Author Archives: everysecondyear

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: OKLAHOMA’S FIFTH

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Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional district is going to be one of most competitive House races in 2020. The district is centered around Oklahoma City in the heart of Oklahoma and was one of Democrats’ most unexpected pickups in 2018. FiveThirtyEight gave the Republican incumbent, Steve Russell, an 86% chance of winning re-election. In an upset, his Democratic challenger, Kendra Horn won 50.7% to 49.3%.

It was a surprising win for such a historically safe Republican seat. Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney both carried the district by over 18% and Donald Trump won it by over 13%. While Trump’s smaller margin indicate the district’s leftward trend, it was still a significant margin. Republican incumbent Steve Russel had also safely won his initial 2014 election by 24% and reelection in 2016 by 20%.

All this was enough to lead most forecasters to consider the district safely or likely Republican. But, as we know now, Democrat Kendra Horn would overcome the district’s historically Republican bent and win an upset.

But Trump will be on the ticket in 2020 and Republicans are targeting Democrats such as Horn who won in districts that the president carried in 2016. This is probably a good bet, especially in Oklahoma where Donald Trump is still popular. According to Morning Consult, Trump has a net +9% approval rating in Oklahoma. And while he is likely not as popular within the Fifth District, his 2016 margin along with his statewide popularity indicate some appeal to voters in the district.

2018 was also a particularly favorable year for Democrats running in House elections. The data firm Catalist Analytics calculated that, when uncontested races are accounted for, Democrats won the national popular vote by 7.3%.  Given that Horn won by under 2%, it’s easy to see why Republicans are optimistic about their shot at flipping the district in a more neutral environment. This optimism is bolstered by Republicans outnumbering Democrats in the district by about 28,000 voters.

But Horn is shaping up to be an especially formidable incumbent. She raised nearly $1.5 million as of the end of September and currently faces no Democratic opponent. Republicans, on the other hand, have two candidates who have raised seven figures. At the end September, conservative businesswoman Terry Neese had raised $735,000 and State Senator Stephanie Bice had raised nearly $350,000. A competitive primary could draw down their financial reserves and divide the party while Kendra Horn focuses on fundraising and campaigning for the general.   

The district’s demographics also look good for Horn. Nationally, urban and suburban areas, especially those with diverse and educated populations, are trending blue. Oklahoma’s Fifth District is 14% black and 7% Latino, two group that votes overwhelmingly Democratic. Additionally, while the district is about 68% white, only about 44% of the district is non-college educated white, the demographic that makes up the Republican Party base. The high proportion of whites with bachelor’s degrees make the district friendly territory for Democrats.

The urban, suburban, educated, and relatively diverse population of the district seem to be following the national trend and moving leftward. Donald Trump carried the district by a 5% smaller margin than McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012. It is unclear if this shift will be enough to allow Horn to win re-election. Oklahoma’s Fifth District is still one of Republican’s best targets next year and Trump topping the ticket could give their House candidate the necessary boost.

Last week the race took an interesting turn when Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted a poll of the Fifth District. While the poll had Republicans leading the generic ballot by 7%, it also showed that 45% of respondents supported impeaching president Trump. The poll, while not great news for Horn, does show many voters oppose the president’s actions and leaves room for Horn to win reelection in what was once a safe Republican district.  

NEW MAPS IN NORTH CAROLINA(?)

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Following the 2020 Census, the country’s congressional districts will be re-drawn state by state. In the meantime, though, there’s a battle in North Carolina, which has one of the most blatant gerrymanders in the country.  A Republican on the 2016 redistricting committee said that the current map — which elected 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats — was drawn because he did “not believe it [would be] possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”

The state legislature, which is currently dominated by Republicans, passed a new congressional map earlier this month. They did so out of fear that the state court would rule the old maps unconstitutional1That they violate the state constitution, not the federal constitution and institute nonpartisan maps of their own. Republicans figured that if they could pass maps with a less egregious gerrymander, then perhaps they could avoid an even less friendly map forced upon them by the court. Unlike some other states, the governor cannot veto congressional redistricting maps, leaving Democratic Governor Roy Cooper powerless.

On December 2, the state court will hear a motion to reject these new maps on grounds that they violate the North Carolina Free Elections, Equal Protections, Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Assembly Clauses.

The fate of the newly-passed, Republican-drawn maps is uncertain; it’s unclear if the court will strike them down and if they will be in place for next year’s elections. Below is the current map (drawn by Republicans in 2016 and used in the 2018 midterms) as well as the new map that just passed the Republican state legislature.   

Current Map

Newly Passed Map

Maps from Daily Kos Elections

While the new map’s fate is uncertain, its would-be impact on congressional apportionment is pretty clear. Adoption of the new maps would likely result in two Democratic pickups. The congressional delegation would shift from 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats to 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats.

The 2nd and 6th Districts
The key districts in the redraw are the 2nd and 6th. These seats are both currently held by Republicans: George Holding in the 2nd and Mark Walker in the 6th. The 2nd district, which currently surrounds Raleigh, would absorb the city center, making it safely Democratic. Trump carried the old 2nd district by 10%, but the new 2nd would have gone to Clinton by 25%. Similarly, the 6th District would unite the urban Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas. In the old map these two cities were split between the 13th and 5th districts. With the shift, the 6th District would move from a Trump +15 district to Clinton +21.

Even with these changes, the Democratic Party still thinks the maps have an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The problem lies in the Sandhills region. The region is heavily black and leans Democratic. In the new maps, the region is split between the 8th and 9th districts. Democrats would like a new district to comprise the entirety of the Sandhills region, which would give them another easy pickup.

The Clock is Ticking
Candidate filing for North Carolina congressional primary races was supposed to begin on December 2nd. Democrats have already challenged the new maps and Republicans have been arguing that, with the filing deadline approaching, it’s too late to make changes. On November 20, though, the court delayed the filing period and scheduled a hearing for that day — December 2 — instead. The court has put candidate filing on hold until the hearing date at least. 

The three-judge panel could side with the legislature, ruling the maps don’t violate the state constitution, and filing could resume quickly. Alternatively, the court could decide that the maps are unconstitutional. In this scenario, the state could order the state legislature to try again or could commission a redraw from a nonpartisan expert. Depending on how long this would take, the state could have to reschedule the primary, possibly splitting congressional primaries from others, including the presidential.  

Candidates, advocates, and voters are currently in limbo. Nobody knows what districts will be in place next year. Regardless, it looks like Democrats will pick up at least two additional seats in North Carolina, tightening their grasp on the House. Democrats can now afford to lose 17 seats and hold the majority. Depending on what goes down in North Carolina, that number will effectively be 19 or 20 by election day. 

KEEP AN EYE ON THE THE AT-LARGE HOUSE RACES

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The U.S. Constitution has no instructions regarding the size of the House of Representatives.  It was an act of Congress itself, the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, that set the size of the House at the 435 members we know today. Congress could change that number at any time.

The U.S. Constitution does require that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers.” This means that, as the population grows and the number of Representatives stays the same, more and more people are squeezed into each Congressional district. The smallest states (according to population) are afforded just one Representative. In these states, the one congressional district encompasses the entire state. These districts are called “At-Large” districts. These states don’t have to tussle with the complications brought by gerrymandering and redistricting.  

There are currently seven states with At-Large districts. The map below (click here for an interactive version) shows these seven states — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Dark red represents Safely Republican, dark blue represents Safely Democratic, and light red represents Likely Republican.2Ratings are from Sabato’s Crystal Ball Of the seven districts, three are Safely Republican, two are Safely Democratic, and two are Likely Republican.


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

It’s not surprising that most of these seats are Republican, given that less densely populated areas are more conservative. It’s the two smallest (and therefore the densest) states — Vermont and Delaware — that are Democratic leaning. The only competitive districts are in Alaska and Montana, although even these are very likely to be won by a Republican barring a hugely Democratic year or a collapse of the Republican congressional candidate.

Don Young from Alaska, should be safely reelected, but did have a close-ish election last year. He only won by a 6.6% margin. But Trump won the district by over 15%, and in a non-blowout presidential year, Young should have no real trouble. 

Republicans have similar prospects in Montana — they are nearly certain to win barring a terrible Republican environment. The day before a special election in 2017, Republican incumbent Greg Gianforte allegedly attacked a reporter (he eventually pleaded guilty, paid a fine, was assigned community service and anger management training, donated 50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists) and still was reelected by about 5% the next day. In 2018 he again won reelection by 5%. Still, though, he only won his past two elections by mid-single digits. Gianforte is now running for governor, but Republicans will probably hold the seat that Trump carried by 21%. Democrats have, however, added the district to its target list, meaning that the party thinks they have some hope of flipping it.

The other seats are safely Democratic or Republican: All were won by at least 24% in 2018. It’s hard to imagine any wave being strong enough to flip these seats.

These representatives are still ones to watch, though! Because they are state-wide federal political figures, they have a unique shot at climbing up the ladder to becoming Senators. These states have an interesting dynamic where there are two seats for the more prestigious Congressional chamber (the Senate) and only one available for the ‘lower’ chamber (the House). Of the seven states with at-large House representation, six (DE, MT, SD, ND, VT, WY) have a current senator who was once their state’s at-large representative. One — Bernie Sanders from Vermont — has a chance at becoming the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee next year.

So even if the at-large elections aren’t always competitive, they are races and candidates to watch. The at-large seats give politicians a unique stepping stone to higher office and becoming national political figures. Keep an eye on these seven states and their Representatives, even if they’re going to win reelection by 20%-50%. Like Bernie Sanders, they may have a shot at becoming a presidential nominee 30 years down the road.  

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. 3Democrats 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 competitive4Defined 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 ratings5As 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.