Archive for the ‘electoral behavior’ Category

There’s been some debate about whether independent conservatarian candidate Aaron Day (former chairman of the Free State Project Board of Directors) cost Republican Kelly Ayotte her U.S. Senate seat at this past election. Skeptics point to the fact that Day and Libertarian Brian Chabot between them about equaled Gary Johnson’s vote percentage in the presidential race (Johnson-Weld got 4.2% in New Hampshire, Chabot and Day between them about 4.1%). They say Day merely siphoned off Libertarian voters from Chabot, not Republican voters from Ayotte.

They’re probably wrong. Here’s why.

First, let’s note that Clinton and Trump were the two least popular major-party presidential candidates in the history of polling. In particular, Trump was (and is) by far the least popular presidential candidate (and now, president-elect) that we’ve ever seen. Under those conditions, you expect an outsized third-party vote share in the presidential race. By contrast, Maggie Hassan and Kelly Ayotte, the two U.S. Senate candidates, were reasonably popular – and about equally so. So we should expect a small third-party vote share in the U.S. Senate race. The fact that the third-party vote share in the Senate race equalled that in the presidential race therefore suggests something else is going on – perhaps a particularly strong independent candidacy. Libertarian Chabot got 1.7% of the vote, while independent Day got 2.4% of the vote – so if one of them was the particularly strong candidate, it was Day.

To try to see whether Day was siphoning off Republican or Libertarian votes, I looked at town-by-town results for all 239 New Hampshire jurisdictions with voters in this race. I then looked at how the number of Libertarian and Republican presidential votes by town correlated with Day’s support. The results are in the figure below.

Aaron Day Vote Sources

The coefficient estimate on percentage of the vote for Trump-Pence in a town is 0.05 and is highly statistically significant, as you can see by the tiny confidence interval on the estimate. This estimate means that for every 20 additional Trump-Pence voters in a town, one additional voter cast a vote for Day in the Senate race.

The coefficient estimate on percentage of the vote for Johnson-Weld in a town is 0.08 but not statistically significant. This estimate implies that for every 12 additional Johnson-Weld voters in a town, one additional voter cast a vote for day in the Senate race — but again, we can’t be sure this is really any different from zero.

Day’s vote share was a little more than one-twentieth of the Trump-Pence ticket’s in New Hampshire. In other words, we can be reasonably confident that almost all of Day’s electoral support came from Republicans, not Libertarians.

To verify that Day specifically was the spoiler, not Brian Chabot, we can do the same exercise for Brian Chabot’s vote shares by town. The figure below shows those results.

Brian Chabot Vote Sources

Look at the difference! Chabot pulled overwhelmingly from Johnson-Weld voters. For every four additional Johnson-Weld voters in a town, Chabot got an additional one vote. Meanwhile, Chabot did siphon a few Republicans. For every 80 additional Trump-Pence votes in a town, Chabot got about one vote. Still, these results suggest that over half of Chabot’s support came from Libertarians, not Republicans.

Now, Kelly Ayotte lost by 1,000 votes, just over 0.1 percentage points. My estimates suggest that without Aaron Day in the race, Kelly Ayotte would have won her race by about 15,000 votes, similar to Republican Chris Sununu’s margin of victory in the governor’s race.

Is it possible that without Aaron Day in the race, those 16,000 or so disaffected Republicans would still have voted for some other third-party candidate or a write-in, or just that race blank? Sure, it’s possible. We can’t rule out that possibility because we can’t do an experiment in which we randomly assign some towns’ ballots to have Aaron Day on them and some not to have him on them. But at minimum these results strongly suggest that Kelly Ayotte disaffected a decisive share of Republican voters who went for Trump and Sununu but not for her.

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Since the Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish National Party has seen its membership treble and its poll ratings climb. This boost to pro-independence forces after their referendum failure departs from the script established in previous referendums on autonomy or independence. After the failed 1979 referendum on devolution (due to a turnout requirement – the measure got a majority of votes), the SNP fell back in the polls. After the successful 1997 referendum, the SNP gained in the polls, even though devolution was a Labour-implemented project. After the 1980 and 1995 failed referenda, the Parti Quebecois declined a bit in the polls.

So what’s going on? The biggest reason for the SNP’s gains may be that “Yes” and even some “No” voters in the referendum want to make sure that the Westminster parties follow through on their pledges for even greater devolution. Alex Salmond once said, “It’s only SNP votes that concentrate the minds of Labour.”

To a point, the logic makes sense. The British parties are contesting for power at the center, and party leaders are unlikely to devolve power away from themselves if they can at all help it. A credible secession threat is useful for eliciting concessions.

At the same time, though, there has to be some (more…)

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In Canada, provincial parties are totally organizationally independent of federal parties and may not even have the same names. Thus, the British Columbia Liberal Party has generally been right-of-center, and British Columbia Liberals tend to vote Conservative at the federal level. Quebec Liberals have generally been more Quebec-nationalist/decentralist than the federal Liberals. Most provinces have parties named “Progressive Conservative,” even though there is no longer any federal Progressive Conservative Party. And so on.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way in the U.S. State (and even local) elections feature Republican and Democratic candidates, except in Nebraska, where state legislative elections are nonpartisan. As a result, state election results are driven by national trends. Surprisingly, political scientists had not formalized this insight until recently. Here is a paper from Steven Rogers:

State legislative elections are not referendums on state legislators’ own performance but are instead dominated by national politics. Presidential evaluations and the national economy matter much more for state legislators’ elections than state-level economic conditions,  state policy outcomes, or voters’ assessments of the legislature. Previous analyses of  state legislative elections fail to consider which party controls the state legislature and whether voters know this information. When accounting for these factors, I discover that even when the legislature performs well, misinformed voters mistakenly reward the minority party. Thus, while state legislatures wield considerable policy-making power, elections are ineffective in holding state legislative parties accountable for their own performance and lawmaking.

Tyler Cowen calls this “the problem with federalism.” But it isn’t a problem with federalism as such. It’s a problem with U.S. federalism. In Canada, you can’t send a message to the federal government by voting against the incumbent federal party at the provincial level. (In fact, provincial elections are not held on the same days as federal elections.) Changing the perverse accountability dynamic of U.S. state legislatures may require something as simple as changing the names of state parties.

State parties may even have an incentive to do this. For instance, the Republican Party in New Hampshire could change its name to something like “New Hampshire Conservative Party” or “New Hampshire Party.” By doing so, it could help to insulate itself from the partisan swings at the national level that are beyond its control.

In the last election, New Hampshire Republicans lost majorities in the state house and the executive council. The reason for this was the (more…)

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Media are reporting the results of the Puerto Rico status referendum as if the statehood option had won. Now, it may indeed be the case that the resident commissioner will present legislation of accession to the Union in the House of Representatives, but only an oddly structured ballot devised by the pro-statehood party allowed the referendum to “succeed.” In fact, a majority of Puerto Ricans voted against statehood.

The ballot asked two questions. The first question asked voters, “Do you agree to maintain current territorial political status?” The “no” option received 54% of the vote, 934,238 votes of 1,730,245 valid votes. The second question asked voters to choose among three status options: statehood, associated free state, and independence. Statehood received 61.15% of the valid votes, 802,179 votes in all.

But note two things. First, many voters who opposed statehood in favor of, say, independence would have voted “no” on the first question. Second, 25% of the ballots on the second question were left blank, apparently out of protest at a question the pro-status quo party regarded as unfair. If you add blank ballots to the total on the second question, the statehood option received less than 45% of the vote.

This is a good example of how political leadership tries to use a cyclical majority to secure its favored alternative.

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After the 2008 primary season, I analyzed Ron Paul’s performance in each state to see how institutional factors such as caucus and primary form affected his electoral success. This exercise turned out to be useful for estimating the size of the pro-liberty electorate in each state. In this post, I do the same with the 2012 results.

The dependent variable in this analysis is the percentage of the vote obtained in each state’s statewide primary or caucus. If a state held both a primary and a caucus or convention, I used the primary results. The independent variables are as follows. (All variables were taken from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.)

First, I use a dummy variable for whether the state had a caucus or convention versus a primary. As an outsider candidate with a committed band of activist supporters, Paul tended to do much better in caucuses than primaries.

Next, I also included dummy variables for who is eligible to vote: a dummy for an open caucus/primary, in which all voters are allowed to vote, and a dummy for a closed caucus/primary, in which only registered Republicans are allowed to vote. The excluded category consists of “modified-open” elections, in which independents and Republicans are allowed to vote. Since Paul was more popular among self-identified independents than among self-identified Republicans, it stands to reason that he would do best in open primaries and worst in closed primaries.

I also tried variables for the number of other candidates running active races and appearing on the ballot. In this regard, I counted only “significant” candidates that might have had a chance of winning, that is, the following six (other than Paul): Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann. Bachmann dropped out of the race after Iowa and Perry and Huntsman after New Hampshire. Thereafter, Santorum withdrew only after the April 10 primaries and Gingrich held on until May 2. However, in many states – almost entirely primary states – candidates that had withdrawn remained on the ballot and often received significant support. We should expect both of these variables to have a negative influence on Paul’s vote share (for instance, in Virginia, where only Romney and Paul were on the ballot, Paul benefited from tactical voting by supporters of other candidates and received 40%), but in fact the number of candidates in the race had a statistically significant, positive association with Paul’s support (candidates on the ballot has the expected negative association, as shown below). This result is theoretically implausible and apparently simply captures Paul’s otherwise unexplained success in Iowa and New Hampshire. Therefore, in the estimations reported here, I have included solely the variable for number of non-Paul candidates on the ballot.

Next, I included a three-point variable for the extent to which Mitt Romney had clinched the Republican nomination when the primary in question was held. After February 28, it became very unlikely that Romney would lose, as Nate Silver noted here. After April 3, it became a near mathematical certainty that Romney would win. Therefore, the “clinching” variable takes on values of 0.5 for contests held after February 28 through April 3 and values of 1.0 for contests held after April 3.

Finally, I include a variable intended to capture home-state effects for active candidates. It is coded zero for all states except Massachusetts, Georgia, and Texas. For the former two, home states of Romney and Gingrich, respectively, it is coded -1, and for the last, Paul’s home state, it is coded 1. (Santorum dropped out of the race before the Pennsylvania vote, for which reason it is coded zero.)

The dependent variable is rather skewed, as the following histogram shows:

As a result, statistical analysis with this variable revealed the presence of heteroskedasticity, which violates the assumptions necessary for Ordinary Least Squares regression. Therefore, I transformed the variable using the natural log, which gave it a roughly normal distribution and eliminated heteroskedasticity in the regression analysis:

The results of the regression analysis are reported below the fold:

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One keeps hearing that the euro crisis could doom Obama’s chances for reelection. (Because, after all, that’s the reason we should be concerned about the economy: its effects on politics.) I’m not so sure. Voters are hardly well informed, but if the Eurozone goes into deep recession and the U.S. into a mild one, won’t voters discount economic performance a great deal by looking at the cross-national difference? U.S. GDP growth of about 2% (annualized) right now is mediocre, but compared to Eurozone growth of about zero, it looks pretty good. Powell and Whitten (1993) and Whitten and Palmer (1999) find just this in their cross-national analyses of economic voting: the models do better when you assume that voters deduct OECD growth from national growth when assessing incumbents. No one in the U.S. presidential forecasting game seems to talk about these papers.

So here’s the bleg: Has anyone actually tried doing standard-issue presidential forecasting models with a cross-national growth adjustment? If so, what are the results? I’d find it hard to believe that U.S. voters are all that different from European voters in this respect. If no one’s looked at this, it seems to me that we need to put a firm thumb on the scale in favor of Obama when assessing the forecasts being released now.

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