Tag Archives: House Battlegrounds

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.  

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.