Monthly Archives: November 2012

My students give America’s electoral system a C+

This semester at Centre College I taught a course entitled “Parties, Campaigns, and Elections.” We covered a wide range of topics, from the organization of political parties, campaign finance laws, campaign strategies, presidential debates, the elections of 2008, 2010, and 2012, congressional and local campaigns, and things like judicial elections and direct democracy.

For the last day of class, we evaluated the American electoral system against some fundamental democratic standards: (taken from Table 13.1 and Chapter 13 of Campaigns and Elections by John Sides, et al. 2012)

  • Free choice: 1) a choice between two candidates, 2) no coercion of citizens
  • Equality: 1) all votes counted equally, 2) all candidates be able to disseminate information equally
  • Deliberation: 1) citizens have access to information from diverse sources, must be opportunities to deliberate

I asked my students to give America’s electoral system (at the national, state, and local levels) a letter grade based on how well it matches up against the criteria outlined above. Here is the distribution:

  • A: zero
  • A-: zero
  • B+: zero
  • B: 4
  • B-: 12
  • C+: 6
  • C: 2
  • C-: 3
  • D: zero
  • F: zero

The average was a high C+. While we seem to do a fair-to-good job of meeting those standards for presidential elections, several students noted the Electoral College (which gives citizens of smaller states and swing states a disproportionate influence in the outcome of elections) as the key barrier to a more democratic system. Also, they noted that many of these ideals are not being met at the state and local levels, where many seats often go uncontested and information about candidates is lacking.

While the American political systems is certainly more democratic than that found in many places in the world, my students came away with the conclusion that there is still much that can be improved before we can confidently match the ideal norms of representative democracy.

Next up: comprehensive immigration reform

President Obama is pressuring lawmakers to complete work on immigration next year. If they were starting from scratch, such a major endeavor would seem impossible. But under the Obama administration’s vision, it is more than doable because he is simply picking up the conversation where it left off in 2007, when an massive immigration bill died on the Senate floor. …

The outline of an immigration deal is already there. It involves a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and tightened restrictions on the border and in the workplace so that it will be harder for illegal immigrants to live in the United States and find work. Now all that is needed is the coalition that supports it. That’s happening too.

Full article available here:

Cross-tabulation percentages in 2012 Danville City Commission voting

I previously posted the correlational relationships between voting for pairs of Danville City Commission members. Here is the same information, but presenting percentages instead of correlation figures. This should hopefully be a little easier to intuitively interpret.

The graph should be interpreted like this: Find the candidate in the rows going down, then find another candidate in the columns going across. The percentage figure where those two candidate intersect can be interpreted: “x% of Danville voters who choose the candidate from the row also voted for the candidate from the candidate in the corresponding column.” For example, the row Smiley corresponds column Montgomery at 28%, which means that 28% of those who voted for Smiley also voted for Montgomery (but not vice-versa, as 44% of those who voted for Montgomery also voted for Smiley).


We see the strongest relationship between Hamner and Stevens, as 73% who voted for Hamner also supported Stevens. The weakest relationship is between Atkins and Montgomery, as only 17% of Atkins voters also selected Montgomery.

Exit poll results on Kentucky’s 54th District House Race: Mike Harmon (R) vs. Barry Harmon (D)

This week, Boyle County’s incumbent state legislator Mike Harmon (R) won a tight reelection race against challenger Barry Harmon (D), 54.8% to 45.2%. The 54th district includes Boyle and Washington counties. Mike Harmon (R) won Boyle County with 51.5% of the vote and Washington County with 62.8% of the vote. Boyle County accounted for 70.5% of the total vote for the 54th district seat.

Below are the exit poll results for Boyle County’s share of the 54th district election, broken down by relevant demographic and political groups. The cross-tabulations read across, meaning for example that the first line reports that among those who self-identified as “liberals,” 17% voted for Mike Harmon while 83% voted for Barry Harmon.

Mike Harmon (R) Barry Harmon (D)
Liberal 17% 83%
Moderate 41% 59%
Conservative 76% 24%
Democrat 14% 86%
Ind-lean-Democrat 20% 80%
Independent 48% 52%
Ind-lean-Republican 74% 26%
Republican 85% 15%
Below $20K/year 41% 59%
$20-$50K/year 50% 50%
Over $50K/year 49% 51%
Church never 29% 71%
Church sometimes/once per week 46% 54%
More than once per week 55% 45%
High School 51% 49%
College graduate 50% 50%
Postgraduate 39% 61%
White 51% 49%
African-American 15% 85%
Female 46% 54%
Male 51% 49%
18-29 42% 58%
29-44 50% 50%
45-64 50% 50%
65+ 51% 49%
Pres: voted for Obama 12% 88%
Pres: voted for Romney 76% 24%
Congress: voted for Williams (D) 13% 87%
Congress: voted for Guthrie (R) 74% 26%
Approve Boyle Judge McKinney (D) 44% 56%
Disapprove McKinney (D) 58% 42%

2012 House incumbent reelection rates

In the 2012 elections, all 435 House seats were contested. According to Ballotpedia, there were 42 incumbents who retired, leaving 393 seats to be contested by incumbents.

13 incumbents were defeated in the primary elections (Ballotpedia).

22 incumbents were defeated in the general election, 10 Democrats and 12 Republicans (Politico).

That makes for 358 incumbents reelected of the 393 who were running (or 35 House incumbent losses, depending on how you want to look at it), making a reelection rate for 2012 of 91%. This is about 2% lower than the historical average since 1954. 

Also, a 91% House reelection rate for 2012 is the exact same reelection rate for the Senate this year, where 21 of 23 incumbents were reelected.

2012 Senate incumbent reelection rates

In the 2012 elections, 33 Senate seats were contested. Ten of these were open seats due to incumbent retirements. That leaves 23 seats that an incumbent contested.

One incumbent was defeated in the primaries: Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana.

One incumbent lost the general election: Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts.

All other incumbents were reelected. 

That makes 21 of 23 incumbents reelected to the Senate in the 2012 election, (or 2 incumbent Senate losses, depending on your perspective), making for a 2012 Senate reelection rate of 91%. This is slightly higher than historical standards (where the average is right around 85% for the Senate), but not out of the ordinary.

As of the time of this writing, there are 12 House seats yet to be decided. I’ll post House reelection data as soon as the information becomes available.

2012 popular vote: forecasts and predictions vs. results

Here’s what I posted up on Monday about the various election forecasts and predictions:

  • Political science forecasting models. October’s issue of PS: Political Science and Politics contained nine statistical forecast models (not including state-level models) of President Obama’s two-party vote total for the 2012 election, made anywhere from 2-10 months before the election. They ranged from a low of 46.9% to a high of 53.8%. The mean of all nine was 50.2%.
  • As of 8:00 PM on Election Eve, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight is predicting Obama will receive 51.4% of the two-party popular vote.
  • As of 9:30 PM on Election Eve, Simon Jackson’s model at is giving Obama 50.6% of the two-party popular vote.

The final popular vote tally, as of noon on Wednesday: 51.1%.

Not a bad showing for the statistics geeks, all around.

I should note that the political science forecasting models include only a handful of “election fundamental” variables in their predictions (economic growth, incumbency, foreign conflict, presidential approval, e.g.). These models do not include things like who the candidates are, the conventions, the debates, the campaigns, etc. From a political science perspective, the difference between what the fundamentals would predict and the actual outcome is what can likely be attributed to the campaign events and the candidates. In this case, it’s looking like the campaign ultimately made a difference of… about 0.9% overall (51.1% final outcome minus 50.2% average forecast model prediction).