Tag: 2020 Election

Evaluating Our 2020 Presidential Ratings

With every state now called in the race for the presidency, it’s official: Joe Biden has won the election, becoming the first nominee to successfully unseat an incumbent president in almost 30 years. The Biden ticket featured the first ever woman of color on a major party presidential ticket, picked up states that Democrats haven’t won in decades despite campaigning with a hand tied behind its back, and — this cannot be stated enough — defeated an incumbent president, which had only happened five times since the start of the 20th century. 

As anticlimactic as it has felt, with an electoral aftermath full of fruitless lawsuits, a delayed start to the presidential transition, and an impending runoff in Georgia for two Senate seats that will determine control of the Senate,1Not to mention the fact that the president of the United States is still spreading falsehoods and claiming that the election was stolen from him. Which, while it may not be surprising or effective, slowly but surely chips away at democracy and the rule of law in the United States. it at least feels as over as it can be. We know who won and who lost, and we can start to unpack why. So now, after several weeks of votes being counted, data coming in, and several good nights of sleep, it’s time to lay 2020’s presidential election to rest with a retrospective on our 2020 presidential ratings.

The Topline

Let’s start with an overall picture of our ratings. Every single state and district race which we claimed at least “leaned” towards one candidate over the other went to that candidate. There was no state we called incorrectly, though of the five races we believed just leaned one way (Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin for Biden; Texas for Trump), we’d have expected one to run counter to our rating as “lean” implies around that there’s a 15-40% chance of the other candidate winning. However, because some of these states are correlated (i.e. if Biden wins Wisconsin, it’d be pretty difficult to have not won Pennsylvania as well, due to similar demographics and voting patterns), this is still a pretty good reflection of how the race stood.

We rated seven races as toss-ups. Trump won five (Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Maine’s Second Congressional District, and Ohio. And Biden won two (Arizona and Georgia). We probably should have stuck to our initial analysis and ratings for Iowa and Ohio, both of which we initially listed as “Lean Trump” and ultimately went for Trump by 8% this cycle, but we feel strongly that we made the right call on moving Georgia to “toss-up” (which Biden won by about a quarter of a percent of the vote). 

If we averaged all of our ratings across all states, we estimated that Biden would walk away with — on average — about 323 electoral votes. It looks as though, barring any faithless electors, he will win 306. So we overestimated Biden by 17 electoral votes (or about one Georgia’s worth). Had we rated Texas as “Likely Trump” and kept Ohio and Iowa (more on them later) as “Lean Trump” as opposed to toss-ups, we would have been almost exactly on the money. Our ratings were also far more conservative than FiveThirtyEight’s (they projected Biden getting an average of 348 electoral votes) or The Economist’s (projecting 356 electoral votes on average for Biden), so we feel pretty good about our ratings, whiched hewed closer to the actual result.

Michigan, as Compared to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania

In mid-October we made an unusual call and changed our rating for Michigan (which was “Lean Biden”) to “Likely Biden”, while maintaining Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as “Lean Biden” races. In 2016, Trump famously won all three, thus breaking the Democrats’ “Blue Wall.” The truth is, Michigan’s polls and data indicated that the race there was much less competitive than most predicted; as they hedged on whether Trump could make an electoral comeback in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, they were inclined to give Michigan some doubt too. However, Biden ended up winning Michigan by around 3%, while only carrying Pennsylvania by just over 1%, and Wisconsin by just under 1%, which is not negligible. The fundamentals in Michigan are simply stronger for Democrats, and we correctly thought that Trump winning Michigan again was far less likely than him eeking out victories in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin.

Iowa and Ohio

If there are two places I wish we would have stuck to our guns and defied the polling data, it would have been Iowa and Ohio. We originally believed both of these states were “Lean Trump”, which may even have been a smidge too conservative. In 2016, Trump won Ohio by over 8% and Iowa by over 9%. Texas was actually a closer state in 2016 than Iowa was, and that held true this cycle. Despite Obama winning both states twice, there has clearly been a swing, and even the more down-to-earth, Rust Belt-rooted Biden (in an election where he won overall by a pretty large margin) did inconsequentially better than the more lofty Clinton in 2016, but still couldn’t close out either state. These states will probably be more competitive in 2024 thanks to an incumbency benefit, but it’s pretty hard to deny that, despite a lot of effort, they’re simply pretty Republican-leaning states at this point — akin to Florida.

Arizona and Georgia

Joe Biden is the first Democrat to win either of these two states since Bill Clinton, and they’re definitely indicative of the Democratic Party’s strengths going into 2024 and on. Arizona is following the trajectory of similar states in its region like (in order of “quickest to manifest as a Democratic stronghold”) California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada — while Georgia, a diverse state with a major metropolitan area, isa testament to how intense campaigning and hard work can produce stunning results, even if Democrats may not see similar success in the near future.

A lot has been made over what Democrats should be worried about in the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election, as they lost House seats and may be on track to lose the chamber in the next cycle. But Arizona should keep Republicans up at night. The state that produced conservative icons (and one-time Republican presidential nominees) Barry Goldwater and John McCain has now borne compelling gains by the Democratic Party. Both of its Senate seats flipped to Democrats in the last two years,2Giving Martha McSally — who ran for retiring Arizona Senator Jeff Flake’s seat in 2018 and lost to Kyrsten Sinema, then was controversially appointed a month later to the deceased former Senator John McCain’s seat in December of 2018 and ran in and then lost the special election this cycle — the embarrassing distinction of costing the GOP two Senate seats in one state in a less than two years. and it is now a clear swing state.

Georgia, which is considerably less likely to consistently remain in Democratic hands, is not something I’d dwell on if I were a Republican strategist (Biden’s win here feels akin to Obama’s in North Carolina and Indiana in 2008). However, it is a race that is key for messaging for Democrats this cycle, as it enables a Democratic president-elect to convincingly make the case for moderation and claim a referendum and rebuke on an unpopular incumbent president (despite the fact that Biden also lost several states Obama had won twice such as Florida, Iowa, and Ohio). You could call it the “most valuable state” this cycle in terms of messaging, even though you shouldn’t expect Democrats to hold the state often in the future.

And Because You Know We Had To…

As we wind down election 2020 and this tumultuous year, let’s look back to where it started. In January, recognizing that the fight for the presidency and the Democratic primary was getting plenty of coverage, we sought a niche focus on the vice presidency. We unveiled our Vice Presidential Tracker in January, just before the Iowa caucuses, and spent a lot of time focusing on the vice presidency in historical context and what it might mean for aspiring Democratic nominees as we wound through the primaries, a global pandemic, national unrest, and the general election campaign. True to our model and what we’d been writing about all year, Joe Biden chose California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, who will now go on to be the first vice president of color and the first woman ever elected to this country’s executive branch. 

In our final episode of our Running Mates series, recorded before the election about the race for the vice presidency between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, we talked about what we thought this meant, and what might happen with a Harris vice presidency. And now we’re there. Harris’ victory is one of the most historic, important, and inspiring moments in the history of American elections. For all the drama of the presidential election, our biggest lift this year was in the right place: looking at the history of American vice presidents, what they say about their running mates, and what they tell us about our nation.

Our Final 2020 Presidential Election Ratings

Election Day is hours away, and after pushing out our final overview of the race for control of the Senate yesterday, we’re excited to give our final overview of the state of the presidential race. 

Our two-person team here at The Postrider has been following the election news and scene religiously and we’re ready to stay up all night — and probably many, many nights afterwards, to watch the results trickle in and the array of responses from the Biden and Trump camps. So before we bear down on Election Day/week/month, it seems fitting to provide one final update on where the race for the presidency stands going into Tuesday.


Our presidential ratings, originally pointing towards a cautious-but-favorable environment for Biden when he first published them in early September, have gone through a few changes in the last couple months. We initially expected the race to tighten and we were therefore more conservative in our ratings on states that were decisive in a Trump win in 2016 like Ohio, Iowa, and Georgia. But as the months went on, Trump never made up ground, and may have even lost some due to some truly remarkable events. But the overarching trend was that things were, despite a whirlwind of news in September and October, oddly steady

There are a number of explanations for this, but the one I’d encourage you to subscribe to the most is increasing partisanship. Trump’s approval ratings have held at around 39-44% throughout his term in office, with few exceptions, and this is a sign of polarization in the electorate, with very few members of the public actively changing their very positive or very negative opinions of the president from week to week or even year to year. There are few undecided voters this year, so there is less margin for a 2016-like situation wherein both candidates were historically disliked and a large swath of undecided voters broke late for Trump, putting him over the edge in key states. This is also related to polarization and what we call “negative partisanship”, that hatred of the other side is a larger motivator than love for one’s own. This all points to a race with little potential to really change from the get go, almost everyone made up their minds on November 9, 2016, and almost everyone who was left probably made up their minds as soon as the coronavirus washed over the country and Biden became the nominee.

With things so steady, we saw it fit to make a few adjustments in our ratings over the last couple of months. Most notably, we downgraded Trump’s odds in Georgia and Ohio and then Iowa (all of which we initially characterized as “Lean Trump”) and we upgraded Biden’s odds in Virginia (now “Safe Biden”), Michigan (now “Likely Biden”), and Nebraska’s Second Congressional District. We have only moved one state, Utah, into a more favorable condition for the president than we had when we first published our ratings. But the truth is, none of these changes (with the exception of Iowa, in which Biden pulled even in polls only recently) reflected a major shift in any state. They were all characteristic of things largely staying the same in terms of polling and demographic data, election narratives, and performance in similar states. We just initially believed that Trump would gradually claw back some support that he — as of mere hours before Election Day — has not evidently reclaimed. 

Our final ratings give Biden an average of 323 electoral votes to Trump’s 215 and point to more opportunities and routes to the necessary 270 electoral votes for Biden than for the president. 

States to Watch

If you want an early sign on how things are going, Florida may be the best option. Florida, which we and most other ratings sites consider a “Toss-Up”, may be the most significant swing state to have a count as early as Tuesday night. If Biden carries Florida, Trump has less than a one percent chance of winning the presidency.1Here’s a nifty tool from FiveThirtyEight to play around with as you read through this article, just to compare and contrast why some swing states are more liable to swing the odds than others. So, if Biden is having a very good night and he easily carries Florida to the point where it could be announced as soon as election night, this race is all but a done deal. Be mindful of the fact that the first votes reported in Florida will be early votes and mailed-in votes, which will probably over-favor Biden compared to the rest of the state. If these returns don’t look strong for Biden, he may be in some trouble in Florida. 

Notable mentions for early states that will be indicative of the election as it unfolds are Georgia and North Carolina, both of which process ballots before Election Day and are likely to have a large array of results on Tuesday night. We count both of them as “Toss-Ups” in our ratings. Like Florida, if Biden has locked in these states, it’ll be a quick night, and Republicans will be poised to take heavy hits in the Senate as well.

If you’re looking for a late sign on election night, your best bet is probably Arizona, a “Toss-Up” by our ratings (though most other raters give Biden the edge), which starts counting ballots before election day and is likely to have many returns in come election night. Since it’s further west, Arizona will close the polls later than most other states, and Biden is expected to overperform initially — as in Florida — since early votes will be counted first. Still, Arizona is probably a more favorable state for Democrats than Florida is this cycle, which is a bad sign for Trump, considering Arizona was a reliably Republican state for a long time. And, if things go worse than expected for Biden in the Midwest, Arizona and a fallback Sun Belt strategy could provide Biden with a lifeline and propel him to the White House regardless.

If you want to wait for the most important state, that’s probably Pennsylvania, which we rate as “Lean Biden”. Polls have consistently put Biden in the mid-to-high single digits in the state.  While Pennsylvania is not make or break for Biden, it’s probably make or break for Trump; should Trump win it, the race would turn into more of a pure toss up. This is because Pennsylvania is the most likely tipping point state (the state that would deliver the determinative 270th electoral vote to the winning candidate). Pennsylvania may take several days to count ballots though, and it’s probable that a longer count would increase Biden’s margin there due to a phenomenon known as the “blue shift.” So if you’re looking for an easy answer on election night, Pennsylvania is worth watching out of the corner of your eye, but not worth waiting for, since ballots can be accepted up to November 6 there.

The Takeaway

If there’s one thing you should keep in mind, even if you’re not following returns live on election night, it’s that, yes, much of this election will probably come down to what happens in Pennsylvania, Arizona, or Florida, but the fact that Biden is favored in each of these states, and in a handful of other states that haven’t been competitive in a long time is not something to shrug off. Biden has a better chance to win Alaska than Trump has to win Michigan, a better chance to win Montana than Trump has to win Nevada, and a better chance to win Missouri than Trump has to win Colorado. The fact that the former of these states are all reliably conservative and the latter were all typical swing states last cycle should be evidence of the significant hurdles Trump needs to overcome. To be sure, many of these states are correlated — it’s very unlikely that Biden carries Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin, or that Trump wins Arizona but not Texas, but there are enough states that are at least potentially competitive for Biden across a wide range of demographic and geographic areas.

Trump, on the other hand, needs to run the table, winning Florida and Arizona and Georgia and North Carolina and then also Pennsylvania to really be guaranteed a win. The fact that Biden needs to win just one of these states to lock the race down (and the fact that these historically conservative states are even competitive at all!) bodes poorly for Trump, and is ultimately what makes him the underdog in our ratings overall. 

“But guys! What about 2016?! And Hillary?!2AnD hEr EmAiLs! Wasn’t she supposed to win too?!” Well, no. Our favorite forecast from 2016 gave Clinton about 70% odds on Election Day, 2016. And if there was a 30% chance of something happening, you’d take that pretty seriously, or at least you should! Forecasts are giving Biden closer to 90% odds, and that means Trump has only one-third the chance of winning as he did back in 2016. We can say with a very high degree of certainty that Trump will not win the popular vote, but he nonetheless maintains an electoral college advantage that is disproportionate to the popular vote. 

The other truth is that Biden is in a better position than Hillary Clinton in 2016 because he routinely polls above 50% nationally (something Clinton never really managed), because there are fewer undecided voters who can swing late for one candidate over another, because of the detrimental state of economic and other fundamentals which reflect negatively on an incumbent, and because Biden is simply perceived as more likable and moderate than both Trump and Clinton. If we assume a fair election, and assume no extra-constitutional shenanigans — which may not be a guarantee — Biden is a clear favorite to win the election, with better odds than Clinton in 2016, and about equal odds to Obama winning reelection in 2012

Our Final 2020 Senate Election Ratings

Election Day is days away, and if you’re not glued to FiveThirtyEight, Politico, and political Twitter, you probably have a life. 

Our two-person team here at The Postrider certainly has been and we’re ready to stay up all night — and probably many, many nights afterwards — to watch the results trickle in and the array of responses from the parties, candidates, and whatever may happen in disparate election systems across the states. So before we bear down on Election Day/week/month, it seems fitting to provide one final update on where the race for the Senate stands going into Tuesday.


Our Senate ratings have not budged since we published them in early October, which is a testament both to the stability of the race on the national level, and to our conservative ratings. Democrats need to win 16 races this cycle, or 15 along with the presidency (as the vice president breaks ties in the Senate). We believe Democrats are guaranteed to win at least ten of the 35 races, and are favored to win at least six more, which would give them control of the Senate if they have a night that goes moderately well for them. Republicans are expected to hold nine and favored to win nine more, with one race we believe is a true tossup: Iowa’s race between incumbent Senator Joni Ernst and challenger Theresa Greenfield.

The Senate map gives Democrats a slight advantage because of Biden’s competitiveness on the national level, which has given moderate Democrats in conservative states like Montana, Georgia, and Kansas a shot thanks to Biden’s own overperformance in these states. Democrats have also nominated strong candidates overall to take on vulnerable Republican-held seats: two popular two-term governors, a former Republican state senator, a state House Speaker, and an astronaut! So, we give Democrats the edge and our ratings indicate Democrats winning just over 16 seats, which we round down to project a 51-49 Senate majority for Democrats.

Races to Watch

If you’re looking at the races to watch, it probably comes down to two: Maine and North Carolina. Both of these states lean towards the Democrats, and will determine if Democrats can hit 50 seats and gain control of the Senate. The race in North Carolina between incumbent Republican Thom Tillis and challenger Cal Cunningham is probably the closest. It was rocked by scandal in the final month of the election, but has nonetheless held remarkably steady throughout the fall. Maine’s race, in which the State House Speaker Sara Gideon is challenging one of the few remaining Republican moderates, Susan Collins, has also been billed as a close race — but I’m not sure I buy it. Collins hasn’t led in a poll since July, and she is literally the least popular senator in the country.

If Democrats can carry both North Carolina and Maine handily, they’re well on their way to carrying Iowa, and probably pretty close to putting a seat in Georgia and the seats in Kansas and Montana in play too. But Republicans are trying to play offense in a couple states too. They’ve dumped a lot of money into Michigan in the last week of the race in an attempt to replace Democrat Gary Peters with businessman John James, and they’re almost certain to oust Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama. The problem for Republicans is that they don’t have the wide array of options that Democrats do. Democrats could lose Alabama’s race and Iowa’s race but still potentially pick off Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, defeat Dan Sullivan in Alaska, or win in Montana or Kansas. Democrats simply have a “longer tail”, and thus more opportunity to expand their number of Senate seats to 50, 52, or even 55 seats if they have a really good night.

On Georgia… 

Georgia has two Senate races this year: a special election, in which incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler is facing another Republican and several Democrats; and a regular election, in which the incumbent Republican David Perdue is being challenged by Democrat Jon Ossoff. We’ve kind of gone against the grain this year by rating these two races as likely (for the special election) and lean (for the regular election) Republican. Other ratings sites have called one or both of these races toss-ups, but we have been steadfast (despite some internal arguing) in holding that they are more likely to go to the Republican than the Democrat, even though we moved Georgia to a “Toss-Up” on the presidential level, for a couple of reasons. First of all, in Georgia, if no candidate wins an outright majority, the election goes to a runoff in early January. In the likely situation that the special election goes to a runoff, there is a chance that is between one of the Republicans and the most prominent Democrat, Raphael Warnock; in this case, the Republicans in the relatively-conservative Georgia would consolidate (especially if they’re reeling from the likelihood of Biden winning the presidency) against the Democrat. There is also a (fairly unlikely at this point, but plausible) chance the runoff is between the two Republicans, which would obviously make the odds for the Democrat zero. As for the regular election, we believe this is a lean Republican race because there are only two serious candidates, and therefore the odds of a runoff are smaller, but nonetheless remain — in which case the same throughline above would follow, with Republicans consolidating and motivated by an impending likely Biden presidency. It should not surprise you if Ossoff wins more than 50% in the first round, which is why this is only a lean Republican race; but it should absolutely surprise you if Warnock wins more than 50% outright in the first round in the special election, and it would be very surprising if Warnock is able to pull it off in a special election two months later if Joe Biden has won the presidency. 

So, Georgia probably isn’t the race to watch for control of the Senate, even if it will be interesting and have wide-ranging consequences in a state that Democrats have made a true toss-up at the national level. But, Georgia could be key in expanding an already emerging Senate majority for Democrats in the 117th Congress that convenes next year, and determine whether Democrats have a broader majority to work with. Keep your eyes on Maine, North Carolina, and Iowa — and as long as Democrats continue to make inroads in the Southwest, a Democratic-controlled Senate is likely next year.

Presidential Race Ratings Update: Iowa

It’s been a couple weeks, and we’re really getting up against the wire here with less than one week until Election Day. But we have one last (probably) ratings change for our presidential map as we face down the election in November.

Iowa

Iowa was considered a “Lean Republican” state by many forecasters and pundits back in 2016. This seemed unusual for a state that voted for Barack Obama by over 6% twice, and even supported Al Gore in 2000, but it turned out to be an astute assessment. Donald Trump won Iowa by over 9%, the largest winning margin in a state that had voted for Obama in 2012. Democrats probably should have sensed trouble when Clinton was considered a slight underdog in Iowa and Ohio in 2016. In 2020, it was initially assumed that both Ohio and Iowa’s electorates were representative of the blue collar, rural, “middle America” coalition that Trump had assembled four years prior. But as we’ve gotten closer to the election we moved Ohio to “Toss-Up” and, following a spate of strong polls for Biden in Iowa, it seems fitting to throw Iowa in that same category. We join most other forecasters in making this adjustment, who also initially had it pegged as leaning towards Trump, but it’s hard to argue with Biden’s improving numbers, not to mention a Senate race that has become more competitive than anyone expected (and is now considered to lean Democrat by some pundits) and Iowa’s high level of elasticity. Iowa is a Toss-Up state if there ever was one.

Presidential Race Ratings Update: Michigan, Nebraska’s Second Congressional District, and Virginia

Another week, another series of ratings changes. We’re three weeks away from Election Day and looking every day at the wave of new polls and information coming in. After playing it safe for the last few weeks, we’ve come to realize that there are a couple states and one congressional district that are clearly favoring one candidate over another as the race continues to favor Biden, so we’re adjusting our ratings for them accordingly. 

Michigan

Over the course of the last month, Biden has routinely received high-single digit or double digit polling leads in the Great Lakes State. Of the “Blue Wall” states that flipped to Trump, Michigan was the narrowest and most surprising, going for him by just under 11,000 votes. Last cycle, in the home stretch towards Election Day, Clinton led in the RealClearPolitics voting average of the state by 3.6%, and Michigan was largely considered a “Lean Clinton” race. This year, Biden leads by 7%, is in much better shape with white voters than Clinton was, and Democrats are looking to strengthen their position in a state where the “blue wave” was felt strongly in the 2018 midterms. Biden doesn’t just have an advantage in this race, he simply looks likely to outright win Michigan.

Nebraska’s Second Congressional District

I’m so glad we get to do a ratings change here because it lets us explain a quirk of the Electoral College. Maine and Nebraska both allocate electoral votes based on congressional district (so, whichever candidate wins the vote in that district, wins one elector) and then its two at-large electoral votes to the winner of the state overall. This is generally considered a bad system, perhaps even worse than the winner-take-all system most states use, as it would make gerrymandering far more dangerous and contentious than it already is, and would have delivered an electoral inversion (wherein the popular vote winner loses the presidency) not once in 2000, not twice in 2016, but three times this century, giving Mitt Romney the presidency in 2012. 

Getting back to the point, we hedged on whether Nebraska’s Second Congressional District was less competitive than a pure toss-up. Obama won the district in 2008, and then he and Clinton both lost it in the succeeding elections, but Biden has led in every poll of the district so far. The district is characteristic of the shift that has happened over the last few years under the Trump presidency. It is a mix of urban and suburban, covering the city of Omaha, and with a competitive congressional election there to boot, Biden is at least the favorite in the “Big O.”

Virginia

We talked about how Virginia is not as exciting as it used to be in our Senate preview for the state, and it’s true. Though it used to be a Republican stronghold, over the past twenty years it went from being a toss-up, to a lean Democratic state, to a likely Democratic state, and now has seemed to have completed the transformation into a safe Democratic state. Biden has never been behind Trump in a poll of the state, and the campaigns and state itself have acknowledged its time to shine as a battleground has passed. It’s a state whose center of economic and political power increasingly revolves around the very-liberal DC beltway and we believe 2020 is the first year that we can truly say Virginia is safe for the Democratic candidate. When you look back on political history in this century, it’s fair to say that no state has moved so dramatically from solidly Republican to solidly Democratic than Virginia, and that is in large part the fault of Donald Trump.

The Postrider’s 2020 Senate Ratings

The presidential election may be hoarding the spotlight this cycle, but Americans across 34 states will simultaneously determine the fate of the nation’s highest deliberative body, the Senate. With 35 seats up for election,1Georgia is holding two elections, one for its regular class 2 Senate seat, and the other is a special election for former Senator Johnny Isakson’s seat. He resigned in 2019 and Kelly Loeffler has been serving in his stead. and nearly two-thirds of them controlled by Republicans, the fight for the Senate will be fierce as Democrats seek control of the chamber. 

Democrats need to net four — or three, if they also win the White House, as the vice president breaks ties in the Senate — seats to win control of the Senate. They’ve been able to put enough seats in play, considering their intrinsic Senate disadvantage, thanks to strong electoral support at the top of the ticket, and a long tail of races that they have weaker chances to win in more conservative states. 

If you followed our 2018 Senate race ratings and analysis last cycle, or our 2020 presidential ratings we released a few weeks ago, you may be familiar with what we’re doing again this year. But here are some things to keep in mind as you look at our Senate map:

Ratings- and Individual-Focused

In our 2018 Senate ratings, we focused on telling the individual stories behind the candidates — because candidates matter more in localized races, and less so on the presidential level — and every state’s Senate race is different, with different personalities and dynamics. We’re doing the same thing this cycle, aiming to capture the local quirks, personalities, and stories that make each individual Senate election unique. So, unlike our presidential ratings, which is an analysis of two candidates nationwide and is thus by definition, more nationalized and consistent, we’ll be separating the races out on our Senate map with an intent to focus on what you should know about each individual election.

Each race will be rated on a scale as follows:

“Safe”
The party has over a 99% likelihood of winning the state. This is an all but assured state for that party, but be mindful that if you were to run the election hundreds of times, thus with hundreds of “Safe” states, you’d expect less than one out of 100 to flip; that’s very low and very rare, but it does happen. Nonetheless, “Safe” means we are confident in a party’s odds in a given safe state.
“Likely”
The party has at least an 85% certainty of winning the state, so the other party has at least an outside chance of winning the state in 1% to 15% of cases. In our map, we have around ten “Likely” states, so if one of them flips, that would not be surprising. It would also not be totally crazy if none of them flip, though the more there are, the more you should expect one to flip.
“Lean”
The party is slightly favored but is by no means safe; the other party has somewhere between a 15% and 40% chance of winning the state too. In our map, we have around five of these states, so it should actually be surprising if at least one of these states does not flip.
“Toss-Up”
The race in this state does not clearly favor either party over the other. Each party has between a 40% and 60% chance of winning the state.

We determine ratings at large based on polling data, demographic data, news events, historical trends, the electoral environment in similar states,2Some states are highly correlated, like the midwestern states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Minnesota. If things take a dramatic turn in Wisconsin, you’d expect similar movements across these states based on their similar demographics, political histories, urbanization, population size, economic similarities, etc. Note that geography is not always the best determinator for these variables; for instance, Washington state and Colorado are also similar; as are Maine and Montana. how states are responding to COVID-19 and planning their election procedures, and all sorts of other smaller variables. We then dive into the local conditions, biographies, and narratives in each state’s race to fine-tune our analysis. It’s slightly more scientific than a “gut instinct” but less so than an explicit statistical model. We’re aiming for something closer to the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, or Inside Elections,3Inside Elections’ publisher is also employed by this author’s employer and The Postrider is completely independent. I mention this for full disclosure. Washington is a small town. with the intent to handicap the race, more so than our idols at FiveThirtyEight, though our various ratings are generally similar other than at the margins. All of our ratings are approved and determined by both the Editor-in-Chief, Michael Lovito, and yours truly, the State & Science Editor.

Update-Oriented

If we decide a state rating merits adjustment, we will publish that under the hover-over for a given state, and write a larger article if necessary. For example, at the time of publication, we have the Colorado race rated as “Likely Democrat”, but if a few weeks from now the Republican candidate has improved his numbers dramatically in traditionally Democratic-voting strongholds around Denver, we’d be inclined to revise our rating in Colorado down to “Lean Democrat”. We will provide a ratings’ history when you click on any given state which will include the date of the ratings revision(s) and an explanatory note or link to a larger piece justifying the change. This will make interacting with our ratings map a little more interesting, involved, and useful to watch as the race goes on and provide more context where necessary.

All ratings revisions will be approved by both of the editors on this project, and based on the same criterion noted above in terms of changes in polling, how the party’s candidates in each state are doing amongst certain demographics, state-by-state correlations, any relevant turns that may occur in these races, etc. We won’t change ratings if we believe they are likely to change by Election Day, since that would defeat the purpose of forward-rating these races, but we will change as often as we need to if compelling evidence points to better or worse prospects for the candidates in a given state.

The Overall Projection

Our projection of the final control of the Senate is not a prediction, it is a mathematical allocation based on the parties’ respective odds across the states. For example, we have Tennessee as “Safe Republican” so we count that as 0.99 seats for Republicans (as “Safe” we’ve determined means it’s at least better than 99/100 odds that the Republican wins that race), or 0.01 seats for Democrats. Meanwhile we’ve rated Arizona as “Likely Democrat”, so we would count that as 0.85 seats for Democrats and 0.15 for Republicans. “Lean” is multiplied by 0.6 and “Toss-Up” by 0.5. Once all states’ Senate races have been split in this way, we round down to the nearest full seat.

At the time of publication, our projection has Democrats at 16 seats as “Lean” or safer, exactly how many they need to win to get control outright without winning the presidency, about on par with FiveThirtyEight’s forecast and a bit more conservative than The Economist’s forecast model. Angus King and Bernie Sanders are both independents who caucus with the Democrats, so we have included them as “Democrats” for the sake of the total count for Senate control, though neither of them are up for election this cycle.

Remember that we’re not making predictions, we’re just providing an educated assessment on the state of the race in every state. So don’t write us a mean note after Election Day saying “you had it as leaning Democrat in North Carolina but then the Republican won by one percent, you goofballs!” No, we didn’t predict that North Carolina will “only” go for Democrats by a little, we’re merely stating it’s more likely than not to go for the Democrat, but the Republican still absolutely has a shot there.

With all of this in mind, The Postrider is proud to present its own ratings and analysis on this year’s Senate elections

Presidential Race Ratings Update: Georgia, Ohio, and Utah

In the month since we released our 2020 presidential election ratings, we’ve been forced to reckon with two major news events for which the full impacts on the presidential election are unclear, but certainly relevant: the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and President Trump’s contraction of COVID-19. While we at The Postrider have generally held to the philosophy that this race was largely decided months — if not years — ago, considering how few undecided voters there are and the intensifying levels of partisanship. We also expected (which, in hindsight, feels stupid) President Trump to behave more like your traditional incumbent and to try and consolidate support across the spectrum rather than rely on his enthusiastic but minoritarian base.

When we released our presidential ratings, we noted that we would offer a ratings-focused take on the presidential race at large, and we’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the situation in a much larger group of states than likely anyone thought they’d be looking at four years ago. And, in a situation where we decide a state’s rating truly merits adjustment, not just in the short term, but for Election Day itself, we would provide a justification and background as to why and update our presidential map to reflect that. This week, we will be making our first three ratings adjustments by moving both Georgia and Ohio from “Lean Trump” to “Toss-Up” and moving Utah from “Likely Trump” to “Safe Trump.”

Georgia

Unlike other “Lean Trump” states, which include Texas and Iowa, Trump’s lead has actually decreased in the last month in Georgia, and Biden is now ahead or even in many recent polls. Considering the polling looks similar to what we’re seeing for Biden in North Carolina now, those states’ similar demographics (though Georgia has a much larger share of African-Americans, which should help Biden further), and the narrowing of Georgia’s concurrent Senate races, we see no reason to pretend Georgia is less competitive than it ought to be, and that means Biden has about the same odds to win it as Trump does.

Ohio

After several high quality polls have put Biden even or ahead in the Buckeye State, it’s getting harder to ignore the signs that Ohio may be reverting to the mean after a big swing towards Trump in 2016. Democrats and the Biden campaign have also stepped up their efforts there, realizing that, if Trump cannot carry Ohio (or Florida) the election is likely sealed. Trump is behind with educated white voters and in the suburbs, and his coalition looks weaker this time than last, especially as neighboring states with similar demographics and economies, like Pennsylvania and Michigan, pull away from his reach. With that in mind, we are adjusting our rating accordingly. Ohio is now even odds for Trump and Biden.

Utah

Whatever we were thinking might happen in Utah — a Mitt Romney endorsement of Biden, a further degradation of Trump’s standing with Latter-day Saints, an expansion of Biden’s lead in other states with large Latter-day Saints populations like Arizona and Nevada — hasn’t panned out. Biden has not polled higher than 44% in any credible poll of the state, and with no third party “McMuffin” spoiler this year, Trump looks soft, but for this year, safe, in Utah. 

Running Mates: Episode 16 – Series Finale – 2020 – Harris v. Pence

In our series finale at the height of the 2020 election, Lars and Michael dive into a year wracked by a presidential impeachment, the coronavirus, and national protests, and explore Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate as they challenge Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the upcoming fall.

The Postrider’s 2020 Presidential Ratings

Can you believe general election season is just getting started? Yes, with the conclusion of the Democratic and Republican national conventions in August, we’re officially off to the races! Call this election whatever you want: the “most important election in the history of our country”? Why not. A “battle for the soul of this nation”? It sure seems that way! The coronavirus election, a referendum on the president, the “George Floyd election”, or a skirmish in the incessant culture war; let’s just go with all of the above. No matter how you see it or how you come down, we hope you’re as excited as we are, because 2020 is the first year The Postrider will have the privilege to unveil our own ratings for a presidential election, providing background as we keep an unwavering eye on an election that may go long past Election Day.

You may recall our 2018 Senate race ratings and analysis, which served as a predecessor and dry run for the big showdown this year. We are planning to unveil our 2020 Senate ratings in the coming weeks as well, which will come later because some states hold late Senate primaries (Delaware’s primary isn’t until September 15, less than 50 days from Election Day!), but our presidency ratings will be different from those as well: broader, bigger, and less personal. So, here are some key things to keep in mind about our process this cycle:

Ratings-Focused

In our 2018 Senate ratings, we focused on telling the individual stories behind the candidates — because candidates matter more in localized races, and less so on the presidential level — and every state’s Senate race is different, with different personalities and dynamics. The presidential election is, by definition, nationalized and consistent. It’s the same two candidates across every state, so that kind of candidate-focused narrative is less useful. That’s why we’re choosing to focus on ratings instead of that individual analysis. 

Each state will be rated on a scale as follows:

“Safe”
The candidate has over a 99% likelihood of winning the state. This is an all but assured state for that candidate, but be mindful that if you were to run the election hundreds of times, thus with hundreds of “Safe” states, you’d expect less than one out of 100 to flip; that’s very low and very rare, but it does happen. Nonetheless, “Safe” means we are confident in a candidate’s odds in a given safe state.
“Likely”
The candidate has at least an 85% certainty of winning the state, so the other candidate has at least an outside chance of winning the state in 1% to 15% of cases. In our map, we have around ten “Likely” states, so if one of them flips; that would not be surprising. It would also not be totally crazy if none of them flip, though the more there are, the more you should expect one to flip.
“Lean”
The candidate is slightly favored but is by no means safe; the other candidate has somewhere between a 15% and 40% chance of winning the state too. In our map, we have just under ten of these states, so it should actually be surprising if at least one of these states does not flip.
“Toss-Up”
The race in this state does not clearly favor either candidate over the other. Each candidate has between a 40% and 60% chance of winning the state.

We determine ratings based on polling data, demographic data, news events, historical trends, the electoral environment in similar states,1Some states are highly correlated, like the midwestern states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Minnesota. If things take a dramatic turn in Wisconsin, you’d expect similar movements across these states based on their similar demographics, political histories, urbanization, population size, economic similarities, etc. Note that geography is not always the best determinator for these variables; for instance, Washington state and Colorado are also similar; as are Maine and Montana. how states are responding to COVID-19 and planning their election procedures, and all sorts of other smaller variables. It’s slightly more scientific than a “gut instinct” but less so than an explicit statistical model. We’re aiming for something closer to the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, or Inside Elections,2Inside Elections’ publisher is also employed by this author’s employer and The Postrider is completely independent. I mention this for full disclosure, Washington is a small town. with the intent to handicap the race, more so than our idols at FiveThirtyEight, though our various ratings are generally similar other than at the margins. All of our ratings are approved and determined by both the Editor-in-Chief, Michael Lovito, and yours truly, the State & Science Editor.

Update-Oriented

If we decide a state rating merits adjustment, we will publish that under the hover-over for a given state, and write a larger article if necessary. For example, at the time of publication, we have Colorado rated as “Likely Biden”, but if a few weeks from now Trump has improved his numbers dramatically amongst white college-educated voters and Latinos, we’d be inclined to revise our rating in Colorado (which has large shares of both kinds voters) down to “Lean Biden”. We will provide a ratings’ history when you hover over any given state which will include the date of the ratings revision(s) and an explanatory note or link to a larger piece justifying the change. This will make interacting with our ratings map a little more interesting, involved, and useful to watch as the race goes on and provide more context where necessary.3And give us a better starting point when we work on our 2024 ratings for the next cycle! 

All ratings revisions will be approved by both of the editors on this project, and based on the same criterion noted above in terms of changes in polling, how the candidates are doing amongst certain demographics, state-by-state correlations, etc. We won’t change ratings if we believe they are likely to change by Election Day, since that would defeat the purpose of forward-rating these races, but we will change as often as we need to if compelling evidence points to better or worse prospects for the candidates in a given state.

The Overall Projection

Our projection of the total electoral votes per candidate is not a prediction, it is a mathematical allocation based on the candidate’s odds for given electoral votes. For example, we have Tennessee as “Safe Trump” , and with 11 electoral votes, we multiply 11 by 0.99 (as “Safe” we’ve determined means it’s at least better than 99/100 odds that Trump wins that state), or 10.89 votes and 0.11 for Biden. Meanwhile we’ve rated Virginia as “Likely Biden”, so we multiply its 13 electoral votes by 0.85 giving us 11.05 votes for Biden and 1.95 for Trump. “Lean” is multiplied by 0.6 and “Toss-Up” by 0.5. Once all states’ electoral votes have been split in this way, we round down to the nearest electoral vote. 

Maine and Nebraska split their electoral votes by congressional district, so we’ve accordingly rated the state at large (two electoral votes) and each of their congressional districts and applied those ratings to their individual and statewide votes. These states are shaded to reflect the diaspora of ratings at large and for the individual districts.

At the time of publication, our projection has Biden at 315 electoral votes, 45 more than the 270th vote he needs to win, and a slightly more conservative estimate than FiveThirtyEight’s or The Economists forecast models.

Remember that we’re not making predictions, we’re just providing an educated assessment on the state of the race in every state.4And the District of Columbia! So don’t write us a mean note after Election Day saying “you had Wisconsin as ‘Lean Biden’ but then Trump won it by one percent, idiot!” No, we didn’t predict that Wisconsin will “only” go for Biden by a little, we’re merely stating it’s more likely than not to go for Biden, but Trump still absolutely has a shot there.

With all of this in mind, The Postrider is proud to present its ratings for the 2020 presidential election.

John Kasich Spoke at the DNC. Will it Matter?

 

The 2020 presidential election has found former Ohio Governor John Kasich at a crossroads. No, literally; on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, the lifelong Republican delivered a speech while standing at a physical fork in the road, urging Republicans and independents to cross the aisle and vote for former Vice President Joe Biden in November. “I know Joe as a good man, a man of faith, a unifier,” Kasich said about the vice president of an administration whose policies he lobbied against in his old role. “[Biden] knows that the path for a rejuvenated America lies in respect, and unity, and a common purpose for everyone… We can do better than what we’ve been seeing for sure,” Kasich went on, not so subtly registering his disapproval with the current administration of President Donald Trump, “And I know that Joe Biden, with his experience and his wisdom and his decency, can bring us together to help us find that better way.”

In the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, Kasich emerged as the “moderate” alternative to Tea Party favorites like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and the increasingly nationalistic and populist Trump, but a quick look at his record shows that he was anything but moderate during his time as both a governor and a congressman. During his first gubernatorial campaign in 2009, Kasich spoke of the need to “break the back of organized labor in the schools” in reference to Ohio’s teachers’ union, a threat he made good on once he was elected by signing a bill that severely restricted collective bargaining rights of Ohio state employees.1 This law would eventually be repealed via referendum. He took similarly harsh action against abortion rights, singing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks and calling for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, and while running for president said he would establish a Voice of America-style government agency that would promote “core, Judeo-Christian, Western values” in “the Middle East, China, Iran, and Russia.” 2 I added that last bit in quotes A) because I wanted to make it clear that these were Kasich’s exact words and B) I wanted to be clear that I, unlike him, am aware that Iran is in the Middle East and that at least 74% of Russians are in fact Christian. He framed the creation of this hypothetical agency as a departure for him, bragging, as only a true bureaucracy-hating Reaganite could, that “there’s nobody who’s spent more time shrinking government and cutting budgets than I have.

I bring up Kasich’s record as a way of saying that, yes, even though he’s been a frequent critic of Trump, a dyed in the wool conservative such as himself going out of the way to endorse Joe Biden, one of the forces behind the Affordable Care Act and a proponent of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, is still kind of a big deal. And it’s worth noting, of course, that he wasn’t alone in his endorsement. Kasich was joined on the first night of the DNC by former New York congresswoman Susan Molinari, former New Jersey Governor and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, and Quibi CEO3 I found it quite humorous that the DNC insisted on referring to Meg Whitman as the “former CEO of Hewlett-Packard” in an effort not to highlight the tumultuous Quibi, whose foibles you can read about in this excellent piece by Benjamin Wallace. and former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman in endorsing Biden; on the following night, these Republican dissenters were joined by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said that Joe Biden would be a president “we will all be proud to salute.”

This chorus of Republican endorsees marks a sharp contrast to 2016, when most high profile Republicans either fell in line with their party’s nominee or displayed their disapproval by merely abstaining from the Republican National Convention or opting to vote for third party candidates. If Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton did receive any support from the right, it was typically from commentators or lower level GOP operatives. Sure, Republican Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were said to have had private misgivings about Trump and may have voted for Clinton, former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney made a speech condemning Trump and wrote in his wife Ann, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan gave the green light to Republicans to separate themselves from Trump after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, but none of these people made a public statement explicitly endorsing the Democratic candidate the way Kasich and company (a faction that grew after the convention to include a number of former senators and members of Congress such as former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake) di this year.4It’s worth noting, however, that Powell has voted for the Democratic candidate in every Presidential election since 2008 and that Meg Whitman endorsed Clinton in 2016. In a way, the Republican speeches at the DNC represented a culmination of sorts for the “Never Trump” Republicans, a small and once disparate faction of the GOP that has started to organize in groups like Republican Voters Against Trump and the Lincoln Project, the latter of which was founded by George Conway, husband to White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway.5George and Kellyanne’s daughter, Claudia, has also gotten involved in politics — she’s a leftist TikToker, who’s accused her parents of abuse and is pursuing emancipation. Both Conways are planning to step down from their respective roles, citing family reasons.

Despite the enthusiasm of the Kasichs and the Powells of the world, there is some debate within the Democratic Party over whether or not courting independents and Republicans in such a heavy-handed way is an effective electoral strategy. Those concerns are valid — some analyses suggest that those moderate, suburban Republicans most likely to vote Democrat have already switched parties, while pockets of the progressive movement have argued that giving more airtime to the likes of Kasich and Powell than left-wing champions like New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will alienate voters in the party’s growing progressive wing. The presidential primary seemed to have vindicated the moderate establishment and made this debate moot — when given the choice between democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and mainstream liberal Joe Biden, the voters chose Biden. But a string of recent primary victories from progressive challengers against entrenched Democratic members of Congress has shown that there is an appetite within the party’s base for more radical policies, and the debate about whose votes exactly the Democratic party should be pursuing — ideologically squishy, middle-of-the-road voters or committed progressives — has begun anew. 

The question, in my mind, is one of risk. Do the Democrats, who strive to be a big tent party, think there is more to be gained by giving anti-union, anti-abortion conservatives like Kasich a platform even if it leaves progressives feeling as if they’ve been left in the lurch? In other words, will the gains that Democrats make among registered Republicans and independents (and it’s still an assumption that they will make gains among this dmeographic) offset the number of votes they may lose from disaffected progressives? 

We won’t find out the answer to that question until November 3rd at the earliest, but there is a bit of history we can draw on to see if the Democratic strategy of embracing Never Trump Republicans will pay off. 2020 is far from the first year a politician of one party has spoken at the convention of the other, so I thought I’d look at three relatively recent examples of this phenomenon to see if such speeches have any effect on the election. Specifically, I’ll be looking to see if: 

  1. The national percentage of members of one party voting for the presidential candidate from the opposite party increased from the election before (the most obvious goal of Kasich’s speech)
  2. If the candidate of the party the speaker supported performed better in the speaker’s home state than in the prior election (I’m sure that Kasich being from the swing state of Ohio helped net him a spot at the convention, and that the Democrats would be much less inclined to let him speak if he were from a electorally solid state like, say, Wyoming or Rhode Island).
  3. If the candidate of the party the speaker supported performed better among any demographic groups the speaker is tied too (white women voted for Trump by a margin of 53% to 43% in 2016, but in the 2018 House elections that gap in party support shrunk, with both Republican and Democratic candidates receiving 49% of this group’s vote. The inclusion of Molinari and the two Whitmans on the virtual DNC stage is a clear attempt by the Democrats to keep nudging this group in a blueward direction).

Make sense? All right, let’s take a look at some speeches:

2004 Republican National Convention, New York, New York

 

The Speaker: Georgia Senator Zell Miller

The Speech: Zell Miller became the first person in American history to deliver the keynote address at both a Democratic and Republican National Convention. In 1992, while still a governor, he made the argument that the Democratic Party existed because “we can’t all be born rich and handsome and lucky,” and attacked the incumbent presidential team of George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle as out of touch, while crediting his and his family’s success to every Democratic president between Roosevelt and Carter. In 2004, he disowned that same party in front of a fired up Republican crowd, decrying the Democratic Party as being “motivated more by partisan politics than by national security,” and compared his defection to that of one-time Roosevelt opponent Wendell Willkie. The speech he gave in New York is striking in its hawkishness, accusing the Democrats, and especially presidential nominee John Kerry, as unfit to lead America in the War on Terror. He illustrates his point by invoking Kerry’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his votes against funding for a litany of military weapons and vehicles. “George Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat and not let them go to get a better grip. From John Kerry, they get a ‘yes-no-maybe’ bowl of mush that can only encourage our enemies and confuse our friends.” 

The Effect:6Data for the 2000 election can be found here. That same data for 2004 can be found here.

Change in Democratic Support for Republican Candidate, 2000-2004: +0% (2000: 11%, 2004: 11%)

Change in Georgia’s Support for Republican Candidate, 2000-2004: +3.3% (2000: 54.67%, 2004: 57.97%)

Change in White Male Support for Republican Candidate, 2000-2004: +3% (2000: 55%, 2004: 58%)

2008 Republican National Convention, St. Paul, Minnesota

The Speaker: Connecticut Senator (and former Democratic Vice Presidential candidate) Joe Lieberman

The Speech: Lieberman, who ran for and eventually won his Senate seat as an independent candidate in 2006 after losing his party’s primary but continued to caucus with the Democrats, struck a relatively conciliatory chord when he endorsed John McCain for president, especially when compared with fellow Democratic defector Miller’s rallying cry from only four years earlier. He praised Bill Clinton as a Democrat who crossed party lines for the good of the country (which was met with, in the words of Mark Halperin,”grumbling and uncertain applause“) and said that then-Senator Barack Obama was a “gifted and eloquent young man who I think can do great things for our country in the years ahead,” but ultimately endorsed McCain because of his record of “independence and bipartisanship.” He tried to boost vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin as well, saying of the Republican ticket “the Washington bureaucrats and the power-brokers are not going to be able to build a pen that will hold in these two mavericks. It’s just not possible.” He also, like Miller, emphasized the Republican nominee’s foreign policy strengths, highlighting McCain’s support for the Iraq War troop surge and declaring that McCain would be a president that “our allies will trust and our enemies will fear.”

The Effect:72004 data; 2008 data

Change in Democratic Support for Republican Candidate, 2004-2004 :-1% (2004: 11%, 20008: 10%)

Change in Connecticut’s Support for Republican Candidate, 2004-2008: -6.28 (2004: 54.31%, 2008: 60.59%)

Change in Jewish Support for Republican Candidate, 2004-2008: -3% (2004: 25%, 2008: 21%)

2016 Democratic National Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Speaker: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

The Speech: Having won three terms as mayor of the largest city on the country, twice as a Republican, once as a Republican-endorsed independent,8Hooray for electoral fusionism! Bloomberg set out to persuade Trump-skeptical Republicans and independents to pull the lever for Hillary Clinton instead of staying home. He emphasized how she “worked with Republicans in Washington to ensure that New York got the help it needed to recover and rebuild” in the wake of 9/11 and conceded that while the two of them didn’t always agree, she “always listened.” He also acknowledged the outsider appeal that made him a viable candidate for the mayoralty, but said that voters shouldn’t be fooled by Trump’s alleged business acumen, arguing that his proposed policies would damage the economy, reduce America’s standing in the world, and “make our communities less safe.” “The bottom line is: Trump is a risky, radical choice,” he summed up. “Hillary Clinton understands that this is not reality television; this is reality. She understands the job of president. It involves finding solutions, not pointing fingers, and offering hope, not stoking fear.”

The Effect:92012 data; 2016 data

Change in Republican Support for Democratic Presidential Candidate, 2012-2016: +1% (2012: 6%, 2016: 7%)

Change in New York Support for Democratic Presidential Candidate, 2012-2016: -4.34% (2012: 63.35%, 2016: 59.01%)

Change in Jewish Support for Democratic Presidential Candidate, 2012-2016: +2% (2012: 69%, 2016: 71%)

So what does this (statistically insignificant) data seem to show us? Well, it seems like these kinds of speeches are really only so effective. Of our three speakers, none of them saw an improvement in their preferred candidate’s performance in our three chosen categories. Miller’s Bush endorsement comes the closest, with both white male and Georgia voters going for Bush in slightly larger numbers than they did four years earlier, but Democratic support stood pat. Bloomberg’s endorsement of Clinton saw her do marginally better than Obama among both Republican and Jewish voters, but she actually did worse in her home state of New York (and worse in New York City as well, winning 79% of the vote to Obama’s 81%) by a larger margin than both of those percentage gains combined (it likely didn’t help that Donald Trump was also from New York). And Lieberman’s endorsement of McCain seems to have done the Republican absolutely no favors — he underperformed Bush among both Democratic and Jewish voters by a bit, but took a relative nosedive in Connecticut where he posted a 6.28% decrease in support, our largest swing in either direction for all the categories and candidates we looked at.

So it looks like, from our quick and dirty “study,” that having a member of the opposite party speak at your convention doesn’t really put you over the edge with a specific set of voters. It should be noted, of course, that Miller, Lieberman, and Bloomberg hardly represented typical members of their party. Miller wrote a book about how disillusioned he felt as a conservative in a rapidly liberalizing party back in 2003, and would end up co-chairing Newt Gingrich’s campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Lieberman lost his Senate primary in 2006 before winning his seat as an independent, and, despite holding liberal positions on abortion, gay rights, and climate change, he was notorious for being a hawk among Democratic doves and for conservative stances on criminal justice, education, and the entertainment industry. And Bloomberg voluntarily left the Republican Party for his 2009 run for a third term, and took liberal positions on issues like gay rights, abortion, climate change, gun control, and, of course, the size of sodas. In fact, Bloomberg wound up as a Democrat again, running for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020, an exercise that saw him spend a lot of money all for the honor of being humiliated in his first debate by Elizabeth Warren.

What to make of these kinds of speeches then? Was the air time the Democratic Party gave to its old adversaries, as some progressives alleged, a waste of time, or did they serve a purpose? A generous assessment might say that it’s a good way to grab headlines — a Republican speaking at the Democratic convention is more newsworthy than a Democratic speaking at the Democratic convention, and the party might get some viewers (and, by extension, potential converts) who tune in for the sheer novelty of it all. But a more likely explanation seems to be that these speeches are less about the voters that the party is looking to win over, and more about voters they’ve already won over. Think about Miller’s home state of Georgia: when Roy Barnes won the state’s governorship in 2002, he was the first Republican to do so since 1868. When Saxby Chambliss was elected to the Senate from Georgia in that same year, he was only the third Republican to do so since Reconstruction. But few of those Democratic governors and senators were liberals in the vein of today’s, or even 2004’s, Democratic Party — at times they were staunch segregationists explicitly advocating for the interests of white, conservative Southerners. 

The success of state Democrats in Georgia runs counter to the success of Democratic presidential candidates in that same state, however. The Democratic candidate won Georgia in only three of the eight presidential elections held between 1964 and 1992 — and in two of those elections, the winner was Jimmy Carter, a born and raised Georgian (the other was another Southern moderate — Bill Clinton in 1992). Perhaps it’s more helpful to think of cross-party endorsements like Miller’s as lagging indicators of where the electorate has shifted as opposed to efforts by the party to win over voters. This line of thinking could be applied to the trio of Republican women who endorsed Joe Biden, as well. White suburban women were already starting to break Democratic, and they aren’t doing it because Christine Todd Whitman and Meg Whitman told them too — Christine Todd Whitman and Meg Whitman are endorsing Biden because they’re also white, suburban women. Such speeches are less an act of persuasion than an act of affirmation. “You’re right”, Miller may as well have said, “the Democrats have abandoned the white working man. That’s why I, like you, am voting for George W. Bush.” Alternatively, Susan Molinari may as well have said, “It’s true, the Republican Party has become a den of misogyny more focused on limiting abortion rights than fostering a working economy. That’s why I, like millions of other white women, have embraced the Democratic Party.” Lieberman could say something similar for pro-Israel hawks, and Bloomberg something similar for socially liberal white collar workers. 

What about someone like Kasich, though? As a white male Republican from Ohio, he represents a demographic that, if anything, has been consistently Republican-leaning over the last few decades. One could argue that he stands in for white collar workers or college educated voters, both of whom seem to be shifting into the Democratic tent. But, perhaps more compellingly, he represents a faction that was once synonymous with the Republican Party: movement conservatives. 

A coalition of libertarians, anti-communists, foreign policy hawks, traditionalists, and the religious right, movement conservatism reached its apex with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and have dominated the GOP for most of recent history. In a nutshell, movement conservatism was a reaction to New Deal liberalism that sought to cut taxes, slash government spending, promote traditional Judeo-Christian values and flex American military strength, all in the name of preserving individual liberty and bringing an end to the “big government” of the post-war American consensus. Shortsighted and paradoxical though this philosophy can sometimes be (control of government spending never seemed to extend to the military budget), it has more or less dictated the arc of American politics in the last forty years, and acted as the unofficial platform of the Republican Party in that time span.

At least it did until Donald Trump came along. By promoting immigration restrictions, trade tariffs, isolationism, and white identity politics, Trump broke with the Republican mainstream in more than just his bombastic, oftentimes offensive rhetoric. He fundamentally shifted the agenda of the Republican Party, taking the focus off of tax policy and the deficit and embracing an ideology more similar to the Old Right of the 1930s or Pat Buchanan’s paleoconservatism than the policies of Reagan or George H.W. Bush. And it’s proved contagious — conservative commentators have found new audiences railing against what they call ”zombie Reaganism“ or, in the words of Peter Spiliakos, “The application of 1980s Republican politics to a very different time.” A few of these commentators even drafted a manifesto opposing “zombie Reaganism” and what they argued as its “fetishiz[ation] of [individual] autonomy.” Rather than advocate for “free trade on every front, free movement through every boundary, small government as an end of itself, [and] technology as a cure all,” the authors of the manifesto called on conservatives to instead support policies opposing the spread of pornography, limiting immigration, and adopting policies that favor workers instead of business owners — in other words, “big government” with a right wing twist.

The manifesto also declares that “there is no returning to the pre-Trump conservative consensus that collapsed in 2016.” In other words, the GOP is Trump’s party now, and the president’s 90% approval rating among his own party shows little hope of that changing anytime soon. So what’s a Reagan Republican like John Kasich, an elite by any measure, a man who sat on corporate boards as a private citizen, fought for welfare reform as a congressman, and signed aggressively anti-labor legislation as a governor, supposed to do? With decidedly Trump like figures such as Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson rising to prominence in the GOP and even pondering runs for the presidency, could it be that the path of least resistance may in fact be to join the Democratic Party? There, he could form an uneasy alliance with a party establishment that’s thus far held back its own populist revolt and has, in recent history, been willing to compromise with “moderate” Republicans such as himself, all in the name of protecting individual autonomy from a more socially and economically interventionist Republican Party. It’s a crazy thought, and not where I thought this article would end up, but hey, if the Never Trump Republicans in the electorate have already become Democrats, the Never Trump Republicans in office may be smart to do the same. America is a democracy after all — it only makes sense that the voters would pull politicians with them across party lines, and not the other way around.

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