Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Conventional Wisdom in Politics

So we keep hearing that VA and NJ always or often vote against the President's party in the subsequent year. At, they have a chart showing this happening 14 of 16 times since 1980. So let's push it further. Here are my thoughts:
1. If VA or NJ voted against the incumbent president's party but consistent with that state's vote in the previous year's presidential election, the election shows continuity, not a shift against the president's party.
2. Does it matter what happened before 1980? I don't see why 1980 is a cutoff for measuring unless we know something happened, or unless we with to hypothesize that some change must have happened in 1980.

Here are my expanded data:

Year Prior Pres Elect VA Vote Pres VA Gov NJ Vote Pres NJ Gov VA NJ
2009 D D* R D* R 2 2
2005 R R* D D D 2 1
2001 R R* D D D 2 1
1997 D R R D* D 1 0
1993 D R R D* R 1 2
1989 R R* D R* D 2 2
1985 R R* D R* R 2 0
1981 R R* D R* R 2 0
1977 D R R R D 1 -1
1973 R R* R R* D 0 2
1969 R R* D R* R 0 0
1965 D D* D D* D 0 0
1961 D R D D D -1 0

The coding is: 2 means state voted against incumbent president and changed its party preference from the previous election. 1 means the state voted agaisnt the incumbent president but consistent with its prior presidential electoral vote. 0 means it voted for the incumbent president, consistent with its prior presdential electoral vote. -1 means that it voted for the incumbent president and inconsistently with its prior state vote agaisnt that president.

What we see is (1) the pattern is not so strong as remarked and (2) it really only relates to a handful of elections.


Raised By Republicans said...

I think there is a much simpler explanation for all three of the election results this week. First, in NJ and VA, the incumbent party (Democratic Party) lost in the middle of a really really bad recession. That's not really a mystery in dire need of an explanation in my book. Second, in NY-23, the conservative vote was deeply split by the fight between the Conservative Party nominee and the Republican Party nominee with the Republican dropping out at the last minute and endorsing the Democratic Party nominee. Again, not a huge puzzle in need of a special explanation there either.

These three elections were just not that reflective of much other than fairly conventional expectations among political scientists about the effects of bad economic indicators on incumbent party success and the effect of partisan divisions within an ideological block on electoral success in a single member district system.

The Law Talking Guy said...

When you say a "simpler" explanation - simpler than what? The purpose of my post was largely to demonstrate that a supposed pattern in the voting of NJ and VA is substantially overstated in the press. I suppose you're agreeing that there is no pattern of that kind.

I think it is worth remembering this in the context of another bit of conventional wisdom - that the president's party always loses seats in Congress in midterm elections. These bits of wisdom are repeated as if they are alchemical rules. Of course, they are not. These "rules" are teased out of a relative handful of election that are equally well explained by more familiar rules.

Incidentally, I think NY23 is a bigger win for the Dems than the press is reporting. This is a Red district, through and through. If the Dem had won with 40% while the two non-D candidates split 30% each, I would be inclined to agree with the idea that this was a fluke. Actually, the Dem got nearly 50% - the same that close victors get in every close election. The results - 49% first, 45% 2d, 5.5% 3d - look like lots and lots of elections where 3d parties get up to 5% of the vote (usually split between 2 or 3 of them). What happened is that in a national race, the electorate voted FOR the President's party and AGAINST the naysayers.

I think the public largely believes that Obama promised he would "fix" the economy, and they still think he will. 2010 will be a referendum on whether he has. I suspect that the verdict by next summer will be that Obama has followed through.

Raised By Republicans said...

Simpler than the explanations you refer to as "conventional wisdom."

RE: 2010, I hope you are right about that. But I did notice that the African American and youth voter turnout in these elections this week was about half what it was in 2008. That's generally not good for Democrats but it is typical for off year elections.