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.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The African American vote after Obama

One major part of the 2016 election that I have not addressed until now is the black vote. I wondered to what extent, if at all, African American voting behavior would change after President Obama, the inspirational first black president, would no longer be on the ballot. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made campaign overtures to the black community, promising to address their economic woes, asking pointedly what they had to lose.

Cutting to the chase, black turnout plummeted, but the African Americans who did vote supported Democrat Hillary Clinton almost as overwhelmingly as they had Obama. But the details below are worth reading.

Since the 1930s (1940s in St. Louis) African Americans have been strong supporters of the Democratic Party, following years of loyalty to Republicans as the party of Abraham Lincoln. The appeal of New Deal programs attracted the first wave of party switchers, and the association of Democrats (like President Kennedy) with the civil rights movement brought black support for Democrats up to the 90% level in 1964, where it has largely remained ever since. Obama's candidacy brought the double surge of nearly 99% black support and higher turnout of African American voters. The high level of support Secretary Clinton received from black voters against Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries and President Obama's working endorsement of her candidacy in the general election foreshadowed that Clinton would continue the trend. Exit polls showed her beating Trump 88% to 8%, but when the actual votes were tabulated, results were mixed.

My analysis focuses mostly on seven St. Louis wards (1, 2, 3, 4, 21, 22 and 27) in which almost all voters are African American. Four other wards (5, 18, 19 and 26) have African American majorities but with substantial white minorities. All 11 of those wards elect African American aldermen. In St. Louis County, six townships have African American majorities, but all have larger white minorities than the city wards mentioned above. (Norwood Township, south of Ferguson, approximates the racial mix in the 18th Ward (the northern edge of the city's Central West End, north to Page Avenue). The integrated wards and townships provide less reliable evidence of black voting behavior, even though the whites there vote heavily Democratic, because 80% is a really high Democratic percentage for white voters, while black voters generally top 95%; so a white population as low as 25% still produces significant dilution of the black vote. On the other hand, black voters in the segregated wards may well vote more Democratic than black voters in integrated suburban and rural locations. But the segregated wards are the most accurate election returns available for this analysis.

Race-based comparisons to years before 2004 are complicated by significant ward and township redistricting after the 2000 census, when the segregated black north-side 20th Ward and the black majority Halls Ferry Township were eliminated and absorbed by neighboring wards and townships.

So, what happened in 2016? It's a two-part answer, one part favoring each party. The good news for Democrats is that Secretary Clinton trounced Trump in the segregated black wards, 96% to 2%. The 8% Trump support in the exit polls did not surface in St. Louis. While some black Republicans who backed Obama returned to their party, Clinton's vote fell about halfway between Obama's and John Kerry's in the election before Obama (2004). Her support was diluted down to just below 90% in the integrated black majority wards (about the same as Kerry's 2004 support) and down to 85% in the black county townships.

Changes in Democratic presidential vote share in black neighborhoods

Kerry Obama Obama Clinton
Segregated black wards 93.30% 98.39% 98.50% 95.61%
Black majority wards 89.46% 93.14% 91.47% 89.83%
Black majority townships * 93.30% 87.36% 84.90%
Changes in Republican presidential vote share in black neighborhoods 

Bush McCain Romney Trump
Segregated black wards 3.31% 1.35% 1.32% 2.14%
Black majority wards 7.46% 6.43% 7.68% 6.08%
Black majority townships * 10.76% 11.29% 10.84%
*Township-level election returns for 2004 in St. Louis County are not available online.

Republicans can take solace in the second part of the answer. The Obama-inspired surge in African American turnout evaporated in 2016. Compared to 2012, turnout was almost 26% lower in the segregated black wards, nearly 20% lower in the black majority wards, and nearly 18% lower in St. Louis County's black townships. Turnout in the city wards in 2016 was actually the worst of this century, dipping well below pre-Obama levels. In contrast, turnout in white majority wards and townships was mostly either level or higher, and turnout was way up in the rural and exurban areas where Trump soared. The reduction in black turnout was a major reason why Missouri, a national political barometer before 2008, was not close this time.

Changes in voter turnout in St. Louis black neighborhoods

2004 2008 2012 2016
Segregated black wards 35563 37794 36072 26814
Black majority wards 19588 21721 18725 15070
Black majority townships n/a 108356 106673 87533

The charts above demonstrate the consistent patterns based on how diluted the black vote is or isn't. However, some of the variations are also instructive. In the city, in spite of lower overall black turnout, Trump drew more black votes than Romney (albeit just 98 votes, a gain of less than a percentage point); but in the diluted wards and townships Trump and Clinton both lost voters (Clinton losing more in the black county townships and both losing voters in the same proportions in the integrated black majority wards). Obama's 2008 support held fast in 2012 in the segregated black wards, but his support slipped that year in the integrated wards and townships like he did in white areas.

There were also differences in how Clinton and Trump performed in relation to the rest of their party tickets. In all city wards where black voters were significant factors, Clinton led the Democrat ticket and Trump fared worse than the entire Republican ticket. But in black townships in St. Louis County, the presidential candidates were the median contests (or close to it); the county townships where Clinton led her ticket and Trump trailed his were the mostly Republican elite areas where Trump ran poorly (as discussed in this earlier post).

Without expensive and extensive survey research, the cause of these differences is subject to speculation. One possibility is that black voters living outside the echo chamber and peer pressure of a segregated ward may be more independent (or subject to different class influences or peer pressure from white neighbors). Spanish Lake Township, home to a largely black middle and upper-middle class, votes less Democratic than the other black townships and, like upper middle class white areas, was also less receptive to Trump.

Differences in the respective white minorities may also account for the variations. Black settlement and white flight in the black-majority areas of the city were fairly complete by the 1990s. The white minorities in the those areas consist primarily of (a) liberal Central West End and Midtown residents, whose neighborhoods remain predominantly white, and were redistricted into black wards to maintain the number of black aldermen, and (b) predominantly young, progressive singles and childless couples who are re-gentrifying parts of the city. Both are strong demographics for Clinton. But the black majority county townships are mostly formerly white areas where integration is still proceeding, and the remaining whites are primarily older blue-collar voters who were a promising demographic for Trump.

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.

Diverging cross-currents in the 2016 election

I wrote earlier how Trump's win in Missouri, as well as nationally, was fueled by a surge in support from rural and exurban areas, but that this surge merely continued the direction set in earlier 21st Century presidential elections. However, this continuity masks the underlying intraparty strife that played out in 2016. Even the third-party challenges of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan in 2000 didn't touch the partisan uncertainty that prevailed in 2016.

One tea party blogger attributed the Trump surge to the common man's electoral revolt against the elites. Maybe so, but that revolt was just a reaction to the elites' own overwhelming rejection of Trump. We would have read all about it as the cause of Trump's defeat, if Trump had lost as expected. Trump's unexpected triumph changed the focus to how such a thing could have happened. But I will examine the elite revolt that other commentators have forgotten.

This is not about how millennial Democrats and Democrat elites in media, academic and old-money circles hated Trump even worse than prior Republican nominees; their votes for Democratic candidates remained consistent, and the intensity of their disdain for Trump didn't make their votes count any more. What drove Trump's performance in certain areas below Mitt Romney's four years earlier was Republicans and Republican-leaning independents changing how they voted.

This post analyzes data from the City and County of St. Louis because those are the areas where I know enough about the neighborhoods producing the results to make meaningful conclusions. Similar trends probably occurred in other urban and suburban areas nationwide, so these observations may be useful on a national level.

Trump's rejection by his party, predictably, was greatest in St. Louis' central corridor, both city and county. As I noted in an earlier post, the most dramatic shift took place in Clayton Township (mostly western Clayton and Ladue), where a half-point Romney win turned into a 19-point Trump loss. It was one of only two townships were Secretary Clinton picked up more of the lost Republican votes than third parties and write-ins did. Trump's next biggest drop came in Missouri River Township (Town & Country), where Trump lost 12 points compared to Romney (but still won). In progressive, formerly Republican Jefferson Township (Webster Groves), Trump suffered an 11-point decline, but most of it went third-party. Another predictable area of Trump decline was Creve Coeur Township, where he dropped nearly 9 points. Trump's greatest decline in the City of St. Louis was the 28th Ward (the very old-money Central West End and Skinker-DeBaliviere), where he dropped nearly 7 points. (Declines in the City are less dramatic because the electorate there is already so Democratic as to leave little room for movement towards Democrats.) In all five of those jurisdictions, Trump trailed the entire statewide Republican ticket (and Clinton led the Democrats).

While Trump's rejection by moderate pro-business and old-money Republicans was expected, the breadth of Republican flight from their populist nominee was surprising to me. Trump also lost a lot of ground in “new money” west county. Trump dropped 10 points in Chesterfield Township, nearly 9 points in Lafayette Township, and 7½ points in both Wild Horse and Maryland Heights Townships. Trump ran last on the ticket in Chesterfield and below median in the others, but still carried all but Maryland Heights.

Trump also suffered lesser Republican flight in areas not usually associated with “political correctness,” such as south county and conservative wards in the southwest part of the city. Clinton picked up almost 2 points of the 6½ points Trump dropped in the City's 16th Ward (St. Louis Hills and western Southampton). Trump dropped nearly 7 points in both Bonhomme (Kirkwood) and Gravois (parts of Affton and Crestwood) Townships, but most of those votes went third-party instead of to Clinton. In most south city wards, as well as Republican Tesson Ferry and Oakville Townships, both Clinton and Trump lost share to third-party candidates. While Trump's performance was median or lower in these areas, he did not trail the entire ticket in any of them.

Democrats suffered from their own intraparty defections. Secretary Clinton suffered more from a decline in voter turnout in many Democratic wards and townships than from actual defection to Trump. Turnout losses may be attributable to millennial voters and former supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders who Secretary Clinton failed to win over, as well as African Americans no longer inspired without the first black president on the ballot.

Though less significant, the well-publicized defections of blue-collar whites to Trump did occur in a few select neighborhoods. Clinton's big wins in Democratic areas camouflaged Trump's gains. At first blush, the 11th Ward (where Clinton beat Trump 67%-27%), 25th Ward (79%-16%), Midland Township (60%-33%) and Airport Township (65%-29%) do not look discouraging for Democrats or hopeful for Trump. But all of these results represent a 6-7½ point drop for Clinton from Obama and a 2-3 point gain for Trump over Romney. Lemay Township (adjacent to the City's 11th Ward) sported the biggest Republican gain, with Trump gaining 3½ points and Clinton dropping 7½ points, enough to give Trump a 2-point win (48%-46%) in the usually Democratic township.

Sample trends in St. Louis County

2012 Obama Romney
2016 Clinton Trump
Clayton Township 48.84% 49.47%
55.70% 36.51%
Lemay Township 53.16% 44.14%
45.67% 47.51%
Precinct-level returns disclosed some pattern differences within wards. In St. Louis' 11th Ward, Trump advanced most in the Patch neighborhood across the city limits from Lemay and a neighboring precinct in Carondelet, but Clinton advanced in the precinct that includes upscale parts of Holly Hills. In the neighboring 12th Ward, Trump improved in the two precincts bordering the city limits. One of them (southwest of Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery between Gravois Avenue and Morganford Road) was the City's only precinct where Trump won.

Some precincts of relative Trump strength form another interesting pattern. Trump improved (and brought much of the rest of the Republican ticket with him) in most precincts bordering the city limits, from Ellendale (bordering Maplewood) south to the Mississippi River. In addition to the 11th Ward Patch precincts and the 12th Ward precincts mentioned above, Trump also showed improvement in the Lindenwood Park precinct in the 23rd Ward that includes the Shrewsbury Metrolink station and the usually progressive Ellendale precinct in the 24th Ward bordering Maplewood. These precincts in the 12th, 23rd and 24th Wards were the only precincts in those wards (except for statistical noise in one tiny precinct) in which Trump ran better than Romney. All of those precincts also produced the greatest Republican improvement in their wards over 2012 for the rest of the statewide ticket. None of these border precincts are upscale neighborhoods, and they were not among the south side's stronger Republican precincts until recently.

Whether these movements represent permanent party shifts or were merely reactions to unpopular candidates remains to be seen.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Missouri's urban-rural split on steroids

The urban/rural electoral split in Missouri got even wider in 2016.

I have written twice before about the widening urban-rural electoral split in Missouri. In 2004 my focus was putting the evangelical vote in historical context, but the upshot of that post was the contrast of the Democratic trend in St. Louis and Kansas City and their suburbs with the Republican trend in exurban and rural counties. The diverging directions of those areas resulted in a widening difference in their vote. I updated the post in 2012, noting that the intervening two presidential elections had continued the trend and widened the difference.

So, what would happen in 2016? Would Hillary Clinton's appeal (and Donald Trumps' repellent) to women everywhere and Trump's appeal to blue-collar voters put an end to that trend? In a word, no. In fact, Trump's appeal in exurban and rural areas not only continued the divergence, but sharply accelerated it. As I inferred in my post-election posts earlier this month, more of the undegreed blue-collar Democrats and Democratic leaning independents who defected to Trump live in rural and exurban areas than in urban and suburban areas.

Democrats performing better in urban/suburban areas than in exurban/rural areas in Missouri has been true for about a hundred years, but not by all that much. As recently as 1992, when Bill Clinton dispatched President George H.W. Bush, Clinton's performance in urban and suburban areas was just 9 points better than in rural areas. My prior posts linked above noted that this urban/rural split increased to 12 points in 1996, to 16 points in 2000, 21 in 2004, 23 in 2008 and 25 points in 2012. This year the split skyrocketed to 33 points. While the Democratic share of the vote dropped 2-1/2 points from 2012 in urban and suburban areas, it tanked by almost 9 points in rural counties.

The rural vote was a Tale of Two Clintons. In 1996, with many votes being diverted to third-party populist Ross Perot, President Bill Clinton won a healthy plurality in Missouri's rural counties, winning about 43% in those counties. Twenty years later his wife would win less than 25% there.

Trump's curious appeal to rural voters this year was foreshadowed by his rural success in the presidential primaries. But the continuation of the generation-long trend suggests that fundamental shifts in party identification are taking place.

The urban/rural split I have identified may actually be understated, because my county classifications have become outdated. My original 2004 post examined data starting in 1952. (See the original 2004 post to see data back to 1952.) For consistency purposes, my analysis continued to categorize counties the same way throughout the following 64-year period. But population changes since then have rendered some of my classifications obsolete. Some of the areas that I considered "exurban" then (e.g., St. Charles County outside St. Louis and Clay and Platte Counties north of Kansas City) are now behaving more like suburbs, and some counties that I considered "rural" (e.g., Lincoln and Warren Counties outside St. Louis) are now part of the St. Louis Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA), with voting patterns that more closely resemble exurban counties than rural counties. Today, suburbs are more Democratic than exurban counties, which in turn are more Democratic than virtually all rural counties.

Moreover, the biggest rural county, Greene, has evolved into a combination of urban (Springfield, population 160,000, though just 4.1% African American and 3.7% Latino), suburban, college town (Missouri State and Drury) and exurban areas. Collectively those areas cause Greene County to be 12 points more Democratic than purely rural counties. In addition, eight rural counties containing college campuses run several points more Democratic than other rural counties. Reassigning all of these counties would make all three categories less Democratic, but the rural counties more than the others.

At the other end of the spectrum, the "urban" category has included the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City together with their inner-ring suburbs in St. Louis and Jackson Counties. I didn't segregate the city vote from the suburbs because election data before 1996 reported all of Jackson County (both Kansas City and its suburbs) together as one. Enough elections have now taken place since 1996 to provide a meaningful pattern and a more accurate comparison of rural with purely urban areas.

I have more number crunching to do, but these refinements are bound to produce even higher Democratic numbers in purely urban areas and even higher Republican numbers in purely rural counties, resulting in an even larger urban/rural split. More to come.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Analysis of 2016 presidential election in St. Louis

To most of us who live in St. Louis, Democrat Hillary Clinton seemed to be cruising to an easy win. Almost everyone we knew seemed to be for her, some enthusiastically and others readily settling for her as the obvious antidote to Republican Donald Trump. Our Republican friends couldn't stand Trump and were defecting.

And then, WHAM! Trump pierced the "blue wall" and rode Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan to an Electoral College landslide. Secretary Clinton's 2-point win in the meaningless popular vote was a mere consolation prize. Here in Missouri, despite how it seemed here, Trump won the state by 19 points and carried the entire statewide Republican ticket (including embattled Sen. Roy Blunt) in with him.

As was the case in 2004, when Democrat John Kerry seemed assured of making George W. Bush a one-term president like his father, we in St. Louis suffered from myopia. We had no clue what was going on out in the sticks. It turned out that, even more than in 2004 (or any other year for that matter), rural and exurban Missouri went big time for the Republican nominee.

An examination of results in St. Louis wards and townships shows an entirely different story. (I expect a similar analysis of Kansas City wards and Jackson, Clay and Platte County townships would show something similar.) In metropolitan areas in Missouri, there were clear patterns of both  blue-collar Democrats defecting to Trump and highly educated Republicans abandoning him. Here under "The Bubble," NeverTrumpers won that battle.

With national and state exit polls reporting that 8% of blacks (and 13% of black men) and 52% (up 5 points from 2012) nationally (and 59% in Missouri) of voters without a college degree voting for Trump, I thought he might do much better here (especially with the first black president no longer being on the ballot). But the exit poll results were not reflected in election returns here. Trump won only 2% of the vote in segregated black wards. (Returns from other black majority wards and all black majority townships are too diluted with blue-collar whites to be a meaningful measure.) All told, Secretary Clinton fared nearly as well here as President Obama had four years ago. Both Clinton and Trump lost ground here compared to Obama and Romney. Third-party candidates and write-ins picked up the slack. Clinton dropped more in the city and Trump dropped more in the county.

Patterns of both Trump and NeverTrump strength emerged in the ward-by-ward and township-by-township data, especially when compared to past presidential elections.

Where NeverTrumpers powered Clinton gains

First, let's examine Secretary Clinton's areas of relative strength compared to Obama. On the whole, in the St. Louis area, defections of NeverTrump Republicans overwhelmed the counter-movement of blue-color Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents voting for Trump. As accurately predicted by polls, these were largely areas with more highly educated voters, a national demographic that favored Clinton. Most were in Republican townships where Trump's drop was larger than Clinton's gain. Her biggest comparative success was in Clayton Township (western Clayton, Ladue and Rock Hill), formerly the county's most Republican township. It followed the national Republican decline in old-money trust-fund neighborhoods (but about a generation behind the east and west coasts) so that by the turn of the 21st Century, few Republican candidates carried the township. Sen. John McCain won 43.7% in 2008 and Mitt Romney claimed a narrow plurality win in the township with 49.7% in 2012. But Trump's numbers plummeted 13 points to 36.51% while Clinton picked up 7 points over Obama.

Clinton gains and Trump drops aren't evident at first in Republican areas because Trump still carried many of them. But when compared to 2012, in addition to Clayton Township, Clinton scored big gains and Trump suffered significant deterioration in Missouri River Township (Town & Country), where Clinton gained 6 points and Trump dropped 12, followed by Jefferson Township (Webster Groves) (Clinton up 5 points, Trump down 11), Chesterfield Township (Clinton up 5 points, Trump down 10), Creve Coeur and Lafayette Townships (Clinton up 3 1/2 points and Trump down 9 in both), Hadley Township (eastern portions of Clayton, Richmond Heights and University City) (Clinton up 3 points and Trump down 8 1/2), Maryland Heights and Wild Horse Townships (Clinton up 2 1/2 points and Trump down 7 1/2 in both), the City's 28th Ward (Central West End) (Clinton up 2 points and Trump down 7), Ward 16 (St. Louis Hills) (Clinton up 2 points and Trump down 6 1/2) and Ward 19 (Grand Center and St. Louis University) (Clinton up 2 1/2 points and Trump down 5 1/2). In all but three of those jurisdictions, as well as in all of the city's African American wards, Trump ran worse than every other statewide Republican on the ballot. If you live in any of these areas, your expectations of a Clinton win were based on an accurate perception of what was really happening in your area.

Blue-collar gains for Trump

What about white voters without degrees? In a mirror image of what happened in Republican parts of St. Louis County, Trump gains and Clinton drops aren't evident at first in blue-collar areas because Clinton still carried them. Nevertheless, blue-collar whites are probably the reason Trump improved over Romney's numbers (and Clinton underperformed Obama) in Wards 9 (Benton Park and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods), 10 (The Hill), 11 (Carondelet and the Patch), 13 (Holly Hills), 20 (Marine Villa and the area south of Cherokee Street) and 25 (Dutchtown), all in south St. Louis. Trump showed similar improvement in Airport (St. Ann), Midland (Overland) and Lemay (Lemay and Mehlville) Townships in St. Louis County. The most significant were the 11th Ward and Lemay Township, both of which provided Trump with a 3-point gain and Clinton with a 7-point drop. The improvement was marginal (about half the 5-point increase in the exit polls), but was notable because it ran counter to the trend in the city and county. Those results were also probably diluted by NeverTrumpers in those neighborhoods moving in the other direction. Trump didn't trail the entire Republican ticket in any of these Trump-improvement wards or townships, running second-best in the 11th Ward and (except for the racially diverse 9th and 20th Wards) no worse than median in the others. As was the case in the city's 14th Ward (Bevo), Trump's improvement in south county was probably negated or diluted by a significant Bosnian Muslim population that I think feels threatened by Trump's policies on national security. However, the significant Latino presence in the 20th Ward did not retard Trump's improvement there (consistent with exit polls amazingly showing Trump improving slightly over Romney's performance with Latinos).

In addition, Trump's poor showing in black wards was actually better than either Romney or McCain had managed against Obama the prior two elections. Secretary Clinton dropped nearly 3 points there, but Trump was only able to pick up 3/4 of a point. The impact of the black vote going all the way up to 2% was minor. More significant was the 29% drop in turnout in the segregated African American wards, reducing Clinton's margin there by nearly 10,000 votes.

Outstate voters powered Trump's big win

How did Trump win the state? Outstate voters love him. Apparently most of the blue collar voters who broke for Trump live in Missouri's rural counties and the exurban "collar counties" surrounding St. Louis and Kansas City. No significant erosion of Trump's base was evident in those results, except in counties containing either a major city (like Springfield) or a college campus (like Mizzou or Truman State). In the exurban counties, Trump won 67% of the vote. Even Jefferson County south of St. Louis, long a Democrat stronghold, went 65% for Trump. Rural voters love Trump even more, as Trump outperformed the rest of the statewide Republican ticket in most rural counties. Trump won 75% of  voters in rural counties (excluding cosmopolitan Greene County and rural counties with college campuses). He topped 80% in 20 rural counties, including two (Mercer (a "Dukakis county") in northern Missouri and Bollinger west of Cape Girardeau) where he topped 85%. That's more dominant than Democrats are in the City of St. Louis! All of these percentages dwarf the numbers of prior Republican presidential nominees.I am planning a later post that examines the county-by-county returns more thoroughly and puts them in historical context, but I still have numbers to crunch.

In short, the exurban and rural Missouri surge for Trump overwhelmed NeverTrump trends in metropolitan St. Louis and Kansas City.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

'Dukakis counties' illustrate Democrats' decline in rural Missouri

Donald Trump's upset win in the 2016  presidential race was based in rural counties in "flyover country," places that the "deplorables" call home. The national red-blue county map looked much the same as prior 21st Century presidential elections, but Trump's rural margin was dramatically higher.  Most of the under-educated blue-collar whites who powered Trump's win lived in rural and exurban areas, while similar voters in urban and suburban areas mostly stayed with Democrat Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton won big in St. Louis City and County and in Kansas City. But she lost every rural or exurban county except Boone, home to the large (and progressive) academic community at the University of Missouri.

What happened? Democrats formerly held their own quite well in rural Missouri. The state re-fought the Civil War at the ballot box every four years, with counties that had wanted to join the Confederacy (especially in the southeast Missouri bootheel and the Little Dixie region in northeast and central Missouri) voting Democrat and Union-loyal counties in southwest Missouri and the German counties along the eastern Missouri River voting Republican. This pattern mostly lasted through the end of the 20th Century.

Republican gains and setbacks in rural Missouri alternated throughout the Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The foundation for a permanent shift was laid in 1968, when Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace by winning the suburbs and some traditionally Democratic rural counties, with one bootheel county (Stoddard) defecting to Nixon and another (Pemiscot) going full rogue for Wallace. In Nixon's 1972 landslide reelection over anti-war Democrat George McGovern (who first picked then dumped Missouri Sen. Tom Eagleton as his running mate), Nixon won every rural country except Monroe. Those fortunes reversed abruptly but temporarily in 1976, when Watergate reaction and the candidacy of born-again Christian Democrat Jimmy Carter brought Democrat numbers in rural counties to their modern-day high. Carter's perceived betrayal of conservative Christians sent them fleeing to Ronald Reagan in 1980, giving them a new political home that has persisted to this day. That brings us to 1988, when George H.W. Bush won most rural counties, leaving the 33 rural Missouri counties who voted for the inept Michael Dukakis as the last hard-core "blue dog" Democrat holdouts that I examine in this post.

I chose 1988 as my base line because in the next two elections, populist billionaire independent (later Reform Party) candidate Ross Perot put a major dent in both parties' vote totals, murking the two-party trend lines. Democrat Bill Clinton won Missouri both times, including several rural Missouri counties, but mostly by mere pluralities, as Perot's votes came more from erstwhile Republicans than Democrats. During those eight years of presidential statistical noise, many fundamental pro-Republican changes occurred. Just two years in, Republicans won control of Congress for the first time in a generation. Later, Clinton sex scandals and the partisan divide over his impeachment would make rural Christian voters even more Republican. While Perot had effectively throttled the elder Bush's re-election and handed the White House to Bill Clinton, Perot also served as the bridge to Republican dominance thereafter. In 2000, when Perot declined to run again, most of his Republican supporters returned to the GOP fold, but many of his Democrat supporters either stopped voting or crossed over to the Republicans. That year, GOP presidential candidates began a rural-based winning streak in Missouri that persists to this day.

Returning to 1988 as my baseline, I compared the 33 rural counties Dukakis carried in 1988 with their numbers this year, and the comparison is jaw dropping. Dukakis won Mercer County on the Iowa border, but by 2016, Hillary Clinton won only 12.38% of that county's vote. And the 37-point drop there wasn't even the state's largest. About 400 miles south in the lead belt, Reynolds County dropped nearly 44 points, giving Dukakis 61.42% but only 17.81% to Secretary Clinton. In Monroe County in northeast Missouri's "Little Dixie," the sole rural Democratic holdout in 1972, Democratic presidential performance declined steadily from 1988 to 2016. Dukakis' solid 61.31% there dwindled nearly 41 points over the next 28 years to Hillary Clinton's 20.53%. Neighboring Ralls County dropped just as much.

The median 1988-to-2016 decline among the rural "Dukakis counties" was 29.4%. Here are the ten largest declines in Democrat fortunes among those counties:
County Dukakis 1988
Clinton 2016
Democrat decline
Reynolds 61.42%
Monroe 61.31%
Ralls 62.38%
Mercer 50.00%
Lewis 57.57%
Oregon 54.22%
Shelby 53.35%
Dunklin 54.53%
Clark 56.11%
DeKalb 51.26%

Republican rural counties got even more Republican over that period, but the change was less dramatic. In Wright and Douglas Counties in southwest Missouri, Secretary Clinton's declines from 1988 were only about 20 points. In Jasper (Joplin) and Gasconade (Hermann) Counties, her declines were even smaller.

A major counter trend in urban and suburban areas has kept Democrats competitive in Missouri. Hillary Clinton carried St. Louis County this year, 55% to 39%, a margin of over 81,000 votes. In 1988, Bush had carried St. Louis County by nearly 10 points, a margin of over 46,000 votes. Bush's big suburban win then wasn't unusual, as the Republican presidential nominee had won St. Louis County every prior election since Lyndon Johnson's 1964 drubbing of Barry Goldwater. But no Republican presidential nominee has carried St. Louis County since Bush's win in 1988.

The core cities of St. Louis and Kansas City have also moved even more Democratic, but their impact is blunted by their shrinking populations. While Secretary Clinton's 79% in the City of St. Louis was six points better than Dukakis, that only improved her victory margin over 1988 by 12,000 votes. With nearly 2.8 million votes being cast in 2016, her improved St. Louis performance improved her statewide share by less than half a percent.

The widening gap between rural voters and urban and suburban voters in Missouri has been in process since 1976, but it accelerated in 2012 and 2016. I will have a more thorough analysis, hopefully with a graph, in a later post. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Takeaways from the 2016 Missouri primary

Establishment vs. Outsiders. In the marquee contest, first-time candidate Eric Greitens defeated three credentialed political veterans for the Republican nomination for Governor, and based on pre-election poll results, nearly all of the undecideds broke for Greitens. But other than that contest, established candidates generally turned back challenges from outsiders. While Sen. Roy Blunt, Secretary of State Jason Kander (running for Senator), Attorney General Chris Koster (running for Governor), and Gubernatorial son and former Congressman Russ Carnahan (running for Lieutenant Governor) and all but one Missouri congressman defeated mostly token opposition, establishment wins in three other contests are worth noting. State Sen. Mike Parsons defeated first-time (albeit well-funded) candidate Bev Randles for the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Former state representative and Congressional nominee Judy Baker defeated Kansas City banker Pat Contreras for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer. First District Congressman Lacy Clay turned back challenges from State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal and school board member Bill Haas.

However, below the surface of winners vs. losers, incumbents and other establishment candidates experienced more challenges and significant erosion in their support, even against token opposition. In 2012, of the six statewide incumbents and seven incumbent congressmen, only Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder and two congressmen faced a significant primary opponent. Two statewide incumbents and two congressmen ran unopposed for renomination. This year, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and all nine congressmen faced primary challenges. (There was no incumbent seeking reelection in five statewide offices this year.) But voters' increasing dislike for incumbents and other pros showed up in the voting percentages. Until recently, established candidates generally won close to 90% of the vote in the primary. In 2012, two statewide incumbents and two contested congressmen won 80.3% to 86.9% of the vote, while four more seriously contested races (including one member vs. member contest resulting from reapportionment) were won with margins of 59.7% to 67.0%. This year, except for uncontested Republican State Treasurer candidate Eric Schmitt, no statewide candidate and only two congressmen (Ann Wagner and Emanuel Cleaver) topped 80%. Sen. Blunt won just 72.5% of the Republican vote, while Kander, the presumptive choice for the Democratic nomination, won just 69.9%, both against token opposition.

Big win for establishment African American Democrats. In the St. Louis area, establishment African Americans challenged white city-wide candidates and also faced intra-party challenges from activists from the Black Lives Matter movement. Against whites, African American candidates swept both contested city-wide primaries (and retained a black incumbent who ran unopposed) and unseated a long-time St. Louis County Council member. The contests weren't even close. State Rep. Kim Gardner defeated her closest competitor, assistant prosecutor Mary Pat Carl (the pick of outgoing Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce), by more than 2 to 1 in the Circuit Attorney primary. The two black candidates outpolled the two white candidates 60-40 in that contest. Vernon Betts cruised to a 12-point win over favored 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro for the Sheriff nomination. In north St. Louis County, State Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray routed incumbent Mike O'Mara by 22 points.

In a state representative race, incumbent Penny Hubbard held off BLM activist Bruce Franks by 84 votes, pending a challenge. In Democratic committee contests, black (or black-backed) establishment candidates held off BLM and Bernie Sanders affiliated challenges in nine of 11 contests. Sanders people had more success against establishment whites on the south side, winning contested committee seats in Wards 7 (against Brian Wahby) and 14.

Mayor Slay's diminishing influence. The Democratic contest for attorney general was a classic St. Louis vs. Kansas City showdown. St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman carried his home county big, 59%-41%, and piled up a 15,000-vote cushion there. He was endorsed by both the St. Louis Post Dispatch and St. Louis American, and in the City he snared the backing of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. But the City went to former Cass County (suburban Kansas City) prosecutor Teresa Hensley, 55%-45%, a larger margin than the state as a whole. Hensley did have the support of usual Slay ally, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, but Joyce's "clout" did not carry over to the contest to elect her own successor. Next spring's contest to succeed the retiring Slay should be a barnburner.

Continued growth in Republican primary vote. While both major parties drew more voters to their primaries this year than 2012, nearly all of that increase went to the Republicans. This mirrors the Republican surge in the March presidential primary, probably generated by both support of and opposition to Donald Trump. But even without a presidential contest on Tuesday's ballot, the increase in the Republican primary vote was explosive. 126,117 more voters took Republican ballots this year than in 2012 (a nearly 23% increase), compared to a more modest 10,202 increase (up 3.25%) in Democrat ballots. This year's Republican primary vote more than doubled the Democrats.' Republicans even outpolled Democrats in St. Louis County.

Rex's money was meaningless. As first noted by the Post Dispatch, three candidates who received over $10 million in aggregate campaign contributions from St. Louis philanthropist Rex Sinquefield all lost their Republican primaries. In past campaigns, Sinquefield has been a benefactor of Koster, this year's Democratic nominee for governor. Republicans may secretly hope that Sinquefield brings his 2016 "magic" to Koster this year.

Boom generation holds off Gen X (mostly).The Boom generation (a/k/a aging baby boomers) mostly held off their significant younger challengers from Generation X. Republican Boomer Mike Parson dispatched Gen Xer Bev Randles in the Lieutenant Governor race, producing an all Boomer general election contest against Democrat Russ Carnahan. Other Boomer wins over Gen Xers include Hensley over Zimmerman, Baker over Contreras, and Clay over Chappelle-Nadal.

The exception, though, was a big one. Greitens, the youngest of four GOP gubernatorial contenders, defeated two Boomers and an older Generation X. He will face Koster, also a Gen X, in the general, to succeed Boomer Jay Nixon. But they won't break any new ground, as former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt already claimed the office for Generation X in 2004.

Major inter-generational battles in November pit Gen X (nearly Millennial) challenger Kander against Boomer incumbent Roy Blunt for U.S. Senate and Republican Gen Xer Josh Hawley against Democrat Boomer Teresa Hensley for Attorney General.

This post was edited on the morning of August 4, 2016, adding the section about Mayor Slay, substantially revising the section about generations, and, of course, adding this disclosure.

Monday, August 01, 2016

BLM's early impact on north St. Louis politics

The usual racial wars in Missouri's Democratic primary are back. The Black Lives Matter movement has inspired several candidacies, some against whites and some against establishment blacks. Their challenges have some in the African American establishment flummoxed on how to react. This is quite apparent in the endorsements - and non-endorsements - by the voice of the African American establishment (the weekly St. Louis American) and the voice of the white Democratic establishment (the daily St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its online presence,

In the contest for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, the American notes in passing that Cori Bush is running, but the paper made no endorsement in that contest. The Post Dispatch endorsed the establishment pick, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. (The Oracle prefers drug reform advocate Chief Wana Dubie.)

The highest profile challenge is in Missouri's First Congressional District, where Ferguson activist State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal is challenging veteran African American Rep. Lacy Clay. The American pointedly declined to endorse, describing the contest as "a choice between experience and seniority versus new energy and bold direct action." (In contrast, the American did go to the trouble to endorse Bill Otto, unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the Second District.)

The Lieutenant Governor's race has drawn less attention that I expected. Term-limited State Rep. Tommie Pierson is an African American state representative from just north of Ferguson but isn't generating much attention. The establishment candidate, former Congressman Russ Carnahan, was last seen losing a racially charged primary against Clay. The Post predictably backed Carnahan, while the American remained silent.

In the contest for Secretary of State, former KTVI anchor Robin Smith is the establishment pick against two political unknowns and got the Post endorsement. This marked the first time in several years that the Post endorsed an African American candidate in a contested Democratic primary with one or more white opponents. Surprisingly, the American made no endorsement, in spite of Smith's family connections with the African American political establishment. Her father and brother were city aldermen and part of the storied political operation of the late J.B. "Jet" Banks.

The most visible local contest is in north St. Louis County, where long-time white incumbent County Councilman (and ally of County Executive Steve Stenger) Mike O'Mara is being challenged by African American State Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray. While Walton Gray (whose parents both served in the legislature) is part of the African American political establishment and is not a BLM activist, she has substantial financial backing from Chappelle-Nadal. The American endorsed Walton Gray, while the Post did not endorse.

In State Senate District 5 in the city, BLM activist Jamilah Nasheed is the incumbent. She has the American's endorsement over white Bernie Sanders activist Dylan Hassinger. No endorsement by the Post.

The Post also remained curiously silent in the city-wide primary for the open Sheriff position vacated by retiring Sheriff James Murphy. South-side ward organizations are united behind white 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro, despite his lack of education and other qualifications. Most labor unions (including white police and fire unions) also back Vaccaro, but the SEIU and black police and fire unions back Vernon Betts, a college-educated African American former deputy. Betts also has the backing of the American and most black ward organizations; but Vaccaro scored the backing of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, north-side Aldermen Dionne Flowers and Jeffrey Boyd and Boyd's 22nd Ward Democratic organization.

There are numerous twists in the contest for St. Louis Circuit Attorney, featuring two white and two black contenders. Most African American ward leaders have coalesced around State Rep. Kimberly Gardner, and the American backs her as well. Steve Harmon, son of former Mayor Clarence Harmon, has little support. The white candidates are two current assistant circuit attorneys who are running well-financed campaigns, Mary Pat Carl and Patrick Hamacher. Most south-side ward leaders are backing Carl. The Post endorsed Carl for the lamest of reasons: incumbent Jennifer Joyce endorsed Carl and that's good enough for the Post. One intriguing twist is that the African American Hubbard family organization in the 5th Ward has broken with other black organizations and backed Carl. The Hubbards face BLM challengers for Penny Hubbard's state rep seat and her and son Rodney's 5th Ward committee posts. The American backs BLM challenger Bruce Franks over Hubbard in the state rep contest and the Post was silent.

Like the challengers to the Hubbard family dynasty, many BLM and allied Sanders candidates are vying for ward committee posts, which fly beneath the radar of most newspaper coverage. (Neither paper endorsed in any committee contests.) A front-page story in the current edition of the American (the last before the primary) mentions several of these candidates, as well as several others who it calls "white allies." BLM challenges of black incumbents are taking place in Wards 5 and 27, while "white allies" (with financial support from Chappelle-Nadal) are challenging establishment forces in Wards 6, 7, 8, 10, 14, 15 and 20. Of particular interest is the racially integrated Ward 6, where Matt Carroll-Schmidt, attorney for anti-Trump protesters, faces off against black State Rep. Michael Butler for committeeman, and white Ferguson activist (and NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri executive director) Allison Dreith challenges Mary Entrup (the white wife of Aldermanic President Lewis Reed) for committeewoman. In spite of its non-endorsement in the committee races, the American made its preference known by endorsing the establishment's Butler in the state representative primary in which he runs unopposed.

While not featuring anyone associated with either BLM or the Sanders campaign, the contest for committeewoman in the 26th Ward (home ward to the Clay dynasty) is interesting as a clash of established African American officials. City Treasurer Tishaura Jones faces off against State Rep. Karla May. As in the 6th Ward contest, the American made its preference known with its endorsement of Jones in her uncontested primary for Treasurer, but not of May in her uncontested primary for state rep.

Also of interest is the north St. Louis County state representative primary in which African American incumbent Courtney Allen Curtis faces three challengers, including white former state rep Eileen Grant McGeoghegan. Neither the Post nor the American endorsed anyone.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Uh oh! Trump plays the 10-character card!

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump may have stumbled on a winning strategy in naming Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate. It's all about the numbers, but not the numbers you expect. Indiana's electoral votes have nothing to do with it.

As I wrote nearly eight years ago, there is a certain magic to presidential tickets consisting of exactly 10 characters (not counting the space or hyphen between the names). Trump Pence is exactly 10 characters (not counting The Donald himself, a real character of a different sort).

For the past half century, the surnames of the winning presidential ticket have added up to exactly 10 characters 9 times out of 12:

1968 and 1972: Nixon Agnew
1980 and 1984: Reagan Bush
1988: Bush Quayle
2000 and 2004: Bush Cheney
2008 and 2012: Obama Biden

Two of the three exceptions were 1976 and 1996, when neither major party ticket consisted of 10 letters. And when 1976's winning Carter Mondale ticket ran for re-election, it faced a 10-letter Reagan Bush ticket and lost, marking the first time since 1932 that an incumbent president was defeated for reelection.

This presents a last-minute quandary for presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Her surname has seven letters, so that a 10-character ticket would require a running mate with just a three-letter surname. Names that short are, so to speak, in short supply. It gives her "short list" a whole new meaning, and the people heretofore on that list, Tom Kaine, Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren, don't come close. There are no Democratic U.S. Senators with a three-letter last name. The only 3-character Democratic governor is David Ige of Hawaii, but he is relatively unknown, comes from a state whose electoral votes are in the bag, and lives and works several hours away from campaign appearances on the U.S. mainland. There are two choices (maybe just one) from Congress, Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Jackson Lee may not work because she uses her combined maiden and married surnames as her name and is regularly alphabetized under Jackson not Lee.

While defying a strategy with a 90% success rate might be troubling, Mrs. Clinton can be encouraged by the single instance when a 10-character ticket lost to a non-conforming ticket. In 1992, the successful 1988 Bush Quayle ticket lost to a team headed by a Clinton. That win was aided in no small measure by the presence of a significant third candidate, independent Ross Perot. The current tumult in the Republican Party may allow Libertarian Gary Johnson to offer similar help to Mrs. Clinton this year.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Political dichotomies in election analysis

Among the detailed findings of national exit polls from biennial elections are results that contrast a particular demographic group with everyone else. Sometimes these contrasts are startling and lead to some groups claiming responsibility for one side's victory.

Who powered President Obama's reelection in 2012? The GLBT community claims they were decisive, and the exit polls provide supporting evidence. The 5% of the electorate who self-identified as GLBT voted for Obama, 76% to 22%. Everyone else, the other 95%, split dead even, 49-49. Gays provided Obama's entire margin of victory.

But unmarried individuals of all sexual orientations could make a similar claim. Singles, comprising 40% of the 2012 electorate, voted for Obama by 62-35, offsetting married voters, some 60% of the electorate, who backed Republican Mitt Romney, 56-42.

The rich-poor dichotomy produced similar results. While voters from households earning $50,000 or more, representing a 59% majority of the electorate, backed Romney, 53-45, voters from households earning less than $50.000 carried the day for Obama, 60-38.

The largest and most cited dichotomy is the gender gap. For about a generation, women have tended to vote more Democratic and men more Republican. Since more women usually vote than men, Democratic victories are often credited to the majority delivered by women. In 2012, women backed Obama, 55-44, overcoming men's 52-45 majority for Romney.

On the other hand, white evangelical Christians take credit for turning the tide in the 2014 midterms. Comprising 26% of the electorate, they voted for Republican congressional candidates by 78-20. Everybody else voted for Democratic candidates by 55-43.

But these statistics, viewed in that precise vacuum, can be deceiving. Most of these demographic groups support the same party's candidates election after election for a generation or more. What is usually more significant is changes in margin and relative turnout within the groups from one election to another.

Women, for example, provided a majority of their votes to Democratic congressional candidates in 2014, but they weren't the deciding factor they had been in 2012. While the mainstream press and media usually cite the gender gap as a Republican problem, it was the male vote that cost Democrats control of the U.S. Senate in 2014. Men increased their Republican majority to 57-41 in 2014, while women's Democratic support slipped to 51-47. And even though the relative proportions of voting age men and women remained constant between the two elections, men increased their share of the electorate by 2 percentage points in 2014, with a corresponding shrinkage in women's participation.

After “delivering” the 2012 election to Obama, what did gays do in 2014? They voted for Democrats, 75-24, in 2014, nearly identical to 2012. But it was “straight” voters who made the difference in 2014. Comprising 96% of the 2014 electorate, they gave Republican congressional candidates an 8-point margin (53-45) after having broken even in 2012.

The unmarried individuals of all sexual orientations who share credit for Obama's 2012 win also share the blame for the Democrat debacle in the 2014 midterms. Singles' 27-point 2012 margin for Obama shrank to just 12 points for congressional Democrats in 2014, one of the largest demographic shifts of the midterms. This was exacerbated by woeful turnout, dropping from 40% of the electorate to just 37%.

Households with less than $50,000 in income, who also shared credit for Obama's 2012 win, also shared blame in 2014. The 11-point margin they gave Democrats in 2014 was only half the 22-point spread they had produced for Obama, and their proportion of the electorate dove 5 points in 2014, from 41% to just 36%.

And where were the evangelicals, the Republican heroes of 2014, two years before? They were there all along, giving Romney a nearly identical 78-21 win over Obama while comprising the same 26% of the electorate. But they weren't the difference-maker in 2012. Obama won because he won all the other voters, comprising a 74% majority of the electorate, by 23 points, 60-37. In fact, a case can be made that it was those other voters, not the reliable and consistent evangelicals, who powered the Republican 2014 win, even though Democrats carried them. That's because the Democratic advantage with these non-evangelical voters cratered, from a 23-point spread in 2012 to just 12 points in 2014.

Is your head spinning yet?