Just poking around a bit further in the Electoral Separation of Purpose data, as pictured and explained previously.
I wondered who the “ESP Champs” were of these cycles.
For 2008, I hereby crown Gene Taylor of Mississippi, who won 74.5% in his district on the same day that Obama managed 31.7%. Now that’s separation of purpose!
He still managed 47% even in 2010. Not bad, but not good enough.
In fact, that 2010 result makes Taylor one of only four Democrats to have won, at the midterm, more than 45% of the vote in a district in which Obama had won under 35%. But to be crowned champion for 2010, you should actually have won your race. So the 2010 title belongs to…
Dan Boren of Oklahoma, who won 56.5% in a district in which Obama had won 34.5%. This result still represented a massive adverse swing against Boren, who had 70.5% in 2008. But he held on.
With ESP numbers like these, we can see why some “blue” congressmen in deeply “red” districts were less than keen these past two years in coming to the support of Obama’s policy priorities. (This was a topic that generated considerable discussion in another thread earlier this month.)
When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, the election produced the second lowest value of “Electoral Separation of Purpose” of the preceding five decades.
Electoral Separation of Purpose (ESP) is a concept developed in David J. Samuels and Matthew S. Shugart, Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers (Cambridge, 2010). It starts with the difference between presidential and legislative votes, at the district level, for a given party. It then can be expressed in a summary indicator by the average of the absolute values of all these differences.
For Obama and the Democrats in 2008, ESP=10.45. In the book, we considered 42 observations for the USA (both parties in 21 elections through 2004); the only one lower than what we would see in 2008 was 8.79 for Democrats in 1996, when Bill Clinton won reelection.
That ESP would be relatively low in the Obama era is yet another window on the much talked-about “polarization” of US politics: votes for Congress now tend to be more similar to presidential votes at the (House) district level. In other words, the fates of members of the House are more tied to that of their co-partisan president (or presidential candidate) than used to be the case. Voters apparently do not “want different things” from congress and president as much as they once did (for instance, 1972 and 1974, ESPs of 20.4 and 25.8, respectively).
It is worth putting the 2008 election in comparative perspective, comparing both to other countries and to past US elections. When compared to other countries, a value of 10.45 is not especially low. Even when we eliminate all cases where presidential and legislative votes are “fused” (meaning ticket-splitting is impossible, so ESP=0), we still find that the 2008 Democratic ESP is at about the 60th percentile among 383 party-year observations from around the world. Even with polarization and tied fates, there is still a lot of room for divergence between presidential and congressional vote shares in the USA.
What is interesting is the pattern of this divergence. Below is the graph, where each data point is one of the House districts in 2008. Ignore the distinction between triangles and circles for now; we’ll get to that.
(Click the image for a larger view in a new window)
It is striking that in districts where the Democrat has over 50% of the legislative vote, Obama tends to run behind his co-partisan House candidate. That is, there are notably more points above the equality line for winning House Democratic districts than there are below the diagonal. Districts where he runs ahead of the Democratic House candidate tend to be where the party loses the congressional race. For instance, if Obama won about 60% of the vote in a given district, the Democrat tended to win around two thirds of the House vote. But if Obama won around 45% of the vote, the Democratic House candidate tended to get closer to 35% of the vote.
This pattern, which would be reflected by some sort of S-curve, had I bothered to try to plot it, seems to be a common feature of US elections. The graph for Republicans in 2004 (ESP=10.98) looks very similar (see p. 135 of the book). It is not a prevalent pattern in other countries. I suspect it has something to do with the “personal vote” of Representatives; incumbents run ahead of their party’s presidential candidate because some voters who vote for the presidential candidate of the other party nonetheless support the incumbent. However, I have not yet broken the data down by incumbency. In the losing districts, of course, much of it has to do with the Democrats’ not recruiting high-quality candidates in districts they were not likely to win anyway (but having a “high-quality” presidential candidate). Of course, this is a companion to the personal-vote story, whereby the Republican candidate was stronger and able to keep for the party voters who voted for Obama.
Does the graph shed any light on the electoral debacle suffered by Democrats this week? Not directly, although one can see at a glance the numerous districts in which the Democrat won despite the district having voted for McCain. Now here is where those triangles come in: they represent the districts that the Democrats lost in the 2010 midterm election. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of those in the part of the graph where Obama’s vote is less than 50%. In fact, over half the Democratic losses came in McCain 2008 districts. If that’s not a (mini-)realignment, it certainly is a readjustment.
However, the Democrats lost 29 districts in which Obama had won a majority in 2008. And here is where the pattern of 2008 Democratic House winners frequently having run ahead of Obama becomes so important. They had a “cushion” against an adverse swing against them, stemming from Obama’s unpopularity at the midterm, and they most certainly needed it!
In this second graph we see that ESP actually declined further in 2010. At first, it may seem odd that one could go from unified to divided government, yet electoral separation of purpose decreased. But that is what happened. In 2010, ESP for Democrats dropped to 10.00. Note the near disappearance of winning Democrats who are more than about ten percentage points above where Obama was in their district in 2008. In fact, what really stands out here is the extent to which Democrats who won over 50% of their own district vote are concentrated very near, or slightly below, the equality line. That’s a good case of tied fates!
The S-curve pattern is gone, other than a continued bow in losing Democratic districts, where Obama’s 2008 vote is still higher (and often by a bigger margin) than the Democratic House candidate in 2010.
There are still some survivors in McCain districts, and they are about the only ones to still be running well ahead of Obama. If they could survive the great Democratic fall of 2010, they just might survive anything.
Now for the cross-time comparison. The following graph shows the ESP values for the president’s party for every US election since 1956, except for years following reapportionment and redistricting (and 1966, for mysterious reasons).
There is a clear trend in recent elections of declining ESP. No election for which we have data had ESP for the president’s party below 12.0 until 1996. The 1970s, and to a lesser extent the 1980s, were the days of high ESP, with Republicans often winning the presidency but Democrats keeping the House. Even in 1976, when Carter won, ESP was 14.55. Maybe this explains why Carter had so much trouble with his own party: they knew the president was less popular than they were. The graph from that election (not posted; I can’t post everything!) shows a huge bow of the S-curve above the equality line where practically all the Democratic House winners are found.
But note the almost steady downward trend after 1984, when Reagan was reelected. The 1994 midterm, when Democrats lost their House majority under Clinton, showed a downward trend. So 2010 is not unique in being an election that produces a transition to divided government yet sees ESP drop. However, in spite of the decline in ESP, it was still the case then that most Democratic winners in1994 were running ahead of where Clinton had been in 1992. Part of this is owed to the three-way presidential race in 1992. (All these graphs show actual vote percentages, not percentages of the “two-party vote.”) But then Clinton and the Democrats had tightly shared fates in 1996.
After a big upward blip in ESP in 1998, when Democrats had a rare seat gain in a midterm election, we enter the 2000s with ESP hovering in the 10-12 range.^
We really are in uncharted territory by US standards. We have not seen such closely tied presidential and legislative electoral fates at any other point in the last five decades or more.
What this might mean going forward is hard to say. I don’t have that kind of ESP! Or maybe it is not so hard. If Obama is reelected in 2012, it is unlikely to be with a broad personal victory like Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1984, which represent two of the three highest ESP concurrent elections. (The other is 1988, when the senior Bush effectively won Reagan’s “third term.”) But therein lies a ray of good news for Democrats–who are surely looking for such rays about now. Normally, if a President is reelected, he does so without much of a “pull” on the House races. However, we have already seen two incumbent presidents win a second term with a drop in ESP. In addition to Clinton, already mentioned as the lowest US ESP so far, the same happened with G.W. Bush (ESP=12.27 when he, uh, became president in 2000,* and a drop to 10.98 in 2004).
in such a low-ESP environment, with partisan fates so tied, it is entirely plausible that a reelected Obama would carry enough of that cluster of districts near 50% to regain a House majority. If he loses, of course, then so might several more Democratic House members. Such are the perils of governing and campaigning when electoral separation of purpose is tending to run so low, by historic US standards.
^ The 1998 plot shows a large number of Democratic winners well above where they had been in 1996, and thus also well above where Clinton ran in their districts in his low-ESP reelection in 1996. (This footnote was added a couple of days after initial planting.)
* ESP for Democrats in 2000 was a little higher (13.07), presumably because Gore ran well behind many Democratic incumbents. That the value would be so much higher than it had been for the Clinton-Gore team in 1996 really drives home how much Gore failed to cement the Democratic coalition that swung so tightly behind Clinton in 1996.
The House of Representatives doesn’t always live up to its name, thanks to the way it is elected. Representation of women and many ethnic and religious minorities lags. Only in 2006, for example, did it get its first Muslim member. And, as of yesterday’s results in Louisiana, the House finally has its first Vietnamese-American member, who will join the Republican caucus. Congratulations to Anh Cao! (It did not hurt to be running against William Jefferson.)
OK, a puzzle that I hope someone can help with. I thought Louisiana used a top-two runoff system. Clearly most of its House seats were already decided in November. Yet the two “runoffs” Saturday had more than two candidates, and in neither case did the winner break 50%. The combined vote of Jefferson and a Green candidate was greater than Cao’s votes (though if we play that game, we should note also that when the Libertartians’ 0.82% is added to Cao’s total, he is back on top). In the other race, Democrat Paul Carmouche lost to Republican John Fleming by 0.38%, with Fleming barely over 48%.
In their ongoing coverage at FiveThirtyEight of the recount in the US Senate race in Minnesota, one off-hand remark caught my attention:
Theoretically, a campaign could also argue that a vote has been counted for the wrong candidate (e.g. Coleman argues that a Franken vote should be a Coleman vote, rather than a no-vote), but I’d guess that these cases are exceptionally rare. One exception may be votes for third-party candidates (e.g. a Barkley vote that Coleman wants counted as a Coleman vote), where a campaign might have a slightly easier time closing the sale since the third-party won’t have representation in the room; [...]
Why are there no representatives of Barkley present? Yes, I know he has no chance of emerging the winner. But I would assume that, as a candidate in a disputed election, he would have a legal right to have agents present as ballots are reviewed. (For instance, to prevent one of the campaigns from tipping the race by converting marginal Barkley ballot marks into votes for their own candidate.)
So, is his absence a matter of law, or just practicality (such as financial constraints, or inability to recruit observers)?
Several subsequent comments address mine, with one stating that there is indeed no legal right to third-party representation in a recount (and seemingly surprised that the question would even arise).
I wonder if anyone reading F&V can confirm that. I suppose I should not be surprised or appalled if this is the case, but I suppose I am, nonetheless.
* Edited to fix some rather bad syntax in the original.
Some signs suggest the State Supreme Court will grant a review of Proposition 8, which took away the right the same court granted earlier this year for same-sex couples of marry.
The case petitioners are seeking to argue before the court is that the proposition amounts to a “revision” rather than an “amendment” to the state constitution, because it strips a fundamental right. I am no legal scholar, so I won’t pretend to assess the legal value of that argument. However, with the decision so recent, and 4-3, and with California justices subject to periodic retention elections (and potentially subject to a recall-election petition), I would not put good money on their being willing to insist on their earlier decision and overturn the measure.
And then there will also be the legal question–if Prop. 8 is not overturned–of whether the marriages performed between the time of the Court’s ruling in spring and the fall election would remain valid.
Yet another interesting angle is that the state’s Attorney General, Jerry Brown, is a proponent of inclusive marriage rights, but his job title would require him to defend the state’s newly enacted constitutional amendment stripping that right if it comes before the court.
It is really hard to over-state just how uncompetitive California’s single-seat legislative districts are.
Here are some stats (calculated by me from the LA Times day-after report, so don’t consider them “official”):
State Assembly (80 districts)
68.59% mean winner’s share
7 (8.8%) uncontested (i.e.winner with 100%)
65.10% mean winner’s share in contested seats
12 (15.0%) won with 55% or less
1 won by less than 50%1
51 (63.4%) won by the Democrat
State delegation to US House (53 districts)
71.06% mean winner’s share
7 (13.2%) uncontested
66.77% mean winner’s share in contested seats
6 (11.3%) won with 55% or less
1 won by under 50%2
35 (66.04%) won by the Democrat
State Senate (20 of 40 districts up this year)
64.45% mean winner’s share
4 won with 55% or less
0 won with under 50% (but one at 50.02%)
12 (60%) won by the Democrat
That’s uncompetitive! And unrepresentative: I do not know what the Democrats’ statewide vote was–these sorts of things are largely secret in American democracy–but it wasn’t 66%, or even 60%.
With the outcome of Prop. 11, which would create an “independent” commission to redraw district lines for the Assembly and state Senate, still uncertain (but most likely approved), can anyone convincingly argue that it is possible for an “independent” commission to improve this situation significantly? I have my doubts…
Evidently the footnotes plug-in is not working well with the new Word Press software. Sometimes the footnotes do not appear at all. Sometimes they appear, but with “aa” for each footnote marker, instead of numbers. Sorry; I might be able to fix it–one of these days.
District 10, an open seat in the Sacramento area, apparently won by Republican Jack Sieglock (70,161 votes, 46.92%) over Democrat Allyson Huber (69,136 votes, 49.23%). Libertarian Janice Bonser won around 7%. This one has subsequently narrowed and is not yet called. [↩]
And two more with less than 50.1%. The one sub-majority winner would be in District 3 northeast of Sacramento, where Republican Dan Lungren was reelected (117,609 votes, 49%) over Democrat William Dunston (105,288, 44%). An independent won 4% and a Libertarian 2%. [↩]
Ted Stevens has now fallen behind, though plenty of votes still remain to be counted. (More at 538, where a separate item also notes that one academic study suggests Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman may yet be defeated.)
Three states’ electoral votes in 2008 were won with less than a majority and with at least one third-party/independent candidate having more votes than the margin between the top two. One other state was likewise won with less than a majority, with two candidates combining for more than the margin.
Won by Obama with 49.92% over McCain’s 48.96%
Obama margin over McCain: 26,163
Bob Barr: 29,196
Won by McCain with 49.44% over Obama’s 49.24%
McCain margin over Obama: 5,868
Ralph Nader: 17,769
Bob Barr: 11,355
Chuck Baldwin: 8,181
(Cynthia McKinney: 958)
Won by McCain with 49.66% to Obama’s 47.16%
McCain margin over Obama: 12,136
Ron Paul: 10,499
Ralph Nader: 3,570
Bob Barr: 1,300
Won by Obama with 49.70% over McCain’s 49.38%
Obama margin over McCain: 13,692
Bob Barr: 25,408
It is very likely that votes for Ralph Nader (at 3.03 times the margin) cost Obama the electoral votes of Missouri and that votes for Bob Barr (at 1.86 times the margin) cost McCain the electoral votes of North Carolina. As for Montana and Indiana, as well as the vote totals of Barr and Baldwin in Missouri, because I will not assume that all Barr/Baldwin/Paul votes would have gone to McCain or all Nader/McKinney to Obama, it is harder to say, but an affect on the outcome is certainly possible.
Fortunately, the choice of President did not hinge on these states. But it is well past time that we did away with the electoral college and plurality voting.
Source: Dave Leip, with an assist from good old Wikipedia (where, unlike at Leip or the media sites I checked, someone bothered to enter the individual candidate totals for candidates not named McCain or Obama.)
The data show that Obama’s victory was not a map-changer; it was mostly a national swing, the result of which was to lift some of the closer states (Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Iowa, etc.) over the threshold from “red” to “blue.” Again, that is consistent with the “partisan mandate” I referred to yesterday, rather than with any talk of a “realignment” (in which the underlying demographic electoral coalitions of the parties change). That is not to say there is no evidence for any of the latter. For instance, minority and youth vote turned decisively towards the Democrat. (We won’t know whether that is because of a young and biracial candidate’s personal appeal or partisan realignment till post-Obama elections.) Overall, however, this was clearly mostly a national swing–for the presidency, and most likely for the House and Senate, as well.
How big is Barack Obama’s presidential mandate? And how much is it a personal mandate for the remarkable candidate that is Mr Obama, and how much is it a mandate for his Democratic Party, and by extension, for its policy preferences?
These are highly subjective–if important–questions, and I shall not pretend to have the answer to “how big” in some absolute sense. However, we can look at some electoral data for a cross-temporal comparative perspective. How does the Obama/Democratic ‘mandate’ compare with those for other “change” presidents?
For purposes of this discussion, I am going to look at all of the newly elected presidents since 1932 whose election marked an alternation in the party controlling the presidency. We will consider the size of the president-elect’s own mandate in both votes (the real kind, i.e. the ‘popular vote’) and electoral votes.
I will then look at the extent to which the change in the presidency was reflected in the House of Representatives. Did the president’s party gain seats upon his election? If so, was the gain sufficient to alternate control of the chamber? If there was a big surge in House seats for the new president’s party, we have a classic “coattails” effect, whereby the enthusiasm for the incoming president motivates voters to cast votes for his party, too.
Then I will look at changes in the House over a two-election period. The logic for doing so is that, if control of the House alternated at the previous midterm, that election may be proven to be a harbinger of partisan change, which voters then can confirm at the subsequent presidential election. This would not be a coattails story, except perhaps one of reversed coattails: The presidency might be said to have changed partisan hands because the voters were in a two-year process of conferring a mandate on the party.
The data I am going to present provide some support for the notion that the Obama/Democratic mandate is historically significant by each of these measures. To summarize the conclusions just a bit, Obama’s personal victory, at least in the popular vote, was one of the biggest we have seen in decades. His coattails, measured by copartisan gains, were substantial, though not historic. His party’s gains over the two-election cycle are, however, historic. In fact, 2008 marks the first time since 1918-1920 that a partisan change has occurred in the House and then been confirmed at the next presidential election–and 2006-2008 was bigger than the one in 1918-1920.
Here are the data (and you may click here to open up a larger version in a new window).
I would submit that this is the biggest PARTISAN MANDATE we have seen in the USA since FDR.
First, let us look at the personal support Obama received, compared to the other “change” presidents. At 52.4%, it is the largest by a Democrat since FDR (who had 57.4%), but clearly falls short of Republican Eisenhower’s 55.1%. Thus, measured by share of the popular vote, Obama received a bigger personal mandate than any change president in fifty-six years.
I also include share of two-party vote, because it has been rather common for alternations to occur in years in which there was a significant third-party or independent candidate who shared with the victorious major-party challenger an articulation of voter desire for change. Notable cases are Ross Perot in 1992 and George Wallace (if you want to call that “change”) in 1968, as well as John Anderson in 1980. The exclusion of third-party/independent votes from the denominator tends to make the newly elected president’s share of the 2-party vote greater than his share of the total vote. I assume that is because the incumbent president (or the candidate of the outgoing president’s party) loses some support from voters who can’t quite bring themselves to vote for the other major party’s candidate. Indeed, we see that Obama’s share of the 2-party vote is comparable to (and slightly behind) that of Clinton in 1992. It is also well behind that of Reagan in 1980 (as well as, of course, the figures obtained by FDR and Ike).
In looking at these cases of presidential alternation, it is striking how low the overall popular vote is for so many of them: Five failed to win even 51% of the vote, including each of the last five before this one, and two could not reach 45%. A change vote that breaks 53% of the 2-party vote is, therefore, impressive. Obama is only the third to do so since Ike.
Now let’s turn to the House, and a look at coattails and reversed coattails.
Strikingly, no newly elected president since 1952 has brought the House over to his party along with his election. And in the case of Eisenhower, it was actually a spurious majority (his party’s votes were less than that of the Democrats). That’s pretty much the definition of a personal mandate, even if the party did gain the majority. Not surprisingly, it would lose it at the very next election, in 1954–and not get it back for forty years.
Given the Democratic “lock” on the House between Eisenhower’s first midterm and Clinton’s first midterm, the presidential changes to Republican in the interim both failed to bring about alternation in the House. By the same token, that meant that the changes of the presidency back to Democratic control in the same period meant no alternation: they were more “restorations” (of unified government) than alternations.
Of course, the 1980 election merits special note. The Republican Party gained what is still the highest number of seats in a presidential-alternation year since 1932. Nonetheless, their 34 seats, propelled by a 3.1 percentage-point increase in the party’s House vote compared to 1978, was insufficient to bring Reagan’s party the House majority. (The party did, of course, take over the majority of seats in the Senate.)
The other alternations from 1960 through 1992 are remarkable only for the absence of coattails. The parties of Kennedy and Clinton actually lost seats (22 in the case of JFK!), Carter’s managed only a one-seat pickup, and Nixon’s only six. Three of these presidents saw their parties lose House votes (as a percentage) as they were being elected (Kennedy, Carter, and Nixon). I already mentioned the spurious majority for Eisenhower’s party, though the party did manage a minuscule gain in votes percentage.
Obama’s party’s gain of 19 (pending final counts that could push it to 20 or higher) is the second highest since 1952 (and the higher one, in 1980, still left the new president with divided government).
As for the possibility that a partisan mandate may begin at the previous midterm and be confirmed by the presidential alternation, Obama’s and the Democrats’ example is the first in a very long time. In 2008, with a net change of 50 seats (and it could go higher) we see the highest two-election gain in seats for the newly elected president’s party since the remarkable 147-seat gain in 1930-32.
Thus there is some evidence of a reversed-coattails effect, whereby Obama rode a strong pro-Democratic wave that began in 2006.1 While the Republican gains over two elections in 1968 were a bit greater than those in 2006-08 and the gains in 1974-76 and 1990-92 were similar in magnitude, none of these produced an alternation.
Now, about that 1918-1920 partisan mandate. It is the most recent case, before 2006-08, that I could find of alternation in House control followed by presidential alternation. And it deserves an asterisk.2 Republicans had a 215 – 214 plurality in the House after 1916 (after having been in the minority at the 1914 election), and took the majority (240 – 192) in 1918, then presidency in 1920. (The 1916 House had Prohib 1, Socialist 1, others 4.) So it is not as if the Democrats held a clear majority at the time this alternation began–unlike the Republicans when the current one began in 2006. So, this current case appears to be the only clean example of a two-election partisan alternation in the House and presidency (with the Senate, too!) in over a century.
In short, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have just won a mandate of historic proportions.
Gains in a concurrent election really could be either coattails or reversed coattails. [↩]
Speaking of asterisks, I am leaving out of this discussion the presidential alternation of 2000, as it was not driven by a popular vote plurality. I may add the rest of the numbers in a comment later, just for comparative purposes. [↩]
I thought I’d offer a little California presidential ballot trivia before the election recedes too far into our memories (and what memories those will be!).
I have noted before how we had such a strong field of minor-party candidates, based on purely objective criteria (name recognition, prior electoral experience, etc.). The field included two former congressmen (former Republican Bob Barr as the Libertarian candidate and former Democrat Cynthia McKinney as the Green candidate) as well as Ralph Nader (here as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate; in most states he is running as an independent).
I did not realize till a few days before the election that we also have Alan Keyes on the ballot. I don’t know if that makes the field stronger still or not, but Keyes certainly is well known. He has sought the Republican nomination in the past.
Further, this marks the second time Keyes and Obama have faced each other. Keyes was the Republican Party’s late “desperation” candidate drafted to run against Obama in his Senate bid in 2004.
Keyes is the candidate of the American Independent Party in California. Normally, I believe this party nominates the same presidential candidate as the Constitution Party. The Constitution Party’s candidate–who is not on this state’s ballot–is Chuck Baldwin, who earlier had received the endorsement of Ron Paul.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4