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What it all means, or doesn't.

Your Humble Blogger doesn’t have much to say about yesterday’s election. It was what it was: my Party had an unsustainably large majority in the Senate, and were bound to lose some of it, and held a bunch of House seats that were on the edge anyway. I mean, it’s a Bad Thing, for the country, because I think that my Party (disappointed as we often are with ourselves) has much better policy ideas than the Other Party, but it is always a Good Thing when we have elections and people who are voted out of office leave office to be replaced by people who were voted into office. Democracy. It works that way.

I am trying to avoid reading too much about what happened, and am particularly trying to avoid hearing or reading any analysis about why and how and whatnot. I am curious about a few numbers, but too lazy to find them out, so if any Gentle Reader has any of these, please let me know.

  • Defectors: What percentage of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 voted for a Republican for the House in 2010? My guess is that it is very, very few. 5% maybe? A lot less?
  • They’ll pass: Of the people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and did not vote in 2010 (many, many people), how many did vote in 2006?
  • The Swing: Given those numbers, what percentage of the country as a whole can be said to have abandoned their previous support for my Party?

If it isn’t obvious, I am very skeptical of the idea that my Party alienated people by overreaching or passing unpopular policies or even by failing to pass popular policies. I think my Party set themselves up for this wave election by (a) winning two consecutive wave elections, thereby giving themselves a lot of seats to lose, and (2) being the in party when the economy is really bad. Furthermore, we set ourselves up to lose midterm elections in bad economies very badly because our constituency doesn’t vote as consistently as the Other Party’s constituency. There are more of us, but more of us pass on the midterms.

I would like to say, though, that of course I am skeptical of the idea that the country realio trulio rejected my Party. It’s my Party. I recognize that my skepticism is born of desire and belief, not empirical analysis. That’s why I would like to know the numbers.

Of course, we won’t really know those numbers. The exit polls are just polls, for one thing, samples rather than full info, and for another, people are not unlikely to lie or even just misremember who they voted for two years ago. And they people doing exit polls don’t get to ask the people who didn’t vote yesterday whether they voted in 2006, even if they would report it correctly, because the people who didn’t vote yesterday weren’t there to ask. You could look at demographics, and locations, and likelihoods, and that sort of thing, to get an impression. It wouldn’t be terribly accurate, but it would be better than what I got now.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I don't know the answers to your questions. I want to know how we can get the rest of the country to do what Democrats in Durham managed to do yesterday, and get out the vote. (I mean, look at these numbers. )

Some of that's demographics. This is an extremely diverse city with a strong civil rights history. But surely that's not all of it!

How can we make that happen in more places two years from now?

I think there's data that addresses the "defectors" question in CNN's exit poll data. Their data, if I am interpreting it correctly, indicates that of those who voted in House races, nationally, 84% of those who voted for Obama voted for the Democrat, 13% voted for the Republican and 3% didn't answer or said "other." That's significantly higher than the 5% you hypothesize. By contrast, only 7% of McCain voters supported the Dem in their House race. The table I am reading can be found at http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2010/results/polls/#val=USH00p2 .

There's also this nugget, which was front-paged on Kos:

31 percent of voters wanted the new health care law expanded, yet 14 percent of them voted Republican. 30% want the law kept he same as it is now, and 30% of them voted Republican.

So I think there were a meaningful number of people out there who usually vote Democratic and who support the professed policies of the Democratic party but who voted against them anyway--in protest, in anger, in despair?

The CNN polls have other interesting data, but nothing that would answer your questions. The 4% of people who voted in 2010 but didn't vote in 2008 broke 60-35 for the Republicans, btw.

Rachel Maddow had an interesting graph of mid-term elections since probably 1930, showing that with maybe one exception way back when, *every* mid-term election ends up going against the party of the incumbent president. Both the House and the Senate. The president's party *always* loses seats in Congress at the mid-term. The House losses this time are a little bigger than average but not bizarrely large, historically; the Senate losses are exactly the same magnitude as what Bush got hit with during his 2nd term.

So: interesting, but back to business as usual...

may have to go state by state. on-the-ground economics vary.

ah the bureau of labor statistics: http://www.bls.gov/lau/maps/twmcort.pdf

A partial survey of Senate exit polls suggests that there isn't large variation in the percentage of Obama voters who voted against the Democratic candidate for senator.

CA (59% of electorate voted for Obama) -- 82% Boxer, 11% Fiorina, 7% other/no answer
CT (56% of electorate voted for Obama) -- 85% Blumenthal, 14% McMahon, 1% other/no answer
WI (49% of electorate voted for Obama) -- 84% Feingold, 15% Johnson

The main difference between the states with respect to the Democratic vote was the percentage of Obama supporters in the electorate. On the Republican side, the percentage of McCain voters who supported the Democratic candidate was twice as high in CT as in WI (16% vs. 7%). McMahon was a crappy candidate! That fact, plus the majority of Dem voters, gave Blumenthal a clear win. Feingold was facing a tougher climate, and Johnson, while odious, was smart enough not to alienate the voters by saying what he really thought.

The Wisconsin exit polls, by the way, provide pretty strong evidence that Feingold lost because people were dissatisfied with the economy, and when they are, they vote against the party in power. But it's really the middle class that has not realized that Republicans aren't their friends. Feingold romped in the under 30K income bracket, but lost even the 30-50K voters, 48-51. Among the voters (50% of electorate) who said that they are "very worried" about economic conditions, they went with Johnson by a 68-31 margin. A certain percentage of those are surely very worried about the economy because a Democrat is President, and they would be very worried about the economy with a Democrat as President even it were growing robustly with low unemployment, but still. The President and the Congress should have done more to improve the economy, and the Democratic Party paid a political price for that failure. Of course, the Republicans should also have paid a political price, since they sabotaged action to help the economy at every turn, but that's the beauty of the two-party system . . .

I'll just note that there's a front-page diary on DailyKos that is designed to answer our Gracious Host's first question. And it has neat bar graphs. And its analysis is based on CNN exit poll data. And it promises an answer to the second question later today. I am irrationally pleased that this discussion is on pace with kos.


Wish I could remember how to format a link in html . . . then I'd look like I knew what I was doing!

Thanks, Chris—Jed's (and MT's) set-up made the link work for us. The question there isn't quite exactly the question I had, though. My question is what percentage of everybody who voted for Obama in 2008 voted for a Republican this time around; the numbers there are the percentages of that subset of people who voted this time around. Still, it gives me an idea, but I would have to do some arithmetic and look up some numbers to get the number I am looking for.

OK, fine: There were something close to 69,456,897 people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008. I don't see national turnout numbers available yet (my state hasn't even finished counting the ballots yet), but if, say, 90 million people voted, then something like 40 million were (according to that exit poll) Obama voters, of whom something like six million and change voted for House Republicans (according to that other part of the exit poll), so something like 8.6% of 2008 Obama voters cast a ballot for a House Republican in 2010. Only that number is wrong—I'm totally making up the ninety million. It the total turnout is smaller, that percentage would be smaller.

But the answer to my first question is almost certainly more than 5%, and probably between 5% and 10%. More than I thought. Possibly much more.

To my second question, I guess we would look at, um, the 29 million people who voted D in 2008 but didn't vote this week. I suspect the exit polls from 2008 will tell us how many of 2008 D voters had not voted in 2006 (hoping Mr. Lewison over at Kos does the work for me), and then we could assume that most of the midterm-non-voters didn't vote again because they are midterm-non-voters. If that number was, oh, 25 million, we would claim that another 4 million, or another 5.8% of 2008 D voters who might have been expected to vote in 2010 (because they have voted in midterms before) stayed home; that would lead to a total drop-off of something like 17%. Except that in addition to working with that phony 90 million number, I've added a phony 25 million number, so that percentage is doubly wrong.


If we really are talking about ten million people—that's 14% of Barack Obama's support gone in two years, which is a lot. But of course it's only 11% of the 90 million I have supposed voted on Tuesday, which isn't all that much. And it's under 5% of the total voting-eligible population of the country, which is frankly negligible.

Which in the end is my point: while the election will and should have policy results, the answer to what happened is that for nineteen people out of twenty, nothing much happened. They voted for the party they voted for last time, or they didn't vote, just like they didn't vote in the last midterm. Only it isn't nineteen people out of twenty necessarily; I don't know how many it actually is.


dp--Nate Silver talks about the state-by-state Enthusiasm Gaps; I'm not sure what the correlation is to unemployment. The top four gap states are NH (5.5% unemployment in September), IN (9.6%), NV (14.4%!!!!) and IA (6.8%); a scattering up and down. CA's Gap wasn't as big as it might have been, and VT's (lowest unemployment of any state with an exit poll) was neutral. I'm not going to do the county-to-county work, which might show more of a correlation. I think you have a point that the conditions are very different, place to place—but then the map you link to shows that the Midwest is hit the least by unemployment, and that's Tea Party Land, ain't it? Hm.


dunno how tea party matches up w/ general anxiety (& self-administered thrift paradox twice a day until homeless or dead). the non-bankster swing vote seems to navigate by very special unique magic stars. can't rule out 'all this spending better not show up in MY tax bill, bub' either. the fed's higher math gets no respect.

(i wish the BLS gave U6 w/ county & metro detail, they don't even have it for state. we are not giving ourselves the best labor market info money can buy!)

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