06 November 2012

The Results

Colorado voters have voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use (although the federal law banning it remains in place for now), to urge their legislators to enact a campaign finance reform constitutional amendment, and to reform the state's civil service system. Most local measures to raise tax reveneus or issue new bonds have passed. Washington State voters have also voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, while voters in Oregon have defeated a similar measure. Measures legalizing gay marriage have passed in Maine and Maryland and another is likely to pass in Washington State. A measure to ban gay marriage is likely to fail in Minnesota. California voters are on track to repeal its harsh "three strikes" law, but will retain its death penalty.

The Democrats have regained control of Colorado's state house, while retaining control of the Colorado's state senate. Colorado's governor is also a Democrat. The Republican Secretary of State is facing simultaneous criminal and ethics commission investigations.

President Obama has won a landslide victory in the electoral college (it looks like he will win 332 electoral votes out of 538 - Nate Silver at the 538 blog was on the money), despite a fairly close popular vote that will narrowly favor the President when the dust settles. He has won Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa. It appears that he will win even Virginia and Florida. The results mostly follow long standing regional trends.

Democrats have improved their position in the U.S. Senate but Republicans continue to control the United States House of Representatives. All of Colorado's incumbent members of Congress have been re-elected. Redistricting in light of the 2010 census, in the end, didn't matter much.

Overall, Democrats and liberals have overperformed expectations this election. The television stations are attributing it to demographic change. President Obama was very strong with African-American voters, with Hispanic voters, with young voters, with non-Christian voters, with women. Republicans have alienated almost everyonoe except older Christian white men. Social conservative Republican candidates, particularly those who made out of touch statements about rape, performed particularly dismally. Republicans cannot improve their performance without a bigger tent.

The next four years will almost surely shift the federal judiciary to the left. Colorado's Democrats now hold all the levers of power in the state. President Obama has the status quo on taxes, spending cuts, and health care all well positioned to give him leverage in the big legislative battles that he will face over the next four years.

The grown ups are in charge. The future looks bright, but hardly blinding.

UPDATE on November 7, 2012: Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana. The medical marijuana movement has reached critical mass, particularly in blue states, and it is going to be hard for President Obama who was at first tolerant of this after his 2008 election to continue the backsliding that we've seen in the last year or two.

Will Governor Hickenlooper consider pardoning some of the small number of people in Colorado prisons serving terms of marijuana offenses that would not have been crimes in the wake of Amendment 64's passage? Will President Obama, who has granted fewer pardons than any other modern President, be more liberal in pardoning people now that he doesn't have to worry about ever running for public office again?

Democrats have gone from lagging in the Colorado State House by 32-33 to having a 36 to 38 seat majority there. They have added on Colorado Senate seat going from a 20-15 majority to a 21-14 majority. Mark Ferrandino of the second House District, an openly gay man, will be the next Speaker of the Colorado State House. A civil unions bill is almost certain to be the law in Colorado no later than August of 2013.

The incumbent margins of victory in the 3rd and 7th Congressional Districts in Colorado was large enough to strongly discourage future challengers. Both of these races had been expected to be much closer, given their partisan makeup after redistricting.

Republican incumbent Mike Coffman's lead over Democrat Joe Miklosi in the 6th Congressional District with 79% of the vote counted, was 3.8% (and may get a bit closer when the dust settles, although a Miklosi victory would be exceedingly unlikely) which reflects a much more even partisan balance in the district after redistricting. Mike Coffman is, together, with John Suthers (Colorado's Republican Attorney General), one of the strongest Republican candidates in the state, while Miklosi is comparatively green. Coffman had chosen a much more moderate course in Congress that he could have in his extremely safe pre-redistricting seat that was previously held by anti-immigration gadfly Tom Tancredo. And, Coffman has had the benefits of incumbency. Coffman will likely attract an able Democratic challenger in 2014 and should the 6th Congressional District become open because Coffman is tapped by the GOP to run for Governor or U.S. Senate, this seat would be very vulnerable to flipping to the Democrats. This remains one of the most competitive seats in the nation. On the other hand, Miklosi's strong showing is in part a product of the fact that 6.2% of voters in the 6th Congressional District voted for one of two conservative leaning third party candidates.

The 56 seats that the Democratic caucus will hold in the U.S. Senate in 2013 will minimize the amount of bipartisan compromise that Democrats need to get President Obama's judicial nominations to up or down votes despite potential filibusters. (Votes on the merits on President Obama's nominations of all kinds are almost certain to confirm his nominations with that kind of secure majority in the U.S. Senate.)

The House v. Presidential v. Governor's Race Gap

The biggest indication that Democrats in Washington should not be overconfident is that Republicans have still retained firm control of the U.S. House, despite ever seat being contested this year after redistricting. While Obama is on track to win 329 of 538 available electoral votes if Florida, in which he is leading, ultimately supports him. But, Democrats hold a much smaller percentage of the 535 seats in Congress. Democrats held 53 of 100 U.S. Senate Seats (including independents who caucus with them) and Republican led in the House by 242-193 going into the election (2 seats were held by independents). The current tally is 56-44 in the U.S. Senate (a gain of three seats of the Democrats), and 233-193 with 9 seats too close to call in the House (a likely pick up of about four seats, well short of the 25 needed to attain a majority).

By the metric of combined House and Senate seats in Congress, Republicans lead roughly 282-253. Add three to the Democratic column for DC to conver the Congressional tally to an electoral vote metric, and Republican legislative race performance in 2012 was equivalent to 76 electoral votes better than Romney's performance. The popular vote in the Presidential race was also quite close (about 50.3% for Obama v. 48.1% for Rombey), although even if there was a national population vote rather than an electoral college, it wouldn't have been close enough for a recount and the outcome would have been the same. Still all sorts of factors can shift the vote by just 2.2 percentage points. A better, more moderate, GOP Presidential candidate facing a less competent campaign effort that President Obama's could have won this race, particularly given the weak economy.

One way to explain the disparity is that the Republicans have a lot of members of Congress in their core territory who are very conservative and who have majority support in many of their own districts, but who are not electable nationwide. This hyperconservativism can be solved in more moderate districts by running more moderate candidates. But, anyone who has to make it through the GOP primary process is pulled so far in that direction that the few Republicans who are electable nationwide are hard pressed to win the nomination without impairing their moderate image.

Also, Democrats are highly concentrated in a small number of urban areas, while many Republican members of Congress are elected from suburbs where they are a majority, but not a dominant majority. Democratic overall numbers can win statewide races, but Democrats aren't spread evenly enough to win their fair share of Congressional races.

When the overall partisan balance in the nation is quite even, differences in demographic distribution and the issue of a national v. local political image can result in split control of the government.

The national v. local balancing effect that allows Republicans to better match candidates to particular races also explains how Republicans gained ground in Governor's races this year, despite losing the Presidency, losing ground in the House and losing ground in the Senate.

UPDATE TWO (November 7, 2012 p.m.): The U.S. Senate tally after the election is currently Democrats and independents 55-Republicans 45 (one race previously called for a Democrat has moved to the GOP column as more returns have been reported). Democrats need to convince 5 out of 45 Republicans to break ranks in order to overcome a filibuster threat.

The U.S. House of Representatives tally after the election is currently 234 Republicans, 194 Democrats, and 7 too close to call. As far as I can discern, the unofficial tallies in six of the seven races show a Democrat winning (AZ-9, CA-7 CA-36, CA-52, FL-18, NC-7) and in one of the races a Republican winning (AZ-2). There is also one race in Louisiana (LA-3), presumably counted as part of the 234 Republicans where no candidate won a majority and there will be a later runoff election between the top two candidates, both of whom were Republicans. Thus, the likely final split in the U.S. House of Representatives will be 235 R-200 D, with Democrats picking up 7 seats. For Democrats to win in the House, they must convince the Republican leadership to bring an issue to the floor and then must convince 18 out of 235 Republican members of Congress to break ranks.

This implies that Republicans preformance in federal legislative races is the equivalent to 280 electoral votes (adding 3 to the Democrats for DC), which is about what Romney would have had if he had managed to win Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and New Hampshire, which could have happened if about six percent of the people who voted for Obama had switched their votes to Romney instead. This is roughly the amount by which Romney underperformed (or alternately that Obama overperformed) relative to the baseline of legislative elections.

Regional Trends

The six New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island), combined, have not a single Republican in the twenty-one U.S. House of Representatives seats allocated to these states, and only two out of twelve Republican Senators: Susan Collins of Maine, who is arguably the most moderate Republican in either house of Congress (although still to the right of almost all Democrats in the House or Senate), and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who is more typical ideologically of Republicans but has a thin voting record having served in the Senate for only two years so far. New England also also elected two independents to the U.S. Senate (one is Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a self-styles Democratic Socialist, and the other is Angus King of Maine, a self-styled independent whose stated policy positions on specific issues is closer to the Democrats than to the Republicans). None of New England's electoral votes went to Mitt Romney in this election.

Neither the Mid-Atlantic States (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware) nor the District of Columbia cast a single electoral vote for Mitt Romney either. One of the ten U.S. Senate seats in the Mid-Atlantic states is held by a Republican (Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania). There are a number of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives from Mid-Atlantic states, however (26 out of 66). Delaware's one representative is a Democrat. One of Maryland's eight representatives is a Republicans. Six out of twenty-seven of New York's representatives are Republicans (four of these are "upstate"). Six out of twelve of New Jersey's representatives are Republicans. And, thirteen out of eighteen of Pennsylvania's representatives are Republicans. A number of Mid-Atlantic Republicans tend towards the moderate wing of their party.

The percentage of voters who are white is very steady (about 1.5 percentage points less per year), which posed deep long term issues for a Republican coalition built almost entirely on white voters.

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