04 October 2010

Ballot Issues Flopping and More

* Polls on three Colorado ballot issues, 60, 61 and 101, which would make it impossible to balance the state budget, look headed to defeat according to a Denver Post poll:

The poll showed 10 percent of likely voters supported Amendment 60, which would cut property taxes, while 48 percent opposed the measure and 42 percent said they were not certain.

Similarly, 10 percent supported Amendment 61, which would bar state borrowing and limit local debt, while 49 percent opposed the initiative and 40 percent said they were unsure.

Meanwhile, 12 percent of poll respondents said they were supporting Proposition 101, which would cut income taxes and vehicle and phone fees, while 44 percent opposed it and 44 percent were unsure.

Amendment 62, the "personhood" amendment, is also doing poorly in the polls. In the poll 15% supported it, 35% opposed it, and 50% were undecided.

Similarly, anti-health care reform Amendment 63 appears to lack support. In the poll, it had 10% support, 19% opposed it, and 71% were undecided. Those undecided voters might have been winnable earlier on, but less than ten days from the start of mail in balloting, Amendment 63 is unlikely to be passed.

The strong historical trend is that support for ballot issues in polling weakens as the election gets closer. Those who are undecided as one gets closer to the election become more and more likely to ulimately vote no, yet all of these measures need overwhelming support from those who are still undecided to pass.

This is reassuring, because if any of the 60, 61, and 101 ballot measures pass, Colorado is heading for a constitutional crisis. Indeed, if all three did pass, 101, which is statutory rather than constitutional, would probably have to be held unconstitutional as a violation of the state constitution because it makes the mandate to balance the state budget impossible to achieve.

* Today is the voter registration deadline in Colorado for the November 2, 2010 election. Registration is possible online at the Secretary of State's office in most cases.

* The media narrative in this election cycle has been driven by the notion that there is an outraged public that wants to throw the bums out due to the weakness in the economy and fiscal irresponsibility in Washington driven by the Tea Party movement.

Certainly, the rise of the Tea Party movement does a lot to explain the sharp move to the right of Republican primary voters this election cycles where Tea Party backed candidates have defeated more establishment Republican candidates. But, is that really the right narrative for the general election?

Political scientists who have predicted big general election wins for the Republicans this election cycle have based their assumptions in part on models that show that support for the party out of power in generic Congressional polls tends to surge as election day approaches. This isn't true this year, where the generic Congressional poll results have bounced up and down all over the map, with the latest round showing Democrats actually leading by a sound margin.

There are also indications that likely voter models used by many polling organizations this election cycle are undercounting likely voters who aren't Republicans.

I have little doubt that Democrats will lose ground in Congress to some extent. But, most of that can be explained by a phenomena more benign than backlash.

In 2008, Democrats won majorities that they haven't had since the 1960s, with President Obama's coat tails sweeping Democrats into office in many districts whose voters are generally strongly inclined to vote Republican but felt a need to vote for change in the immediate wake of the financial crisis. There is simply no way that a sixty seat majority for Democrats in the U.S. Senate, and a comparable large majority in the U.S. House is "normal" and this year, with the need to throw Republican bums out passed and the excitement of the Presidental election over, voters are returning to the "default" normal voting patterns.

The equilibrium point in our electoral system, nationally, has been, for a very long time, somewhere in the range that includes the increasingly scarce "moderate Republicans" mostly from the Northeast and Blue Dog Democrats (often from the South and rural states). There is little indication that a "backlash" of net Republican wins in the 2010 election will leave us with a median member of Congress of either the House or the Senate who it outside that sweet spot, and indeed, Republican capture of the House or the Senate is a real long shot and relies on polls that assume that secure Blue Dog Democratic incumbents, for example someone like Representative John Salazar in Colorado likely to lose to the same challenger whom he trounced in an election two years ago.

It is clear that Republican political attitudes and energy have been dramatically transformed in the last two years. But, it is far less obvious that this transformation has spilled over to any great extent to independent and Democratic voters.

Republicans are definitely fired up this year. For example, I've never seen more signs for Republican candidates in Denver than I have this year, and its candidates are more credible than they have often been. But, that doesn't mean that they'll win. Republican turnout is always pretty consistently high, so getting out the vote doesn't give them nearly the boost that it has in prior years, and in places like Denver, Republicans continue to be hopelessly outnumbered in every district.

Tea Party excitement and a favorable media narrative is also counterbalanced by intense intraparty strife that has left Republicans divided, with almost no hope of securing a win in the Governor's race this year. Dan Maes, their nominee, is polling just 15% in a three way race that includes Tom Tancredo running on the American Constitution Party ticket (and capturing about 35% of poll support) and John Hickenlooper running as a Democrat, with a clear plurality lead.

If the mid-term elections leave Democrats with majorities in both houses of Congress, albeit thinner majorities, and leave Democrats with majorities in both houses of the Colorado General Assembly, and this is exactly what looks most likely to happen on November 2, in the general election, then the most fair interpretation of what happened this election cycle is that the Republican party radicalized internally, while the electorate as a whole returned the balance of power to something close to the "natural" equilibrium level, something considerably short of "backlash."

* If Democrats lose ground in the U.S. Senate, while retaining a majority, and lose ground in the U.S. House while retaining a majority, how will politics play out over the next two years?

For most of the tail end of the last two years, Republicans have taken a "just say no" approach, trying to derail even proposals that they previously supported through their power to filibuster legislation with only slight breaks in the Democratic ranks by Democrats from conservative states and Congressional districts. The "Pledge To America" released this election cycle by Republicans was so milquetoast that even conservatives have panned it as a collection of uninspired half-measures. The reality is that even if the Democrats retained only one of the two houses of Congress, particularly with President Obama's veto power, that Republicans have no ability to pass any significant conservative legislative agenda without Democratic cooperation.

Republicans could try to develop a bipartisan consensus around a legislative agenda, but with their caucus likely becoming even more conservative than it already is, and its "just say know" tactics having been sufficient to produce some electoral gains in the last election, it is hard to see the Republican Congressional caucus choosing this course of action. The trouble is that if they push too hard, they may face a "nuclear option" that destroys their main level of power, the threat of a filibuster. If Democrats reach a point where they feel that the filibuster is being used to prevent passage of even basic legislation that is necessary to the orderly functioning of the government, they may feel that they have no choice.

More and more people in the public are growing disgusted with the use of the filibuster to require a sixty vote majority to pass anything in the U.S. Senate, and since the Senate is the judge of its own rules and proceedings, if the Senate chooses to abrogate its own filibuster rules and a majority of Senators support the decision in a parliamentary proceedure challenge to that ruling, it is unlikely that the courts would intervene to overturn that decision. Republicans would cry foul, of course, would probably walk out, and would perhaps even threaten popular insurrection. But, if Democrats were careful to choose to push the issue on a popular bill, the public would probably care more about the merits of the legislation than the procedural tools used in Washington used to adopt it, which do not have deep popular support outside the Beltway.

Of course, turnabout would be fair play. If Democrats with a non-filibuster proof majority turned to the nuclear option and gutted the filibuster as way to stop legislation, they would be assured that when they were in the minority, that they too would be unable to use the filibuster to stop legislation.

But, this may be a risk that Democrats are now willing to take. They need to be able to advance their legislative agenda to get the nation on track and to convince the public that they can lead the nation in the right direction. There is also every reason to expect that the economy, which remains as dismal looking now as it did in 2008, will have genuinely rebounded by 2012, which would sooth voters attitude by the time the next election comes around.

And, if the Democrats resort to the nuclear option sooner, rather than later, outrage over a sharp procedural move in the U.S. Senate made almost two years ago, followed by experience with that new rule that shows that our Congress is not tied up in knots and getting things done, rather than sending American to hell in a handbasket, could sooth voter concerns over the move.

Even if Democrats do end up in the minority at some point, a lack of filibuster power makes it much easier for them to pin political responsibility for whatever is done during their minority on the other political party.


Michael Malak said...

Tom Tancredo has a proposal to handle the constitutional crisis that would result if 60, 61, and 101 were to pass: eliminate Medicaid. And thanks to your earlier blog post, I understand the logic :-)

Besides just the human cost, doing so would also leave substantial federal money on the table.

The real solution is to remove the constitutional requirement for mandated minimums for education funding.

Michael Malak said...

Just now looked at the original data


A couple of strange things stick out:

* Tancredo is the favorite amongst Hispanics
* Tancredo is not so popular in Colorado Springs. But the reason is they're going for Maes -- I guess Colorado Springs is more Republican than conservative.

Also disappointed they didn't poll about Prop. 102.