As a quick follow up to my earlier post on 2010 incumbent reelection rates, we can also take a look at what happened in the Senate this election cycle.
Two incumbents were defeated in the primaries: Utah Sen. Bob Bennett (R) and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter (D). In the general election, 23 incumbents sought reelection and only two lost (Russ Feingold and Blanche Lincoln). It may possibly be three if Lisa Murkowski loses the write-in campaign in Alaska, but so far she’s ahead in the counts.
Assuming that Murkowski wins, this means that 84% of incumbent senators won reelection this time around (21 of 25, including incumbent primary losses).
Historically-speaking, the average incumbent reelection rate in the Senate since 1954 is exactly the same: 84%. Thus, it’s hard to make an argument that this was an “anti-incumbent year” for senators. In fact, more incumbent senators lost in 2008 (5), 2006 (6) and 2000 (6) than were defeated in 2010.
I submitted this letter to the Danville Advocate-Messenger last week, but it’s looking like they’re not going to get around to publishing it. So here it is for interested parties:
I am writing in response to the letter of October 27th in which it was argued that Centre College students, who are “here on a temporary basis,” do not “deserve the right” to vote in the upcoming local election. The author questions whether or not students “know the ins and outs of local issues” and argues that students should not be able to cast a vote that might “cancel” the vote of a Danville “property owner.” As a Centre College professor of American politics, I must respectfully disagree.
First, while it may be true that most students do not “know the ins and outs of local issues,” there are many long-time residents who likely know very little about local issues themselves. Most Americans know embarrassingly little about U.S. politics. Should voting be permitted only for those who are able to pass a “political knowledge” test?
Second, I disagree that only those who pay property taxes should be permitted to participate in local elections. Most property qualifications for voting were abolished in the 1830s under the Andrew Jackson administration. There are also many long-time Danville residents who are currently renting. Should they be discouraged from participating because they’re not lucky enough to be a home-owner?
Third, it’s true that Centre students are temporary residents in our community. However, implying that they should not vote simply because they haven’t lived here long enough would also imply that all non-student newcomers should not vote either. Should we have a minimum four-year residency requirement for participation in our elections? If this were the case, even one of our mayoral candidates would have a few more years to go before qualifying to vote, much less run for office.
Most importantly, should we really get into the habit of discouraging people from voting simply because we think that their votes will “cancel” our own? Discouraging the voices of those we disagree with is certainly not a democratic ideal.
Ultimately, those who are worried about Centre students “sabotaging” the upcoming election likely have little to fear. College students regularly have one of the lowest voter turn-out rates of any group in America. If Centre students follow the example of their national peers in this election, it is highly doubtful that they will turn out in droves to vote and even less likely that they will have much of an effect on the outcome of the upcoming election. I dare Centre students to prove me wrong.
Despite the media narrative that it’s an “anti-incumbent” year, I predicted on Tuesday that more than 90% of incumbents would be reelected in the House. According to Politico.com, 390 incumbent House members ran for reelection this year and 51 were defeated. Thus, 86.9% of House incumbents won reelection. Looks like I was off by 3%.
Interestingly, the House incumbent reelection rate was predicted perfectly all the way back in June by political scientist John Sides.
How does this compare to historical trends? Since 1954, the average incumbent reelection rate in the House is 93%. So incumbents in 2010 did about 6% worse than average. And this is the lowest incumbent reelection rate since 86.6% in the 1964 congressional election.
Thus, from one perspective it could be argued that this was an “anti-incumbent” year in that more incumbents were defeated than is historically the case. However, it could also be argued that a nearly 9 in 10 incumbent reelection rate hardly constitutes a resounding “anti-incumbent” thrashing in Tuesday’s election.
This morning I conducted an analysis of the Danville precinct election returns from yesterday’s local elections. I calculated the winning margin advantage of all the city candidates (mayoral and city commission) as well as U.S. House and Senate candidates on a precinct-by-precinct basis to see if there are any interesting patterns. In essence, we can see if precincts that tended to show a higher degree of support for one candidate were more or less likely to show a higher degree of support for another candidate. Here are my main findings:
- Danville has a non-partisan system of elections for mayor and city council. Sure enough, there was no observable pattern between voting for the Republican candidates Rand Paul or Andy Barr and either of the mayoral candidates, Gay or Hunstad. There was also no observable relationship between partisan voting at the state level and voting for city commissioner candidates… except for J. H. Atkins. Precincts that had a higher degree of support for Democratic candidates at the state level were more likely to have a higher degree of support for commissioner candidate J. H. Atkins.
- Precincts that were more likely to vote for Mayor-elect Hunstad were much more likely to have higher vote totals for non-incumbent candidates Louis, Montgomery, Cline, and Isaacs, and conversely much lower vote totals for incumbents Crowley, Caudill, and Hamner. Pro-Hunstad precincts were also less likely to have higher pro-Atkins vote totals, but that relationship was much weaker, which might explain why Atkins and Hunstad both won their respective campaigns.
The conclusion that I draw is that yesterday’s election in Danville was indeed a “partisan” election, in the sense that there seemed to be a de facto “incumbent party” and “non-incumbent” party. Voters in the Danville election seemed to vote mostly on a pro-incumbent or anti-incumbent slate, which was something that Mayor Coomer specifically recommended on several occasions this fall. Thus, Mayor-elect Hunstad and Commissioners-elect Louis, Montgomery, Atkins benefited greatly from simply being “outsiders” in a year when many Danville voters were upset about some of the recent controversial issues (e.g. town hall renovations, mandatory recycling program, etc.) that the incumbent city commissioners had approved. I would argue that this, more than anything else, is the most likely explanation for yesterday’s election results.
Important note: because these data are on a precinct-by-precinct basis, it is impossible to draw definitive conclusions about the voting patterns of individual voters. Instead, I draw these conclusions based on patterns observed at the precinct level, supported by historical patterns of American voting habits.
Based on the election returns reported last night at the Boyle County courthouse, here are the results for all those who voted in the “Centre College” precinct:
- 24% voted for Hunstad for Danville mayor, while 76% voted for Gay.
- For the city commission: 25% Atkins, 12% Louis, 6% Montgomery, 3% Cline, 17% Crowley, 17% Caudill, 15% Hamner, and 5% Isaacs.
- 34% voted for Rand Paul for U.S. Senator and 66% voted for Jack Conway.
- 36% voted for Andy Barr for U.S. Representative and 64% voted for Ben Chandler.
It seems the Centre students who chose to vote locally instead of by absentee ballot from their home communities voted largely Democratic, and largely pro-incumbent in the local election race, with the exception of supporting non-incumbent Atkins.
Someone asked me during my webcast yesterday to post the 2010 turnout figures. Preliminary turnout figures for the 2010 midterm elections are available here:
There are two ways to measure turnout. The VAP method measures the % of the Voter Age Population that turned out to vote. The VEP method measures the % of the Voter Eligible Population that turned out to vote. The VEP is a more accurate measure because it excludes those who are ineligible (noncitizens, felons, etc.) from the calculation.
The VAP for yesterday’s election was 38.2% and the VEP was 41.4%. This is more or less what we would expect, given that the average turnout rate during midterm elections has averaged 40% over the last 50 years or so.
Looks like Maine had the highest VEP rate at 56%, while Texas had the lowest at 32.5%. (District of Colombia 29.7%.)
Looks like Kentucky slightly exceeded the national average, at 43.3% VEP.
Here are my predictions from yesterday, along with the results and a brief evaluation:
- Democrats will maintain control of the U.S. Senate. - YES, although this was a fairly safe prediction to make.
- Whichever party ends up winning the U.S. House, they will enjoy a majority of no more than 8 seats. - NO! I was way off on this one. Republicans won, but with a projected margin of 25 seats.
- If Republicans DO win the House, they (and the media) will interpret it as a mandate from the public to repeal the healthcare law, extend tax cuts for the wealthy, and obstruct President Obama at every turn… when it will likely be more the result of the fact that the economy isn’t doing as well as the public would like and the Democrats simply have more seats to lose this election. - YES. Last night Speaker-elect Boehner claimed that the results of the election are a mandate to “change course” from the Obama administration’s policies and that it was an endorsement of the Republican platform. Wrong. Most exit polls showed clearly that voters didn’t much like Republicans, or their policies, any more than they liked Democrats. The results of the election were more a signal of frustration with the economy and high unemployment than anything else.
- Despite it being an “anti-incumbent year”, more than 90% of incumbents will be reelected. - TOO SOON TO TELL – the data hasn’t yet been compiled on this one.
- Despite public uproar over the bailouts, deficits, and healthcare reform, national turnout will be lower than 40%. - YES/NO, depending on what measure you use. If you go by the % of voting-age population (VAP) that turned out, I nailed it, as the VAP turnout was 38.2%. If you go by the voting-eligible population (VEP), though, which excludes noncitizens, felons, etc. from the calculation who aren’t eligible to vote, I was a little low with my estimate, as 41.4% of the VEP turned out.
- Rand Paul will beat Jack Conway in Kentucky’s Senate race. - YES
- Ben Chandler will beat Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th congressional race. – YES, but in a nail-biter squeaker of only about 600 votes out of more than a quarter million cast.
- Jamey Gay will win Danville’s mayoral race, but by a very small margin (less than 5%). - NO. I was right that it would be less than 5%, but wrong about the winner.
- Caudill, Hamner, Crowley, and Louis will win Danville’s four city commission seats. – NO, but I was 2 for 4. Louis and Caudill won, but Hamner and Crowley did not.
Overall prediction success: 4 correct predictions, 2 incorrect predictions, 2 partially correct predictions, and 1 yet to be determined.
In my webcast on Tuesday, I explained that most media pundits and forecasters, who based their predictions on polling data, generally predicted that Republicans would pick up between 50 and 60 seats in the House (e.g. Cook, Rothenburg, Nate Silver, Sabato, etc.). Political scientists, making projections back in September based on more fundamental indicators like the economy and President Obama’s approval rating, predicted that Republicans would pick up between 25-35 seats, leaving Democrats in control of the House. Some political scientists combined these fundamental indicators with polling data and predicted a Republican gain more in the range of 40-50 votes, just barely taking control of the House, but by a slim margin. Based on all this, I took an educated guess that Republicans would win around 40 seats, give or take 8 seats.
The results? As of 9:00 AM this morning, CNN is projecting that Republicans will pick up about 64 seats when all is said and done.
Wow. The final results exceed even the most Republican-friendly estimates on the part of the media prognosticators. Not only was this more than Republicans won when they gained control of the house in 1994 (54 seats), but the most that any party has won in the House in any election since 1948 when the Democrats won 75 seats.