Thursday, November 18, 2010

More on the 11th Congressional District

As we noted before, there's been a lot written lately about the 11th Congressional District and why it went for Shuler.  I think Shuler's victory isn't too surprising when you consider the nature of his district. 

Despite the influence of Asheville, the 11th Congressional District is not overwhelmingly Democratic--at least compared to the rest of the state.  As you can see below, Shuler's district has the 9th highest percentage of registered Democrats in the state.  Given this, I doubt a liberal Democrat would do very well.

If we don't have that many Democrats, then why did Shuler do so well?  I believe the answer may lie in the independents.  We have the second most independents of any district in the state (see below).  If we assume that independents are moderates, then a candidate like Shuler should do fairly well among the independent vote.

So what else stands out about the 11th Congressional District?  The obvious answer is race.  The 11th is the whitest district in the state--over 90% of registered voters in NC-11 are white.

A lot of things could eventually lead to a Shuler defeat, but the demographics of this district look fairly well matched to Shuler winning for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What do the results of the midterms mean for Obama's chances in 2012?

What do the results of the midterms mean for Obama's chances in 2012? According to Larry Sabato and Alan Abramowitz: not much. In particular, they find that "there is no statistical relationship between a midterm result and the outcome of the next presidential election." In other words, we don't know any more about Obama's chances in 2012 now than we did before the election. For more, read their analysis here (Warning: people who do not understand sarcasm may get the wrong impression if they read this quickly).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Brief update

The Asheville Citizen-Times were kind enough to print a slightly extended version of this post  late last week.  You can find it here

The Decline of Democrats in NC County Commissions

A lot was written after 2008 about why North Carolina went blue.  This election, national journalists have already focused on the Heath Shuler race as an example of how North Carolina is more Democratic than other states.  The story that has been virtually ignored, however, is what's happening at the local level.

Thanks to the folks at the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners we can track the proportion of Commissioners who are Democrats from 1974-present.  I've plotted the results below and he evidence here is fairly dramatic (and fairly encouraging if you're a Republican).  The blue line is the actual proportion of seats held by Democrats per year.  The red line is just a trend line to make it easier to interpret.  If you find that one confusing, just ignore it.

Democrats are losing on average about 1 percentage point of the commission seats per year. Democrats held 90% of commission seats in 1978 and now the number hovers barely above 50%.  This year the Democratic share of Commission seats dropped by about 10 percentage points.  If this trend continues, we should see the Republicans holding onto the majority of the County Commission seats very soon.

We'll have more to say about this story in the next few days, but suffice it to say, I think these trends tell us more about North Carolina than the elections at upper-levels that are more influenced by national trends and individual personalities.  The conventional wisdom is that North Carolina has moved from light red to purple.  I think these data suggest that the story may be the opposite: we're becoming redder by the year.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Shuler vs. Miller Search Terms

I recently came across a reference to Google Trends, a tool that I didn't know existed. Essentially, it calculates the number of people who searched for any given term.

I am wondering if this might hold some promise as an alternative way to understand election forecasting.  Obviously there would be exceptions--if someone were involved in a scandal for example--but I wonder if in normal circumstances, this might give us a clue about public interest in a candidate.  Here's a quick graph of Heath Shuler (in blue) vs. Jeff Miller (in red).  They both got a spike close to the election, but Shuler's is clearly much, much bigger.  This tool might also help us understand when the public gets interested in elections.

Data from the elections are still drifting in and I'm trying to make sense of it all.  Expect some more election wrap-up postings in the next week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Minority Leader Shuler?

As anyone who has been even remotely conscious the last few weeks knows, the Democrats recently lost control of the House, making Heath Shuler's quest to become Speaker impossible (as if it was not before).  Shuler, who appears to be learning how to stay in the news, now says he might run against Nancy Pelosi for Minority Leader of the House.

So how likely is it that Shuler will be elected to this position? About as likely as it is that Mark Sanford was really hiking the Appalachian trail.  As we noted before, Shuler is still very green and leadership positions generally go to people who have earned their stripes in Washington.  Josh Purdy, one of our fine GAs in the Public Policy Institute looked up every Minority Leader beginning in 1899 and calculated how long they were in Congress before becoming Minority Leader.

As you can see above, Shuler wouldn't be the greenest member to be elected Minority Leader, but he'd be darn close.  The average Minority Leader spent 20 years in Congress before ascending to the leadership.  Only James Richardson, a guy who died the year World War I began, was in Congress fewer years before becoming minority leader.

If this is so improbable, then why is he going public saying that he's going to run against Pelosi?  My guess is that Shuler is smart enough to know that he has no chance to win, but he's also smart enough to know that the only way for a junior member of Congress to gain power is to "go outside," and use the media to raise his profile.  In the past few days speculation about whether Shuler might challenge Pelosi for Minority Leader has been covered in the NY Times, Roll Call, the Huffington Post, and a bunch of other outlets.  That's a lot of coverage for most members of Congress--particularly a junior member of a minority party from a relatively small district in the mountains of North Carolina.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Reflections on the "Far-left leanings" of the 11th Congressional District

I was recently quoted in the Asheville Citizen-Times prognosticating about Heath Shuler's probable stature in the next Congress  Here's what I said: “He's probably in a better position than a lot of Democrats are because he is a conservative Democrat and made no bones about it,” Cooper said. “He could come out smelling pretty nice because he's the kind of Democrat who could maintain some power, even in the minority party."

Putting aside my odd phrasing of "smelling pretty nice," (what was I thinking?), I still agree with this statement and as he always does, John Boyle quoted me accurately and fairly. 

I was very pleased to see that an interested citizen took the time to write the AC-T about my statement.  In a letter to the editor, the reader stated that "Given the far-left leanings of House District 11, Rep. Shuler will move to the left joining the Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi wing, not necessarily because he is a “true believer” but because that is what will be required to fend off challenges from the far-left. Should Rep. Shuler fail to move left, Councilman Cecil Bothwell and others will be waiting in the wings for the 2012 primaries."

I am always pleased when people take the time to write letters to the editor (so much so that Gibbs, our friend Moshe and I published a paper about letters to the editor in NC newspapers)* and I appreciate Mr. Arnold's perspective on his district.  But, as the readers of this blog know, I generally want to solve disagreements like this with data and the most obvious way to test the reader's claim vs. mine is to examine the voter registration statistics in the 11th Congressional District.  If there are a lot more Democrats in our district than their are in the state as a whole, then that would be a good sign that the reader's right and I'm wrong.  If we find the opposite, well, we'll see....

According to the NC Board of Elections, there indeed are more Democrats than Republicans in our district (40% Democrat vs. 33% Republican w/ 28% Independent or Libertarian).  When comparing this to the statewide numbers, however, we see that our district is actually less Democratic than the state as a whole.  In North Carolina, 45% of voters are Democrats, 32% are Republicans and 24% are Independents or Libertarians).  Obviously it is possible that more of our independents are liberal than they are in the rest of the state, but I have never seen any evidence suggesting this is true (if anything, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction).  Of course, partisanship and ideology don't always map onto each other so it's also possible that people in our district are more liberal despite not being more Democratic.  Again, however, my read of available data on this suggests that this is not true.

So, why did the reader (who is politically engaged enough to write a letter to the editor and reasonable enough to write a well-written, well-argued letter) believe this?  My guess--because he lives in Asheville.  As we've found in many surveys, Asheville is not like the rest of the district.  Asheville is indeed more liberal than many places in North Carolina and only 27% of Buncombe County voters are Republicans.  It's very easy to assume that Asheville=the 11th Congressional District, but the reality is that our district is a fairly large one and includes many counties that are far more Republican and conservative than Buncombe County.

The balance of the evidence suggest that while Asheville may be "the San Francisco of the South," the rest of the 11th Congressional District would be pretty out-of-place in the Bay Area. 

* I really do mean this.  Compare the quality of the discourse in letters to the editor to Internet comments on the same story.  Letters to the editor are almost always better written, better argued and better informed than their counterparts on the Internet (except for the commenters on this blog, of course).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Is Voter Turnout in NC Lower or Higher than the National Average? Yes

There was a lot of pre-election speculation about voter turnout--in North Carolina and nationwide.  We're finally starting to get some reliable data and it appears that turnout was up from 2006--the last midterm election.  In North Carolina, the proportion of eligible voters* who turned out was up about 8% (to 39.7%) compared to a voting eligible turnout rate of 41.5 nationally (up a bit from 40.4%).

Because I prefer pictures to words, I've pasted a graph of midterm turnout from 1982-2010.  The blue line represents turnout in NC (an odd choice given the recent legislative turnover) and the red-line is U.S. turnout.

In addition to the large spike from 2006 to 2010, there are a couple of other interesting stories here.  The most obvious one is how spikey the NC line is, compared to the comparatively flatter line nationally.  Clearly there's something that makes turnout in North Carolina vary considerably from one midterm to the next.  My guess is that it's higher in years with US Senate elections, but I have not checked it to be sure.

So what happens in Presidential election years?  Below I've made a similar graph, but this one just includes years in which we're voting for President.  Here we see a slightly different story. Turnout in the Tar Heel state was consistently below the US averages for a long time, but has recently shot above the US average.  I would say this is simply an Obama effect, but the rise in NC actually began in 2000 (when Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois' 11th district).  We know that competitiveness breeds turnout so my guess is that increased turnout in North Carolina in Presidential election years has to do with the increasing competitiveness of Presidential elections in North Carolina. 

So if you're in a debate with your friends about whether North Carolinians are more likely to turnout than people from other states (likely scenario, I know), you can safely take either side of the argument.  If you're taking about Presidential elections, the answer is yes (or at least it was in 2008).  If you're talking about the midterms, the answer is no.

As more data become available, I expect to post more (including some analysis of what happened in the local elections).

*You may note that these numbers look a little higher than those reported elsewhere.  That's because they measure the proportion of the electorate who did vote divided by the proportion who could vote (the eligible electorate).  The traditional way to measure this was with the voting age population as the denominator.  The problem is that there are lots and lots of people (96,404 in North Carolina) who are above the age of of 18, but who are ineligible to vote (because they are on probation, on parole, in prison, or are not citizens).  Including them in voter turnout numbers makes turnout appear lower than it actually is.  If this is confusing, fret not, I'll probably write a more extended post on this soon (with graphs, of course).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Youth Voter Turnout Probably Went Down a Bit

Last week I speculated a little about what youth voter turnout might look like in 2010. Now that the election is over, a few reports are starting to trickle in so we can now get a better read on what actually happened.

After a night of crunching exit poll data, the folks at the CIRCLE foundation found that, "An estimated 20.4 percent of young Americans under the age of 30 voted in Tuesday’s midterm elections, compared to 23.5 percent in the last midterm election (2006)."  There are a few different ways to slice this data and they find that 11% of the electorate in this election were between 18 and 29, which is about 1% lower than it was in 2006.

Looks like the increase in the youth vote that we saw in 2008 did not translate into bigger youth turnout in 2010.  I'm searching for North Carolina data, but can't yet find anything out there that breaks it down by state.  Stay tuned for more analysis of the election over the next week.

Long night becoming clearer

Looks like (as we expected) the Republicans will take over the House and the Democrats will maintain control of the Senate.  Shuler and Burr are staying.  Still waiting to see on the Governor's races.  It's gotten comparatively less coverage, but for us North Carolinians, the fact that the Republicans will take over both houses of the NC legislature, is arguably, a bigger story. The turnover in the Jackson County Commissioners is also a huge story for those of us who reside in this County. 

Gibbs and I had a fun night on WRGC radio here in Sylva and I enjoyed responding to some terrific questions from various other WNC journalists.  I'll also be on My40 TV tomorrow morning  at 9:00 commenting on the midterms.  I expect to have some analysis of the election over the next few weeks, then we'll probably move to issues of policy and governance moving forward.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Speaker Shuler?

Evidently Heath Shuler is pondering a run for Speaker of the House. In some ways, this makes some sense electorally as it helps him distance himself from Pelosi ("I can't be pals with Pelosi--I am going to run against her!" This also helps explain why Bill Clinton came to stump for a guy who is virtually assured victory tomorrow.

Still, this doesn't seem very likely. First, it's difficult to be Speaker if your party is not in control of the House. Even if the Democrats pull of a miracle and keep control of the House, I can't help but think that this is a little premature. After all, Shuler's only completed his second term. When Bill Graham at the Tuck Reader asked me about this, I looked up the tenure of a couple of recent speakers and concluded that, while not impossible, it would be unprecedented for such a green member of Congress to be speaker.

The next day I wondered if I had mislead the fine readers of What if Speakers used to be much more green than they are now? What if Hastert, Gingrich, and Pelosi are outliers? To find out, Thomas Jones, one of our terrific Graduate Assistants at the PPI was kind enough to look up the number of years between being elected to Congress and being selected as Speaker for every Speaker since 1899. I have graphed the results below. I also plotted where Shuler would fall. The big red line represents the average time in office before becoming Speaker.

I usually get on my students and remind them to interpret graphs for the reader, but I think my basset hound can see what I'm trying to say here. Pelosi, Gingrich, and Hastert aren't abnormal (and if they are, it's because they were in Congress for less time) . If Heath Shuler somehow is elected as Speaker of the House, he would be *by far* the most junior member of Congress elected to Speaker in more than 110 years. I'll stick with my original assessment of whether we'll be saying Speaker Shuler anytime soon: it's not impossible, but it's darn close.