Saturday, November 6, 2010

Post-Mortem on 2010 races

Professor Brad; M.E. Report and observations on the aftermath of the 2010 elections

The Political Pulse was correct on the vast majority of pre-election predictions.

The two MA races that I got wrong were Mary Z. for Auditor and Question 1 losing. Some of my percentages were off as I underestimated the strength of the Democrat's ground game (more on this below). Many of my Republican friends were objecting to my predictions, but having studied politics in Massachusetts for a looong time, I saw things trending otherwise.

On the US Senate side, I got most of the tossup races correct as well, with the exception of Nevada (looks like the polling underestimated Hispanic turnout for Reid)

I will grade myself a B+/A- on these predictions. Nice to grade oneself, my students must wish they could do the same!

Ground game beats air game

The vaunted Democratic machine was caught napping in last January's special election, coupled with a most uninspiring candidate in Coakley. Scott Brown demonstrated that for a Republican to win (especially statewide) that they need to field almost the "perfect" candidate who can generate enthusiasm and draw out all possible Republican votes. In short, the Republicans enthusiasm this time around was not where it was in January and the Dems over-performed.

I had the fortune to attend MassInc's electoral wrap-up yesterday at Suffolk University. What was most interesting was the inside story of the Democrat's GOTV effort. In short, in the weeks leading up to the election nearly every registered Democrat in the state got a phone call and/or knock on the door urging them to vote. Additionally on election day itself, party organizers were checking to see who had and who had not voted and turning out folks in the afternoon who had not shown up in the morning., This was probably the best ground game that I have ever seen and it contributed to Patrick's seven point victory. Only the Suffolk poll saw this gap (Rasmussen had it a two point race). The Democrat's machine got voters out who never would have shown up without this urging.

Unfortunately for Baker and the Republicans, they just don't have the resources to turn out votes. Baker was nowhere near as inspiring as Brown and while Baker did win where he needed to, his wins were far less impressive than Brown's (averaging about 10 points below where Brown was in each community). Western Mass and the urban areas came out very strong for the democrats. The Republicans did win in areas where they needed to, but again not by the margins necessary to win a statewide race.

Another result of this was the Democrats capturing every other major office in the state. This is why I was wrong on Mary Z. (who did come within two points of Suzanne Bump). The strength of the Dems turnout swamped all Republican statewide and congressional candidates.

Kudos to Democratic Party Chair John Walsh for showing that the old-fashioned ground war beats the air war almost every time. Republicans need to hustle like that.

Limited split-ticket voting

Many of these new voters who the Democratic machine brought out voted for Patrick...and then for every other candidate with a "D" after their name. As stated before, this contributed to the losses by Mary Z. and Karyn Polito.

The Gender Gap was real and pronounced

MassInc's post-election polling showed a 24 point gender gap for Patrick among women and a
13 point gap for Baker among male voters. Female voters were also more likely to be optimistic about the Commonwealth's direction and Patrick's generally upbeat campaign likely appealed to these voters. Interestingly 50% of voters saw Massachusetts as on the "right track" so maybe the fact that we are slightly better off than much of the nation helped incumbent Democrats here.

Polling models varied and were often incorrect

Rasmussen who has had a previously impeccable track record seems to have slipped this cycle and overestimated Republican vote totals. Turnout models will need tweaking. Additionally as cell phones continue to replace home phones especially among younger (and more liberal) folks, this makes gathering a true stratified sample all the more challenging. Kudos to Suffolk for getting it right!

Question 3 drove Democratic intensity

Opposition to Question 3 brought the ire of unions, state employees, and progressives and helped "gin up" turnout buoyed by a massive "No on 3" ad campaign over the final weeks. Republicans would be wise to steer clear of over-reach on questions that can directly threaten the livelihood of those who can turn out many voters. A cut to 5% would have been most advisable as it would have passed and would not have awoken the twin sleeping giants of organized labor and public employees...

Tim Cahill hurt Baker, but can't be blamed for Baker's loss

Cahill's candidacy certainly forced Baker to spend money and resources to knock him out of the top tier which he was able to successfully do. However, the presence of Cahill and Jill Stein in all of the debates limited Baker's one on one match-up against Patrick and distracted him throughout. The Loscocco fiasco was handled VERY poorly by Baker's team and contributed to the notion that it was a backroom deal. This really undercut Baker's argument that he was a reformer.

Optimism trumps pessimism

Patrick's upbeat campaign contrasted with Baker's campaign that focused on what was wrong with the state. Brown demonstrated how an optimistic approach can work with the right message and Patrick accomplished the same thing.

Voter anger cannot push sub-par candidates to victory in most cases

The Republicans had a real shot at capturing one or two congressional seats, but lost in large part to less than stellar candidates. Quality candidates are a must to unseat an incumbent.

Bright spots for Republicans in Massachusetts

Tough to see at first glance, but...wining (depending on recounts) 16 new House seats in the State Legislature which double their numbers is certainly a victory and serves to build a grassroots organization to capture more offices down the line (yes - a farm team). Capturing two seats on the Governor's Council and the Sheriff's seat of Worcester County also were big wins for a party looking for any good news on Tuesday.

However they are now down to 4 (count 'em 4) Senators in the State Senate. Being down 36 to 4 is simply embarassing.

Notice that the Republicans continue to win on the North and South Shores and seem to really be establishing a real base in Worcester County. This may be the launching pad to some semblance of a two-party system in time.

And Finally...

Nationwide the Republicans swept over 60 seats to capture the House and picked up seven in the US Senate where the margin narrows to 53-47. The Tea Party had mixed results in terms of candidates it ran (Paul win in KY, Angle loses in NV). For the President, this was a real "shellacking" and it remains to be seen if he becomes Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton/Harry Truman in his run for re-election. More on this in my next post as we turn to the national results.

Only 456 days until the 2012 Iowa Caucuses...Onwards!

The Prof

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