Midterm Election Night Analysis

Below you will find some of the comments I sent to the media, who asked for them, after the 2014 Midterm Elections in the U.S. and in West Virginia particularly.

What surprised you about the results? (National Elections)

Honestly, I am not really surprised by the overall results of the election. It is not surprising that the Republicans kept their majority in the House of Representatives. Also, given the election models I have seen, it is highly likely that the Republicans will take control of the Senate as well. In fact, every president since Harry Truman (1946) has lost same party seats in the House of Representatives, with two exceptions, 1998 and 2002. In 1998, we can speculate that the strength of the economy and President Clinton’s high popularity had the most to do with the net gain of 4 House seats. In 2002, we can, again, speculate that President Bush’s high approval ratings and the proximity to 9/11 played a major role in the net gain of 8 House Seats. In terms of the Senate, the same is basically true as well. Most presidents have lost same party Senate seats in the midterm elections, especially when they are considered lame ducks. Bush gained two Senate seats in 2002, Reagan gained 1 in 1982, Nixon gained 2 in 1970, and Kennedy gained, I think, 3 1962. Every other president from Truman onward lost Senate Seats in the midterms.

This fundamental election reality can basically be explained by the economy and presidential popularity, which are often correlated. When presidents are popular and on the ballot themselves, they allow potential congresspersons to ride into Washington and the statehouses on their coattails. When the presidents are not very popular and not on the ballot, the opposing party is able to exploit this to their advantage. Thus, using the president’s unpopularity and policy priorities against the president’s party in the midterms, presidents often lose same party seats in both chambers of the Congress. Additionally, candidates can blame the incumbent president for, basically, all of the problems facing the electorate.

In terms of the WV races, again, I am not really surprised by the overall outcomes. Thinking about what I said earlier, President Obama is incredibly unpopular in West Virginia. As was the case in 2010, he lost the greatest amount of House of Representative seats in modern American history, more than any other president. In 2014, his approval rating is a little less than it was in 2010 this close to the election, which is not surprising for a lame duck president. Nevertheless, that will surely hurt the Democratic candidates in their bids for election. Pertaining to the economy, some of the most pertinent and important indicators are significantly better such as unemployment and overall economic growth. However, not everyone can feel those changes and thus do not think the economy is better or as good as it is for some individuals.

Who were the biggest winners? 

I am not sure who the biggest winners are in the election. However, I think it is safe to say that, potentially, the biggest loser in this election is West Virginia. In the last 4 years, WV has lost Senator Byrd, Senator Rockefeller, and Congressman Rahall, who had a combined 117 (80 years for Byrd and Rockefeller) years of service to West Virginia. Despite what one thinks of either of these three politicians and their political positions, they have brought an inestimable amount of money, jobs, and resources back to West Virginia, whether in the form of earmarks, funding formulae, or capital projects. All of that seniority, positions of power, and political influence will be gone from the Congress. Capito has some clout but much of that will not transfer from the House to the Senate. Those that represent WV in Congress are nowhere near as politically powerful as the three aforementioned. I think that there will be a change in the relationship between WV and the federal government after this election; WV will not have the political clout it has had for decades and will lose much of what it gets federally. This will obviously change as the elected grow into their positions. Granted, some will think this change in power is a very good thing, both politically and ideologically.

Who ran the best campaigns? 

I am not really sure how to answer this question. There are too many value judgments assumed in the terms. One could say that whomever won ran the best campaign. The truth of the matter is that nearly every campaign is negative. The reason being that it actually works, despite how much we do not like it. The negative approach to campaigning has been around since the beginning of the Republic. (In)Famously, Thomas Jefferson’s campaign called John Adams a, “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Which, in turn, the Adams campaign responded by saying that Jefferson was, “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Negative campaigning is here to stay.

Secondly, every campaign ad in WV seemed to consist of who was more like President Obama and how that is bad. Each ad was more about the fear of what the other candidate would do, how they would do it like Obama, and the reasons for why you should not vote for that person. Each person ignored the good that has been done by some of Obama’s policies, particularly how the uninsured rate dropped from 17% to about 6.5%, as one example. Aside from that, neither candidate really did a good job of explaining what they would do in Washington. Nevertheless, this is typical. It is easier for a candidate to run against something than for something, as it is more difficult to hold them accountable that way.

How the Jenkins/Rahall race was run, challenger vs. long-standing incumbent?

I think each side of the campaign, particularly Congressman Rahall, would like everyone to think that the race was dominated by outside interests and ‘dark’ money. Granted, this is the most expensive campaign to date. The estimates are as high as $3.6 billion spent on every midterm race in this election. Some estimates state that half of all spending in the WV-3rd District, however, are independent expenditures. So, there is some truth to his claim. We will not fully know, however, because after the Citizen’s United Supreme Court case, many of the contributions and expenditures do not have to be disclosed.

However, Rahall has raised about $1 million dollars more than Jenkins and he has the incumbent advantage. House races are a little more complicated to predict. Nevertheless, the incumbent advantage for House members typically means that Rahall has about a 90% chance of holding onto his House seat. Having said that, now that WV is rapidly shifting from a blue state to a red state, there is no way that Rahall’s victory is that secure. The very fact that he engaged in the debate with Jenkins this year indicates that his internal numbers show that he would possible lose this race. Granted, the early voting for his district showed a strong turn out for the Democrats, which are often more likely to vote early. However, it does not mean that they all will vote for him. As most predictions have the 3rd WV congressional district leaning Republican.

As it pertains to the Tennant and Capito Senate campaign, I am both really surprised and not really surprised at the same time. Given that most individuals vote according to their registered party, it is odd that Tennant was not able to win this election. Democrats outnumber Republicans as registered voters well over 20%. Moreover, almost 18% of registered voters in WV are independents. We have to assume that many of those independents lean democratic and would typically vote democratic. This is somewhat surprising that Tennant could not secure a victory with such an advantage.

However, it is not that surprising when you factor in how unpopular President Obama is here, almost 63% of persons polled think he is not doing a good job as president. Capito’s campaign strategy mostly hinged on connecting Tennant to Obama, making their policy actions tantamount—eradicating the Democratic advantage. Moreover, most of the predictive analytics I have seen on the WV Senate race gives Tennant only a 2% chance of beating Capito. It does not mean she cannot win; however, it means that the chances of her winning are seriously diminished and improbable. This is not surprising given the fact that Capito outraised Tennant by nearly $4 million. Typically, not always, but mostly whoever raises the most amount of money for a Senate campaign wins that campaign.

Having said that, WV has elected its first female Senator, which could be a sign of things to come for some of the gender inequality in our elected positions. Some would welcome this trend given that WV has only 5% of its elected state and national figures as women. Although that number will not change that much given that Capito is simply going from the House to the Senate and her House seat will be replaced by a male. It could signal a shift in who runs for office in WV.

What does this election say about voters looking to 2016? 

Secondly, I think that it is important to note that this is WV’s first Republican Senator since 1956, which is probably a sign of things to come for WV. WV will most likely move from a solidly Democratic state to a Republican state in the upcoming years. Some of this will depend on the major party candidates for president in 2016. For instance, Hilary Clinton does quite well in WV as did her husband. If she is the candidate, we could possibly see a Democratic renewal of state and national seats as they ride her coattails to victory (assuming of course she runs and wins).

As the famous quote goes, “all politics are local.” Which, to me, means that this midterm election does not say much about how things will go nationally in 2016. It is, without a doubt, too early to tell. There is no mandate and there certainly is no 2016 mandate. If anything, it shows that those who decided to vote in WV, which I assume will be around 30% of eligible voters, simply did not like Obama and connected the state’s Democrats to him despite their desperate attempts to separate themselves from him and his policies.

Thank you for your time. I hope this helps.

I hope all is well,

Damien

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Economic Demagoguery: The Limited Effects of Presidential Rhetoric

This is the abstract from my recently approved dissertation. It was defended on November 8, 2012 and approved for publication on the WVU’s ETD website on February 19, 2013.

At this time, chapters (3 and 4) are in the process of revision for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Simultaneously, I am drafting a book proposal for an academic, university press.

A link to the dissertation can be found here:

https://sites.google.com/site/damienarthurphd/publications

Abstract

Given that there exists considerable disagreement about whether the president has a direct and measurable influence over the economy, I decided to research this divergence of views further (Edwards, 2003; Edwards, 2009; Eshbaugh-Soha, 2005; Wood, 2007; Dolan, Frendreis, & Tatalovich, 2008; Cohen, 1995; Beck, 1982; Golden & Poterba, 1980). In my review of the literature, I found that there is research, improperly measured from my perspective, that claims the president is the most powerful economic leader in the United States and that his words have the power to move economic actors and indicators (Wood, 2007). To show these effects statistically, the literature measures the spending, borrowing, and investing of consumers and businesses—economic actors and their perceptions about the strength of the economy from 1981 through 2005. Consumers take cues from the president about their economic futures. If he is positive about the economy in his speeches, then consumers respond accordingly, thus reinforcing positive outcomes in the economic indicators. The literature claims that the optimism present in presidential speeches about the economy was able to influence consumer confidence, which affected macroeconomic performance (Wood, Owens, & Durham, 2005).

This literature and the data sources used raise more questions than answers and produce findings that require further inquiry. For instance, suggesting that optimism in the president’s rhetoric is the impetus in the changes to the Consumer Confidence Index is the wrong approach. Given the disconnect between a president’s optimism and this data source of the economy’s health, I maintain that this approach does not withstand scrutiny (Wood, 2007; Eshbaugh-Soha, 2006).

Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation was to utilize a better approach for analyzing the effectiveness of the president’s rhetoric and then employ a statistical methodology that would allow me to measure its effect on the economy. Through this exercise, I determined that presidents have little direct influence over economic indicators. Their influence comes only from externalities, such as party coalitions, and the connections they are able to create with economic actors. Determining presidential influence over the behaviors of economic actors and using the correct data sources allows for a better research operationalization than arguing that the president’s ability to change economic indicators comes from his position as the most important economic actor in the system (Wood, 2007; Wood, Owens, & Durham, 2005; Zarefsky, 2004; Cavalli, 2006).