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The Sweep: Digesting Turkey and Midterm Data
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The Sweep: Digesting Turkey and Midterm Data

The Trump tax, ticket splitters, and early voting.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker speaks to supporters at a campaign rally on November 16. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images.)

I’m back home in Houston for Thanksgiving already and the fajitas are calling me. But there are still a few nuggets of news I think we should check in on:

Georgia Runoff

Polling has this race neck-and-neck heading into the December 6 runoff. But there’s a lot more happening beneath the surface. NBC reported that “Democrats have outspent Republicans by a more than a 3-to-1 margin in the initial stretch of the Georgia Senate runoff. … But [the McConnell-aligned] Senate Leadership Fund has reserved $8.2 million in airtime ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff, fueling a GOP spending advantage in future reservations.” 

Of course, it doesn’t help when Republicans raising money off the Walker race aren’t actually giving the money to the Walker race. “President Donald Trump’s Save America sent out an email that asked prospective donors to “contribute ANY AMOUNT IMMEDIATELY to the Official Georgia Runoff Fundraising Goal and increase your impact by 1200%,” reported Marc Caputo at NBC, but “if donors didn’t see a link that said ‘click here for details or to edit allocation,’ they wouldn’t have noticed that 90% of their contributions automatically went to Trump, with the remaining 10% going to Walker.”

And it wasn’t just Trump. More fundraising pitches with the same 90-10 split came from “the North Carolina Republican Party and the campaign committees of newly elected GOP senators J.D. Vance in Ohio and Ted Budd in North Carolina.” The Walker campaign actually put out a memo asking people to stop.  (After NBC published the story, the Trump team and the North Carolina GOP started splitting their hauls 50-50.) 

“We need everyone focused on winning the Georgia Senate race, and deceptive fundraising tactics by teams that just won their races are siphoning money away from Georgia,” Walker campaign manager Scott Paradise said last week, “The companies and consultants raising money off this need to cut it out.” Ouch.

Even the National Republican Senatorial Committee seemed to be picking over the carcass. The NRSC’s Walker fundraising pitches are putting 98 cents of every dollar into the NRSC, 1 cent into the Walker campaign, and 1 cent into … wait for it … NRSC Chair Rick Scott’s coffers. At least the NRSC is expected to spend a lot of that 98 cents on the runoff, so it’s not quite the same as the Vance solicitation. But what accounts for any money going to Scott’s campaign coffers? Probably data. Rick Scott will have the donor info when he leaves the NRSC next month for his own future fundraising. 

But will any of the money drama matter? I’m expecting a very low-turnout election on December 6. I also suspect that the enthusiasm gap will help Democrats in this case. But bear in mind that this thing went to a runoff in the first place because of the 200,000 or so voters who voted for Kemp and not Walker. And I think those folks are likely to stay home. That’s a net loss for Warnock. But, of course, it’s very hard to game out what happens when turnout gets really, really low. The diehards who vote simply because it’s Election Day tend to be older and more Republican—but, of course, that was in the before times. We just haven’t seen a very low-turnout election since 2016.

Still. In my view, this isn’t a race that will be won on the airwaves. It’ll be about the ground game, and I think Democrats have a distinct advantage thanks to the House that Stacey Abrams Built. She may have lost the governor’s race twice—but her lasting impact on Georgia can’t be overstated. She won the state for Biden and may yet win it again for Warnock. 

The Trump Tax

Turns out, Trump cost the GOP about 5 points. In the Washington Post, Philip Wallach of the American Enterprise Institute looked at the 114 races where the margin of victory was less than 15 points. “Candidates bearing Trump endorsements underperformed their baseline by a whopping five points,” he found, “while Republicans who were without Trump’s blessing overperformed their baseline by 2.2 points — a remarkable difference of more than seven points.” 

But fascinatingly, the math seems to work no matter which way you come at it. The New York Times’ Nate Cohn did his own calculations and found that “non-MAGA Republicans in 2022 ran six points better than Mr. Trump did in 2020; the MAGA Republicans barely fared better than him at all.” 

Graphic from the New York Times.

And certain candidates severely underperformed Trump. “Lauren Boebert ran eight points behind Mr. Trump’s performance … and therefore something like 14 points behind the typical Republican,” Cohn surmised.  “Marjorie Taylor Greene, who held her House seat, ran six points behind.” 

In both of those cases, the GOP appears to have held onto the seat, though Boebert is headed to an automatic recount. But Wallach found five House races where the Trump factor was decisive. And Cohn believes that “with the results in Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania all within the margin of one MAGA penalty, it’s entirely plausible that Mr. Trump’s candidates cost the Republicans control of the Senate.”

Ticket Splitting

It turns out ticket splitting was historically very low this cycle—but it was enough to make the difference for a lot of Democratic Senate candidates. Here’s a great data nugget from Politico: “In 1990, the median gap between gubernatorial and Senate results in states that held both elections that year was nearly 25 percentage points … but that measure has been falling steadily, dropping from 16.6 percent in 2014 to 10.3 percent in 2018 and 7.4 percent this year.”

There may not be many ticket splitters, but they made all the difference in a handful of GOP House wins. Republicans representing Biden districts will go from nine in 2020 to 18 now (pending two outstanding calls in California). Of those, six are from New York and five are from California, which could be an interesting challenge for McCarthy as he tries to wrangle his far-right members with these ultra-centrists. Interestingly, the number of Democrats representing Trump districts will drop—from seven down to five. And that, of course, highlights the slow but persistent shift for Democrats away from those working class, rural voters who used to vote Dem consistently. 

But I still think the Fetterman win is the most fascinating. On the one hand, the ticket splitting— Josh Shapiro got 280,000 more votes for governor than Fetterman did for Senate—showed that candidate quality did matter in that race. But the fact that Fetterman was still able to win the race by almost 5 points also tells me that Republicans have nearly no shot at winning Pennsylvania again if Trump is the nominee. A lot of ticket splitters were uncomfortable with a candidate whose health was in question, but there wasn’t anywhere near enough of them to keep Joe Biden from pulling out a decisive win when the time comes.

Remember that 2016 was an Electoral College moonshot. Trump won the Electoral College with the slimmest of margins in Wisconsin (20,000) and Michigan (10,000) and he lost the popular vote by 3 million. And at that point, he was the change candidate running against the second-most unpopular figure in American politics. All of that has changed this time around. While there may be fewer ticket splitters left, there were enough in New Hampshire, Nevada, and Georgia to elect two different parties at the top of the ticket. 

GOP Learns Hard Lesson on Early Voting

Last week, I highlighted one of the core problems with “Trump on the ballot” that was purely operational: 

In previous elections, mail ballots slightly favored Republicans. But both parties would try to bank as many early and absentee votes as possible (called “AB chase” in the business) so they could concentrate all of their Election Day volunteer firepower on the low-propensity holdouts. Thanks to Trump (and COVID), Democrats have gotten rocket fuel behind their efforts. Their volunteer-per-voter ratio on Election Day is shrinking by leaps and bounds. 

But Republicans are now voting disproportionately on Election Day because Trump told them the only way to “stop the steal” was if Democrats didn’t know how many votes they needed to win. Of course, this makes every GOP campaign’s turnout operation much, much more difficult. But it also deprives GOP campaigns of a lot of information for their voter models to know whether they are running behind expectations in key precincts well before Election Day. 

If this election had happened in 2014, Republicans would have known weeks ago that they had a problem because they would have been way behind in their AB chase models. Instead, they found out about three hours after the polls closed.  

And indeed, according to the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll, “52 percent of Democrats said they voted before Election Day compared to 45 percent of Republicans.” And plenty of would-be 2024 candidates took notice of the imbalance. “Early and absentee voting are here to stay,” Nikki Haley said at the Republican Jewish Coalition event in Las Vegas. “We need to play the same game and turn out the maximum number of voters. The left does it, and we don’t.”

Funny enough, there was one state where the GOP actually had the lead in early voting. Take a guess. Yep, it was Florida: the one state where Republicans wildly outperformed expectations. As Desantis said at that same RJC meeting, “Whatever the rules are, take advantage of it.”

Gerrymandering and Popular Vote Swings

Democrats think gerrymandering cost them the House. Republicans think something fishy is going on because they won the “national vote” for the House by 5 points but only picked up a few seats. 

As David Byler at the Washington Post summarized it, “given the decentralized, byzantine nature of redistricting, our current map is about as fair as could be hoped for.” And indeed, he’s right. 

In fact, redistricting is what allowed Democrats to come as close as they did to holding the House. 

So, yes, the maps in Florida and New York allowed the GOP to retake the House. But the maps in Illinois, Nevada, and New Mexico prevented them from getting more seats. 

And in a tidy lesson for the GOP that it may or may not learn in time for 2024: Winning by 50 instead of 30 in a Trump district doesn’t actually get you anything except the talking point. Yep, the Republicans won the national vote by 5 points because they ran up the margins in places they were already going to win. But that and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee. It was the swing districts that mattered. 

It reminds me of the bar exam. In Texas, the person who scores the highest on this pass/fail test gets to address all of the new bar admittees at a big ceremony. But, of course, that person actually did everything wrong. On a pass/fail test, the most impressive person is the person who passes with the smallest margin.  

Worth Your Time

Sean Trende over at RealClearPolitics has a nice deep dive on what mattered and what didn’t in this election. Here’s a nibble: 

In 2004, Democrats gained popular vote share but lost seats. In 1976, 1988, and 1998, Republicans gained popular vote share over the preceding election, but lost seats…. 

The 2022 elections are outliers, but they are far from the worst. In fact, the deviation is fairly typical. Why might this happen?

First, Republicans made gains among African Americans, and significant gains among Hispanics. … But with the potential exception of the Central Valley districts, these extra votes did not translate to seats. Because the VRA requires that these voters be placed into heavily Hispanic/black districts, which become overwhelmingly Democratic districts, it takes huge shifts in vote performance among these voters to win a district outright, and Republicans aren’t there right now. 

The other issue is that Republicans may be suffering a representational penalty in rural areas similar to the penalty Democrats have suffered in urban districts. That is to say, the GOP puts up stunning vote percentages in rural America, margins that would not have been deemed possible a decade ago, to say nothing of three decades ago. But this means that a large number of those votes are effectively wasted. As the suburbs become more competitive for Democrats and the cities become somewhat less competitive (but not enough to lose seats) as minority vote percentage moves, Democrats lose the penalty they’ve suffered for running up overwhelming vote shares in urban districts in the past.  


Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.