Author Archives: everysecondyear

2020’S CROSSOVER DISTRICTS

Today’s post is a bit shorter than usual, given that I’ve been preparing my move from Rwanda back to the U.S. Still, I wanted to get you some good House election reading, so enjoy. Sign up for ESY below! We won’t bother you except to let you know about fresh, new content. We promise!

The 2018 midterms were a huge success for House Democrats. They netted 40 seats (going from 195 to 235) and took control of the chamber.

But presidential candidates will be on the ticket next year. And because split ticket voting is so rare, Democratic representatives that Trump carries will be in danger. So too will Republicans in districts the democratic nominee wins. The crossover districts from 2016 provide a good starting point for speculating at which incumbents could be in danger in 2020.

Heading into the 2018 midterms, there were only 13 Trump-carried districts with a Democratic representative. After the elections, Democrats had 31. 1Democrats netted 18 Trump districts. They picked up 21, but lost three (MN-01, MN-08, PA-14) These districts will be prime targets for Republicans hoping to overcome, or at least chip away at, Democrats’ majority in the House.

Before the 2018 midterms, there were 25 Clinton districts with a republican representative. Democrats demolished Republicans in this territory, picking up 22 of the 25, leaving only NY-24, PA-01, and TX-23. In 2018, Republicans didn’t win any additional districts in Clinton land.

This table summarizes the Trump/Clinton Crossover Districts heading into 2020.

Below is a map with all of the crossover districts heading into 2020. Dark blue represents Democratic held Trump seats. Dark red represents Republican held Clinton seats. Light red and light blue indicate crossover districts where the incumbent is retiring. Go use the interactive map to see in more detail what will be ground zero for the 2020 House competition. 


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

I created the map at 270toWin, where in other news, I’ll be contributing elections and political analysis for the 2020 cycle. I’ll be back next week with a longer, more detailed post. 

HOW STRAIGHT TICKET VOTING CAN TIP THE SCALES DOWNBALLOT

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The Importance of Ballot Design
Electoral analysis usually focuses on polls, fundraising, voter preference, and other horse race indicators. But what if the determining factor in a race is something that neither the candidates nor the voters have control over: ballot design? Florida, in particular, has had an unfortunate history of ballot flubs. In 2000, the state had an infamous ballot debacle in Palm Beach County. And again, in 2018, the state confused voters with a ballot design flaw that may have tipped the Senate election there.

Straight Ticket Voting
The point is that small differences in ballot design can have a big effect. One such ballot feature — straight ticket voting (STV) — has suffered a public relations crisis, resulting in its removal in most states. Straight ticket voting lets a voter choose every candidate that a party has nominated on the general election ballot with one ballot mark. It’s usually an option at the top of the ballot and allows a voter to skip over any other partisan election that has a candidate from their chosen party.  

Proponents claim that STV makes voting easier, quicker, and results in less roll off voters — voters who vote for the top of the ticket but not downballot races. Opponents argue that it results in candidates winning due solely to their party identification, discourages thoughtful consideration of candidates’, and disadvantages third party and independent candidates.

It’s not clear that STV systematically benefits one party over the other. Proponents and opponents lie on both sides of the partisan divide. But while there is no consistent partisan advantage, some effects of STV are clear in downballot races.

  1. It reduces undercount/roll off votes. Voters who otherwise might have only voted for the top of the ticket — due to the length of the ballot, a lack of candidate knowledge, or apathy — might choose the STV option instead.
  2. It helps candidates with party affiliations. Only downballot candidates who have a party affiliation can earn votes through the STV option. Independent voters lose out.
  3. Name recognition is less important. Voters who choose STV will not be looking at candidate names or histories, making these less influential.
  4. Voting is quicker and lines/wait times can be shorter. Filling in one bubble at the top of the form is much easier and faster than going through an entire, sometimes multi-page ballot. This shortens the time it takes to vote and reduces waiting times at polling locations.
  5. Voters overlook ballot initiatives and nonpartisan office elections. Some voters will choose the STV option and fail to vote for non-partisan ballot initiatives and elections. Some of these voters might have skipped these votes even without the STV option, but others might fail to see them or realize that their STV vote doesn’t count in these elections.

STV in the States
In 2020, only seven or eight states will offer STV. (Pennsylvania’s state legislature passed a bill that eliminates STV, but they’re still waiting for Governor Tom Wolf’s signature.) This is down from 18 in 2006 and 21 in 1994. The table below shows the eight states (including Pennsylvania, which could change) with STV ballot options and the competitive2Defined as a rating by Sabato’s Crystal Ball of Toss-up, Lean D or R, or Likely D or R downballot federal elections.

The next table shows the two states that had STV in 2016 but will not in 2020 and their competitive downballot federal elections.

STV has the biggest impacts on far downballot races like judges and state legislatures. Most voters will vote in their Senate and House races, meaning that STV will only impact these races if they are very, very close.  Given the number of competitive federal races in STV states (3 Senate + 15 House) and the number of tight races in Iowa and Texas (2 Senate + 12 House), who recently eliminated STV, it is likely that some of these will be extremely close races. Out of these 32 federal elections, some will probably have a close enough margin that the state’s decision to have or eliminate STV could have determined the winner.

Again, it’s not easy to always know which party benefits from STV or its elimination. In general, though, the party who runs stronger at the top of the ticket will probably earn more straight ticket votes. This isn’t an infallible rule, though, and shouldn’t be applied to any individual district or state without data or evidence. The big picture to keep in mind is that, in a very close race, a state’s decision to keep or eliminate STV may have tipped the scales.

The Cases of Texas and Iowa
This is particularly relevant in Texas, where there is a competitive senate race and eight House races. According to a study done at Austin Community College, in 2016, an astounding 64% of voters in the state’s 10 largest counties used the STV option. In 2018, in the state’s 48 biggest counties (which account for 86% of the total vote count) 67% of voters used STV. Those who did use STV were split almost perfectly between Republican and Democrats. According to the study, minorities and older votes will be most affected by the elimination of STV. They also predict that Democrats will be hurt in more urban areas while Republicans will be hurt in more rural areas. Again, it’s impossible to know how this will shake out statewide, but it is clear that the elimination of STV will hurt whichever party is dominant within a certain voting jurisdiction: Democrats in urban areas and Republicans in rural ones.

Iowa, like Texas, recently eliminated STV, although the change was already in place in the 2018 midterms. This is however, the first presidential election in which Iowa will not have STV. Like in Texas, downballot Republicans in rural areas will likely be hurt by the change while downballot Democrats in urban areas will also be hurt. In 2014 (the only year in which Iowa collected undervote data), Democrats cast about 18,000 more STV ballots than Republicans. So, perhaps this indicates that the change will adversely affect Democrats, but on net we can’t know for sure.

Iowa Watch

The Big Picture
It’s important to keep in mind that the only races in which STV or its elimination may have tipped the scales are ones that are extremely close. Races with very wide margins were almost certainly not decided by STV option alone. But, given the number of competitive House districts in such states, it is likely that 2020 could feature elections in which ballot design, specifically STV or its elimination, ended up making the difference.

THE DISTRICT: A QUICK LOOK AT CA-25

If you’re nerdy enough to be reading a blog about House elections, you’ve probably seen that there will be a special election in California’s 25th district. The current Representative, Katie Hill, has announced that she plans to resign due to her relationship with a campaign staffer, the release of nude photos of her, and allegations of an improper relationship with a congressional staffer, which would have violated the House’s ethics code. 

Regardless of if her resignation was the right call, a double standard or a travestythe seat will be hosting an upcoming special election. For better or for worse. The timeline is unclear, as Hill has not actually resigned, which will trigger the process of setting up a special election. Once she does, Governor Gavin Newsom has 14 days to announce a special election date, which must be within the next 140 days. Hill’s resignation is an opportunity for Republicans to pick up a seat they lost in 2018, but, in my opinion, they have a tough road ahead. 

The district is one of the seven that Democrats flipped in 2018 when they dominated suburban areas that used to be Republican strongholds. It’s located in northern LA suburbs and includes a few small cities including Santa Clarita and Palmdale.  

Obama carried the 25th by less than 1% in 2008 and then lost it to Romney by 2% in 2012. In 2016, though, Clinton beat Trump by a much wider 7% margin. Even with Clinton’s, win, though, the Republican incumbent,  Stephen Knight, carried his seat by 6%. In the 2014 election, Knight didn’t even face a Democratic competitor due to California’s jungle primary system, where the top two vote getters advance to the general election regardless of party. In 2014 two Republicans were the top two in the primary, meaning that no Democrat made it into the general election. Then, in 2018, Katie Hill beat Knight by an impressive 9 point margin. It’s a remarkable example of how quickly suburban voters — once friendly to Romney-style Republicans — have quickly turned away from the new version of the Trump-centered Republican party. 

It’s also a diverse district, with a white population of just 51%. 30% of the district is Latino, 8.3% is black, and 8% is asian/pacific islander. And it’s white, non-college share — the core of Trump’s base — is only 34%, compared to the national average of 45%.  

These demographics and historical trends of the district, along with the current rightward sprint and unpopularity of Trump and the Republican Party, make it hard to imagine a red comeback in the district. As long as Democrats field a respectable candidate who has some fundraising chops (and there has already been movement in the field), they should be able to hold the district. The only hope that Republicans have is that special elections can be unpredictable and turnout in these races can be low. Republicans traditionally turn out in higher numbers than Democrats, but in the highly politicized/partisan environment, with Trump agitating Democrats, and with political awareness is at an all time high, Democrats will probably have no trouble turning out the voters to keep this trending blue district. 

THE DISTRICT: IOWA COMPETITIVE FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

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Recently, I’ve been thinking about Iowa. Amazingly, every single federal election in Iowa could be competitive  in 2020. While Iowa is likely leaning Republican for the presidential election, in a good Democratic year, or if Democrats can capitalize off Trump’s trade war which is hurting farmers in Iowa, the state could be back on the table. Similarly, Democrats have a shot at picking off Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who saw a net 10% drop in approval between Q2 and Q3, according to Morning Consult. She’s now underwater at -4%.

Lastly, the four House races could all be closely contested. The first, second, and third are all districts held by Democrats where Trump won in 2016. And in the second, the Democratic incumbent Dave Loebsack is retiring, sacrificing the Democrat’s incumbency advantage. The fourth district, though, is heavily Republican. Trump won there by over 27%. But the Republican incumbent, Steve King, is incredibly controversial, partially for his comments bordering on (or crossing over into) white supremacism. He only won reelection in 2018 by 3.3%. If King wins the Republican primary, he’s giving Democrats a shot at an otherwise safely Republican seat.

So, from the presidency on down to each of the four house races, Iowa could be competitive. That’s not to say that every race will be competitive. In fact, every race probably won’t be competitive. If the Democratic presidential nominee carries Iowa, they’ll probably also win the three House seats. The point is that, a year out, every federal election in Iowa could turn into a battleground. As we get closer to November 2020 we’ll know which of the contests materialize into true battlegrounds.

SABATO’S CRYSTAL BALL: ROUND 2

ESY is on Sabato’s Crystal Ball! Again! Go check out the new article, “Upballot Effects: Expanding the Electoral College”. And if you missed my first Crystal Ball article, go read it

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We’ll be back to our normally scheduled posting next Sunday (11/3). See you then.

A STRANGE BELLWETHER: PENNSYLVANIA’S HOUSE

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The five competitive 2020 House races in Pennsylvania read like an abridged version of the national House race. They include the suburban battlegrounds, the exurban battlegrounds, a Romney-Clinton districts, an Obama-Trump district, a Republican in a seat that Clinton carried and a Democrat in a seat Trump carried.

The results of these districts in 2020 will likely be a bellwether for which party wins control of the House. Unfortunately, we won’t know the results of these five districts until we know who won the House, but developments in these districts over the next year will give some insight into which party is favored to win the House and their path to doing so.

The map below shows the current partisan makeup of Pennsylvania’s Representatives.   
Map Created at 270towin

The next map shows the current ratings3As rated by Sabato’s Crystal Balls for 2020 . Brown (District 1) is a Toss Up, light blue (7, 8) and light red (10) are Leaning Democrat or Republican, darker red (16) is Likely Republican, and dark red and dark blue are Safely Republican or Democrat.
Map Created at 270towin

The last two maps, at the bottom of the post, are meant to give some context for the following analysis. They show Pennsylvania’s average income (as of 2014) and population shift (between 2000 and 2018) by county.

Pennsylvania 1st: The Suburban Toss Up and the Republican in Clinton Country
Pennsylvania’s First District is a classic 2018 House battleground: Wealthy suburbs outside a major urban center. Based outside of Philadelphia, the first district is one of only three districts in the entire country in which Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and a Republican House member won in 2018. Of those three, only two are running for re-election in 2020. One of the two is Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican who opposed appealing the ACA, has been endorsed by labor unions like AFL-CIO and gun safety groups and advocates like Everytown for Gun Safety and Gabby Giffords.

Clinton carried the district by 2% in 2016 and in 2018, Fitzpatrick won by 2.5%. The incumbent could have a hard time holding the seat in a presidential year, where the presidential race will heavily influence downballot votes. The district is currently rated a Toss Up. If Democrats are able to win this seat, they will almost certainly be able to hold onto the House. If Republicans hold it, they could be on the way to taking back a good number of House seats. In other words, Pennsylvania’s first district represents the districts that are necessary, but not sufficient for Republicans to win back the House.  

Pennsylvania 8th: The Democrat in Trump Country
Pennsylvania’s Eighth District is territory where, in my opinion, Republicans should be bullish. While it has some more urban areas — Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Hazelton — none of these are massive urban centers with very dense cores or suburbs and there is plenty of exurban and rural terrain for Republicans to gain ground in. The district had a massive shift between 2012, when Obama won it by 11.9% to 2016, when Trump won it by 9.6% — a move of over 20%. The district seems ripe for Republicans to win over ancestrally Democratic voters in the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area who like Trump and the new Republican Party.

If Republicans can peel off incumbent Democrat Matt Cartwright, who won with an impressive 9.3% margin in this Trumpy looking district, they’ll be on their way to tightening the House margin and could flip it. It would indicate their ability to win in many of the 31 districts that Trump won in 2016 but a Democrat won in 2018.

Pennsylvania 7th: The Exurban Lean Democratic, Trending Republican District
Republicans winning Pennsylvania 7th is where the tables would really start to turn against Democrats. The Seventh District is centered around the urban Lehigh Valley, but extends out to more exurban and rural territory. The district voted for both Obama and Clinton, although it has been trending more Republican every year. In 2008, Obama won it by 14.5%, in 2012 he won by 7% and in 2016, Clinton won by just 1.1%.

The Democratic incumbent, Susan Wild, won in early 2018 special election after the incumbent resigned due to a sexual harassment controversy. She then won re-election in the 2018 November election by an impressive 10% margin. Democrats in the Lehigh Valley benefited from the 2018 court mandated redistricting, which swapped out the eastern, rural, Republican leaning portion of their district for the more Democratic-friendly territory up north in Monroe County.

If Republicans are able to take Pennsylvania 7th, they are probably on their way to winning back the House. It would indicate that they have the strength the oust the new class of Democratic House members and win back seats that they lost by pretty large margins in 2018. It would also indicate success in districts that, while trending red for some time, had not fully embraced Trump in 2016. If Republicans are able to carry two of the first, eighth, and seventh districts, they are, in my book, favorites to win back the House.

Pennsylvania 10th: The Exurban Lean Republican District
On the other hand, if Democrats are able to flip the Republican-leaning Tenth District, they are probably on their way to expanding their 34-seat margin.

The district, while centered around the state capital Harrisburg, is mostly exurban and rural. For a state capital, Harrisburg is a surprisingly small city with a population of just around 50,000. The metropolitan region, though, including suburbs and exurbs is much larger at around 570,000. Unfortunately for Democrats, most of these communities outside the metropolitan core lean Republican. Democrats would need to somehow dominate in both turnout and margin in urban Harrisburg while also winning back more rural voters.

Democrat’s big advantage may be the incumbent Scott Perry, a hardline conservative, who underperforms in what should be a relatively easy Republican hold. While Trump expanded Romney’s 6.6% margin to 8.9% in 2016, Perry won by just 2.6% in 2018. While this might indicate a weak incumbent in Perry, it also shows that, even in an extremely friendly Democratic environment, Republicans still were able to hold onto the seat. And in 2020, with the presidential election influencing downballot races, House Democrats will have an even more difficult time peeling off the much-needed rural voters.

If Democrats are able to overcome the pretty substantial barriers in the Tenth District, they will have held the House and likely be expanding their majority.

Pennsylvania 16th: The Rural Likely Republican, Obama-Trump District
Finally, we have the Obama-Trump Sixteenth District. If Democrats win here, the watershed has broken and they’ll be dominating the House. The heavily rural district stretches along the top half of the state’s western border, not quite reaching the outskirts of Pittsburg. The only urban portion of the district is in the state’s northwestern corner, in Erie county. Outside of this, though, the district is almost all rural and red.

While Obama did win the district in 2008 by a slim 0.8%, he lost it four years later, indicating that the district has been moving rightward even before Trump came along. But Trump expanded Romney’s 4.8% win to a much larger 20%. The incumbent, Mike Kelly, won by 4.3% in the Democratic friendly 2018 midterms, symbolizing his staying power. If Democrats can somehow win back a seat that 1) has been trending red since 2008 2) swung heavily towards Trump 3) is heavily Rural and 4) has a Republican incumbent who held on in the “blue wave” of 2018, they’ll be on track to dominate the House and will probably have won the presidency and Senate too.

A Strange Bellwether For the Presidency and House
The traditional “bellwether” state for presidential elections used to be Ohio. But as demographic trends continue to change the Democratic and Republican coalitions, this is no longer true. Another state from the Midwest or Great Lakes regions, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, will probably be the new “indicator” of the electoral college winner — at least for the 2020 election cycle.

Pennsylvania, though, gives insight into more than just the presidential race. The state, with its crosscutting urban, rural, midwestern, and northeastern characteristics gives a sort of synopsis of the national race for the House. The state’s first, seventh, eight, tenth, and sixteenth districts are the bellwethers for the House. They’ll be ones to watch leading up to the 2020 elections, telling us which types of districts are up for grabs and where the true 2020 House battleground will be.

Additional Maps


Source: Data Usa


Source: Twitter @XNeon

TRUMP’S STANDING IN THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE, SENATE, AND HOUSE BATTLEGROUNDS

Usually ESY is focused only on the House of Representative. This post will be a bit different in that it will cover the Electoral College, Senate, and House. 

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President Trump’s approval rating hovers in the low 40s, a bad number for any president seeking reelection. He’s doing worse than any president since Jimmy Carter has at this point in their presidency.  But Trump’s approval differs wildly depending on the demographic group. This post will take a look at the president’s approval among non-college educated whites, college educated whites, blacks, and Latinos. And we’ll go deeper, looking at regional variations within these groups, a crucial dynamic that is frequently ignored or overlooked. 

First, we’ll look at President Trump’s approval in key Electoral College states, then we’ll look at important Senate states, then the House battleground districts.

Trump’s Approval in Electoral College Swing States
The swing states can be separated into two broad categories of the Rust Belt and Sun Belt. The Rust Belt comprises much of the Midwest and Northern U.S. and the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio. I’m also including Maine and New Hampshire in the category due to their similar geographic and demographic characteristics.

The Sun Belt, sweeping from the southwest to southeast, includes the swing states of Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina. I’ll also stretch the Sun Belt definition and add in Colorado and Virginia.  

Data aggregated from Gallup’s 2018 polling helps sketch the president’s approval among different demographics in these swing states. Unfortunately, the granular data is not publicly available, but this article in the Atlantic did provide some of the polling numbers, which are in the chart below. Clearly there are some holes, but the data available together with piece’s additional commentary fill in much of the big picture gaps. Sources: Daily Kos, Morning Consult, Atlantic/Gallup

Additionally, if we fill in the data holes with numbers from Civiqs, we get a similar picture. The graph below has this supplemental data color coated in red. To avoid mixing data sources, we will use Gallup’s numbers from the the first chart in the following analysis. This graph is just meant to confirm that the big picture painted by Gallup’s data is on mostly on target.
Sources: Daily Kos, Morning Consult, Atlantic/Gallup, Civiqs
 

Trump’s overall approval is higher in the Sun Belt versus the Rust Belt — averaging 46% versus 43%. This is a good sign for Democrats who think that the way to an Electoral College victory is through Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Looking at demographics, it’s not surprising that Trump does best with non-college whites, then college whites, then non-whites. What’s interesting is how much these groups differ from the Sun Belt to the Rust Belt. Trump’s approval in the Rust Belt among non-college whites is 11% higher (63% to 52%) than in the Sun Belt. This Demographic makes up 60% of the population in the Rust Belt and 40% in the Sun Belt, meaning that Trumps struggle in the Rust Belt is especially significant given how dominant these voters are in the region.

Trump’s approval among college-whites is 7% higher (44% to 37%) in the Sun Belt than the Rust Belt. And his approval among nonwhites is 4% lower. This coalition of college-educated whites and minorities has swung away from Trump and the Republicans, largely responsible for delivering Democrats the House in 2018. Given that the college-educated white and non-white coalition is more significant in the Sun Belt — where it makes up 58% of the population to the Rust Belt’s 40% — Democrats will need to win over and turn out these voters if they want to win any of Sun Belt states. The problem for Democrats, however, is that Trump does better among the coalition (7% better among college educated whites and 4% among nonwhites) in the Sun Belt than the Rust Belt.  

Trump’s Approval in Senate Swing States
The story is largely the same in the Senate races, many of which overlap with the Electoral College swing states.
Sources: Daily Kos, Morning Consult, Atlantic/Gallup

The big picture: Trump does worse in the Rust Belt among non-college whites and better in the Sun Belt with college-educated whites and minorities.

The big outlier among these states is Alabama. This is the only state that is competitive for Senate but not for the Electoral College. Here, incumbent Democrat Doug Jones won a 2017 special election due to a weak and scandal plagued opponent, Roy Moore. Moore is running again, but if he loses the Republican nomination, Jones faces a tough road in a state that voted for Trump by 28% and in which the president has a 60% approval rating and his highest net approval of any state.

Trump’s Approval in House Swing Districts
There’s no way to get Trump’s approval ratings in each of the 51 swing House districts, so instead we’ll look at the demographics and regional characteristics. First up, the 17 battlegrounds in the Rust Belt.Sources: Daily Kos, CityLab

The districts are heavily suburban (14 of the 17 are predominantly suburban according to CityLab’s Density Index), overwhelmingly white (89%), and largely non-college white (59%). These demographics line up almost perfectly with the Rust Belt states overall, which are 88% white and 60% non-college white, meaning that Trumps average approval in these House seats is probably around the 43% average of the Rust Belt states overall.

Next, the House battleground districts in the Sun Belt.
Sources: Daily Kos, CityLab

Again, these districts are also heavily suburban, with 11 of the 12 having predominant suburban characteristics. These districts, unlike Rust Belt battlegrounds, do not match as neatly with the Sun Belt’s overall demographics. The districts have a slightly lower white percentage relative to the Sun Belt overall (62% to 65%), but the big difference is in their percentage of white non-college voters, which is 32% versus the Sun Belt’s average of 42%. This lower percentage of Trump’s biggest supporters would probably drag his approval rating at least a few points down from the Sun Belt’s average of 46%.

Lastly, the 22 House battlegrounds outside of the Rust and Sun Belt.Sources: Daily Kos, CityLab

These districts, scattered across the U.S. are also heavily suburban (19 of 22), and more in line with national demographics than either the Sun or Rust Belt districts. They are 74% white and 47% non-college white, compared to the national averages of 69% and 47%. And, given that Trump’s national approval hovers around 41% to 43%, that’s likely where the average of these districts stands as well, although perhaps a point or two lower given the 5% difference in white voters.  

Trump’s approval rating will be one of the most important factors in these House races, as well as in the Senate and Electoral College. We often hear about Trump’s approval rating among different demographic groups, but that analysis often lacks important regional nuance. Regardless of their top-line demographic identifiers, voters differ heavily on their views of the president depending on where they live. 

HOW HOUSE ELECTIONS WILL EXPAND THE 2020 ELECTORAL COLLEGE MAP

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The results of the 2020 House and Senate races will largely determine the efficacy of the next president. Losing either chamber to the other party would hamstring a president’s agenda — allowing the opposition to obstruct legislation, effectively negotiate the budget, and in the case of the Senate, stall executive and judicial appointments. Given these stakes, the 2020 presidential campaigns will likely be run with an eye towards down ballot Senate and House races.

Because our political era is defined by partisanship (and straight ticket voting), what’s going on between Trump and [insert Democrat here] will probably determine who wins both the Senate and the House. The most important factor in these down ballot races will be the presidential election. In fact, no state split their Senate and presidential vote in 2016, emphasizing the importance of the top of the ticket.

Here at ESY, though, we focus on the House. So, while the Senate elections will arguably have a more clear-cut effect on presidential strategy (because measuring how a campaign targets a whole state is generally easier to see than how it targets clusters of districts), this post will focus on the House.  

According to our model, a landslide victory for either presidential candidate — say a margin of >5% in the popular vote — would all but certainly deliver their party the House. In this scenario, marginal differences in presidential strategy and which states are targeted will be unlikely to affect the topline result in the presidency or House — the party dominating the popular vote would win both. In a closer election, though, the states and voters that presidential candidates target could have down ballot affects that swing crucial House races.

The strategy to winning the presidency and House in a close election is not a straightforward one. The nuances of the electoral college and the distribution of swingy House seats will incentivize 2020 candidates to expand the presidential battleground in order to boost their party’s chances down ballot. Given that spending on the presidential general election is expected reach a record $1.7 billion, there will be plenty of campaign resources to go around. Whether a candidate like Trump would actually prioritize the Republican party over his individual electoral chances, were they at odds in any way, is unclear. Still, the fact remains that while a blinkered strategy focused on Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan might work for the Electoral College, it would hurt the party in districts crucial to both Democratic and Republican hopes of controlling the House.

There are two broad strategies that campaign can use to influence voters: resource targeting and message targeting. Campaigns can aim to influence voters with resources — primarily money and time — or with the message their campaign is sending. We’ll look at these individually and see how the campaigns could leverage them to help their friends downballot. But first, a quick overview of the 2020 Presidential battlegrounds so we can then look at how the House folds into it.

The 2020 Presidential Geographical Battleground
A quick refresher on the Electoral College in case you forgot: There are 538 electoral college votes, meaning that a candidate needs 270 to solidify a majority and the presidency. Electoral votes are distributed among the states based on each states number of members of Congress (Senators + Representatives).

According to Sabato’s Crystal Ball, both Democrats and Republicans have 248 Electoral votes in their “Safe”, “Likely”, or “Lean” categories. This leaves 42 votes in the “Toss up” category. You can see where each state falls in their map below.

I would put Florida and Michigan closer to “Toss Up” category, given that Trump won Michigan in 2016 and only won Florida by 1%, while Obama carried it in 2012 and 2008.

Regardless, given how many states are essentially off the table for either party, there are only really two parts of the country with enough flip-able states to swing the Electoral College. The first is the “Rust Belt” region in the Midwest and northern U.S.  The swingy states (Toss Up or Lean) in this category are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and — stretching the definition of the Rust Belt — Minnesota. I’ll also include Maine, New Hampshire and Nebraska’s Second District in this broad category due to many similar demographics and characteristics of these states.

Trump’s 2016 win was possible because he flipped Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all of which Obama carried in the previous election. These three will probably again be the most competitive states in the region, with Ohio and Iowa leaning Republican and Minnesota leaning Democratic. If 2020 repeated 2016 in the 47 states besides Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, these three would determine the winner. And because they have similar demographics and political environments, chances are that the candidate who wins one will win all three.

The other region that could determine the election is the “Sun Belt”, which stretches from the southeast to the southwest. The swingy states in this region are Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and (again stretching the definition of “Sun Belt”), Colorado. I’ll also add in Virginia, given its demographics southern characteristics.

This region, though, seems to be less of a “Toss Up” than the Rust Belt. The only state in the region that the Crystal Ball rates as a “Toss Up” is Arizona, although one could argue to put Florida in that category too. Also, North Carolina and Georgia are probably a bit swingier than Texas while Nevada is likely more competitive than Colorado.  Like the Rust Belt, these states could also determine the outcome of the Electoral College. There are many ways to split up votes, but if Democrats won Florida and Arizona (while carrying all of the states they won in 2016), they would win the Electoral College (and could afford to lose MI, WI, and PA). Other options include flipping the more challenging states of Georgia, North Carolina, and to a greater degree, Texas. There are also various scenarios in which Republicans flip Democratic states and could lose the Rust Belt.

Overall, though, the Sun Belt states are probably a bit less swingy than the Rust Belt. If Democrats were able to flip Florida and Georgia, they would probably have already carried the midwestern swing states. Similarly, if Republicans won Colorado, they most likely already have MI/PA/WI in the bag.

The specifics of the electoral calculus is less important than understanding this big point: the Electoral College hangs on these two regions of the country. And while either of these regions could hold the decisive electoral votes, due to the slightly more partisan leans of the Sun Belt states, chances are that the Rust Belt will be the decisive region.

The 2020 Presidential Demographic Battleground
The key demographic in all our Rust Belt states are non-Hispanic whites. On average, this demographic makes up 88% of these states, compared to the 69% national average. These whites are, importantly, heavily working class. Sixty-one percent of population in these states is non-college whites, relative to the 45% national average. Clearly there are differences between states — Michigan has a significant (14%) black population, largely based in Detroit, while Maine has less than 1% black voters. Overall, though, the key demographic characteristic that ties these states together is the predominance of the white working class.

The Sun Belt, on the other hand, has a large and growing minority population. Only 66% of voters in these states are white, and this number would be even lower without our expansive definition of Sun Belt that includes Virginia (69% white) and Colorado (77% white), which pull the white tally upwards. The white, non-college educated percentage is also much smaller than that of the Rust belt, at only 42% of the population. Again, there are significant differences within the region — Georgia and North Carolina’s minority population are heavily black while Texas and Florida are more Hispanic. But a growing non-white, young, college educated population is true in each of these Sun Belt states. 

The 2020 House Geographic Battleground
The districts that make up the House battleground are not as easily categorized as Electoral College swing states. Due to the fractured nature of the House, there are individual flippable districts across much the country. Taken in the aggregate, though, the primary battleground of the House is clear: the suburbs. Of the 51 House districts rated as “Toss Ups” or “Leans”, 44 of them have significant or predominant suburban characteristics according to City Lab’s Congressional Density Index. Most of these districts (40) were carried by Trump in 2016, and 21 of those Trump seats were won by Democrats in 2018. Overall, 29 are held by Democrats and 22 by Republicans.

Geographically, the seats are disproportionately concentrated in the Rust and Sun Belt. There are 17 swing seats in our (generous) definition of Rust Belt states, 12 in the Sun Belt, and 22 spread out across the rest of the nation.

The 2020 House Demographic Battleground
Unsurprisingly, the demographics of battleground House districts largely reflect the overall demographics of their states and regions. The 17 swing seats in the Rust Belt have an average of 88% white voters and 59% uneducated white voters. The Sun Belt districts are 59% white and 32% non-college whites. These numbers match up with the overall demographics of the Sun Belt and Rust Belt regions, although the proportion of non-educated whites in the Sun Belt swing districts is exceptionally low. The remaining 22 swing districts outside of these key states are in line with national averages — 74% white, 47% non-educated white.

Presidential Strategy: Resource Targeting
As discussed above, both Democrats and Republicans best chance of winning the Electoral College most likely swings with Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It would make sense for both presidential campaigns to pour their campaign time and resources into these three states, as they will likely determine the winner.

This strategy, however, is short sighted on two fronts. First, there is the slight chance that a Sun Belt state would flip before Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. Second, each presidential candidate will want to boost their numbers in the Sun Belt in order to help their House teammates downballot.

The 12 swing districts in the Sun Belt will be tight and could determine control of the House, incentivizing both campaigns to invest in these states, even if their chances of flipping the states are slim. And even if the states are not likely to change hands, any presidential candidate’s improvement at the top of the ticket will help downballot, meaning that presidential campaigns could invest with the primary goal of trying to win House districts. And it is hard to imagine a campaign deciding not to invest in a state once it sees its opponent investing. If one campaign decides to fight for the Sun Belt states, we’ll probably see the other join as well.

And while this would seem unlikely in a race where candidates are strapped for cash, it’s important to remember that both candidates will have ample financial resources. This will allow the campaigns to compete in lower priority states like Texas, Georgia, and Virginia, with the dual purpose of trying to win longshot electoral college votes and helping House candidates downballot.

Presidential Strategy: Message Targeting
The other strategy, in addition to physical resource investment, campaigns will use to win over and turn out voters will be their message to voters. The tone and policies a campaign presents to voters could vary widely depending on exactly which voters campaigns are targeting.

As we discovered above, the demographics of the Rust Belt and Sun Belt are extremely different and voters in the regions will respond differently to different messages. I’m not going to prescribe messages that could work in the two regions (I’ll leave that to the campaigns), but I will describe some key demographic groups and trends that the campaigns will need to keep in mind.

  1. The Rust Belt is much whiter and less educated than the Sun Belt. We discussed this earlier, but it is a crucial dynamic who the campaigns will be targeting and the message used to target them. Is there a way for campaigns to appeal to both white working class that dominate the Midwest without turning off minorities and college educated whites in the Sun Belt?
  2. Trump’s approval with white, non-college voters is much worse in the Rust Belt, where it hovers around the low 50s, than in the Sun Belt, where it is the mid-60s. This is perhaps the most under-appreciated demographic dynamic that leaves an opening among what many consider to be Trump’s base. What message can the campaigns deliver that would win over these key voters who have soured on Trump?
  3. Minorities in the Rust Belt really hate Trump, while those in the Sun Belt are a bit more divided. This largely comes down to the president’s absolutely dismal approval (~15%) among black voters (who make up most of the minority voters in the Rust Belt and some southern states like Georgia and North Carolina) versus his marginally better approval (~25%) among Hispanic voters (who are more dominant in Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada). What message can Democrats use to turn out these Trump-opposed voters without firing up and helping Trump re-solidify his white non-college base (that he could be in trouble with in the Rust Belt states). And what could Republicans do to alleviate their anemic margins among non-white voters?
  4. Lastly, college-educated white voters dislike Trump everywhere, but more so in the Rust Belt where his approval is in the mid to high 30s than in the Sun Belt where it’s in the mid to high 40s. How could the parties win over these voters without jeopardizing their margins among minorities and non-college whites?

While Trump could double down on winning over non-college white voters as a strategy to lock down the Electoral College in the Rust Belt, this would pose a big problem for Republican House prospects. As discussed, a majority of House seats are in the suburbs. In the House districts located in the Rust Belt states, a Trump strategy targeting non-college whites could actually work, as they make up 59% of voters in those seats. However, this strategy could prove fatal in the Sun Belt, where the swing seats are only 32% non-college white voters. Similarly, the other 22 vulnerable districts across the nation are 47% non-college white. If Trump’s Electoral College strategy is to target his white working-class base, he will likely be surrendering many of these House seats that have majority coalitions of non-white and college educated voters.

The electoral incentives, then are for the presidential campaigns to find a message that will help them win over the crucial non-college educated white voters in the Rust Belt, but also boost their prospects in these suburban districts.  Perhaps the Democrats will employ an economic-focused campaign in the Midwest while focusing on social issues in the Sun Belt suburbs, as Obama did in 2012. Maybe Trump will tamp down on divisive immigration issues, focusing instead on economic populism, in order to help solidify his base without repelling suburban communities quite as strongly.

Wrapping Up
Regardless of the tactics and messages that the campaigns settle on, it is likely that their effect on the House elections downballot will weigh on their decision. While Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin will probably deliver the winning Electoral College votes, the House will be decided in districts across the nation, although heavily concentrated in the Sun and Rust Belt. This complicated picture of the House will incentivize presidential candidates to compete in states and for voters that, if the House were not up for grabs, they may have ignored.

Given the importance of Congress to a president’s ability to carry out his or her vision, the presidential campaigns would be ignoring their impact on downballot House races at their peril. From what we have seen thus far, though, Trump is not the most prudent political operative. So, while the House elections may incentivize expanding the electoral map, we will have to wait and see if Trump — often obstinate and short sighted —- and the eventual Democratic nominee will take these House incentives into account or if they will focus solely on winning the Electoral College.

FORECASTING THE HOUSE: PROJECTIONS BASED ON THE PRESIDENTIAL POPULAR VOTE

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This is Part 3 in a short series projecting which party will win the House in 2020 given different possible presidential outcomes. Because it is a presidential election year and given the intensity of partisanship and increasing number of straight-ticket voters, the presidential results will be the best measure of the national environment and the most important factor in the House elections. This series will explore what those presidential results will mean for the House and which party can expect to win a majority of seats based on the various possibilities. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

This post is going to complete the series forecasting who will control of the House in 2020 based on the national environment, which is best measured by the presidential popular vote. Democrats currently hold 235 seats, Republicans hold 199, and Justin Amash is the lonely independent in MI-03. This means that Democrats can afford to lose, at most, net 17 seats.  This graphic, from our previous post, shows where we left off and what we still need to finish. 

The next chart shows, according to our model, the order that Democratic held seats would flip to Republicans. The model’s calculation uses the 2018 midterm margin, the changes in incumbency status from 2018 to 2020, and an adjustment for the 7.3% Democratic environment of the 2018 midterms. The last column shows the projected margin for the district in a neutral national environment, with positive numbers indicating a Republican victor and negative numbers indicating a Democratic win. Finally, the districts highlighted in red are ones where Donald Trump won >51% of the vote, which will be important for our projections below.

Safely Democratic
Let’s start with what national environment Democrats need to “Safely” hold the house. As with “Safely Republican”, I am going to build in a lot of safeguards here, setting a high bar for the House to be considered safe. These include:

  • Building in a 10 seat Democratic cushion, meaning that, for this calculation, Democrats can only lose seven seats, putting the House at 228D to 206R.
  • Assuming that Democrats lose the eight districts that Trump won by >51%.4In the “Safely Republican” calculation we assumed that Republicans lost any seat that Clinton won by >50%, not >51% like we assume here. The bar is a bit higher here because 1) There are a lot more seats held by Democrats that Trump won and Democrats are very unlikely to lose all of them. 2) A lot of these seats are in suburban zones that are swinging heavily away from Republicans.

Taking these two precautions, we already have Democrats losing eight seats — one more than our Safe model will allow. This means that they will have to win back one seat. The presidential popular vote they need to be able to expect to win this seat will be the bar they need to clear to Safely control the House.

So which House seat currently occupied by Republicans will be easiest for Democrats to flip? According to our model, the easiest seat for Democrats to flip will be TX-23.

This seat spans a majority of Texas’s western border with Mexico and is 62% Hispanic, a key demographic for Democrats. The Republican incumbent, Will Hurd, has been a uniquely strong incumbent, but barely squeaked out a 0.4% win and is not running for reelection next year. According to our calculation5Start with Republicans’ 0.4% 2018 margin. Adjust in Republicans favor 7.3% for the Democratic leaning environment in the 2018 midterms. Give Democrats a 2.7% boost due to the Republicans losing their incumbency advantage., Republicans could expect to win this seat by 5% in a neutral environment, meaning that Democrats need a 5.1% favorable environment to win this seat and be considered “Safe” to keep control of the House.

Likely Democratic
Moving to the “Likely Democratic” category, we are going to ease up on the safeguards a bit. The precautions now include:

  • Building in a 5 seat Democratic cushion, meaning that, for this calculation, Democrats can only lose 12 seats, putting the House at 223D to 211R.
  • Assume Democrats lose the eight districts where Trump won > 51%.

With these guardrails in place, Democrats can still afford to lose four more seats. The easiest of which (according to our model) would be NM-02, UT-04, CA-39, CA-21. The next seat in line, GA-06, is the one Democrats would need to hold onto. It would be 0.9% R in a neutral environment, meaning Democrats need to have a 1% advantage to make control of the House “Likely Democratic”

Toss Up
For our “Toss-Up” category we are going to find the tipping point seat — the one that would tip control of the House away from Democrats. Given the current breakdown of the House with one independent, there are actually two tipping point seats — one that would tip the House to a 217 – 217 tie and one that would tip it to a 218 – 216 Republican majority. The 18th and 19th seats that Republicans flip are these two “tipping point” seats. The 18th most likely seat to flip is Florida 27th and the 19th most likely is MI-08. These two districts would lean 1.9% and 1.4% Democratic in a neutral national environment, making these the boundaries for the toss up category.

Wrapping Up
Now that we have all the data, we can fill in the rest of our chart.  

A neutral environment, meaning the presidential popular vote is 50/50, falls into the “Lean Democrat” category. This is mostly due to their incumbency advantage in many of the most competitive districts that could determine control of the House. Democrats also have an advantage in the 1-3% margin range. If the national environment is 1%-3.3% in Democrats favor, they are “Likely” to win the House, but if it is a similar Republican leaning environment, the House a Toss Up, Lean Republican and even Lean Democrat. If either party wins by around 5% or more, though, it looks like the House is theirs.

ESY ON SABATO’S CRYSTAL BALL

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This week ESY is taking a brief hiatus because a piece of mine was featured on Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics nonpartisan political newsletter. The piece is called “The House’s Republican Bias: Does it Exist?”. Go give it a read and check back in next Sunday for a fresh ESY post.