Category Archives: Kentucky politics

Q&A with the Kentucky Democratic Primary

Answers to commonly-asked questions about the May 17 Kentucky Democratic presidential primary:

Q. What was voter turnout?

A. Official election returns are currently showing a turnout of 20.65% of registered voters (which is different than eligible voters, mind you). This is about the same rate of turnout in previous Kentucky primaries over the last several years and just about what the Secretary of State’s office was predicting in the days leading up to the primary.

Q. Was voter turnout different between Republicans and Democrats?

A. Yes. Republicans had a non-competitive Senate primary (Rand Paul and two challengers) while Democrats had the presidential primary and also a Senate primary (in addition to various local and state-level primaries).

The election returns indicate that 199,519 registered Republicans voted in the Senate primary, which is 9.2% of the 1,295,392 registered Republicans in Kentucky, as per the Sec. of State’s website. On the Democratic side, 454,573 registered Democrats voted in the presidential primary which is 26.9% of the state’s 1,688,472 registered Democrats. This is a little better than the 18% or so of Republicans who turned out in the Kentucky GOP caucus back in March.

This is not terribly surprising given that Republican primary was non-competitive and the Democratic presidential primary had received a great deal of attention in the last few weeks, including multiple visits by both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders.

Q. Who won the Democratic presidential primary?

A. Secretary Clinton, by a margin of less than 1%: 46.76% for Clinton vs. 46.33% for Sanders.

Q. How did the race go in Boyle County?

A. Hillary Clinton won 50% to Bernie Sanders 44%.

Q. How does this translate into delegates?

A. More or less a straight tie: most media outlets are estimating that both candidates will receive 27 pledged delegates to the DNC convention. Kentucky Democrats also have 5 super-delegates, at least 2 of which have already announced support for Secretary Clinton.

Q. How does Kentucky’s primary affect the Democratic presidential race?

A. Mathematically speaking, it is nearly impossible for Bernie Sanders to win enough pledged delegates (not counting super-delegates) to win the Democratic nomination at this point. To make any dent in Hillary Clinton’s lead would have required a massive landslide win in Kentucky which did not happen. That being said, by continuing to keep the delegate count close, the Sanders campaign is motivating the Clinton campaign to continue to be responsive to Sanders voters and their interests and ensures that the Sanders coalition will have an important influence on the Democratic platform going forward and possibly even an influence on who Hillary Clinton chooses as a vice presidential candidate.

Q. What explains the election results?

A. Hillary Clinton won by racking up large margins in Louisville and Lexington. Bernie Sanders kept it close by dominating in coal country in eastern Kentucky and also in far western Kentucky. It was pretty evenly split throughout the rest of the state.

Academics and data journalists have identified a few basic factors that have done a pretty good job explaining the Democratic primary election results so far:

  1. Closed vs. open primaries: Clinton does better in closed primaries and Sanders does better in open primaries.
  2. Primaries vs. caucuses: Clinton does better in primaries and Sanders does better in caucuses.
  3. Demographics: Clinton does better with minorities while Sanders does better with whites.
  4. Geography: Clinton does better in the south while Sanders does better in the north.

Based on those factors, statistician Nate Silver predicted Hillary Clinton winning by 2%. Given that this estimate was off by only about 1.5% it suggests that she won because: 1) Kentucky has a closed primary (not an open primary or a caucus), 2) she racked up bigger margins in urban areas (Louisville, Lexington) with larger minority populations, and 3) Kentucky is south-ish where Clinton has done better.

One interesting pattern is that Bernie Sanders did very well in eastern Kentucky which is dominated by the coal economy and Appalachian culture. Democrats in this part of the state are very likely not “social democrats” as Bernie Sanders identifies as. Thus, it is likely that they were not voting for Bernie Sanders out of an affinity for his policy views. Rather, they likely voted for Bernie Sanders as an anti-Clinton “protest vote” as they perceive Hillary Clinton very unfriendly to coal interests and disapprove of the direction that the Democratic establishment has gone in recent years, similar to what happened in West Virginia.

Q. Where can I find nifty election statistics and maps?

A. Here are a few:

http://results.enr.clarityelections.com/KY/61323/168222/Web01/en/summary.html

http://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/kentucky

 

 

 

 

Previewing the Kentucky Democratic primary

DOES KENTUCKY’S DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY MATTER?

At this point Hillary Clinton is a clear favorite to win the 2016 Democratic nomination, but that doesn’t mean that next week’s Kentucky Democratic primary election is unimportant. The question now is how many pledged delegates Bernie Sanders will accumulate before the summer convention. The more pledged delegates the more influence he will be able to exert on the party platform and potentially also having some input or influence on Hillary Clinton’s VP pick. If Bernie Sanders wins next Tuesday, he’ll be in a stronger position to influence the party platform and future direction of the Democratic party, even if he (likely) does not win the  nomination.

WHO IS LIKELY TO WIN?

Until a few weeks ago, I would have confidently said Hillary Clinton. She won the 2008 Kentucky Democratic primary by more than a 2-to-1 margin against Barack Obama (65% to 30%). Kentucky also voted for Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Kentucky Democrats are generally not near as liberal as Democrats in other parts of the country. Given that Hillary Clinton is clearly the more ideologically moderate of the two, it would be entirely reasonable to assume that moderate/conservative Democratic primary voters would choose Clinton over Sanders (a self-described Democratic Socialist).

But then this week Bernie Sanders won neighboring West Virginia 51% to 36% and West Virginia is culturally and demographically similar to Kentucky in many ways (especially Eastern Kentucky). Jeff Stein argued that Sanders voters in West Virginia did not choose him because they agree with him ideologically, but instead because it was an “anyone but Clinton” protest vote against the policies of the Obama administration which they perceive as entirely antagonistic to the coal and energy industries that are the lifeblood of many West Virginia communities.

So next week’s primary will likely turn on whether Kentucky’s Democrats decide to vote based on ideological similarity or protesting the energy regulatory policies of the Obama administration. Clinton will win if the former, Sanders will win if the latter.

WHAT IS TURNOUT LIKELY TO BE?

A few months ago about 18% of the registered GOP electorate showed up to vote in the caucus where Donald Trump won, which was not all that different than the usual primary turnout rate in Kentucky of around 16-19%.

Given that the Democratic primary race is even less competitive than the Republican primary race was back in March, I would be surprised if turnout tops 20%.

A quick analysis of the Kentucky 54th legislative district special election

This week Republican Daniel Elliot won the special election for the Kentucky 54th state legislative seat which comprises Boyle and Casey counties. According to the Advocate-Messenger report, he received 58.4% of the vote compared to the 41.6% received by Democratic challenger Bill Noelker. Noelker evenly narrowed out Elliot in Boyle County with 50.5% of that county’s vote, while Elliot won a clear majority (78.4%) of the Casey County vote.

This morning a friend asked a question about the precinct turnout patterns that prompted us to look at the relationship between turnout and party registration in each precinct. Here’s a quick summary of what we came up with:

Democrat/Republican registration ratio:

  • Boyle County: 1.47
  • Casey County: 0.23

Noelker/Elliot voting ratio:

  • Boyle County: 1.02
  • Casey County: 0.27

This suggests that Noelker underperformed significantly in Boyle County relative to party registration and overperformed slightly in Casey County relative to party registration. Also, the precinct-by-precinct D-R ratio and Noelker-Elliot voting ratios correlations are 0.42 in Casey County and 0.19 in Boyle County which means that partisan registration ratios were more predictive of voting patterns in Casey County than in Boyle County.

This admittedly back-of-the-envelope analysis suggests that Elliot won by turning out Republican voters in Boyle County (or that Noelker was less successful at turning out Democratic voters in Boyle County) and that each candidate did pretty well among their respective party bases in Casey county. It’s also possible that mobilization efforts on the part of campaigns mattered less and that Republican voters in Boyle County were simply more enthusiastic to show up to vote on Tuesday than were Democratic voters. It’s not possible just from the turnout statistics to know definitely one way or the other.

In the nearly six years that I’ve lived in Kentucky, I’ve observed that Republicans have been trending more and more successful at the state and local level in the state of Kentucky. Over the past several decades “ticket splitting” has been declining, meaning that voters have become more and more consistent in voting patterns between national and state/local elections. Kentucky has resisted that trend for a long time: continuing to elect Democrats at the local level while electing Republicans at the national level. The federal and state elections of 2012, 2014, and 2015 have generally trended more and more Republican at the local level here in Kentucky. My hunch is that Daniel Elliot’s victory this week is part of the broader on-going trend of the decrease in “ticket splitting” among Kentucky voters who are becoming more consistent in their Republican preferences at the local as well as state and national levels.

2015 Boyle County Exit Poll: comparison of gubernatorial voting responses

Our exit poll showed that of those who answered the question on the survey, 48.8% reported voting for Bevin, 47.1% reported voting for Conway, and 4.2% reported voting for Curtis. According to the Secretary of State’s website, 54.7% of Boyle County voters voted for Bevin, 40.1% for Conway, and 4.6% for Curtis. That’s a difference of 5.9%, 7%, and 0.4%, respectively, and in a direction that over-states support for Conway and understates support for Bevin.

There are a few possible (and not mutually exclusive) explanations for this:

  1. It is possible that the 1.9% of voters who did not complete the question on the survey were mostly Bevin voters.
  2. It is possible that some Bevin voters indicated on the survey that they voted for Conway, despite voting for Bevin in actuality.
  3. It is possible that Bevin voters were less likely to agree to take the survey than Conway voters.

My strong hunch is that #3 is the most likely explanation, especially given that the 2014 Exit Poll had a 3-6% bias in favor of Democratic candidates (but not non-partisan candidates), although it is not possible to definitely prove this.

We attempt to correct for these types of effects by using a sample weighting procedure, which is a standard procedure used to correct for differences in how different demographic groups respond to the initial invitation to take the survey.

It should also be noted that a 6-7% difference is still not terribly far off from the standard accepted margin of error in the polling industry of 3% for most national surveys and professional polling firms. And I’ll also note that our survey was ultimately more accurate than the plethora of professional and partisan telephone surveys taken statewide in the lead up to the election.

This is an interesting puzzle to consider going forward: why are Democrats slightly more willing to take the Exit Poll survey than Republicans in Boyle County, Kentucky elections? I welcome ideas from interested parties.

Boyle County, KY voting patterns in the 2015 gubernatorial race

The 2015 Boyle County Exit Poll asked voters about their opinions on six issues that were discussed in the Kentucky gubernatorial campaign. Here are voting patterns for the major two-party candidates among those with each policy preference:

  Bevin Conway
Agree with Kim Davis’s decision to refuse marriage licenses (32.6% of total) 84.2% 13.2%
Agree on raising the minimum wage to $10.10/hour (64.3% of total) 32.5% 63.9%
Agree on random drug tests for recipients of public benefits (72.3% of total) 62.0% 33.5%
Agree on EPA regulation of the coal industry (56.2% of total) 25.9% 70.2%
Agree on Gov. Beshear’s Medicaid expansion decision (61.9% of total) 31.3% 65.4%
Agree on Gov. Beshear’s implementation of KYNECT insurance exchange (55.2% of total) 23.1% 73.5%

For example, among those who agree with Governor Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid, 31.3% of them voted for Matt Bevin and 65.4% of them voted for Jack Conway. It is interesting that on several of these issues, a sizable number of people who prefer Conway’s position on the issue voted for Matt Bevin (and logically vice versa).

Of course, issue preferences are not the only basis for voting decisions. Factors like partisanship and demographics also make a difference. Thus, I used a “multivariate regression” analysis to see what difference each factor made in predicting a vote for Matt Bevin, controlling for the effect of every other factor. Here are the results:

Republican partisanship 59.5%
Obama disapproval 47.9%
Kentucky’s economy is getting worse 32.7%
Disapproval of KYNECT health exchange 32.1%
Conservative ideology 31.7%
Agree with Kim Davis on marriage licenses 25.0%
Agree with random drug tests for welfare recipients 23.1%
Disagree on minimum wage increase 21.6%
Female 16.2%

(For statistics nerds, these are the minimum to max predicted probabilities of each factor in predicting a vote for Bevin in a logistic regression model. Presented coefficients are statistically significant at p<0.05.)

This is telling us that, controlling for all other factors, being a Republican was the strongest factor in predicting a vote for Matt Bevin in Boyle County: Republicans were 59.5% more likely than Democrats to do so. Disapproval of President Obama was the second-highest factor: those who disapprove were 47.9% more likely than those who approve to vote for Bevin.

It seems that the campaign issues of the KYNECT health exchange, same-sex marriage licenses, random drug tests for welfare recipients, and minimum wage increases all made a difference as well, although to a lesser extent than partisanship and opinions toward Obama.

It is also interesting to note that opinions on the EPA/coal and Medicaid did not matter when controlling for these other factors, nor did demographics like age, income, church attendance, or education. Also, Tea Party supporters were no more or less likely to vote for Bevin once other factors like partisanship and ideology were controlled for.

In sum, it seems that basic political factors like partisanship and attitudes toward President Obama were the key factors in explaining gubernatorial voting patterns in Boyle County. This suggests that state-level elections in Kentucky are following wider trends in becoming more nationalized. Assuming these results are generalizeable to the state as a whole, it seems that Kentucky voters are linking their voting preferences at the state and national level to a stronger degree than once was the case.

The Drew Curtis effect in Boyle County voting patterns

According to the 2015 Boyle County Exit Poll, 48.6% of those who voted for Drew Curtis for governor in Boyle County would have picked Matt Bevin as a second choice, and 51.4% would have picked Jack Conway as a second choice.

Also, Curtis voters were a more moderate group when it came to specific issue preferences:

  • 78.7% of Curtis voters disagreed with Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses, compared to 90.7% of Conway voters and 41.4% of Bevin voters.
  • 56.3% of Curtis voters agree that Kentucky’s minimum wage should be increased to $10.10/hour, compared to 90% of Conway voters and 44.2% of Bevin voters.
  • 55.4% of Curtis voters tend to agree with the “EPA’s regulation of the coal industry” compared to 86.8% of Conway voters and 31.8% of Bevin voters.
  • 52.2% of Curtis voters agreed with Governor Beshear’s expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, compared to 90.7% of Conway voters and 42.4% of Bevin voters.
  • 48.9% of Curtis voters agreed with Governor Beshear’s implementation of the KYNECT insurance exchange, compared to 93.8% of Conway voters and 28.9% of Bevin voters.

Drew Curtis voters were also slightly less likely to have incomes over $50K/year (52.6% compared to 66.2% of Bevin voters and 69.3% of Conway voters).

Otherwise there were few discernible political or demographic correlates of voting for Drew Curtis instead of one of the major two-party candidates.

This suggests that (in Boyle County, at least) Drew Curtis voters were not predominantly Republicans or Democrats, further suggesting that his candidacy did not ultimately help or hurt either Conway or Bevin’s chances of winning. The lack of any clear demographic or political patterns for his supporters also suggests that he pulled in a diverse group of supporters – a true “independent” coalition.

Boyle County approval ratings by partisanship

The following are the % approval for each of the local and federal political leaders and other community organizations featured on the 2015 Boyle County Exit Poll, among Democrats and Independent-lean-Democrats, pure Independents, and Republicans and Independent-lean-Republicans:

Democrats and leaners (46% of sample) Pure Independents (6% of sample) Republicans and leaners (44% of sample)
President Barack Obama 80.1% 20.9% 4.1%
Senator Rand Paul 14.1% 46.8% 70.5%
Senator Mitch McConnell 14.7% 32.3% 51.0%
Congressman Brett Guthrie 39.7% 53.6% 64.6%
Governor Steve Beshear 88.0% 54.5% 30.7%
County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney 88.0% 56.6% 70.4%
Danville Mayor Mike Perros 79.0% 56.1% 72.9%
Danville City Commission 84.0% 56.9% 64.2%
City Manager Ron Scott 79.5% 52.8% 64.6%
Danville/Boyle EDP organization 72.5% 50.9% 55.5%