St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

How Clinton and Trump affected their tickets

Heading into the 2016 presidential election, except for pockets of enthusiasm for either the billionaire populist or the potential first woman president, it was clear that both major-party candidates were really unpopular. It was uncertain, though, how down-ballot candidates would be affected. Would Republicans who couldn't stand Trump and Democrats who couldn't stand Clinton stay home and vote for no one, would they vote but split their tickets for another party's presidential candidate, or would they be so repelled by a party who would nominate such a person that they voted for most or all of the other party's candidates? We now have most of the answers. While this post examines data from just Missouri, it probably tracks similar locales in other states.

The really bad news for Democrats is the extent to which disaffected Democrat voters stayed home. As much as progressive commentators complain about disloyal Democrats voting instead for Libertarian Gary Johnson, Green Jill Stein or a write-in candidate, those voters were at the polls to vote in down-ballot contests. The stay-home voter voted for no one. Both St. Louis and Kansas City logged about 10% fewer total votes in 2016 than in 2012. The total suburban vote in St. Louis and Jackson Counties also declined. These are Democrats' strongest areas. Elsewhere else in the state, which is now mostly Republican, turnout was up.

What about voters of both parties who did show up but didn't vote for their party's presidential candidate? When comparing the presidential vote to that for the rest of the ticket, one needs to be mindful that a big gap means more ticket splitting and less benefit to the rest of the ticket (or less harm when the presidential candidate is tanking). Trump made little effort on behalf of the rest of ticket, much of whom wanted nothing to do with him. Nevertheless, most of the Trump surge also seemed to help the entire Republican ticket. Statewide, Trump led the state-office ticket by just a little over a point, and Republicans swept all statewide offices for the first time since 1928.

In the last big Republican win, Ronald Reagan won 60% of the Missouri vote in his 1984 re-election, a nearly 9-point improvement over 1980. The Republican state-office ticket won 52.7% in 1984, a 6+ point improvement over the prior election. But Reagan led the rest of the Missouri Republican ticket by more than 7 points, and Democrats retained the open Lieutenant Governor's seat (and control of both houses of the state legislature). So, in spite of everything, Trump appears to have helped his Republican ticket mates more than Reagan helped his.

It would be a mistake, however, to credit Trump (or blame Clinton) entirely for Republicans' ticket-wide success. While Trump ran 3 points ahead of Romney statewide, Republican candidates for the five statewide offices on the ballot (excluding the U.S. Senate race) surged an average 10 points ahead of their 2012 counterparts. These down-ballot results are partially explained by the respective situations of the down-ballot contests and the candidates who ran. In 2012, popular incumbents (3 Democrat, 1 Republican) ran in four of the five contests, but in 2016 all five contests were open seats. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the 10-point statewide surge was probably somewhat influenced by the presidential vote.

The statewide comparisons, though, are necessarily averages of the entire state, where one area's movements in one direction are canceled out by another area's movement in the opposite direction. (I wrote earlier about pockets of Trump's appeal to blue-collar Democrats and his repellent to upper-crust establishment Republicans.) These areas produced a somewhat greater coattail effect. In Trump's strong areas, the whole Republican ticket surged over 4 years ago, but Trump still ran several points ahead of the ticket (but still less than Reagan in 1984), leaving some potential Republican votes on the table. In Clinton's pockets of strength in urban and suburban areas (and Boone County, home of the University of Missouri and the only rural county Clinton carried), Trump declined compared to Romney, and the statewide ticket's improvement was much less than in the rest of the state.

Details: In the rural and exurban counties, where Trump led the Republican ticket, the statewide ticket improved by nearly 13 points. But those areas also experienced more ticket splitting, as Trump led the ticket by 5½ points in rural counties and 4 points in exurban counties. The three white St. Louis County Townships where Trump improved over Romney also saw the state ticket improve by 5.8 - 9 points, which was better than in the rest of the county, and there wasn't much ticket splitting. Results were mixed in the city neighborhoods where Trump improved. The more Democratic areas had high ticket splitting and the state ticket improved in line with the rest of the city, but the state GOP ticket surged in "city limits precincts" in Wards 12, 23 and 24. In other urban and suburban areas and Boone County, where Trump trailed the rest of the Republican ticket by about 2½ points, the state candidates' improvement (4 points urban, 6 points in Boone County and 6½ points in the suburbs) was less than in areas where Trump did well. In the St. Louis County townships were Trump underperformed Romney the most, the statewide ticket's performance also improved the least (1.1% in Clayton Township and 1.6% in Hadley Township).

Isolated areas where the state Democratic ticket bucked the trend and improved over 2012 probably represent population changes such as white flight more than political trends. This was notable in downtown St. Louis and the Loft district, which have both experienced well-publicized increases in crime.

The big question has yet to play out. Will the Trump Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans undergo a permanent party change, or was 2016 just a one-time thing? The success or failure of the Trump presidency will have a lot to do with the answer.


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