Category Archives: U.S. 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%.

How many #nevertrump folks will change their mind?

Here is one of my (many) questions this morning: how many of the #nevertrump folks will ultimately change their mind and get behind their party’s presumptive nominee?
 
The usual pattern over the last several decades is this: partisans pick favorites in the primary and are angry when their candidate loses and vow never to support the person who beat them for the party nomination. Then they have a few months to think about it and turn their focus on the other party’s candidate. And then the convention happens and its a week of positive coverage of their party’s candidate and most of them end up saying “well, I didn’t support him in in the primary… but whatever, maybe he’s not so bad and he’s certainly better than the other party’s candidate.” Then the general election happens and 90%+ of Republicans vote for the Republican candidate and 90%+ of Democrats vote for the Democratic candidate.
 
Ordinarily that would lead me to be confident that most of the #nevertrump people will grumble for a few months but by September be on board the Trump train.
 
But Mr. Trump is no ordinary candidate. So my question is to what extent that pattern will hold or will we see something very different happen this time around?
 
I suppose only time will tell…

Are Donald Trump Supporters Merely “Unhyphenated Americans”?

One of the most interesting puzzles of this election cycle for both academics and pundits alike has been trying to explain exactly who exactly are all these Donald Trump supporters in the GOP voting base. Answers have focused on a variety of possible answers, including demographics, personality characteristics, and racial/identity attitudes. There is some evidence that there may be another factor at play, however: “American” ancestral self-identification.

The U.S. Census Bureau regularly asks Americans a version of this question: “What is this person’s ancestry or ethnic origin? (For example: Italian, Jamaican, African Am., Cambodian, Cape Verdean, Norwegian, … and so on.)” While most Americans indicate ancestries originating in Europe, Africa, or Latin America, in the 2010 Census about 20 million people (or 6.5 percent of the population) indicated “America” or “United States” as their place of “ancestry or ethnic origin.” Most of these individuals are obviously not Native Americans, but rather white Americans who for one reason or another choose to report that their ancestors came from America. Some have referred to this group as “unhyphenated Americans” as they reject labels such as “German-American,” or “Irish-American.” (See here and here for more information.)

Scholars have offered a variety of causal factors related to this “unhyphenated American” phenomenon among white Americans including education, patriotism and national loyalty, Evangelical religious identification, or a perceived threat to American culture and identity. My own research (forthcoming in Social Science Quarterly) points to a strong influence of racial context and attitudes.

An examination of Census data reveals that the majority of these unhyphenated Americans are concentrated largely in the Southern and Appalachian regions of the United States:

Compare the map in the link above to the geographical distribution of Donald Trump supporters in the GOP electorate:

Trumpmap

Of course, correlation is not causation and this possible connection is based entirely on aggregate data patterns making it impossible to conclusively link ancestral self-identification to voting patterns using only this information… but it is hard to ignore the similarities in the geographic concentration of unhyphenated Americans and Donald Trump supporters.

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan has is “Make America Great Again.” Perhaps this resonates with unhyphenated Americans who actively reject all non-American identities (even ancestral identities) and respond positively to his nativist, authoritarian rhetoric.

Note: this article was originally published in the Huffington Post; this version includes the graphics.

My quick take on the 2016 Iowa Caucus results

Since people are asking me about it today… here’s my quick take on the Iowa Caucus results last night:

The “political science” perspective is that one key way that Iowa Caucus results matter is in driving the media narrative that emerges the week afterwards leading up to the New Hampshire primary. Objective results matter less than results compared to expected results. Those who over-perform relative to expectations get a boost from both media and donors which gives them an additional boost going into the NH primary while those who under-perform suffer from less media attention and fewer donors than they were getting before. (See Why Iowa, chapters 7-8, see also Vox’s write-up.)

Based on this I make the following quick observations:

Marco Rubio is probably the biggest winner from last night: over-performing relative to expectations in the range of 5-8%. I expect that he’ll get a boost in media coverage and that this will translate into a boost in his New Hampshire performance, putting him in a good position for the rest of the primary campaign.

Donald Trump is probably the biggest loser, as all the media hype was about him possibly winning Iowa. By losing (even though he came in a strong second), he under-performed relative to expectations (by about 7-ish%) and this may translate into a lower performance in New Hampshire than he might have otherwise had if he had won Iowa.

Ted Cruz’s performance is maybe a draw, perhaps a slight advantage. He was polling well in Iowa and did about as well as expected in the media narrative leading up to last night’s Caucuses. The real question is whether he can do well in northeast New Hampshire or whether this was his high-water mark like Rick Santorum in 2012 or Mike Huckabee in 2008.

On the Democratic side, I’d say it’s roughly a draw between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, both objectively and relatively, with perhaps a slight edge to Sanders. Hillary Clinton was expected to win by 3-5% leading up to the Caucuses and she ended up barely squeaking out a win of 0.29%. Given that O’Malley dropped out last night, I think that Sanders will pick up most of his 2-ish% in New Hampshire and likely win by a respectable margin. The real test for Sanders will be whether he can come in close in more diverse states like South Carolina and Nevada. If he gets trounced in those two states it’s likely an easy path for Hillary Clinton to the nomination.

Back on the Republican side, my hunch is that it will soon boil down to either a drawn-out Rubio-Trump contest or a Rubio-Cruz contest, depending on which way things shake out in the next few primaries… unless either Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, or John Kasich can somehow edge out a very strong second or third showing. If not, it’s Rubio or bust for Republicans who want to win this fall.

My students’ choices for American electoral reform

This semester my POL 330 “Parties, Campaigns, and Elections” class at Centre College has been examining a variety of proposed electoral reforms. At the end of each discussion, we held a vote on whether or not to stick with the status quo on a particular issue (e.g. campaign finance, primary electoral systems, direct democracy, etc.) or go with a proposed alternative. I recorded the plurality winner for each electoral domain, and then the last week of class I presented the batch of reform choices to my class as a single up-or-down “package” of reforms. By a 2-1 margin, my students voted to recommend the following slate of electoral reforms:

  • Abolish direct elections to state judicial offices
  • Promote more state-level direct democracy (initiative, referendum, recall) throughout the country
  • Limit legislative redistricting to once per decade
  • Maximize the number of uncompetitive elections
  • Replace open/closed primaries with a Top-2 primary system
  • Eliminate the current presidential nomination process with a single national popular Top-2 primary vote
  • Eliminate the Electoral College and replace with a direct popular vote
  • Retain the current campaign financing system with the exception of reversing Citizens United

2014 midterm election: results vs. predictions

As of November 14, there are still a handful of Congressional races yet to be called. Nonetheless, if those that are currently leaning toward the GOP end up in the Republican column, we’ll begin the 114th Congress with 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats in the House, a pickup of 13 seats for the GOP. Assuming that Mary Landreiu loses reelection in the runoff election on December 6, the Senate will have 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats, a pickup of 9 seats in the Senate for the GOP.

In October, PS: Political Science and Politics published a collection of forecasts of the 2014 midterm elections. These were forecasts done by political scientists who make predictions based on election “fundamentals” such as presidential approval and economic conditions, and done several months before the election took place. (Notably, these models do not include information on things like campaign spending, candidate competence/appeal, etc.) The average (median) prediction was that the Republicans would pick up 14 seats in the House and 5 or 6 seats in the Senate.

All in all, not a bad showing for the science of political science election forecasting in 2014.

Predicted result Actual result Margin of error (difference / total seats)
House + 14 GOP + 13 GOP 0.2%
Senate + 5 or 6 GOP + 9 GOP 3.5%