Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Vote Counts, Part 4: Really Red States



A couple weeks ago, I went through the states that are extremely unlikely to go Red this year without some kind of major Democratic Party defection. I was planning to go through the states that are almost certainly going to the GOP last week, but didn't get around to it because I was working on my new book of movie reviews (which you can buy here!), so I'm doing it now. Below I'll go through the states that have gone red by an average margin of 15% or more in the last 5 elections.

Once again, here's the format:
State 
Favored Party: This is the party the state is expected to go to. 
Electoral Votes: How many electoral votes the state has. 
Average Margin: This is the average margin of victory for the last five elections (including negative margins for losses, if applicable). I went with 5 elections because it's the number that www.270towin.com lists on each state's history page and I'm not getting paid enough to dig deeper than that. It gives us a metric for seeing how the state has voted over the last 20 years, so it should at least give us some idea of the current trends.
Current Prediction: This is the current margin of victory according to www.fivethirtyeight.com's predictions (as of August 11)
Flips: Notes on when the state has flipped. Since the parties traded sides on civil rights and some other issues in the 1960s, I'll mostly focus on flips from the 70s on unless there's anything particulary interesting about the state's earlier voting history is especially interesting or easy to summarize.

Utah
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 6
Average Margin: 36.82%
Current Prediction: Trump's not polling well in Mormonland. He's only polling 7% higher than Clinton (45.8 to 38.8). Gary Johnson polling at 13.5%
Flips: Utah's gone Blue 8 times since became a state in 1896: 1896, 1916, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, and 1964. Since 1968, it's gone to the GOP every election.

Wyoming
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 3
Average Margin: 33.2%
Current Prediction: Trump's up 24.7%
Flips: Wyoming's been a state since 1890, and like Utah it's only gone to the Democrats 8 times: 1896, 1912, 1916, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1948, and 1964. 

Idaho
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 4
Average Margin: 33.22%
Current Prediction: Republicans by 18.4%
Flips: Idaho went to the People's Party in its first election as a state (1892), and went to the Democrats in the next two elections. After that, it followed a pattern similar to Utah and Wyoming, going blue in 1912, 1916, every election from 1932-1948, and 1964. 

Oklahoma
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 7
Average Margin: 25.16%
Current Prediction: Trump by 21.3%
Flips: Oklahoma mostly voted for the Democrats up until 1948. Since then, it's gone to the GOP every election except for 1964. 

Nebraska 
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 5
Average Margin: 23.52%
Current Prediction: Trump 12.4%
Flips: Nebraska became a state in 1867 and has gone to the Republicans in all but 7 elections: 1896, 1908, 1912, 1916, 1932, 1936, and the ever-popular 1964. Since 1992, Nebraska has had the possibility of a  split Electoral Vote: the overall winner gets 2 votes and 1 vote goes to the winner of each of the state's 3 Congressional Districts. The only time the vote has actually split was in 2008, when Obama won one district and got one Electoral Vote (McCain got the other 4). 

Alaska
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 3
Average Margin: 21.9%
Current Prediction: Trump by 8.1%
Flips: Alaska's first election as a state was 1960, and it's only gone to the Democrats once (in 1964, if you couldn't guess from the previous states). 

Kansas
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 6
Average Margin: 20.2%
Current Prediction: Trump by 8.1%
Flips: Kansas has gone to the Republicans in all but 7 elections since it started voting in 1864. It went to the People's Party in 1892 and the Democrats in 1896, 1912, 1916, 1932, 1936, and 1964. 

Alabama
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 9
Average Margin: 18.26%
Current Prediction: Trump by 17.9%
Flips: Alabama was a solid Democratic state back when the Democrats were racist as hell, but they turned red in 1964 when the Democrats started supporting Civil Rights. Except for 1968 (when Alabama went to George Wallace) and Carter in 1976, Alabama has been reliably red ever since. 

North Dakota
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 3
Average Margin: 18.02%
Current Prediction: Trump by 8.8%
Flips: North Dakota's history follows the same pattern as many of the other reliably red state. The state's first election was 1892, when North Dakotans voted for the People's Party's James B. Weaver. After that, they've gone to the Republicans in most elections, with Democrats only winning the state in 1912, 1916, 1932, 1936, and of course 1964. 

Texas
Favored Party: Republicans
Electoral Votes: 38
Average Margin: 15.36%
Current Prediction: GOP by 4.5%
Flips: With only 5 exceptions (1964 and 1968, when Texas didn't vote; and 1928, 1952, and 1956, when Texas went red), Texas went to the Democrats in every election from 1848 to 1968. Being LBJ's home state kept them from turning red in 1964 with most of the other southern states, but they voted for Nixon in 1972 and the Lone Star state has gone to the Republicans in every election since then with the exception of 1976.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My Vote Counts, Part 3: True Blue States

Third parties probably won't play a big role in the election this year. Gary Johnson only took 1% of the vote in 2012 and is polling at an average of 9%. Jill Stein only took 0.36% of the vote in 2012 and isn't on the ballot in all 50 states and therefore isn't even included in most polls. Even if you give her the same increase from 2012 voting to current polls that Johnson is showing, she's in the 3-4% range. Even if all the third party voters "steal" votes from a given state's favored candidate and the third parties do better than they're currently polling, they're unlikely to take more than 15% of the vote in a given state. In 10 states and the District of Columbia, the Democrats have won by an average margin of 15% or more in the last 5 elections, so unless Johnson or Stein turns into a 1992 Ross Perot kind of candidate in the next few months, these 149 Electoral Votes are Hillary's.

Here's the format for each state.

State 
Favored Party: This is the party the state is expected to go to. 
Electoral Votes: How many electoral votes the state has. 
Average Margin: This is the average margin of victory for the last five elections (including negative margins for losses, if applicable). I went with 5 elections because it's the number that www.270towin.com lists on each state's history page and I'm not getting paid enough to dig deeper than that. It gives us a metric for seeing how the state has voted over the last 20 years, so it should at least give us some idea of the current trends.
Current Prediction: This is the current margin of victory according to www.fivethirtyeight.com's predictions.  
Flips: Notes on when the state has flipped. Since the parties traded sides on civil rights and some other issues in the 1960s, I'll mostly focus on flips from the 70s on unless there's anything particulary interesting about the state's earlier voting history is especially interesting or easy to summarize. 

Solid Blue States

District of Columbia 
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 3
Average Margin: 80.3%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 73.3%
Flips: None. D.C. has gone to the Democrats every year since its first inclusion in the Electoral College in 1964. 

Hawaii
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 4
Average Margin: 28.1%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 38.1%
Flips: Hawaii's first election as a state 1960, and only 2 Republicans have ever won the state: Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1984. 

Rhode Island
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 4
Average Margin: 27.6%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 22.2%
Flips: Rhode Island has been a reliably blue state since 1928, only flipping 4 times: 1952, 1956, 1972, and 1984. 

Massachusetts
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 11
Average Margin: 27%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 24.9%
Flips: Like Rhode Island, Massachusetts became a reliably Democratic state in 1928 but liked Ike in 1952 and 1956. Reagan took the state in 1980 and 1984.  

New York
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 29
Average Margin: 25.6%
Current Prediction: 21.7%
Flips: New York didn't become a reliably blue state until 1932, flipped back to red in 1948, 1952, and 1956, went to Nixon in 1972, and was part of the Reagan Revolution in 1980 and 1984. 

Vermont
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 3
Average Margin: 25%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 25.2%
Flips: With the exception of 1964, Vermont was a solid red state from 1856 to 1988. Since 1992, it's gone to the Democrats every time. 

Maryland
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 10
Average Margin: 19.4%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 31.3%
Flips: Maryland has historically gone mostly to the Democrats with 2-3 election GOP runs breaking up the monotony. In the last 40ish years, it went to Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984, and Papa Bush in 1988. 

Connecticut
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 7
Average Margin: 17.1%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 12.9%
Flips: Historically, Connecticut seems to change its collective mind about which party it likes every 20 years or so. From 1972 to 1988, it was a Republican state. Since 1992, it's gone to the Democrats.  
Illinois
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 20
Average Margin: 16.4%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 17.8%
Flips: From 1968 to 1988, Illinois was a Republican state. Since 1992, it's gone to the Democrats every time. 

California 
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 55
Average Margin: 16.3%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 22%
Flips: Like Illinois, California was a red state from 1968 to 1988 and has gone to the Democrats since 1992. 

Delaware
Favored Party: Democrats
Electoral Votes: 3
Average Margin: 15.9%
Current Prediction: Clinton by 15.3%
Flips: Delaware has flipped back and forth a lot over the years. It went to Nixon both times he ran, went to Carter in 1976, voted for Reagan both times and George H.W. Bush in 1988, and has been blue since 92. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

My Vote Counts, Part 2: Spoilers

I was going to save discussion of spoilers until later, but I probably need to get into it before we get into state-by-state voting patterns so we can come up with some sample scenarios for gauging how likely it is third party spoiler is going to flip a state and bring about the end of life on this planet that will inevitably result from the election of the Greater Evil (whichever one of them that is). All facts and figures come from either 270towin.com or Wikipedia unless noted otherwise. If you're one of those people that rejects Wikipedia as a valid source of information because it sometimes contains erroneous or incorrect information, go learn how to evaluate sources and then come back.

As I mentioned a couple posts ago, the last time a third party candidate won a state was in 1968 when George Wallace took 46 electoral votes. Twenty years before that, Strom Thurmond got 39 electoral votes. In 1912, Robert M. LaFollette of the Progressive party took Wisconsin's 13 electoral votes. The fourth and final time a third party candidate has won electoral votes in the 20th Century was 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt took 88 votes. Unless I'm missing a small state on one of the maps I'm looking at, third parties have only taken states 10 times throughout American history. Given the relative obscurity of both Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, I think it's a safe to say that won't happen this year. Let's stick to more recent spoiler candidates who may have taken just enough votes to flip a state and see if the election would have turned out any differently without them.

Our first spoiler is John Anderson in 1980. If we assume that Anderson stole votes exclusively from Jimmy Carter, his candidacy cost Carter 14 states: Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin, These states had a total of 177 electoral votes, so if we take them from Reagan's 489 votes and add them to Carter's 49, Reagan still wins 312 to 226. So we can't blame Anderson for the Reagan Revolution.

The next spoiler is Ross Perot in 1992. If we add his votes to George H.W. Bush's in all the states that Bill Clinton won, Bill only wins 2 states (his home state of Arkansas and New York) and the District of Columbia. If you believe the conventional wisdom about spoilers, Clinton would have done even worse than Jimmy Carter in 1980 (with 42 votes to Carter's 49) if it hadn't been for Ross Perot.

If the idea of Bush I beating Bill Clinton in a Reagan-style landslide sounds a little fishy, you're probably right, and the reason is that most "lesser evil" arguments rest on the false assumption that a third party spoiler's votes come entirely from a single major party. In reality, that's rarely the case. It's likely that many or even most Perot voters were disaffected Republicans, but there were also disaffected Democrats, third party voters, and people who don't normally vote casting ballots for Ross Perot in 1992. Without Perot in the picture, Clinton probably wouldn't have taken so many southern states that usually go to the Republicans, but he likely would have won more than 2 states and D.C. because not all of the people who voted for Perot would have voted for Bush. Some would have voted for Clinton, some would have voted for another third party candidate, and some would have stayed home. Given his positions, I assume that Perot took more votes from Bush than Clinton and suspect he tilted the race to Clinton, but there's no way to know for sure without some indication of what Perot voters would have done if there was no Perot.

Perot ran less successfully in 1996, but let's skip that and move on to He Who Must Not Be Named himself, Ralph Nader in 2000. Before we can even get around to claiming that Nader played the spoiler, there are some unpleasant facts about Al Gore that we have to be willing to ignore:
  • Al Gore lost 7 states that Bill Clinton won in both elections and Jimmy Carter won in 1980, all by more votes than Ralph Nader got in those states: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia.  
  • Al Gore also lost 2 states that Bill Clinton won in both elections: Nevada and New Hampshire. He lost Nevada by more votes than Nader got. We'll get to New Hampshire in a minute. 
If Gore would have taken any of these states that the last 3 Democratic winners before him won, he would have won the election. Even if we remove the three swing states (Nevada, New Hampshire, and Ohio) that's still 6 states that Clinton and Carter took but Gore couldn't including Gore's home state of Tennessee. Even Walter Fucking Mondale won his home state (if nothing else). Since I've got my heart set on making Nader a spoiler and those 6 remaining states are in the South, I'm going to give Ross Perot credit for Bill Clinton's wins there. That doesn't explain why Carter won them in 1976, though, so let's write that of to GOP voters still being too disillusioned by Watergate to come to the polls. Nixon's always handy for stuff like that. Now let's look at the two states that Bush won where Nader's numbers were higher than the margin of victory: Florida and New Hampshire.

At least according to this study, Nader was a spoiler in Florida, but there's a caveat: "While Nader voters in 2000 were somewhat pro-Democrat and Buchanan voters correspondingly pro-Republican, both types of voters were surprisingly close to being partisan centrists. Indeed, we show that at least 40% of Nader voters in the key state of Florida would have voted for Bush, as opposed to Gore, had they turned out in a Nader-less election. The other 60% did indeed spoil the 2000 presidential election for Gore but only because of highly idiosyncratic circumstances, namely, Florida’s extreme
closeness." In addition to ignoring the "highly idiosyncratic circumstances," you also have to ignore the possibility that more Florida Democrats voted for Bush than Nader, whether intentionally or due to confusing ballots. Since I can't seem to find any sourced data on those numbers, we'll give Florida Democrats who voted for Bush a pass. Since I'm holding the Democrats blameless, I'm going to show the same courtesy to the GOP and discount claims of purged voter registrations an other vote tampering in favor of Bush. If you ignore everything but Nader, it's obvious that Nader was the reason Bush won Florida. 

Even with a Bush win in Florida (damn you Ralph Nader!), Gore still could have won the electoral vote if he'd taken New Hampshire. If we go with the conventional wisdom that would send Bill Clinton back to Arkansas with under 50 electoral votes in 1992, then Nader was clearly the spoiler there, too. If, however, we accept that not all Nader voters would have voted for Gore otherwise, it's not quite as clear. If we use the 60/40 split from Florida, Bush still wins New Hampshire in a race without Nader. Even if you assume that 70% of Nader's voters would have voted for Gore, Al only wins by about 1600 votes, and that's if you keep the right-leaning Libertarian and Reform parties in the race to spoil it for Bush. Of course, if you're going to start assuming that the breakdown of Nader voter loyalties varies that much from state to state, you probably also need to consider the possibility that Gore would have lost one or more of the six states (Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin) where he won by fewer votes than Ralph Nader got. 

Spoilers definitely exist, but it's not quite as simple as assuming that any vote for a third party will spoil the race for the lesser evil. For purposes of deciding whether a third party vote is an acceptable risk in a given state, I'm going to go through a few different scenarios for each state:

Worst Case Scenario (Third Party takes 25% of vote from a single party)
For all the Nader hate out there, Ross Perot was actually the most effective spoiler since at least 1980. In 1992, Perot took 18.91% of the popular vote (Nader only took 2.74% in 2000). His best state percentage-wise was Maine, where he took 30.44% of the vote. In 28 states, he took over 20% of the vote, with 20 of those states in the 20-25% range, 7 in the 25-30% range, and Maine at just over 30. I'm going to use the middle of that range as my worst case 3rd party bogeyman.

Average (Third Party Takes 10% of vote from a single party)
If you average the percentage of the popular vote for Anderson, both Perot runs, and Nader, you get a 9% and some change, so I'm going to round it up to 10. Given that all of those candidates had a lot more going for them than the 3rd party candidates running in 2016, this is probably the more realistic worse case.

Polls
Most polls I've seen put Gary Johnson at 5-10% and Jill Stein at 5% or less, so that's probably the highest percentage each candidate will actually get in most states barring a major game changer between now and the election. 

Now we're ready to look at the states (I hope).

Here's this thing. 


Monday, August 1, 2016

My Vote Counts, Part 1: Game Changers

As I said last time, voting for the lesser evil can actually make sense in an election decided by the popular vote or even the U.S. Presidential election if you live in a state that could go either way. To understand why it's unlikely that solid states are going to suddenly go to the other candidate, imagine you live in a state where 100 people normally vote. We'll call it Centuria. Unless it splits its electoral votes like Nebraska and Maine do, Centuria's electoral votes are going to go to the party that gets the most votes. 51 of Centuria's voters always vote Republican, 40 of them always vote Democrat, and the remaining 9 are Independents who could go either way and sometimes vote for a third party. Even if every single Independent sides with the Democrats, the Republicans still win Centuria's electoral votes. There are only three things that can change this: Republicans voting for the Democratic candidate or third party, Republicans not showing up to vote, or an influx of new Democratic voters to the polls.

In the 2016 election, there's a chance of defection on both sides, since both parties have nominated incredibly unpopular candidates. Most of these defectors, however, will likely go to third parties rather than the other mainstream party. Democrats aren't going to vote for a nutjob like Trump and Republicans have been told for 25 years that Hillary Clinton is Satan incarnate. If anything, the Republicans probably have a psychological edge when it comes to retaining the votes of possible defectors now that most of the GOP establishment has (however reluctantly) backed Trump. Authoritarian-leaning voters aren't going to defy Daddy, no matter how wrong he is.

A lot of voters will also likely stay home, but that once again gives the GOP the edge. The Democrats are almost guaranteed a win if there's good voter turnout, but a lot of Democrats just can't be bothered to vote unless they're excited or inspired or otherwise made to feel special, which is why the Republicans inevitably take control of Congress in those boring old midterm elections when there aren't enough people posting about politics on Facebook for it to seem worth doing. After all, what's the point of wasting your time in the voting booth if you can't be smug about it later? The GOP base, on the other hand, votes in every election, probably because they're so old and white and economically stable that even a slight variation on their daily routine is exciting. Or maybe it's the little flag sticker. Right-wingers love the shit out of some flags.

I don't think either party can expect a lot of new voters this year, either. The Democrats probably have a slight advantage in this area thanks to Bernie Sanders, but not a very big one. Many of his supporters were third-party voters who would have made an exception for him and will now go back to "throwing away their vote" now that Clinton has the nomination. Clinton might have had a shot at getting some votes from the first-time voters Sanders mobilized, but between the conspiracy theories about voter fraud, the actual collusion between the Clinton campaign and the DNC revealed by the Wikileaks emails, and the open contempt Clinton showed for Sanders supporters by giving Wasserman-Shultz a campaign position before she was out of the DNC parking lot, I don't expect a statistically significant number of those people to show up to the polls for her.

So yeah, the chances of a game-changer that makes states flip are low, so it's a safe bet that voting will follow typical patterns in November. Solid states are probably going to stay solid, but some states are more solid than others, so knowing how your state's electoral history can help you determine exactly how meaningless your vote will be in November and whether your vote for the lesser evil will actually help keep the greater evil out of office. If it doesn't, voting for the lesser evil just makes it seem like people like evil. Next time, I'll look at the states where your vote is almost completely meaningless.

I'm less evil than either of this year's candidates, so vote for me (with cash) on Patreon!




Thursday, July 28, 2016

My Vote Counts, Lesser Evils, and Other Magical Thinking

Every election cycle, a lot of people try to convince me to vote for the lesser of two evils. In most cases, they greatly exaggerate the "lesser" aspect of the candidate they're stumping for and the "evil" aspect of the other side. Even if I completely believed that one of the two neo-liberal warhawks we've been forced to choose between for as long as I've been old enough to vote was truly the lesser evil, I probably wouldn't vote for them. Part of the reason I don't buy lesser evilism is because it actively makes things worse. If candidates know that their base will capitulate and vote for them no matter how bad they are as long as they can convince people that the other choice is worse, they have no incentive to even pretend to represent their constituents. This leads to the situation we have today, where two centrists parties who lean slightly one way or the other on social issues have each convinced their base that the other party is full of radicals.

By inflating the perceived power of the Presidency with hyperbole that greatly overstates what the other candidate can feasibly do if elected, lesser evilism also draws attention away from the legislative, state, and local races that usually have more effect on peoples' day-to-day lives. Neither party has any real plans to "solve" any of their culture war issues on a national level (The GOP will not overturn Roe vs. Wade, for example), but they will in many cases try to enforce their agenda on the local and state level (for instance, the restrictive regulations for abortion clinics in Texas that were recently overturned by the Supreme Court and many other local and state laws that make abortions practically unobtainable for everyone but the wealthy). Since people think the President holds all the power, they don't worry about those races and pay attention to politics in the same way some people pay attention to men's gymnastics or curling: they're really passionate about it once every four years and don't think about it the rest of the time.

Lesser evilism also sets up a binary choice that completely discounts the option of voting for a third party, which helps ensure that our choice will always be between the two evils nominated by the parties that Wall Street and the defense industry want controlling things. A third party has very little chance of winning an election (the last 3rd party candidate to even take a state was George Wallace in 1968), but a third party that garners 5% of the popular vote becomes eligible for campaign funding, which can potentially give them the resources to elect more downticket candidates and eventually build a large enough voting base to have a shot at the White House. Since doing this would take years to pull off, it isn't as sexy as the usual third party scheme of trying to elect President Superman and then getting disillusioned when it doesn't work out, but it's the only chance we've got of ever having a real choice under the current system.

The main reason I don't accept lesser evilism, however, is that my vote doesn't matter. Lesser evilism is at least theoretically valid in an election decided by the popular vote, but when it comes to the Oval Office, we've got the Electoral College to keep the rabble in check. During the 2012 election, I did the math to find out the likelihood of my state of Kentucky's 8 electoral votes changing the outcome of the election. I only found one combination where that would happen without a massive shift in voting patterns or a huge influx of new voters (both of which would likely make Kentucky's electoral votes irrelevant in a different way).

The small chance of most states changing the outcome of an election is only half the story, though. As someone (I don't remember who, and am not digging through my feed to find out since you probably don't know them anyway) succinctly put it in a Facebook thread earlier this week, most voters get ignored twice before the Presidential election is decided. Even if you live in a state with enough electoral votes to swing the election, your state still has to vote for the candidate you support. In most states, one party has a large enough voting base to guarantee who it will vote for in most elections. A "solid" state only flips when people who normally vote for that party switch sides or when a huge number of people who don't normally vote suddenly show up. Unless you're a consistent voter for one party who's part of a mass defection or a new voter who's part of a huge movement, your vote in most states has almost no chance of changing what color your state turns on election night.

Since Don Quixote is a personal hero, I'm going to be making some posts over the coming weeks where I look at the voting histories of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. I'm hoping that will help illustrate how little individual votes matter in most states so maybe a few people will vote for a candidate they actually agree with rather than against someone they've been convinced is a monster.

I'm going to practice my only magical thinking by pretending someone will support me on Patreon