Saturday, July 26, 2008

Review of the Senate Race Polls

Some races have changed significantly, so I've added some updates.

This is one of those days when I take some time to find out what's going on in the races around the country. The House race rating averages are up-to-date, and now I turn my attention to the Senate races.

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) has steadily held on to a small lead over Sen. Ted Stevens (R) for some time now. The most recent poll from Rasmussen suggests that his lead might be starting to expand. Since the indictment, Begich has opened up a huge lead.

State Sen. Vivian Figures (D) is going nowhere. She'll be hard-pressed to get to 40%. Jeff Sessions (R) is safe.

You know Sen. Mark Pryor (D) is safe when I have to look up the race to find out who his opponent is. Turns out he doesn't have one. At least not a Republican one. Instead, the Green Party nominee and a independent gun rights activist will compete for 2nd place.

Some polls have shown a very tight race here, but Mark Udall's (D) lead over Bob Schaffer (R) is probably in the 5-8 point range. This is not a done deal, but Udall will have to mess up pretty badly to blow this seat.

I had to look up Joe Biden's (D) opponent, too. It turns out that she's a mildly attractive political consultant named Christine O'Donnell (R). I'd say the race is over, but it never really started.

On paper, former longtime State Rep. Jim Martin (R) is the perfect candidate to take Saxby Chambliss (R). Indeed, Rasmussen's recent poll showing a 51%-40% lead for Chambliss shows more reason to be optimistic that I would have anticipated. On the other hand, Georgia is just about the only state that seems to have gotten redder during President Bush's 2nd term. Look for the NRSC to have to spend some money here, but something dramatic would have to happen to Martin to pull this one off. Two polls in a row put Martin within 6 points of Chambliss. This race suddenly turned into the sleeper of the cycle.

In another laugher, I just learned that Tom Harkin's (D) opponent is a businessman named Chris Reed (R).

There hasn't been any reliable polling on this race as far as I know. My assessment of this race is largely the same as what I wrote about Georgia. We've got the perfect candidate for the state, but the state is still conservative as hell.

It turns out that Dick Durbin's (D) opponent is a med school professor named Steve Sauerberg (R). Huh. Who knew?

Pat Roberts (R) gets the award for best defense of a seat by an incumbent. We recruited the best possible candidate this side of Kathleen Sebelius and the blogging class got all amped up about the possibility of a real race here. Did Roberts wait until September or so to see if Jim Slattery (D) caught any traction? No. Instead, he and the NRSC went straight for the jugular and ripped Slattery's head off. Roberts is now polling in the 60%+ range whereas Slattery's negatives are even with his positives. This race is over.

The award for worst defense of a seat by an incumbent? That just might go to Mitch McConnell (R). Maybe it's because of his weird ads comparing himself to Alben Barkley and bragging about earmarks, but for whatever reason, his lead is down to about 4-7 points against two-time gubernatorial loser Bruce Lunsford (D). And Lunsford has got the personal wealth to chip into that small lead. McConnell has bounced back and has a double-digit lead. This one will be real tough.

Landrieu's lead is small, about 4-7 points. But I sense that Louisiana voters' distaste for John Kennedy (recently R) is greater than their distaste for the Democratic Party, even if not by much. A new Rasmussen poll shows a huge shift towards Landrieu. I'm not sure I buy it, but I never bought into Kennedy in the first place, either.

I actually knew the name of John Kerry's woeful opponent, Jeff Beatty and didn't have to look it up.

All year we've been waiting for this race to start to break and it finally looks like it might have. Tom Allen (D) now consistently polls within 10 points of Susan Collins (R). Not exactly awe-inspiring stuff for a guy who has represented half the state for 12 years, but pretty good against one of the most popular home state politicians in the nation. The analogy to last cycle's Rhode Island race should be discouraging, not encouraging. Here's why: John Kerry beat George Bush by over 20 points in Rhode Island, and by only 9 points in Maine. Sheldon Whitehouse beat Lincoln Chafee by 7 points, a margin smaller than the gap in presidential voting between these two New England states. Allen can win, but I'm not ready to get on his bandwagon just yet. Collins hasn't been under 50% for a while now. I'm afraid this race will be as tough as Kentucky.

Carl Levin (D) faces some guy called Jack Hoogendyk (R).

Have Al Franken's (D) self-inflicted wounds (making a joke about rape in public years ago) hurt his standing? New polls by SurveyUSA and Quinnipiac seem to suggest they have. Rasmussen's polls show no movement. Rasmussen has always had this race at about a toss-up, whereas other firms show Norm Coleman (R) with leads around 10 points. Who's right? I'm of course a huge Rasmussen fan, and in this case I'd like to go with them. But I do think Coleman still has an edge here, just not a large one. Coleman's still ahead, but it's close.

In one of the few Republican laughers, Thad Cochran (R) gets to destroy former LaRouche activist Erik Fleming (D).

How can this not be the sexy upset pick of the cycle? Former governor Ronnie Musgrove is the perfect candidate for this race and Obama's presence on the ticket is sure to explode previous black turnout levels. Add to that that every recent poll in the world shows a tie, and we've got ourselves a genuine race in Dixie. Wicker has opened up a substantial lead here. I'm worried I made the wrong pick here.

Remember the debacle of a primary that led to the MT GOP nominating the Constitution Party's 2002 Senate nominee? Well, it was hilarious. What could be more hilarious than that? The party's hand-picked nominee, a former State Senate Majority Leader, is still running, as a write-in.

North Carolina
I've been on the Kay Hagan (D) bandwagon for some time. Still, she's really gonna have to ramp up her fund-raising if she wants to compete with the kind of spending Liddy Dole (R) exhibited immediately after Hagan's primary win, spending that has her lead back in the double digits. The DSCC has committed $5 million here, if I remember correctly, so they a) still think this race is winnable and b) are willing to spend freely to help Hagan close the money gap. This race just gets closer. It's practically tied.

Scott Kleeb (D) has turned out to be a total flop and it looks like Mike Johanns' (R) service in President Bush's cabinet isn't the scarlet letter we'd hoped. This will be a walk-over, even as Obama competes for a couple of electoral votes here.

New Hampshire
Not much has changed here, which is good news for Jeanne Shaheen (D). Her lead over Jon Sununu (R) looks to still be in the double digits.

New Jersey
Given what we have to judge by in other states, former Congressman Dick Zimmer (R) is a pretty decent recruit. But that says more about the NRSC's difficulties this cycle than it does about Zimmer himself. Expect Frank Lautenberg to win by one of his customarily small, but comfortable margins.

New Mexico
If we've been waiting for Maine to break, I suspect Republicans have been waiting for Steve Pearce (R) to start making up some ground here. That's just not happening. Tom Udall (D) is polling in the 60s and Pearce might be lucky to get within 20 points by election day. Rasmussen shows a huge shift towards Pearce, but still an 8 point lead for Udall.

I've got to admit, I've been really disappointed in Andrew Rice (D). He's still got the best biography of any candidate this side of Jackie Speier (CA-12), but he's been pretty poor as a candidate. He's got less than $800k on hand and that's just not gonna cut it.

Rasmussen sees a Jeff Merkley (D) surge here and a tied race. No one else has released a poll since May, so let's hold our breath and wait for another poll to confirm the Merkley really has caught Gordon Smith (R). That tied poll was an outlier. Smith still leads with Merkley in striking range.

Rhode Island
Jack Reed (D) is working on the biggest blow-out of the cycle, with Rasmussen's only poll in this race showing a gigantic 72%-20% spread over his opponent, casino worker Bob Tingle (R).

South Carolina
This is the one state where it was the Democrat that I had to look up. He's a pilot named Bob Conley (D). He'll get 35-40%.

South Dakota
Another laugher. Tim Johnson (D) might have a shot at beating Jack Reed's margin over his opponent, with Johnson beating up on Joel Dykstra (R).

Rick Noriega (D) has virtually no money and his poll numbers are headed the wrong way. This race might be slipping away.

If a conservative Republican has to be reelected by a landslide, I'm glad that it's gonna be Lamar Alexander (R). I like the guy.

Nothing new here. The real question is whether Mark Warner (D) or Tom Udall (D) will set the mark for biggest margin of victory in an open seat race.

West Virginia
Forgot Jay Rockefeller (D) was up for reelection? Me too.

Mike Enzi is safe.

John Barrasso is safe, too.

Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Virginia are pretty close to sure things. North Carolina is very close. Our prospects look a little worse, but still decent, in Georgia, Minnesota, and Oregon. Also winnable, but pretty unlikely are Kentucky, Maine, and Mississippi.

Friday, July 18, 2008

In Defense of Legislative Intent, Sometimes

I was just talking to an unnamed source about Scalia's A Matter of Interpretation, especially Scalia's distaste for the reliance upon legislative intent in court opinions, and I took issue with Scalia's position, although perhaps I was just trying to make up for my real admiration for the most intellectually gifted of our modern day Four Horsemen.

I'm too lazy to find an actual quote from Scalia on his position, so instead I'll just borrow this from Wikipedia:

"Others, most notably United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, have objected generally to the use of such evidence, rather than reliance on the literal language of the statute, arguing that such evidence of "legislative intent" is often created by proponents of a bill to persuade a court to interpret the statute in a way that they were not able to persuade the legislative body to adopt when passing the bill."

Let me first say that his justification is factually correct. Proponents of bills often attempt to manipulate the congressional record, in hopes of affecting future court interpretations, ala the "floor debate" that Jon Kyl and Lindsay Graham cited in a February 2006 brief to the Court regarding the Detainee Treatment Act. Other times, the legislative history of a given bill may be unclear for completely innocuous reasons. Perhaps most of the real debate took place in cloakrooms. Perhaps one side didn't bother to offer their thoughts on the floor. I would agree with Justice Scalia that in any of these cases, assertions regarding legislative intent should be cast aside. Indeed, Justice Stevens' majority opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld took exactly that course, remarking that, "[t]hose statements appear to have been inserted in the Congressional Record after the Senate debate."

But that is not to say that legislative intent can NEVER be abundantly clear. I remember reading, for a class, pages and pages of the Congressional Record on the debate over the National Security Act of 1947 for which the issues at hand were plainly clear and well defined. In such cases, I see no reason why legislative intent should not be at least ONE of the tools available to the interpreting judge.

I should say, however, that there is one theoretical issue that challenges the legitimacy of legislative intent, a challenge for which I have no really satisfactory answer. That is, whose intent are we talking about here? With 535 voting members of Congress, there is likely to be some variety of intents. Even among majority coalitions, of whom I think we can assume we're talking (the intent of the minority in each case would have been for the bill to NOT become law) about a bit of a mess. And yet, I'm confident that this is such a thing as a "general will" when laws are made, although perhaps I'd like to drop the shroud of mysticism that surrounds Rousseau's version of it. On some basic level, we can find obvious intentions that unite the majority behind a bill. Now perhaps it will be rare that such universal intentions are both distinguishable and of enough detail to be relevant to a court case. But that should not preclude such intent, alongside other considerations from governing the few cases where it is adequate (and adequately discerned) to do so.

Why does this matter? I've already admitted that the number of cases we're talking about is likely quite small. And I'm not even trying to say that intent should be the only important interest, even when it is and interest. But a categorical dismissal of legislative intent would strike at the very heart of republican government, the (supreme) sovereignty of the legislative power. I'm not sure how we can claim to be democrats or republicans if we are willing to accept that a judge can willfully ignore the clear will of the legislature (provided they haven't violated the Constitution, of course).

I'm likely passionate about this particular issue at this particular time because I've been indoctrinated in the rules of interpretation for Chilean law, rules which are traced back to Napoleonic, and eventually Roman ideas. There is a particular concept called the "reference to the legislator" that is relating to this discussion and that I find particularly interesting. I'll add something about it to the end of this post if I have time between dinner and getting drunk.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Forecasting the Democratic Wave

What follows is based on an analysis of national Presidential and House popular vote totals since 1948. I did not look at House seats, but the national vote. I did it while watching the All-Star Game (which was awesome, if you didn't see it).

There is a steady pattern to our congressional elections. A larger than usual caucus of a president's party is swept into office with that president. Two years later, the president's party loses ground, unless the year is 1986, 1990, or 2002 (or even 1978 or 1998, when the president's party suffered only minor setbacks). Pass another two years, and one of two things happens: 1) the president (or a successor of his own party) is reelected, while his party draws down a vote share that exceeds that of the previous midterm, but almost never reaches the heights of the president's first election ; 2) a new president (of a different party) is elected, and their party is riding high relative to their historical performance and the cycle starts again.

So, what does the cycle portend for the likely upcoming Obama administration? Well, a party taking over the White House after large gains in the previous midterm in a familiar occurrence in post-WWII politics. That's what happened in 1960, 1968, and 1976. In those elections, the incoming president's party either did no better than it did in the previous midterm (1968) or actually did considerably worse (1960, 1976). Now that's fine, since our majority is decently large enough to survive a hit in the 2010 midterms and maybe even through the 2014 midterms as well.

At the same time, big change comes from big majorities. Our majority is not big by historical standards. Perhaps there is a way to break out of the cycle that so many post-WWII administrations have followed. The Reagan administration did just that. Their electoral high-point was actually the 1986 midterm, when House Republicans only lost by 2.5%. No other post-WWII administration has done so well so late in their cycle. Assuming Obama wins this election and the next one, it will be incumbent on Democrats to figure out what Reagan figured out in the 1980s. If we don't, we're likely looking at a short-lived majority. If we do, we're looking at a real seismic shift in politics long past the end of his administration. In Reagan's case, that impact was that he got his party within striking distance for Newt Gingrich to eventually lead them to the promised land for the first time in forever, an eventuality that would have seemed impossible in the 1970s (the years leading up to Reagan).

Here's another way to look at Reagan's impact on his own party.

Democrats fell from a 5.8% win in Truman's first election to a virtual tie in his last midterm
Republicans fell from a .1% win in Eisenhower's first election to an 11.9% loss in his last midterm
Democrats fell from +9.5% to +2.5% under Kennedy/Johnson
Republicans fell from -1.8% to -16.6% under Nixon/Ford
Democrats fell from +10.8% to +8.7% under Carter
Republicans rose from -2.7% to -2.5% under Reagan
Republicans rose from -7.9% to -7.2% under Bush
Democrats fell from +5.1% to -0.9% under Clinton
Republicans fell from +0.3% to -7.9% under Bush

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is There a "Defining Social Issue"?

I'd like to respond to Devin's comment that gay rights and not abortion is the defining social issue of the day. First, I should say that Devin and I have talked about this at some length and so some of what I write here will likely be unconsciously stolen from something he said.

I wonder if it's really at all possible to pick a "defining" social issue. Certainly, the typical combo is abortion and gay marriage. But guns, affirmative action, school prayer (and the fight over the secularization of society in general), immigration (and nativism) have each in recent years played the sort of role that a social issue does. Perhaps we're off on the wrong foot when we try to pin down one "defining" issue, by which I believe we mean an issue that seems to determine one's general social attitudes. While it might be interesting and even useful to track individual issues and their salience over time, it's not clear to me that Americans branch "social issues" into separate fights with specific contexts. On the other hand, I get the impression that social attitudes tend to all run together. "Social conservatives" would be those who for whatever reason feel that something fundamental and worth hanging on to in American culture is being annihilated by feminism, gays, civil rights, abortion, secularism, or something. "Social liberals" find these views, and the outrage that accompanies them, to be totally incomprehensible. "Social moderates" maybe sympathize with both camps, and simply don't get all worked up about the fights we're talking about.

That's not a new postulation. Since the 1960s ended (around 1974), we've been told that every election was a referendum on the 60s. Even Obama has been known to use this rhetoric, arguing that most of us are really social moderates, while our conversation on social issues has lately been driven by old 1960s activists for either side.

Which is not to say that such a formulation is correct. And even if it is, that does not eliminate the possibility of a "defining social issue". However we mark off the camps, it's possible that we'll find one issue on which the two sides are perfected divided. Devin made the point to me that abortion is certainly not that issue, given the large number of prominent pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans (even among party elites and activists). But if abortion is not the issue, I'm not yet convinced that any issue is.

Besides, finding a "defining social issue" doesn't help us to interpret this poll. We have no idea what each respondent thought was meant by social conservative, moderate, and liberal (nor do we really have any clue on the economic issues).

Perhaps, then, what this poll does isn't to break voters into ideological groups based on actual positions, but to break voters into groups based on their comfort with certain labels. Knowing that a voters considers them self a social liberal rather than a moderate does tell us something about them. But it doesn't tell us the same thing that we would get from asking about individual social issues and concrete positions for them.

Anyway, this kind of stuff just screams for the Pew Survey or something.

More Ratings Moves

Just catching up on House race rankings. Check the margin for new averages.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Reverse-Engineering Rasmussen's Ideological Breakdown of the Electorate

Today, Rasmussen put up this awesome ideological breakdown of the electorate, based on 15,000 likely voter interviews conducted throughout June. This is the kind of thing that really makes me wish Rasmussen would allow you to buy access to cross-tabs for individual polls, rather than have to pay $20 a month to subscribe. Not wanting to shell out $20, I've instead decided to reverse-engineer the numbers they've publicized to try to come up with the cross-tabs myself. As a caveat, I should say that the published numbers are rounded and therefore my numbers will not be exact.

Here's what I've found, remember these are, at best, estimates of the actual numbers.

On Fiscal issues, voters breakdown asi:

Conservative 38.5%
Moderate 45.5%
Liberal 11%
Not Sure/Other 5%

On Social issues, asi:

Conservative 35.8%
Moderate 32.7%
Liberal 29.6%

But the real genius of this effort by Rasmussen is that they pair ideological positions in each category to more closely show the ideological contours of the electorate. For example, they tell us (aka, not my estimates) that 24% of the electorate is both fiscally and socially conservative.

Here's that breakdown:

Fiscal and Social Conservatives (24%)
Fiscal and Social Moderates (20%)
Fiscal Moderates and Social Liberals (15%)
Fiscal Conservatives and Social Moderates (10%)
Fiscal Moderates and Social Conservatives (10%)
Fiscal and Social Liberals (9%)
Fiscal Conservatives and Social Liberals (4%)

Here's another way to look at it (also based on published data). Of social conservatives (35.8% of voters), 67% are also fiscally conservative, while 28% are fiscally moderate. Among social moderates (32.7% of voters), 62% are also fiscally moderate, while 30% are fiscally conservative -considering myself a social moderate (uncomfortable with abortion) and a fiscal liberal, I'm apparently in a tiny, largely non-existent group. Of social liberals (29.6% of voters), 51% are fiscal moderates, while 30% are fiscal liberals and about 13% are fiscal conservatives.

From yet another angle we see that fiscal conservatives (38.5%) are 62% social conservatives and 26% social moderates. Fiscal moderates (45.5%) are 43% social moderates, 33% social liberals, and 22% social conservatives. Fiscal liberals are 79% socially liberal.

How do all of these categories translate into votes?

Fiscal and Social Liberals (9%) support Obama 91% to 6%.
Fiscal Moderates and Social Liberals (15%) support Obama 80% to 13%.
Fiscal and Social Moderates (20%) support Obama 59% to 30%.
Fiscal Conservatives and Social Liberals (4%) support Obama 53% to 38%.

On the other hand,

Fiscal and Social Conservatives (24%) support McCain 82% to 13%.
Fiscal Conservatives and Social Moderates (10%) support McCain 67% to 25%.
Fiscal Moderates and Social Conservatives (10%) support McCain 51% to 40%.

Or, as Rasmussen says,

"Looked at from a different perspective, 25% of Obama’s support comes from voters who are fiscally moderate and socially liberal. Twenty-four percent (24%) are both fiscally and socially moderate while 17% are fiscally and socially liberal. No other group provides more than 8% of Obama’s support.

Forty-five percent (45%) of McCain supporters are both fiscally and socially conservative, 15% are fiscally conservative and socially moderate, 14% are both fiscally and socially moderate, and 12% are fiscally moderate and socially conservative."

Maybe I'll post on what I think all of this means after I mull it over a bit.

Rothenberg Follows Cook with New Ratings

Positive developments in OR-5, OH-18, NY-13, MO-9, PA-3, VA-2.
Negative development in PA-18.

Only OR-5 moves in my averages.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

From Whence Cometh the Obama-jority

Barack Obama is obviously polling better than the performance of Al Gore and John Kerry in 2000 and 2004, respectively. With leads in places like Indiana, Colorado, and Virginia, there is some talk of a dramatic shake up of the electoral map (why I don't care about the map, here). Regardless, all of the map talk tends to ignore other signs of change around the country, since a state only appears to have "changed" if it moves from Red to Blue, or the other way around. Below, I have created a chart (with polling-data-informed projections taken from, methodology here) showing the change in each state between today and the result in each of 2004 and 2000. The numbers shown are the change in the margin of victory (or defeat) for the Democratic candidate. A positive number shows a shift in our direction, and is therefore colored blue. A (red) negative number means just the opposite. Among the blue numbers, the bold ones indicate that the state has shifted to the left more than has the country as a whole in the given time period. Italics indicate that the state has shifted to the left, but less so than the country as a whole.

Please, peruse the chart. My comments are below.

2008-2004 2008-2000
AL 5.92% -4.82%
AK 18.75% 24.15%
AZ -0.13% -4.32%
AR -1.54% -5.86%
CA 8.75% 6.90%
CO 7.77% 11.46%
CT 5.83% -1.27%
DE 3.71% -1.76%
DC -14.04% -10.40%
FL 1.31% -3.69%
GA 7.70% 2.79%
HI 4.26% -5.33%
ID 17.12% 18.53%
IL 7.36% 5.69%
IN 21.28% 16.23%
IA 7.27% 6.29%
KS 14.58% 10.00%
KY 2.76% -1.97%
LA 2.01% -4.82%
ME 3.70% 7.59%
MD 1.72% -1.69%
MA -9.36% -11.50%
MI 1.68% -0.03%
MN 8.12% 9.20%
MS 9.19% 6.41%
MO 2.90% -0.96%
MT 10.90% 15.47%
NE 17.32% 13.09%
NV 0.79% 1.75%
NH 5.93% 8.57%
NJ 5.92% -3.23%
NM 3.49% 2.64%
NY -0.69% -7.38%
NC 8.03% 8.43%
ND 20.86% 21.10%
OH 6.51% 7.91%
OK 10.74% 1.48%
OR 1.74% 5.46%
PA 3.60% 1.93%
RI -2.15% -10.48%
SC 7.48% 6.33%
SD 13.67% 14.93%
TN -1.73% -12.14%
TX 15.36% 13.82%
UT 20.64% 15.59%
VT 0.96% 11.16%
VA 8.30% 8.14%
WA 6.62% 8.22%
WV 2.96% -3.58%
WI 8.72% 8.88%
WY 18.29% 18.56%
Total 5.96% 2.98%

1) Obvious Anticipated Changes - There are certain states where shifts are to be expected. Obama should do worse in MA and TN compared to 2004 and 2000 because he is not from those states, as Kerry and Gore were. Indeed, he's polling about 10% worse than Kerry in MA and 12% worse than Gore in TN. To note on MA, though, he's actually further behind Gore than he is Kerry, suggesting that something else is afoot. On the other hand, Illinois should show stronger improvement than the rest of the country, and indeed it does. The home state thing applies to the Republican's state, too, and we see Obama making huge gains over Kerry-Gore in Texas and showing losses in Arizona. We might also expect to see a resurgence in NJ and NY as they start to recover from the "9/11 effect". In NJ, we do see marked improvement over 2004, but it's only about the same as the national shift. In NY, the change is actually some small back-sliding. And in each state Obama does far worse than Al Gore, suggesting that the "9/11 effect" is not yet gone.

2) Large Gains in Deep Red Territory - 12 states show 10%+ positive shifts since 2004. These are Indiana (21.28%), North Dakota (20.86%), Utah (20.64%), Alaska (18.75%), Wyoming (18.29%), Nebraska (17.32%), Idaho (17.12%), Texas (15.36%), Kansas (14.58%), South Dakota (13.67%), Montana (10.90%), and Oklahoma (10.74%). All but Indiana are west of the Mississippi. All but Indiana are projected to state Red by a healthy margin. But just imagine how much easier (or I should say less hard) it will be to run as a Democrat in any of those states because of these earthquakes at the presidential level.

3) Gains in the Midwest and Deep South - While not as dramatic as the gains in the West, Obama is gaining over John Kerry in the Midwest and the Deep South. Where is he not gaining so impressively? 1) The Northeast, 2) The Border States, 3) The long-competitive parts of the West, 4) Michigan, and 5) Florida. You can see these patterns on the map below. Blue states showed gains of at least twice the national average. Red states showed smaller gains. Yellow states showed back-sliding from 2004 or gains of less than the national average.


For good measure, here's the map for the 2000 to 2008 changes. Same deal as above, except that blue means 10%+ improvements, while reds are improvements of the single-digit variety (though above the national average). As you can see, the maps are strikingly similar, with the exception of the marked improvements in the upper northeast, which took until 2004 to finish realigning, maybe because they hadn't had a northern Democrat to vote for since 1988.


If large gains by Obama can translate to down-ticket success, we could be in the midst of a new realignment. The "huge swing" states from the 2004-2008 map are currently governed by 8 Republicans and 2 Democrats. They have 15 Republican Senators to only 5 Democratic ones, and have 34 Republicans and 23 Democrats in the House. Only 1 of the 18 partisan legislative chambers (exempting Nebraska) is controlled by Democrats (Indiana House, 51-49). The other states that are swinging above the national average are also ripe for takeovers. We're already doing pretty well at the state level, with a 10-5 lead in governorships and 19-10 edge in legislative chambers (the Oklahoma Senate is split). But their congressional delegations show more room for improvement. Their Senators are closely split, with 16 Democrats to 14 Republicans. At just 96-84, our lead among their Representatives is not overwhelming, either, considering that California nets us 15 seats by itself. For comparison's sake, in the yellow states, where Obama does not appear to be growing the party, we already hold 30 of 50 Senate seats, 117 of 198 House seats, 16 of 25 governorships, and 37 of 50 legislative chambers (Tennessee Senate is tied). In other words, there isn't much room for the party to grow, so no growth isn't necessarily a bad sign, especially since there aren't any signs of significant decline (from 2004) outside of Massachusetts.

The point is this: a 6-point shift in our direction matters beyond just moving 65 new electoral votes into our column (CO, IN, IA, NM, OH, VA). Yes, electoral votes matter. Of course they do. But if it looks likely that Obama will have plenty of cushion above 270, as it does, then it doesn't much matter which camp Virginia or Indiana, or Missouri, or any other single state ends up in. More important is that Obama is ratcheting up his numbers most in the places where we most need it. It is significant that Obama's gains are reflected in closer losses in deep red states like Indiana, Georgia, and Kansas, (where we have a lot to gain) rather than huge wins in deep blue states like New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland (where we have virtually nothing to gain). It's the difference between a 60-seat Senate majority scraped out in nail-biters in Idaho and Kentucky, for instance, and a lot of wasted votes in blowout wins in New Jersey and Arkansas.