Sunday Political Brunch: The Intersection Of Math And Politics

Sunday, January 14, 2018


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Mark Curtis

I'm a frequent Political Analyst for "The Brian Copeland Show" on KGO-Radio AM-810 in San Francisco, and have been on the station for nearly two decades, no matter where I am working on the political trail. This week Brian was asking me about the chances of Democrats regaining control of the House and Senate in 2018. It's a great, but complicated question. Let's "brunch" on that this week:

"The Politics of Math" – One of the political bromides I've been preaching for years is that, "In politics math is just as important as ideology!" I don't care how good or bad your idea is as a politician, if you don't have the votes, it isn't going to happen. Political parties have positions known as "whips" who count the internal vote to see whether you have enough "yes" votes to pass everything from health care reform, to a border wall. Public opinion doesn't always matter. If you have the votes to pass legislation, you'll put it in the hopper and vote it up!

"Incumbency is King" – According to the Washington Post and Gallup polling, 90 percent of U.S. House Members and 91 percent of U.S. Senators get reelected. That's a huge advantage. But when seats are vacated – usually through retirement – all bets are off. Many toss-up seats could go to either party. In Alabama, appointed Sen. Luther Strange would probably have retained the seat had he not been challenged in the GOP primary by former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Strange's loss in the primary, opened a victory path for now Senator Doug Jones, (D) Alabama, over Judge Moore.

"Can Democrats Win Back the U.S. House?" – Given what we've just said, you'd think Republicans would have a huge advantage. The problem for the GOP is that 42 House members have already signaled they will not run for reelection. Of those leaving Congress, 28 are Republican; 14 are Democrats. Right now Republicans have a 46-member lead in the House. Given the vacancy rate, Democrats have a good chance to cut the margin in half. Is half enough for control? No, but with enough moderate Democrats and Republicans working together you might have a philosophical majority on some issues.

"Can Democrats Retake the U.S. Senate?" – Democrats may have a big advantage for gains in the House; but they have the opposite problem in the Senate. The minority party is defending 23 seats, whereas the GOP is defending only eight incumbent seats. Making matters worse for Democrats, at least five of their contested seats are in states that now strongly lean Republican. I am still predicting a Republican net gain of three seats in the U.S. Senate, despite President Trump's unpopularity.

"Why Census Matters" – Party lines are the difficulty for Democrats in that individual states have redrawn their Congressional and Legislative districts as of the 2000 and 2010 census. Despite the Clinton and Obama presidencies, the nation has had a significant conservative sea change since Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980. Right now, 32 state legislatures and 34 Governors mansions are held by Republicans. It will be hard to draw district lines counter to the trend.

"The Lesson of 1994" – In 1994, Democrats had a huge advantage, especially after having President Bill Clinton win in 1992. The Democrats held a 54-seat majority in the House and a nine-vote majority in the Senate. The odds of winning either chamber were looking impossible. But Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) Georgia and Rep. Dick Armey, (R) Texas devised a "Contract with America" in which they spelled out an agenda for a Congressional takeover. They not only won the House, they took the Senate, too. So, even though Republicans hold a 46-seat margin in the House right now, and a one-vote margin in the Senate, Democrats have a shot at winning both chambers.

"Arizona" – For Republicans to retake control of the U.S. Senate, they really need some races that are anomalies. The Alabama race that propelled Senator Doug Jones (D) Alabama into the Senate is a case in point. A Democrat won in a solidly Republican state with a divide-and-conquer phenomenon. The Republicans Party could not circle the wagons and hold a safe GOP seat. Watch Arizona for the same potential. Controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio has entered the race for the seat being vacated by Senator Jeff Flake, (R) AZ. At least three or four people are running in the GOP primary, meaning someone could win with just 26 percent of the vote. Like Alabama, if an unpopular GOP candidate wins the primary; the seat may be up for grabs.

"Why All of this Matters" – Politics is not just a game about majorities; it is also a game of momentum. A massive tide can wipe out a previously powerful trend. It can be a tidal wave that no one sees coming, with consequences for generations. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter looked to be a lock just a month before the election. But a lousy economy; a poor performance on the international stage; and a poor showing in the only debate sunk his ship. Not only was Ronald Reagan elected, but the GOP took control of the U.S. Senate; and with conservative Democrats, held philosophical control of the House. Could a similar wave happen in the 2018 Congress? Yes, it could, with ramifications through the 2020 Presidential campaign and beyond. Stay tuned!


Related Slideshow: GoLocal: Benchmark Poll, October 2017

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Sponsor: GoLocalProv

Sample: N=403

Rhode Island General Election Voters Margin of Error: +/- 4.9% at 95% Confidence Level

Interviewing Period: October 9-11, 2017

Mode: Landline (61%) and Mobile (39%)

Telephone Directed by: John Della Volpe, SocialSphere, Inc.

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Are you registered to vote at this address?

Yes: 100%

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When it comes to voting, do you consider yourself to be affiliated with the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, Moderate, or Unaffiliated with a major party?

Unaffiliated: 49%

Democrat: 32%

Republican: 15%

Moderate: .4%

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Next year, in November of 2018, there will be a statewide general election for Governor and many other state offices. How likely is it that you will vote in this election?

Will you definitely be voting, will you probably be voting, are you 50-50...

Definitely be voting: 78%

Probably be voting: 13%

50-50: 9%

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In general, would you say things in Rhode Island are headed in the right direction or are they off on the wrong track?

Right track: 39%

Wrong track: 45%

Mixed: 10%

Don't know/Refused: .6%

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What would you say is the number one problem facing Rhode Island that you would like the Governor to address?

Jobs and economy:  21%

Education: 12%

Taxes: 12%

Roads: 12%

State budget: 9%

Corruption/Public integrity: .8%

Healthcare: 3%

Governor: 3%

Homelessness: 2%

Immigration: 2%

Other: 7%

Don’t know: .9%

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Over the past three years or so, would you say the economy in Rhode Island has improved, gotten worse, or not changed at all?

Changed for the better: 35%

Changed for the worse: 16%

Not changed at all: 43%

Don't know/Refused: 5%

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Over the same time, has your family's financial situation improved, gotten worse, or not changed at all?

Changed for the better: 26%

Changed for the worse: 19%

Not changed at all: 54%

Don't know/Refused: 1%

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Recently, a proposal has been made to permit the issuance of $81 million in bonds by the State to build a new stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox. If there was an election today on this issue, would you vote to approve or reject issuing $81 million in financing supported moral obligation bonds to build the stadium?

Net: Approve: 28%

Definitely approve: 15%

Probably approve: 14%

Net: Reject: 67%

Probably reject: 19%

Definitely reject: 48%

Don't know: 4%

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Could you please tell me your age?

18-24: 7%

25-34: 15%

35-44: 15%

45-54: 20%

55-64: 17%

65+: 25%

Don't know/refused: 1%

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What was the last grade you completed in school?

0-11: 2%

High school grad: 16%

Technical/Vocational school: 1%

Some college: 23%

College grad: 34%

Graduate degree: 24%

Don't know/refused: 1%

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The next question is about the total income of YOUR HOUSEHOLD for the PAST 12 MONTHS. Please include your income PLUS the income of all members living in your household (including cohabiting partners and armed forces members living at home).

$50,000 or less: 27%

More $50,000 but less than $75,000: 13%

More $75,000 but less than $100,000: 13%

More $100,000 but less than $150,000: 17%

$150,000 or more: 13%

Don't know/refused: 17%

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What particular ethnic group or nationality - such as English, French, Italian, Irish, Latino, Jewish, African American, and so forth - do you consider yourself a part of or feel closest to?

American/None: 21%

English: 13%

Italian: 13%

Irish: 12%

Black or African American: 6%

Latino/Hispanic: 6%

French: 6%

Portuguese: 3%

Jewish: 3%

German: 1%

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Would you say that Donald Trump has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as President?

Excellent: 13%
Good: 12%
Fair: 14%
Poor: 57%
Never heard of:  0%
Cannot rate: 3%

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Would you say that Jack Reed has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a United States Senator?

Excellent: 22%
Good: 29%
Fair: 23%
Poor: 15%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate: 6%

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Would you say that Sheldon Whitehouse has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a United States Senator?

Excellent: 17%
Good: 22%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 28%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate: 7%

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Would you say that David Cicilline has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a Member of Congress?

Excellent: 9%
Good: 29%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 27%
Never heard of: 6%
Cannot rate:  8%

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Would you say that James Langevin has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as a Member of Congress?

Excellent: 7%
Good: 30%
Fair: 20%
Poor: 18%
Never heard of: 13%
Cannot rate: 11%

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Would you say that Gina Raimondo has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Governor?

Excellent: 6%
Good: 28%
Fair: 30%
Poor: 31%
Never heard of: 1%
Cannot rate: 3%

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Would you say that Daniel McKee has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Lieutenant Governor?

Excellent: 3%
Good: 16%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 8%
Never heard of: 26%
Cannot rate: 25%

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Would you say that Peter Kilmartin has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Attorney General?

Excellent: 3%
Good: 20%
Fair: 28%
Poor: 17%
Never heard of: 13%
Cannot rate: 19%

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Would you say that Seth Magaziner has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as General Treasurer?

Excellent: 4%
Good: 18%
Fair: 24%
Poor: 13%
Never heard of: 21%
Cannot rate: 21%

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Would you say that Nellie Gorbea has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Secretary of State?

Excellent: 5%
Good: 21%
Fair: 21%
Poor: 10%
Never heard of: 20%
Cannot rate: 23%

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Would you say that Jorge Elorza has done an excellent good, fair or poor job as Mayor of Providence?

Excellent: 4%
Good: 24%
Fair: 24%
Poor: 22%
Never heard of: 9%
Cannot rate: 15%


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