage of what they could expect in a presidential year when turnout is highest, with the results suggesting which party’s coalition is more engaged and excited about the election cycle.
In Ohio, for example, Balderson’s 101,500-plus votes amount to less than half of Trump’s total in the district and just 40 percent of what former Rep. Pat Tiberi received in his last re-election. O’Connor, meanwhile, pulled in almost 62 percent of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 totals and almost 90 percent of what the last Democratic candidate drew alongside the presidential race.
Altogether, Democrats got a higher proportion than Republicans of the party’s usual presidential vote in eight out of 11 elections. They exceeded Republicans in 10 out 11 races when comparing the special election totals to the most recent House or Senate race involving the same electorate.
Special elections are not a perfect predictor of November, but if those enthusiasm gaps hold for dozens of more fundamentally competitive seats in November, Democrats would stand a strong chance of emerging with the House majority and be poised for statehouse gains, as well.
The data tracks with high-profile special election outcomes ahead of the 2010 midterms when Republicans flipped control of the House and many state legislatures. This year, the trends are giving the GOP pause.
“Obviously, this is a tough environment for Republicans,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC devoted to defending House Republicans’ 23-seat majority. An obviously enthusiastic Democratic base, Bliss said, puts the burden on Republican incumbents and open-seat candidates “to give the voters a reason to vote for them.”
Trump mocked Democratic optimism this week on Twitter, noting the GOP has a lopsided record in federal special elections. Indeed, Republican candidates won seven of the nine special House races. But all seven were Republican seats to begin with, several of them open in the first place because Trump plucked members from supposedly safe seats to join his administration.
Democrats held a California seat, while Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb flipped a Pennsylvania congressional district Trump had won by almost 20 points. Alabama Sen. Doug Jones also pulled a shocker in a December 2017 contest barely a year after Trump won the state by 28 points.
“The numbers show a Democratic energy in the electorate that Republicans don’t have, plus an advantage with independents that Democrats haven’t had in a decade,” said Democratic pollster Zac McCrary. “That’s when waves happen and you win districts you aren’t supposed to win.”
Certainly, Democrats must contend with a tough Senate map — 10 incumbents are running in states where Trump won — and several GOP-run states have drawn congressional districts to Republicans’ advantage, particularly in battleground suburbs that could determine House control. Some regular primaries have shown Republican strength as well: Texas Democrats touted a midterm primary turnout record this March as they try to make the state more competitive, but Republicans answered with their own record.
Still, it’s worth noting that Republicans demonstrated enthusiasm advantages ahead of their 2010 sweep, most notably in January 2010 when they flipped the Massachusetts Senate seat in a special election after Ted Kennedy’s death. Republican Scott Brown topped Democrat Martha Coakley by amassing 105 percent of John McCain’s 2008 presidential vote and 126 percent of what Democrat John Kerry’s Senate challenger had mustered 14 months before.
At the time, Democrats mostly blamed Coakley, just as many Republican blamed Lamb’s and Jones’ opponents for this cycle’s upsets.
The strongest overall special election turnout during Trump’s presidency came in a suburban Atlanta race that became the most expensive congressional matchup in history. That peak for Republicans involved now-Rep. Karen Handel drawing 84 percent of Trump’s total and 67 percent of then-Rep. Tom Price’s last election total before his brief stint as Trump’s health secretary. Democrat Jon Ossoff, meanwhile, ended up exceeding the 2016 count for Price’s opponent. Ossoff got 81 percent of Clinton’s total.
Bliss, the Republican super PAC executive, said the Georgia numbers show Republicans’ core supporters can be energized in November, as they were in the Atlanta suburbs after Ossoff very nearly won an outright majority in a first round of voting, only to lose a runoff.
“Our base is happy with what President Trump and the Republican Congress is doing,” Bliss said. “Our candidates just have to make the stakes clear.”
Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP.
Instead of tax cuts, GOP candidates motivate with anxiety
By STEVE PEOPLES and BILL BARROW
Thursday, August 9
WASHINGTON (AP) — There’s a border crisis in Pennsylvania. The radical left is surging in New Jersey. And Nancy Pelosi is a threat to New York.
Republican candidates in the nation’s premier midterm battlegrounds have embraced a central message in their fight to maintain the House majority this fall — and it has little to do with the surging economy or the sweeping tax cuts that the GOP celebrated as a once-in-a-generation achievement just eight months ago.
Instead, as Republicans enter the final month of the primary season, they’re looking ahead to a general-election strategy of embracing anxiety as a tool to motivate voters. That was clear this week as the GOP’s closing message in an Ohio special election questioned Democrat Danny O’Connor’s connection to Pelosi, the House Democratic leader and preferred super villain for Republicans.
“We wish it got the pitch forks out and it doesn’t,” GOP ad maker Will Ritter said of the Republican tax cuts.
Some Republican strategists are frustrated the party isn’t focused on the tax law or the broader health of the economy in the run-up to Election Day. Others concede that in the Trump era, there’s no better motivator than fear of the other side, particularly the prospect of Pelosi returning to the speaker’s chair.
The plan had some success in Ohio: The race was too close to call Wednesday as Republican Troy Balderson maintained a razor-thin advantage over O’Connor, staving off an embarrassing GOP defeat for now. Going forward, the debate over highlighting the tax law will help determine whether Republicans will maintain control of Capitol Hill after November.
While Republicans are reluctant to engage on tax cuts, it’s a fight Democrats — and their voters — want.
“The tax cuts were for the top … income earners,” said George Stringer, a 58-year-old Democrat who lives in Detroit. “The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer.”
In Ohio, which hosted the season’s final special election, O’Connor railed against the tax cuts as a giveaway to the rich that threatened Medicare and Social Security. While his Republican opponent may prevail, the 31-year-old Democrat trailed by less than 1 percentage point in a district that’s been in Republican hands since before he was born. On the defensive, Balderson appeared in a late ad sitting next to his ailing mother and promising that he wouldn’t dismantle the social safety net.
It’s somewhat similar to the problems Democrats faced in 2010, when they controlled the White House and Congress and managed to pass the most significant health care legislation since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. They celebrated with President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden, only to run from it in the midterm elections that became a disaster for the party.
President Donald Trump, plagued by scandal and wed to his Twitter account, sits atop the struggle.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz said Trump energizes the Republican base, but that his broadsides and distractions will also alienate the swing voters who tip battleground House districts.
“This is political malpractice,” he said. “You can’t find me a time in modern times when the economy was this strong and the governing party was headed toward a potential political disaster like this.”
Republicans are also reluctant to embrace their tax cuts because the benefits don’t change the household budget for many Americans. The party predicts that will change next year when families file their first tax returns under the new law. But as electoral strategy, that’s akin to Democrats in 2010 insisting voters would like the health care law once they understood it.
The tax debate comes amid new evidence of a Democratic surge in early elections across America.
Michigan Democrats will feature the state’s first all-female statewide ticket this November following Tuesday’s primary elections. Democrat Rashida Tlaib also won a race to run unopposed for the Detroit-area House seat vacated by John Conyers, making her poised to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. In Kansas, 38-year-old attorney Sharice Davids won her congressional primary and became the state’s first Native American and gay nominee for Congress.
Both Davids and Tlaib campaigned aggressively against the Republican tax cuts.
Beyond avoiding the tax law, there has been a consistent theme for Republicans across House battlegrounds: casting the Democrat as too liberal.
A National Republican Congressional Committee ad in Ohio tied Democratic candidate O’Connor to Pelosi and “the liberal resistance movement.” A super PAC backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan charged that it was O’Connor who would cut Social Security and Medicare by $800 billion; fact checkers have questioned the accuracy of the attack.
In central Kentucky, GOP Rep. Andy Barr is reminding voters that Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, voted for President Barack Obama and opposes Trump’s proposed border wall. In suburban Pennsylvania, vulnerable Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has warned of “a border in crisis” and demanded a surge of immigration enforcement agents. And in New Jersey, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance featured an ad in which Democrat opponent Tom Malinowski calls himself a “lifelong progressive Democrat” over and over. Lance also warns of his “dangerous policies” and claims Malinowski supports abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Malinowski does not support such a move, his campaign spokesman said Thursday.
Anthony Brindisi, Democratic nominee in an upstate New York district, is the target of an ad from Rep. Claudia Tenney claiming that Pelosi is “bankrolling” Brindisi “because he’ll support their radical immigration agenda.”
Brindisi blasted the Tenney ad as dishonest, repeating his general support for border security and opposition to Pelosi continuing as Democratic leader. “I’d think after almost two years of being in Congress, the first advertisement that my opponent would run would be something about her accomplishments,” Brindisi said.
He’s running his own tax ad, localizing the law by highlighting Tenney’s campaign support from the cable giant Charter, whose New York subsidiary, Spectrum, has raised rates and spent hundreds of millions on stock buybacks after getting a tax windfall. “I want to point out to the voters that when we talk about the swamp, this is the worst kind of example,” Brindisi told The Associated Press.
Republicans aren’t apologizing for their tax votes, even if it’s not at the forefront of their campaigns.
Rep. Mimi Walters, a vulnerable Republican in southern California, said in a recent interview that she plans to use it in her paid advertising this fall. But her ads so far this year have focused on other topics.
“In the beginning … there was a lot of pushback. That’s just natural. You’re making a big change, and people weren’t sure,” said Walters, who represents one of 25 districts nationally that sent a Republican to the House in 2016 but opted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in the presidential race.
“Now that people have started to see the benefits … people come up and thank me,” Walters said, adding that she’s “results oriented” and pointing to economic growth figures that she says prove “we made the right decision.”
Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington and Jeff Karoub in Detroit contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that New Jersey Democrat Malinowski does not support abolishing ICE.
Your voting habits may depend on when you registered to vote
August 8, 2018
Graduate Assistant of Poltical Science, University of Florida
Daniel A. Smith
Professor and Chair of Political Science, University of Florida
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Florida
University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
When eligible citizens register to vote, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will turn out.
Voting in the U.S. is a two-step process. Citizens in every state except North Dakota must first register before casting a ballot.
As we discuss in our recently published article in Electoral Studies, the timing of when a voter registers to vote affects whether they vote in the upcoming election. It also relates to whether they become a repeat voter, or what political scientists refer to as a “habitual voter.”
Our findings could have an impact on turnout this November and future elections.
Making registration easier
In Canada, Germany and many other countries, voter registration is automatic. Not so in the U.S.
But there have been efforts over the last 25 years to make voter registration easier in the U.S.
Since 1993, with the passage of the National Voter Registration Act, all U.S. citizens can register to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or services at other governmental agencies. Citizens in 37 states are also able to register to vote online, making the process even more convenient.
More recently, a dozen states have enacted legislation changing voter registration at DMV offices from “opt-in” to “opt-out.” When applying for or renewing their driver’s license, you are automatically registered to vote unless you choose not to. Initial research on this approach from Oregon suggests that people who are automatically registered, compared to those already registered, were much younger and geographically reside in areas with a racially diverse population, lower income and lower education levels.
Of course, eligible citizens fall through the gaps. That’s where voter registration groups come in, fanning across the country, pen and paper (or smartphones) in hand, to register new voters.
As a final measure to encourage voting, citizens in 15 states and the District of Columbia may register at the polls on Election Day. Most eligible citizens, however, reside in a state in which they must register at least 29 days before Election Day.
But registration doesn’t equal voting. Not everyone who successfully registers prior to Election Day actually goes to the polls, especially in midterm elections.
From registration to the ballot box
A man votes in the primary election in a polling booth in Venice, Los Angeles, California. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
In our study, drawing on nearly a decade of voting data in Florida, we find that when voters register affects their voting behavior.
Individuals who register in the waning months prior to Florida’s 29-day registration cutoff are more likely to vote in the upcoming election than others who register throughout the previous election cycle.
However, these last-minute registrants are less likely to vote in future elections. The act of registering to vote, and even voting in the next election, does not translate into becoming a repeat, regular voter. We think this is because those who register close to the deadline may be mobilized to do so by campaign events tied to the upcoming election, but they may not become regular voters for the long haul.
Relatedly, we are looking at what effect tragic events that occur well before an election may have on getting people to register and then turn out to vote.
For example, current evidence is mixed as to whether more young people are registering after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Has the social movement really increased the number of registrations among young voters? Similarly, are the thousands of Puerto Ricans who were displaced by Hurricane Maria registering to vote in Florida and other states?
It remains to be seen whether these individuals who have registered will vote in the 2018 midterms, and whether they will become habitual voters. Our research suggests that it’s not a sure bet.
The Conversation US, Inc.