September 8, 2016

Where does the electoral pendulum swing? Ask the voters who stayed home last time

The greatest obstacle that Hillary Clinton faces is winning a third consecutive term for the same party. In the last post we saw that everyone who pulled that off was an incumbent in the outgoing administration, and a high-ranking member like President, VP, etc. Hillary is a non-incumbent, which hinders her serving as a bridge of continuity, and she was Secretary of State, a role that has not been a launching pad toward the Presidency since the early 1800s, when it was of greater prestige than the VP.

Now we're going to look more at the idea of momentum that carries the same party from winning one election to the next. The basic idea is that the party has become more popular from the first to the second, an upward trend that could deliver victory in the third election.

The common way to measure this is by looking at the share of the popular vote -- if the party got 51% the first time and rose to 57% the second time, they seem to be on a roll. If they won the first time with 57% and fell to 51% in their second win, that suggests their popularity is evaporating and will not last to secure a third win.

But it turns out this is not entirely accurate. I'll be looking only at the elections back to 1972, because the data-set that the new model is based on only goes back that far. We'll just look at who won the popular vote, since that usually means they won the election. When we say "won," we mean the popular vote.

There have been 6 elections back through 1972 that were the second term of the same party, which allows us to see if they went on to win a third time. How good of a prediction is "gaining share of popular vote"?

In 1972, the Nixon landslide was a major improvement over his narrow win in '68. That suggests soaring popularity for Republicans, which ought to have led them to victory again in '76 -- but the Democrats won instead.

In 1984, the Reagan landslide was up even higher than his earlier landslide in '80. This predicts a win for Republicans in '88, and that did in fact happen.

In 1988, Bush's popular vote was lower than Reagan's in '84, and about what it was in '80 (adjusting for the third party vote). His Electoral College win was smaller than either of Reagan's. That predicts a loss for the fourth election in '92 -- and they did indeed lose it to the Democrats.

In 1996, Clinton's re-election improved from his first win, suggesting a third win in '00 -- and Gore did indeed win the popular vote (though not the EC).

In 2000, Gore's popular vote was down from Clinton's in '96, and far lower in the EC, suggesting that the Democrats would lose the next time -- and in '04 it was Bush who won the popular vote.

In 2004, Bush improved on his showing in '00, predicting a third term in '08 -- yet the Republicans got blown out.

So, the measure works in 4 out of 6 cases, which isn't bad but isn't great either.

For what it's worth, Obama declined in the popular vote (and EC) from '08 to '12, predicting a loss for Democrats in '16.

I stumbled upon an even better measure by investigating the behavior and the effects of voters who are "new" to a party and therefore represent changing directions driven by those who are not partisan loyalists -- having crossed over from the other party, having sat the last election out, or having been too young to vote last time. I'll be writing much more on these topics, but for now let's look at how they predict what happens in the attempt at a third consecutive win for the party.

It turns out that we can predict the fate of that third attempt by looking at the second win, and ask how the "infrequent" voters leaned -- meaning those who could have voted in the last election, but did not, and are now getting off the sidelines to participate. Something motivated them beyond typical partisan loyalty, and that something could be a sign of which way the wind is blowing.

We're using the General Social Survey because it allows us to get the voting behavior of a person across two separate elections.

We'll start with the level of support that, say, the Democrats enjoyed among the "frequent" voters -- those who voted in the last election, and the current one as well. That captures where the zeitgeist already is, whereas the infrequent voters will tell us where it is headed. So we take the difference in support levels for the Democrats, comparing the infrequent against the frequent voters. Compared to the usual voters, how much more Democrat-leaning are the infrequent voters?

For example, in 1972 the frequent voters went 35% for the Democrat, while the infrequent voters went 52%, for a difference of 17 points favoring the Democrat among the infrequents. The graph below shows how Democrat-biased the infrequent voters were, compared to the frequents, where negative values mean they were Republican-biased compared to the frequents.

Let's look at those 6 elections again, and see how this measure of momentum performs. It makes the same correct predictions as the "increasing popular vote" measure does for '84 (R in '88), '88 (D in '92), '96 (D in '00), and '00 (R in '04).

But in the two that the crude measure missed -- '72 and '04 -- it correctly identifies flagging momentum. In '72, the share of the popular vote may have shot up for the Republican, but those who came off of the sidelines actually favored the Democrat (and in an election when he would get demolished). That predicted the failure of the third attempt in '76.

Later in '04, when Bush had improved his popular vote, the voters who had sat it out in '00 decided that they couldn't sit idly by this time, and joined in the effort to dump Bush. As in '72, they failed at their current task, but this counter-movement showed the way forward, and the Republican would lose big-time in the attempted third term in '08.

For what it's worth, this model shows a loss of momentum between Obama's first and second wins. Those who sat it out in '08, but showed up in '12, were more Republican-leaning than the frequent voters. That suggests discontent with the Democrat administration already by their second win, making a third win all but impossible.

This model does not perfectly predict whether a first win will lead to a second win. For example, the infrequent voters in '76 were Democrat-leaning compared to frequents, yet they lost massively in Carter's re-election bid in '80. The infrequents in Reagan's first win were also Democrat-leaning, yet he won re-election handily in '84.

Still, in 8 of the 10 elections, the behavior of infrequents does predict who wins the next time. But those bungled predictions from '76 and '80 are rather damning failures -- missing the Reagan landslides in '80 and '84.

Why do infrequents perfectly predict from a second to a third, or a third to a fourth, but not necessarily from a first to a second? I think these folks who tend to sit things out will let the first term of the party have a chance to do well. After having four years of results to judge them by, they'll come out and give a referendum.

Remember, this does not block the incumbent party right away -- they were biased toward McGovern in '72, Dukakis in '88, and Kerry in '04. Instead, it reveals a stalling momentum, that the people who generally pay little mind to politics are upset enough with the status quo that they're actually participating this time.

On the other hand, if these infrequents make a point of leaving the house this time around just to support the incumbent party, that means even the election-averse citizens are eager for more of the same, and the party has enough momentum to win another term the next time. The infrequents were biased toward Reagan in '84 and Clinton in '96, which heralded popular vote wins for the incumbent party in '88 and '00.

For predicting the 2016 outcome, both measures -- trend in popular vote and bias of infrequent voters -- agree that there is no momentum going from '08 to '12, putting a third win out of reach for the Democrats.

GSS variables: presYY (year), voteYY (year)


  1. Random Dude on the Internet9/8/16, 7:50 AM

    Most Democrats I know are so certain that Hillary will win because they assume the same demographic turnout. So if Obama won in 2012 and there are even more Hispanics in 2016 then in 2012, Hillary therefore will win by a larger margin than in 2012. It's just that easy!

    Last night was the NBC News Forum and well, liberals are mad that Matt Lauer asked Hillary questions tougher than she's been used to throughout her campaign. My guess is that she cuts back on her already sparse rally schedule to prepare more for the September 26 debate.

  2. Dem partisans are retarded for assuming demography is destiny, but then so are the Republican partisans -- either we're doomed and there's no point, or we have to start shilling for amnesty to pick up some of that crucial Hispanic vote (which rarely actually votes, and only in states with no contest).

    If demographics were destiny, then how did Nixon ever get elected -- twice, and in a landslide for re-election? Non-whites rose as a fraction of the population from the New Deal era to 1970.

    "Well, whites were still the vast majority" -- except that wasn't the division back then, which was between founding stock and white ethnics. If the Dems had a lock on white ethnics, and they were only growing over time, it would be impossible for Republicans to ever win again.

    Only they did because no party has a solid lock on all of the groups within their coalition. Maybe one or two -- blacks for Dems, white evangelicals for Republicans -- but not every member group.

    White ethnics had no problem voting for Nixon, and neither did blue-collar workers, or union members. Ditto for Reagan, also elected twice and in landslides.

    So who cares if there are a handful more Hispanic voters in Texas and California -- what about white ethnics? If they loosen their support for Dems, there goes Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, all of which are suddenly up for grabs according to the Emerson polls.

    Dems could have had the same retarded defeatist attitude toward suburban white voters during the '70s and '80s -- as suburbanization only grows, there's no way the urban-heavy Dems can ever win again. Unless suburban whites are not hardcore loyalists to the GOP, which they turned out not to be, and easily went over to the Dems during the liberal vs. conservative culture war era.

    We can't tolerate any more foolishness and whining about how every group within a party's coalition is locked in place for all time.

    1. White population is still 65% or so. Even if it shrunk to 50% it would still be far larger than any other group. 2012 conclusively demonstrated that the bible belt coalition they had wasn't going to work any more. Establishment types wanted to court "natural conservative" Latinos while Trump had the idea of a rustbelt realignment. I've tried to explain to democrat supporters that Trump is trying to build a new coalition but all I get is "Haha! Georgia is light pink, omg!" It's not just establishment cons who haven't caught on the culture war era is over.
      Furthermore, they don't understand even a Trump defeat wouldn't restore the past. It has only begun to enter their imaginations that things will not go back to being as they were.
      Trump's opponents consistently underestimate him because they refuse to understand he isn't just another establishment con.

  3. For the first time today, I started feeling deja vu: it's the Republican primary as Trump begins to overtake his top opponent. Watching the wailing and gnashing of teeth after last night which itself comes after a steady rise in polls for Trump.

    Anybody else besides me?

    I don't know if it will last, but Hillary fans in the press, i.e. all of them, are going through the same motions as the GOPe before them.
    The write-off. The uptick in anxiety as polls show him creeping up and maxing out his "ceiling". The despondency when in the debate-similar forum, their candidate falters and/or Trump shines (happened at every R debate save 2nd Fox). Even the scapegoating of a moderator is the same.

    We went through this repeatedly, that maxing out of some supposed ceiling, that it almost feels inevitable that he's on his way to maxing out the ultimate one.

    Steve Sailed often refers to Regression toward the Mean and I think it so incredibly useful. He predicted it would be hard for Romney to top his first debate in '12 and he was right.

    I have this sense that pundits who have written off Trump have not been mindful of this so important concept.

  4. Random Dude on the Internet9/8/16, 4:28 PM


    Almost one year ago (September 16), they held the second GOP primary debate. Pundits said it was one of Trump's worst performances and that Carly Fiorina was finally the person who was going to stump the Trump. She received a brief spike in the polls and then cratered thereafter where she never recovered. Conversely, Trump's poll numbers kept rising as his ceiling went past the 20s and into the 30s and so on.

    Despite the media telling people every debate that he did terrible, out of all the debates held, with exception of maybe one or two, he actually did better. I think the reason is that the media tries so hard to destroy Trump that people are pleasantly surprised to hear that his policies are not the revival of the gas chambers. The media goes too hard against Trump where anything that doesn't sound like Adolf Hitler would say gives him a boost. I expect him to do better in polling from this point on because people get the chance to hear him for themselves.

    Members of the media smugly consider themselves the fourth estate/fourth branch of the government but they have been utterly rocked this go around. Not only with Donald Trump but Bernie Sanders did much better than anyone outside of Berniebros anticipated. It will be interesting to see how they will behave in a Trump presidency. I'm guessing they will keep doing what they are doing now but looking at CNN's ratings, they will be shuttering operations by 2019 if they keep it up. Something will have to give and some network will eventually begin tailoring themselves to the Trump Republicans once it becomes apparent that Trump isn't a fluke but just the beginning stages of the realignment to globalism vs. nationalism.

  5. We have to push Trump on breaking up the media monopoly as fast as possible.

    All media is flagrantly concentrated into just 5 corporations, colluding propaganda is obviously against the public interest, it's a recent change (de-regulation craze of the '80s and after), and the airwaves, internet, etc., were publicly funded and owned.

    They have no right to their media empires, and they're all going to come crashing down. Nobody will complain either, not even the autistic libertarian types who defend monopoly no matter what. Everybody hates and distrusts the media.

  6. Random,

    Oh, yes! I remember so well! My biggest pet peeve with a vocal minority on our side is this idea that Trump isn't good with debates, and should especially avoid biased moderators.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. He won me over at the first one and most people I've talked to have said that they, too, we're won over by a debate.

    He gets millions of eyes on him to make his case for himself when the usual programming is anti-Trump. The more he is heard from, the better he does...
    How would it be otherwise?!

    1. I am also perplexed at this idea that Trump is a bad debater. Did they not see him dominate a room full of experienced opponents time and again? I see:
      "But now he can't BS like he did when there were was a room full of people. She will destroy him one on one."
      "Presidential debates are about policy. Hillary will run policy circles around him."
      I just shake my head.

    2. I never really got the impression that Hillary was a policy wonk but maybe they threw in a few good lines in her speeches. IDK.

      Trump probably needs to get better at that himself but Clinton isn't some policy genius or whatever.

  7. The other variable is when was the last time that both parties had this much internal friction against their presumed candidate going into the general. Even Reagan had a long history with the GOP by 1979, while Trump successfully performed a coup against their entire braintrust. It seems that a lot of GOP bigwigs are holding back on going after Trump, like their doners want, for fear of crossing the King and getting permanently cast out. They'll bring the knives out if he looks wounded and they can curry favor with their masters. Were Reagan or Nixon dealing with that going into the general?

    On the other side of the aisle, Hillary's ascension was the most nakedly rigged pit of political insider trading that most of the Dem electorate have ever seen outside of the Daley Machine.

    I don't know what the folks predicting a Hillary victory in the debates are smoking. These folks are assuming that Hillary Clinton has a time machine and can get her 2008 model to show up to the debates. And even that model was a pedantic bore, just one that didn't have a brain injury.

  8. Random Dude on the Internet9/8/16, 9:36 PM

    People think Trump is a bad debater because he doesn't act like a Republican. A Republican debating is being passive aggressive, getting beat on by his Democratic opponent and moderator, but can occasionally bust out a snide remark or two that gets the suburban dads howling because it reminds them of arguing with their wives: roll over but they are oh so tempted to snark back at them. Now they can live through John McCain or Mitt Romney who actually goes through with it!

    Trump's method is to just go for the jugular every time, which is unseemly for men who are used to "man caves" and for women who would never get a second look by a guy like Donald Trump. Trump is too high testosterone and too high energy for the middle class suburban crowd. The working class is too crude to sublimate their opinions like that so they are far more receptive to Trump's plain speaking. He's the last of the BSDs of 1980s Manhattan.

  9. Close the borders, drop the multiculturalism and return to assimilatory measures and you'd get latins voting like leftier 'white ethnic' subgroups rather than being 65-70% in the tank for the democrats. Think voting GOP at 45-60% depending on the specific context. Blacks? The best you can do there is 15-25% depending on election. Both of these alone would undo quite a bit of turning red states blue or purple and this is without even factoring in realignments among the white majority.

    Note the italians and others dropped the whole anarchist and socialist routine once the heavy hammer of americanization was brought down.

  10. "Dem partisans are retarded for assuming demography is destiny, but then so are the Republican partisans"

    The hispandering is just a globalist trojan horse. Who needs America to remain white if we can make inroads with whites? The so-called autopsy done post Romney is a joke. Like they just forgot to research or explain why the GOP has alienated so many white people in the Northeast, West coast, and Eastern Midwest since the early 90's. Also, the Bush/Western faction of the GOP became infatuated with Mexicans because of SW demographics and the fairly high Hispanic turnout for the GOP in 2000/2004. It's like they thought, "Mexicans are overtaking blacks, so why not get our own pet minority group to rival and hopefully overtake the Dem's blacks?" Yeah right. Mestizos and blacks are too alienated from W European norms to ever vote heavily for the "white" party.

    The GOP did pretty well with Asians in the early 90's Rodney King era. Heavily concentrated in California at the time, they voted GOP after blacks chimped out. After the early 90's though, the GOP's growing embrace of survivalist rhetoric and evangelical ID politics turned off non whites while the Dem's blame whitey nonsense was bought into by non-whites and liberal whites.

    I heard a debate and one of the talkers was this liberal (first name might've been Robert, his last name I don't remember) who wrote a book about alienated white people. He said that Trump's biggest base is WASPS. What? To begin with, Nobody born after 1970 even uses that term anymore. Since around the late 80's, American whites have typically been lumped together. Also, does this goof consider Scot-Irish Southerners/lower Midwesterners (who of course favor the more street smart and less pretentious candidate) to be WASPS? LOL.Second, many Gen X/Millennial whites do not have a strong religious identity. Institutions, the church included, become discredited in high striving periods thereby alienating those too young to remember a more wholesome era in which people felt more trusting and enthusiastic about being a part of something.

    Smug elites are clueless. Trump's combative persona plays best to earthy, unpretentious, well rooted people. Trump is most disliked by rootless strivers/elites with no sense of noblesse oblige. And also by decadent/nihilistic/wimpy whites with no sense of vigilance regarding ethnic/cultural stability. Places traditionally inhabited by and/or recently invaded by these groups, like D.C., Virginia, Colorado, The West Coast, Atlanta (the faggiest place in the South), The MN Twin Cities (faggiest place in the Midwest) are hotbeds of Trump bashers.

    Trump has a helluva challenge. His main enemies are strivers and snobs of which there are so many thanks to decades of decadence. He has much to offer to people in the Northeast and Eastern Midwest, yet these areas suffer from a plague of partisan alienation ("only redneck bitter white guys vote Republican") and pockets of yuppies (New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Mass. are off the table). Former GOP strongholds are now facing the prospect of Dem takeover on account of yuppie carpetbaggers. Mainly Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina.

    At a time when a college degree is as important as drawing oxygen into your lungs, the strivers who don't mind the U.S. becoming the world's boarding house are hell-bent on stopping Trump. In the Nordic belt, Iowa, the least trendy state, is polling much better for Trump than MN or Wisconsin. Speaking of which, Wisconsin undecided voter focus groups keep popping up in the media. Figures. Legions of suburban nordic wimps and dour farmers, who wouldn't be so rude as to suggest that America should defend itself from terrorists and parasites, can be counted on to disdain Trump.

    The elephant in the room is that so many elites do not want anything that would diminish mercenary culture. They reject concerns about de-regulation, open borders, no good jobs, etc. as the whining of dumb losers.


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