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The crossover question

From G. Elliott Morris, reviewing the recent AZ-08 special Congressional election:

The second thing to learn from AZ-08 helps explain the first: if Democrats aren’t winning because of differential turnout (or, not solely because of differential turnout), why are they? The only explanation is that Republicans are crossing over to vote for Democrats](https://twitter.com/geoffreyvs/status/988982464524750853). This is clear as day in the early voting numbers from Arizona’s 8th.

Here are the data: In the 155,000 early/absentee mail-in ballots cast in last night’s contest, Republicans ran a 21-point margin in party registration. One would assume (perhaps naively, as candidates from one party aren’t wed to that candidate) that this would give them a 21-point margin in actual ballots cast for either ticket. As I explained on my blog this assumption could go wrong for many reasons:

Early voting data are not “real results,” per se, despite what some analysts would have you believe, since partisanship does not equal vote choice. Though they are very correlated in modern America it is not a safe bet to assume all GOP ballots are for GOP candidates, and vice versa for Democratic voters and candidates. Such assumptions would have led us quite astray in the Texas primaries where Democrats cast more early votes than Republicans for the first time since 2010, but cast just 40% of total votes in the D or R primaries.

Indeed, the early vote did mislead. Debbie Lesko won these “R+21” early votes by just a 6-point margin, meaning there was enough persuasion of Republicans to Tipirneni’s side to move the needle fifteen points. That is certainly (or, at the very least, it ought to be) enough to make many Republican elected officials shake in their boots.

There is an extra point to be made here: even in a contest where 75% of ballots are cast early, our analysis of those results can often go wrong. Stick (though not exclusively) to the polls, folks; Emerson College pegged Lesko’s lead at 6 points. She won by 6.

Hold that thought, because Harry Enten was thinking along similar lines.

Republicans turned out in this election. The relative difference between Democrats and Republicans in registration among those who voted was about equal to overall registration figures. The number of people who voted in the special is fairly close to the number who voted in the the district during the last midterm election, in 2014. That’s not surprising because it is easy to vote early and by mail in Arizona. This allowed Republicans, who perhaps might have be been uninspired, to cast ballots without too much hassle.

It also means, however, that poor turnout is not an excuse for Republicans in this race. One common reason to be cautious of the special election results so far has been low turnout. Yet this election, like Pennsylvania 18 last month, saw turnout close to or exceeding 2014 levels, and Republicans trailed greatly behind the partisan baseline of these districts.

Finally, Republicans had a good candidate in Lesko. She had no major scandals and raised plenty of money. One of the excuses in previous elections that Republicans lost like Alabama US Senate (with Republican Roy Moore) and Pennsylvania 18 (with Republican Rick Saccone) was that the Republican was either scandal plagued or didn’t know how to raise funds. Lesko wasn’t either of those, and there was still a significant shift to the left.

Martin Longman and Ed Kilgore also discuss this evidence from the special elections that some non-trivial number of people who had identified (or registered, in the states that do that) as Republicans have not been voting for Republican candidates. Kilgore notes that national polling indicates that independents are pretty heavily negative on Donald Trump, which I will note is in line with that Quinnipiac Texas poll that had some people loudly complaining.

Now as always, it’s hard to say how much the national atmosphere applies to Texas, though it’s pretty clear that the state was an accurate reflection of said mood in 2006 and 2010 and 2014. To the extent that Democrats have a shot at winning races here that they haven’t won before, the formula starts with a boost in base turnout, because being outvoted by a million people statewide is not a good recipe for success. But if more Democrats showing up can put certain candidates in range, then a sufficient number of crossovers could put them the rest of the way over the top. To cite two recent examples, about 300,000 people who otherwise voted Republican voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Bill White in 2010. Neither candidate won, but in a context where base Democratic voting was higher, they could have.

How much of this happens this November, statewide and in the various specific districts of interest, is anyone’s guess right now, but may become clearer as we get more polling results. The point I’m making here is that there is evidence of it happening with Republicans elsewhere, and that this has been a part of the Democratic improvement in recent elections. In the absence of more polls like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s happening here, but in the absence of more polls that aren’t like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s not happening, either.

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