It’s the End of the Republic as We Knew It

The presidential election system in the United States depends more on norms than rules. So when you remove the norms, there’s not much left. You’ll read all kinds of hyperbolic headlines about the just completed debate. “Trainwreck,” “Disaster,” “Chaos.” It’s worse than that. There’s a reason Chris Wallace couldn’t manage the debate, and it’s not that one of the stronger interviewers in television news suddenly lost his nerve.

The debate system, as the rest of the process, relies on both participants having a similar idea of what’s acceptable. There’s always a little bit of interjecting. An aside here, mild interruption there. With 10 candidates on a stage during the primaries, it can be a mess. But generally, when fall rolls around and somebody on stage is going to get elected Leader of the Free World in a few weeks, there are limits, boundaries, no go zones.

Donald Trump went beyond the norms in 2016 while debating Hillary Clinton. But not to a ridiculous extent. He was rude. He stalked her around the stage once. He said whatever he wanted, without regard for accuracy. But if you go back and watch any 20 minute section of those contests and compare it to what happened tonight, it’s not the same. That was the cat a 14-year-old kills while getting ready to be an adult serial killer. Tonight was the 20th kill by an experienced serial killer. Continue reading “It’s the End of the Republic as We Knew It”

State of the States: Delaware

You can argue Delaware is the most anonymous state in the Union. The one people forget when listing the states. Rhode Island is the smallest, Wyoming the most sparse. This is the one they overlook. I’d suspect a good amount of Joe Biden supporters don’t remember what state he represented. He likes being called Scranton Joe after his birthplace. Which isn’t in Delaware. Geographically, it’s like Maryland has a moderate sized zit. You can barely find it on a map unless they do a close-up of that exact part of the Eastern Seaboard.

Few electoral strategies are based on securing the crucial 3 electoral votes. Democrats have won the state in every election since 1992, so nobody talks about it as a small swing state that could influence a close race like New Hampshire. The Delaware primary has never influenced a nomination. Except for Biden’s various attempts, the only Delawarean to run for president was Pete du Pont in 1988. Biden’s 2020 attempt was the first time a Delaware candidate lasted beyond New Hampshire. There were no Vice Presidents from Delaware until Biden.

Biden’s family moved to the Anonymous State in the early 1950s. The state had begun a stretch that would last over 50 years and 15 elections, where their presidential results would be within 8 points of the national popular vote each time, usually only a few points. That made Delaware both a swing state and very moderate one. When you hear about Biden’s moderate record as a young or merely middle-aged senator, or listen to his middle-of-the-road delivery now, it stems from this version of Delaware in which he cut his teeth.

Should Biden get inaugurated next January 20, having won on the strength of his appeal to moderate suburbanites, regardless of how the Trump campaign attempted to present him, he’ll be able to thank the state that made him. Continue reading “State of the States: Delaware”

A Few Quick Thoughts About the New Nominee

It’s so tempting to come up with quick takes. I did this last week upon the passing of RBG and already disagree with a couple of things I said. But I’m a glutton for punishment, so let’s try again. Here are the first things that crossed my mind in the immediate aftermath of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination:

Notre Dame!

It’s impossible to properly express how excited I am that we’re likely to have a justice who did not attend Harvard or Yale Law School. Yes, those are great institutions, but do we really want a world where merely attending somewhere like Stanford, Duke, or Georgetown is automatic disqualification? The last 12, yes 12 justices confirmed by the Senate attended Harvard or Yale. While both schools were always well represented, having this as a prerequisite is a new thing. Sitting on the Supreme Court is a dream for many an aspiring law student. It can’t be good to know your dream is dead the minute you are forced to matriculate elsewhere. And the odds those two institutions have monopolized all the talent are incalculably low. Continue reading “A Few Quick Thoughts About the New Nominee”

State of the States: Nebraska

Nebraska is red. This is easy to picture. The Nebraska football team wears red and white. The electoral results match the reputation too. The state has favored Republicans by no less than R+13 in every election from 1940 to the present. Only one Democrat has won Nebraska in the past 80 years, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, squeaking out a few point win while defeating Barry Goldwater by over 20 points nationally. If a Republican loses here, something is truly wrong.

Joe Biden is now favored to get an electoral vote here. Has Donald Trump irrevocably angered one of the reddest states in America? Not exactly. Starting in 1992, Nebraska joined Maine in assigning electoral votes by congressional district. The state has 3 districts and 5 total electoral votes. Two go to the statewide winner, and the others are parceled based on results inside of each district.

Usually, this makes no difference. In the elections between 1992 and 2016, Democrats picked up a total of one electoral vote. Barack Obama barely won CD-2 in 2008 and it was a sprinkle on top of the cupcake, not a key part of him getting to 270. Hillary Clinton got close last time, losing by 2 points. The district is currently occupied by a Republican, but the past few congressional elections were close. A Democrat won in 2014. Continue reading “State of the States: Nebraska”

State of the States: South Carolina

South Carolina is currently the most consistent state in the Union. In the 8 elections between 1988 and 2016, the state was between R+14 and R+16 each time. Current poll averages are showing R+14. This is a place that knows what it is. Except when it changes its mind.

From 1896 to 1944, South Carolina was also the most consistent state. Consistently insanely blue. Often giving Democratic candidates well over 90% of the vote. As you’re noticing, almost every state has changed long-term party affiliation at least once. As fun as South Carolina’s journey is to point out, it’s no more remarkable than Vermont going from the most reliably Republican to among the most solidly Democratic.

But something distinct did happen in South Carolina. For well over a century, it was the grouchiest state, now it’s one of the calmest. The state kept grudges. Forever. Now it doesn’t seem to matter who the candidates are, the result is the same. Time to take a look at what made South Carolina chill. Continue reading “State of the States: South Carolina”

State of the States: Indiana

During his 2020 primary campaign, (which now seems 1,000 years ago) Pete Buttigieg claimed electoral legitimacy because he won re-election being openly gay in “Mike Pence’s Indiana.” It’s a good setup. Pence isn’t exactly gay-friendly. Indiana is red. It’s a great David v. Goliath tale.

It was also some quality political prestidigitation. South Bend does not even slightly resemble the rest of Indiana. It’s heavily Democratic. And Pence was not a popular governor. His selection by Donald Trump allowed him to ditch a difficult re-election contest.

He’d managed the feat of offending both sides in the debate, passage, and aftermath of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which made it easier for businesses to pass on serving gay customers. Signing the bill pissed off the left. Signing a revision that gutted most of the provisions, after facing the threat of significant boycotts from big national businesses and organizations, angered the Christian Right.

Yes, Indiana is red. And in 2016, it was the reddest ever (R+21.) But not to the point where it doesn’t care what the rest of the country thinks, especially if there are financial consequences. When the GOP went a little far with their 2012 Senate nominee, a Democrat took the seat. Which he then lost in 2018. Think of the state as clearly leaning right, but unlike Wyoming or West Virginia, still exercising some Midwestern moderation once in a while. They did (very narrowly) vote for Barack Obama in 2008.

2016 Results: Donald Trump 57.2%, Hillary Clinton 37.9%, Gary Johnson 4.9% (R+21)

Trump definitely did well. He won by 19 points. Hillary finished below 40% in a state Obama won once. But Gary Johnson managed almost 5%. There was some residual Trump wariness.

2020 Polls: Trump is leading by an average of 14.6% and the polls are consistent. This is down a bit from 2016, but it’s more due to undecided voters. Joe Biden is yet to clear 40%. Compared to the rest of the country, Indiana is still R+21.

Key Historical Shifts: One. Ever. After the 1816 and 1820 elections, where the state legislature made the choices, Indiana has experienced two political phases, each lasting about a century.

Phase One (1824-1928): Slightly Democratic leaning swing state. From 1844 to 1900, Indiana was within 3 points of the national popular vote all but twice. Republican or Whig Indianans were on the ballot four times in the 19th century and had an edge each time. Otherwise, Democrats were in the driver’s seat. Except for picking Republican Charles Evans Hughes in 1916, if Indiana was voting for the GOP candidate, they were going to win.

Phase Two (1932-Present): Red, but not stupendously so. It’s not that Indiana could never vote for a Democrat. FDR won twice, LBJ and Obama once. But in every election from 1932 forward, the Republican candidate has done better there than in the national popular vote. Some switch got flipped. I’m not sure what it was. There are several red states that didn’t respond well to FDR, even if they voted for him in 1932 and/or 1936. This is the first one I’ve found that became solidly red for the first time during his presidency.

The other unique thing is the consistency of Republican support without ever having a +30 or until 2016 even a +20 year. It’s hard to stay in that +10 to +15 range for 80-90 years without ever going the other way when there’s a particularly bad candidate/state fit.

At the moment, Indiana looks like a prototypical GOP state. It’s whiter than average, lower income than average (35th), less educated than average (43rd in bachelor’s degrees, 40th in graduate degrees.) The thing is, Indiana was also red 60 years ago when these were not indicators of red states.

TL;DR I’m confused.

How Biden Could Improve on Hillary’s 2016 Result: Though we haven’t seen concrete evidence in Indiana polls, nationally Biden is running ahead of Clinton’a 2016 numbers with less educated white voters. There could be some third party voters who still don’t like Trump and find Biden more palatable than Hillary.

If Indiana doesn’t become even more red than 2016, and Biden can hold his current 7% national advantage, that would translate to doing a few points better in Indiana, which is what the surveys are showing. While Biden remains below 40%, Trump isn’t clearing 50% by very much. If Biden gets the majority of undecideds, as many challengers do, you could see an 8 to 10 percent final gap.

How Trump Could Improve on His 2016 Result: Indiana is pretty socially conservative. Trump will likely get points for nominating a justice that will give the Supreme Court a 6:3 conservative majority. Maybe those Johnson voters pick Trump this time.

Thinking Trump is going to do much better than his 19 point win last time is a stretch, but maybe he pushes Indiana to R+25 by improving how it compares to the rest of the country.

Forecast: Don’t really have a particular feel for how this will turn out, but Trump by 12 sounds about right.

State of the States: Vermont

Quick, what’s the state that has historically supported Republicans the most? That’s right! The home of Ben & Jerry’s and Bernie Sanders. The land of maple syrup and green mountains. The place with the progressive bastions of Burlington (where Bernie was mayor) and Brattleboro (pretend Berkeley was a giant B&B.)

Yes, Vermont has given more cumulative support to GOP presidential candidates than any other state. This isn’t a mistake or typo. From the first candidate, John Fremont in 1856, through Richard Nixon in 1960, Vermont was redder than the national popular vote in every election. By a minimum of 17 points and an average of more than double that. Even when losing badly overall, Republicans won the state every time, including 1936 when FDR only lost two states (Maine was the other rebel,)

Then Barry Goldwater happened. Continue reading “State of the States: Vermont”

Efficiency and Legitimacy

Joe Biden is becoming more efficient. At least based on recent polls. His weighted average in national surveys is +6.8%. If the election were today and the polls are correct, his tipping point state (the one that would put him to/over 270) is Pennsylvania. He leads by 4.6% on average. He’s got a gap of 2.2 points between his national number and the one that actually matters. You can think of this as an efficiency measure.

It’s pretty much impossible to game the Electoral College in such a way that a candidate could lose the popular vote by more than 6 points, yet still triumph. If not impossible, it’s a 1 in 100 thing that we can ignore for the purposes of doing a little math. An election where the tipping point state and national popular vote exactly match is perfectly efficient. We’ll give this an index number of 100. If a candidate would need to win the popular vote by 6 points or more, we’ll give that a 0. That’s as inefficient as you can be.

For the candidate who could lose the popular vote by up to 6 points and still win, they’d get an index of 200. No matter how you calculate, there are a total of 200 index points to split between the candidates, so that the average is always 100. Based on current numbers, Biden’s index number is 63, while Donald Trump’s is 137.

Here’s what the past several elections look like by this measure: Continue reading “Efficiency and Legitimacy”


As I was getting ready to work on a post about Indiana or Louisiana (hadn’t figured out which), the news about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg reached the world. Suddenly, trying to sort out why FDR and the election of 1932 pushed Indiana from purple to red wasn’t urgent.

It’s always a big deal when a sitting justice passes away. There’s a scramble. And whether it was William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, or any other justice with a lengthy career and decades on the court, except for the day of the funeral, political considerations dominate the news. Yes, 2020 is an extra big mess, but the exception is when the court isn’t politicized, not when it is.

It’s always a big deal when a particularly meaningful justice leaves the court. RBG was nominated right before Steven Breyer. They served together for almost three decades. They voted together well over 90% of the time. In terms of judicial impact, it doesn’t make much difference that Breyer is the one who will be hearing arguments when the new session begins on October 5. Emotionally it’s a huge difference. Continue reading “Earthquake”

State of the States: Arizona

Looks like Arizona is front and center from now until November 3 (plus however long it takes them to count.) Of all the traditionally red states (AZ has voted for a Democrat only once since 1948), it looks like the best opportunity for Joe Biden to flip. He’s got a stronger lead there than in Florida, where the Obama-Biden ticket won twice. Odds are similar to Pennsylvania, where Donald Trump ended a 6 election Democratic streak in 2016.

Arizona is key to Biden being able to win even if one of the more common Democratic targets doesn’t work out. Much as I enjoy pushing back on conventional wisdom, the closer you look, the more this seems like a legit possibility. While I have no idea if or when Texas will go blue, Arizona will be giving Democratic presidential candidates a boost from their national average by 2028 at the latest. Even now, it’s a clear target for a Democrat who wins the popular vote by a couple/few points. Continue reading “State of the States: Arizona”