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Politics
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With 3 Weeks To Go, Let's Analyze Electorate

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With three weeks to go, a lot of prognostication is going on in the political analysis universe. Some analysts like to attach ‘chances are’ percentages to their predictions, while others take a broader approach (read, less quantitative) in their gazing into what Election Day will bring us.

While I appreciate the quantitative and qualitative approaches to trying to figure out who has a shot at controlling the main prize this election year (and that would be for the U.S. Senate), I tend to look at the lead-up to the Tuesday following the first Monday in November through general trends and patterns.

For the final few weeks, there are a couple of key trends and patterns to focus on. First, for the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and challenger Republican Thom Tillis, the pattern is one of constant consistency in the polling.

From the beginning of June up through the final three weeks of the campaign, the needle really hasn’t moved all that much. In fact, it has gotten tighter with the past few polls out there (polling data courtesy of Real Clear Politics).  For the final three weeks, it will be worth watching the pattern if either one of the candidates can see some daylight between their opponent, and how big the pool of ‘undecideds’ will be come the final week of campaigning.

Part of this constant consistency in the U.S. Senate race may be due to the polarized political environment we’re experiencing (what one commentator has called ‘the sorting election’ of 2014). 

With both strong, weak, and independent-leaning partisans voting 85 to 90 percent of the time for their party’s candidates, even in North Carolina, it’s all about getting those committed partisans to the voting booth and avoiding the risk of a pure independent flipping the coin to vote (or more likely flopping and just not voting at all).

This brings up the pattern of “who shows up,” or voter turnout, and what we know in North Carolina is that registered partisan voters will have higher turnout rates than the unaffiliated voter, especially in mid-term elections. For both 2006 and 2010, registered Democrats and Republicans had turnout rates of 40 to 50 percent; For registered unaffiliated voters, it was either 28 or 33 percent, and those were in “wave” election years.

So if we note the pattern of turnout favors partisan registered voters, what we should see is this year’s electorate skewed not towards a 42 percent registered Democrat/31 percent registered GOP/27 percent registered unaffiliated, but more partisan and less unaffiliated voter.

Of course, which side of the political aisle this year’s electorate skews to is the great unknown. If we are to take the first two weeks of mail-in absentee balloting as an indication of, perhaps, enthusiasm or ground mobilization, we would have to say that registered Democrats appear to be well ahead of their 2010 performance, and unaffiliated voters are ahead of their lack-luster performance in this voting method as well.

One pattern that could give us a hint is the fact that a substantial plurality of registered Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters who have requested mail-in ballots through October 12 didn’t cast ballots in 2010, a sign that some voters are indeed more enthusiastic about this year’s election than some national polls indicate. 

So let’s say these voters are motivated and we’ll see an overall voter turnout higher than what we’ve traditionally seen (35 percent in 2006 and 43 percent in 2010): Beyond the competitive U.S. Senate race, what will voters have to pick from down the ballot?

Not a whole lot; in terms of the congressional districts and the state legislative district contests, the combination of voters sorting themselves into like-minded communities and the power of redistricting to cut and slice these voters into tilted districts will make for some boring analysis come election evening.

Using the comparison of the vote totals or percentages for President Obama in a congressional or legislative district to the Democratic candidate in that district, the pattern shows us a pretty close correlation to one another. The vote for Obama explains over 90 percent of the vote for the Democratic legislative candidate.

So what might this all mean? Well, the election cake is pretty much baked beyond the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina, with only a real handful of state legislative districts truly competitive this year.

And let’s say the Republicans win the U.S. Senate — potentially with or without the North Carolina seat — does anyone really think that gridlock will magically vanish with the Republicans controlling both chambers (but without veto-override majorities in either) and the White House still under Democratic management?

Oh, and those voters: Well, if they are anything like the 2012 voters surveyed in the American National Election Study, their feelings towards the two parties probably won’t change all that much.

The partisans will find very little that they like with their opposition, and the pure independents will probably despise both parties after all is said and done. 

But hey, on November 5, we get to start talking about 2016. That is, if we don’t go into overtime on this year’s U.S. Senate elections.