Thoughts on Super Tuesday Part 2

1) For all the constant talk about voters crossing partisan lines and switching allegiances during this election season, it’s usually best to ignore such unevidenced presumptions that constitute media fodder more than anything else. But on the Republican side for the Ohio primary on Tuesday, this dynamic was truly in play. As can be seen below, the non-Republican portions of the electorate for the Ohio Republican primary grew in 2016 compared to prior elections according to exit poll data.

oh rep electorate
Source: 2008, 2012, 2016 exit polls.

This shift very likely propelled John Kasich more than the other candidates, offering some credence to the stories about Democrats voting for Kasich to stop Donald Trump. 55 percent of Democrats voted for their state’s governor, the highest percentage of the three partisan groups to go with him. Moderates made up a quarter of Ohio’s electorate as well, and Kasich had his best total in that group–along the moderate, somewhat conservative, very conservative continuum–taking 58 percent of it.

In addition, a recent Monmouth poll revealed a much greater inclination for Democrats to vote in the Republican primary than their own: 17 percent of Democrats–compared to 10 percent of Republicans–said they would seriously consider crossover voting. Accordingly, while self-identifying Democrats made up eight percent of the Republican primary electorate, Republicans comprised only two percent of the Democratic electorate.

2) One very interesting question that emerged out of Tuesday was why the Democratic unfolded so differently in Illinois and Missouri–where Hillary Clinton only won by two and one percentage points, respectively–than in Ohio–where Clinton finished with a 14-point advantage. For one, the crossover vote that likely occurred in Ohio may have disadvantaged Bernie Sanders in particular. While no crosstabs were made public for the question on seriously considering voting in a primary other than your own, the director of the pollster that conducted the aforementioned poll stated that Democratic voters willing to take a Republican ballot were more likely to be Sanders supporters than Clinton ones.

Looking at exit poll information among this trio of states, a few distinctions between the first two states and Ohio also appear. Firstly, as seen below, the ideological makeup in Ohio was not as liberal as that in the other Midwestern states.

il mo oh ideo makeup dem primary
Source: 2016 exit polls.

Charting the percentages that each ideology made up of the electorate, Illinois and Missouri stand out as about five/six percentage points more “very liberal” than Ohio. A divergence materializes on the other end of the ideological spectrum as well, as the Ohioan electorate described itself as more moderate and conservative; while the non-liberal portion of the Democratic electorate was 35 percent in Illinois and 33 percent in Missouri, it was 42 percent in Ohio.

Apart from this, although younger age categories held fairly even across the three states in their distribution of support, the older age brackets broke more towards Clinton in Ohio.

clinton margin by age mo oh il dem primary
Source: 2016 exit polls.

Voters aged 50 to 64 voted for Clinton by about 19 percentage points more in Ohio than in the other two states, and Ohioans aged 65 or older favored Clinton 15.5 percentage points more than voters of the same age in Missouri and Illinois. It’s worth noting that two oldest age groups comprised 50 percent of the electorate in Missouri, 53 percent in Illinois, and 54 percent in Ohio–their disproportionate share of the electorate being more important than change by state here. Age continues to represent one of the defining divides during this Democratic Primary race, as it still correlates strongly and positively with Clinton vote share (p.98 in the link)–where that increasing Clinton support becomes further pronounced could very well tilt an election more her way.

3) With the suspension of Marco Rubio’s campaign after losing the primary in his home state of Florida, it seems an apt time to question the prevailing theory in political science about how presidential nominations are won in the post-1972 reform era: that “the party decides,” and that a nomination is a product of the coordination between party elites and insiders, so as to put forth a nominee acceptable to all factions part of the broad party coalition. All of this can be reasonably proxied by the amount of public endorsements–especially from party officeholders–a candidate gets. Since 1980, these endorsements have proven more predictive of the eventual nominee than other factors such as media attention, fundraising, and polling numbers.

The primary race on the Republican side appears to cast serious doubt on this theorem. Up until his exit, Rubio had seemingly become the candidate around which the GOP coalesced, garnering several key endorsements after the Iowa caucus and leading in endorsement totals for much of the time thereafter.

Yet this overstates the involvement on the party of the GOP establishment. As indicated by FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker, there has never been a slower pace of granting endorsements on the GOP side–in the sample of primaries since 1980 considered–than in 2016, and thereby never as little effort from the party to influence the primary race. This slow pace materialized during the invisible primary, defined as the year or so before the first elections take place and when party elites traditionally coalesce around an acceptable candidate. The party decides theory specifically points to this time period, and endorsements that occur within it, as what is most consequential for shaping the nomination fight. It was here when the slowest pace of endorsements were given, and when Jeb Bush–rather than Rubio–emerged as the establishment favorite, but not by any substantial margin.

An active approach to influencing the nominating process has almost always reaped the desired rewards for party elites, yet during this cycle they abstained like never before. Rubio’s surge in endorsements did not take place during this all-important invisible primary phase of the campaign. Along with the lack of party action beforehand, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that party insiders have lost control of the nomination, and that the purported establishment pick in Rubio failed, as in fact his path clearly falls outside of the model of past primaries that indicate elite coordination and backing translating to a candidate’s success.

This should not detract from the heavy blow the party decides theorem will take in relation to the GOP primary during this election cycle, as actual results on the nomination path have contradicted this line of thought. At the same time, a distinction lies in defining this theory–is it that an establishment candidate overwhelmingly wins the nomination, or that this candidate only succeeds upon concerted effort from the party coalition and elites in offering support? If the latter case is true, then I think the theory remains far from disproved–and especially so when on the Democratic side, it’s being continuously borne out: though encountering some obstacles, Hillary Clinton has amassed endorsements at the fastest rate among all past Democratic candidates, and consequently stands in a near-impregnable position to capture the nomination.

4) In the aftermath of polling debacle for the Michigan Democratic primary, many questioned the faith placed in polling and whether polls were accurately portraying future primaries. Never mind this use of an anomaly as a meaningful precedent, the results of this second Super Tuesday of sorts renewed support for the accurate ability of pollsters–which frankly never should have been seriously questioned (especially considering polls have done a fairly good job during this election season).

polling vote results super tuesday part 2
Source: HuffPost Pollster, New York Times.

The above graph shows the final polling margins in favor of Clinton before Tuesday–measured by HuffPost Pollster’s average, or if they did not have one, the average of the most recent polls–and the actual voting margin in favor of Clinton. The pre-election polls proved very accurate, deviating by an average of 4.1 percentage points and correctly showing Clinton ahead in all five states. Though only five observations, the final polling margins and voting results had a very strong 0.94 correlation (a 1.00 correlation would mean the polls perfectly predicted the actual result).

Thoughts on Super Tuesday Part 2

One thought on “Thoughts on Super Tuesday Part 2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s