The "BIPAC Daily" Political Analysis Newsletter
The following political analysis is from Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) Political Analyst Jim Ellis. BIPAC is an independent, bipartisan organization. It is provided solely as a membership benefit to the organization’s 300-plus member companies and trade associations. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of any particular member or the organization generally.
June 23, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Despite the vast majority of survey research firms again failing to predict the correct outcome for a recent political campaign, this time the GA-6 special election, we do have new data to analyze for the Virginia Governor’s race.
While it is too early to tell whether the pollsters are correctly projecting the turnout model and whether they are using the proper formula to pull a representative sample, it is still worthwhile to look at all the published polls in order to establish a moving trend.
As was reported immediately after the Virginia primary concluded, Harper Polling went into the field the day after Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie won their respective party nominations for Governor. According to their results (6/14-16; 500 VA registered voters), both Messrs. Northam and Gillespie were tied at 46%. The conclusion was even a bit better for Gillespie because within the 8% group who reported themselves as undecided, 19% indicated a preference for the Republican, while 7% said they were leaning toward Mr. Northam, the new Democratic candidate.
This was a surprising result since Northam over-performed in the Democratic primary to an unexpected degree, particularly in northern Virginia, and Gillespie badly under-performed, just slipping by Prince William County Board chairman Corey Stewart with a one-point victory when it appeared he would win in a landslide.
Yesterday, Quinnipiac University released their new data (6/15-20; 1,145 VA registered voters) that paint a much different picture as to where the race stands. According to these results, it is Lt. Gov. Northam jumping out to a 47-39% lead over Gillespie, which seems like a more accurate depiction based upon the primary results.
While the two pollsters projected different favorability ratios for each candidate, they were in agreement that Northam has the better numbers. Harper finds the Lt. Governor’s index at 52:31% favorable to unfavorable, where Quinnipiac sees the split at a lower 36:24%. For Mr. Gillespie, Harper derives a 45:38% positive split, while the Q-Poll finds him only breaking even at 29:29%.
Quinnipiac delved into the attitudes people have toward each candidate and who is seen as the better leader for a particular issue set. The Q-Poll sample reported, by three and four point margins, that Mr. Gillespie is better suited to handle taxes and the economy.
For Northam, the cell group believes he can better manage education (45-32%), healthcare (46-33%), and immigration (40-37%).
Looking at both polls in the aggregate it is likely that the sum result places Mr. Northam in the lead for the emerging Governor’s race, but by only a relatively slim margin. And, based upon what we have seen lately from the pollsters, a tight spread can disappear very quickly once the official vote counting process actually begins.
With the special elections now generally behind us, particularly since the Alabama Senate and UT-3 congressional races will not likely feature highly competitive general elections, the most hotly contested November race should be the Virginia Governor’s campaign. Hence, we can expect a plethora of contemporary polling data being released on a regular basis from now until very close to Election Day itself.
June 22, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Much was written and discussed yesterday about Tuesday’s surprising special election results in GA-6 and SC-5. Democrats, in particular, had raised victory expectations to unrealistically high levels for the Georgia race while spending record sums of money there, yet still suffered another crushing defeat.
Northeast from the Atlanta district some 200 miles away on Interstate 85, South Carolina Democratic candidate Archie Parnell, who the national party leadership basically considered politically dead even before he won the party nomination, lost by only two percentage points. He actually came closer to his Republican opponent than GA-6 candidate Jon Ossoff did while having 97% less in the way of campaign financial resources.
Predictably, Democratic congressional members, activists, and donors from around the country are not happy with the party leadership over the losses, but talk inside and outside the House of deposing the leadership team of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC) will soon dissipate.
Despite their losses, the Democratic leadership is still brazenly trying to sell the notion that their candidates are over-performing in the special elections, even though they lost all four Republican-vacated seats. They did win, however, the California special election to replace Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) who departed Congress to accept an appointment as state Attorney General. In that race, two Democrats advanced to the run-off from a district where President Trump managed only 11% of the vote in last year’s general election. Therefore, the outcome of this particular special election was never in question.
Now, we again analyze the argument that the Democrats are consistently performing better in the specials, and that this somehow is a precursor to a wave Democratic mid-term year that will propel them back into the majority. Ironically, the only place where the over-performance argument could be legitimate is in the one race that the leadership conceded from the outset: the South Carolina 5th District contest created when incumbent Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill) was appointed Director of the Office of Management & Budget.
As we have previously noted, the KS-4 and MT-AL elections that Republicans Ron Estes (R-Wichita) and Greg Gianforte (R-Bozeman) won were within the realm of normal Republican performance when looking at how the district performed in open seat or challenger situations or, in the case of at-large Montana, understanding how well Democrats have done in recent statewide elections. The Republican under-performance argument comes from linking these new candidates’ victory totals to the incumbents they are replacing. Such an analysis is truly comparing apples and oranges, and is deeply flawed.
Additionally, the Georgia race was never going to be a precursor for any political trend because the excessive spending skews the results to the point that it destroys any legitimate analysis. Considering what looks to be approximately $50 million in aggregate expenditures, with probably more than $35 million going to one candidate, Ossoff, alters the political picture to the degree that any derived conclusion derived becomes irrelevant. Did Karen Handel under-perform previous Republicans in open seat 6th District races? Yes, her 52% was low. But, no US House candidate in history has had $35 million spent against him or her, which must be taken into consideration.
To put the financial situation in further perspective, 2016 GA-6 Democratic nominee Rodney Stooksbury literally spent no money and received 38% of the vote against then-Rep. Tom Price (R-Roswell). Adding $35 million to the political equation for this open special election meant moving the Democratic support factor to 48%. While this is a clear improvement, the total is still a losing figure. Going further, Stooksbury obtained 124,917 votes by spending no money in 2016, while Ossoff spent $35 million, or $280 per vote, to record a total of 124,893, or astonishingly, 24 less votes than the Democratic candidate spending zero dollars. Clearly, Ossoff did not over-perform.
The Democratic leadership made a mistake in not competing in South Carolina. Here, they had some of the factors that a minority party needs to win a special election: a district where the previous winning Republican incumbent rarely reached 60%; a close opposite party primary that naturally causes some of the losing candidate’s strongest supporters not to return for further voting; and, an overall low turnout. Compared to the GA-6 participation factor of 259,622 voters, the number of SC-5 special election cast ballots was only 87,876.
Therefore, while candidate Parnell exceeded expectations and did better than previous Democrats, it is still a party under-performance because the leadership made such a blunder in conceding at the outset.
As we will undoubtedly see at the 2018 mid-term campaign’s end, which is the case with most special elections held more than a year from any regular vote, the previous special election results have little bearing in helping determine the regular electorate’s voting pattern, and can be summarily dismissed.
June 21, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
It’s difficult to characterize a Republican candidate winning a Republican congressional district as an “upset”, but Karen Handel’s victory in the north Atlanta suburbs last night, at least in terms of the money spent, polling, and how the media covered the campaign, seems to qualify for such a description.
From a huge turnout of 259,622 voters, just about 58% of the entire registered 6th district universe and almost 50,000 more than participated in the last regular mid-term election, Ms. Handel, the former Georgia Secretary of State, topped Democratic filmmaker and ex-congressional aide Jon Ossoff by a 52-48% margin, a spread of 9,702 votes when all of the ballots were counted. She retains for the Republicans Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s former congressional seat.
Simultaneously, over 200 miles away via Interstate 85 northeast of Atlanta in central South Carolina, Republican Ralph Norman claimed the evening’s other special congressional election with a surprisingly close 51-49% win over Democrat Archie Parnell from a small turnout of 87,840 voters. Office of Management & Budget Director Mick Mulvaney left open this seat to assume his national position.
The GA-6 contest, which became a national election because of the record amounts of money spent - an aggregate total that will likely exceed $50 million when the final accounting is published, and where the Democratic leadership virtually invested their entire special election season budget and emphasis - is now a crushing defeat for the party and what is termed the “anti-Trump resistance.”
According to the latest available Federal Election Commission reports, for the period ending May 31st, Mr. Ossoff raised over $23.6 million for his campaign committee, the overwhelming majority in small contributions from places other than Georgia. Reports suggest that the final total will exceed $33 million, or ten times more than what a candidate usually spends for a race of this nature. By contrast, during the same period, South Carolina’s Parnell, who performed better than Ossoff, raised only $763,000.
Aside from being another defeat for the national media, the polling industry suffered another black eye in Georgia, since few survey research firms projected a Handel victory. Though many detected the race growing closer at the end and momentum building in the Republican’s favor, 13 of the 20 publicly released GA-6 special election polls projected Ossoff as leading with three others finding a tie. Only four polls found the eventual winner holding the lead.
Among the latter four was the Trafalgar Group, a little known pollster that was the only survey research entity to correctly predict President Trump’s surprise victories in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin during the November general election. In Trafalgar’s June 17-18 survey of 1,100 GA-6 respondents, they correctly forecast a Handel victory, showing a 51-49% spread just under the 52-48% actual margin.
Clearly the Democratic leadership, particularly Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), will now come under internal fire for their targeting decisions.
Basically putting “all of their eggs in one basket”, the leaders eschewed the other congressional contests, SC-5, MT-AL, and KS-4, in order to invest heavily in GA-6. Their reasoning was that President Trump only carried what should be a safe Republican district with a 1.5 percentage margin, which they believed was a harbinger to a changing district.
In the end, Ossoff, despite record spending on his behalf, lost by four percentage points. Where the Democratic candidates received comparatively little to no support from the national party apparatus: Kansas’ James Thompson, Montana’s Rob Quist, and South Carolina’s Parnell, the Republican victory spreads were six points, six, and two, respectively.
Much more analysis will come from last night’s events, but the end result could not have been worse for the Democrats. Badly missing in Georgia and conceding what now appears to have been a potential opportunity in South Carolina will cause potentially long-lasting reverberations for the party’s national political brain trust.
June 20, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Voters in two states complete their special election processes today, with Republicans protecting both vacant US House seats and Democrats trying to make one of them a major national gain. The GA-6 and SC-5 seats of Trump Administration appointees Tom Price of Georgia and Mick Mulvaney from South Carolina have been vacant for months, but will have new Representatives as tonight draws to a close.
This is the big one. More than $40 million will be spent in the aggregate for this campaign, more money than ever expended for a single congressional contest. Democrats went “all in” on this contest at the beginning of the special election cycle, using President Trump’s 1.5 percentage point victory performance as a harbinger of a changing Republican district.
Polling shows the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel as being a dead heat. Ossoff has maintained a slight lead for most of the post-primary period, but the polling sample selections have often over-emphasized the 2016 presidential campaign, which has led to a greater number of Democratic respondents. This, plus the Republicans tending to under-poll in the South could give Handel a better chance than the pure numbers indicate.
Democrats are using this race as proof that they can sweep the mid-term elections, but GA-6 isn’t representative of their coming campaigns. First, they won’t be able to raise and spend $25 million for every congressional race in the 2018 cycle, so the financial aspect skews the outcome. Second, the Democratic spokespeople will make this result, should Ossoff win, a statement suggesting that the voting public is rejecting President Trump. This is only a surface argument because Ossoff’s public positions don’t often mention the chief executive, nor do they espouse liberal economic principles. Therefore, it is likely their post-election victory analysis won’t reflect Ossoff’s actual reasons for winning.
Should Handel win, the Republicans will also try to spin her victory from a national political perspective, saying that the GOP tide remains in tact. This argument also won’t hold proverbial water because Handel winning will merely be a Republican candidate holding a Republican district. In addition to then-Rep. Price holding this seat with a 76% vote average for seven terms, the previous Congressmen here were Sen. Johnny Isakson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Therefore, the Republican tradition in these northern Atlanta suburbs runs rich. Ms. Handel certainly hopes such a voting pattern continues tonight.
Turnout was extremely high for the April 18th jungle primary, with 193,981 individuals casting their ballots. Participation is expected to be even greater today, and more than likely even exceeding regular mid-term turnout levels. While just over 55,000 people voted early in the first election, more than 140,000 have already cast their ballots for this special general.
Though the Ossoff campaign is viewed to have the superior turnout operation, such a large number of voters could actually help Handel more because so many more Republican voters than Democrats and Democrat-leaners reside in the 6th District.
Republican former state Representative Ralph Norman, who won the GOP run-off back in May by a 221-vote margin, is heavily favored to retain the north-central South Carolina 5th District seat.
Turnout will be the key factor in any potential Democratic upset, but there are no realistic scenarios to suggest that candidate Archie Parnell will win. If minority turnout is high, it is possible that Norman’s win percentage will be in the low 50s, but this seat should yield a mid to high 50s GOP win, if not greater.
In comparison to the Georgia turnout, the SC participation factor will be very low. Turnout for the Republican run-off, for example, was under 36,000, so a special general turnout of under 100,000, and probably closer to 60,000 is most likely.
The national Democratic leadership has sent only perfunctory support for Parnell, virtually conceding the campaign from the outset.
Clearly the results from this race will attract little attention, which, from a Republican perspective, is what they want. Only a Democratic upset would attract as much news coverage as the Georgia campaign.
June 19, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Former state Representative Chris Herrod, who challenged Sen. Orrin Hatch for re-nomination in 2012, won Saturday’s special Republican nominating convention to replace outgoing Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy). Mr. Herrod advances to the August 15th Republican primary to face Provo Mayor John Curtis and businessman Tanner Ainge, who both qualified for the ballot via petition signature.
Once Rep. Chaffetz announced he would leave the House without completing his current term, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) scheduled the replacement special election to include an August 15th primary and a November 7th general election. The political parties had the option of holding a nominating convention, which the Republicans quickly scheduled for June 17th. They changed the normal party rules to select one candidate for advancement rather than two if no candidate received 60% of the delegate vote.
Almost 800 Republican precinct delegates gathered in Provo for the special election vote. Eleven candidates were on the ballot, and it took five rounds of voting before Mr. Herrod emerged with a majority vote. On the final ballot, he defeated state Sen. Deidre Henderson, 415-338, for 55.1% of those present and voting, thus exceeding the majority mark and clinching the official party endorsement.
In regular Utah convention politics, candidates are required to receive 60% of the delegate vote to, if no candidates qualify by petition signature, clinch the actual party nomination. Because this is a special congressional election, the first held in Utah since 1930, the party leaders altered the convention rules to produce only one winner once 50% support was obtained. The fact that at least one other candidate would apparently qualify via signature – an onerous requirement of 7,000 valid signatures gathered exclusively with circulators from the 3rd District – factored heavily in the leaders’ decision to change the convention rules. This way, they could limit the number of primary participants.
Sen. Henderson looked to be the pre-convention favorite, but failed to gather the necessary momentum to clinch the delegate vote as the convention process advanced through multiple rounds of voting. Had the rules not been changed, both Herrod and Henderson would have proceeded to the primary after the fourth ballot because neither had reached 60%, but both exceeded 40% support.
Mr. Herrod served three terms in the state House before challenging Sen. Hatch in 2012. He attempted a political comeback in 2016, but lost to a Republican incumbent state Senator. Also in 2016, Mr. Herrod ran Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in Utah, an effort that became the Texas Senator’s strongest state. Sen. Cruz reacted to the convention news with a quick public endorsement for Herrod as he advances to the primary against Messrs. Curtis and Ainge.
Mr. Herrod came to the legislature mid-term in 2007 to replace an incumbent who had accepted a state appointment from then-Gov. Jon Huntsman (R). He and another candidate placed one-two in the special convention, but under Utah law, it is the state party chairman who appoints a replacement if the convention did not produce a 60% winner, and Mr. Herrod was chosen. Ironically, the second candidate was Mr. Curtis, whom he now faces in the special primary.
Both Messrs. Curtis and Ainge eschewed the multi-candidate convention process and went the signature route. Since Mr. Curtis is the sitting Provo Mayor, it was thought he had the organization to qualify for the ballot through this more difficult route, and did, but there were questions surrounding Mr. Ainge’s ability to organize such a grassroots effort. Tanner Ainge, first-time political candidate, is the son of Boston Celtics general manager and former Brigham Young University basketball star Danny Ainge and a local businessman with experience in the healthcare sector.
Since UT-3 is one of the most conservative congressional districts in the country – Hillary Clinton actually finished in third place here, for example – the August 15th Republican primary among Messrs. Herrod, Curtis, and Ainge will very likely produce Rep. Chaffetz’s successor.