Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Is 'inconclusive' on the ballot?

Few realize that really on the ballot tonight is Pennsylvania.  The outcome of the races tonight will collectively be a big factor in determining if the Pennsylvania primary is of import next month.  So I guess the nonpartisan rooting is for 'inconclusive' if for no other reason it will bring a lot more advertising spending into the state and its major media markets.  So it's an economic development argument. We could be talking serious money.

But a question that has come up in conversation for me has been whether there is some party switching ahead of the PA primary.  The idea is that some D's are going to switch to R in order to vote for the candidate they think will be weakest in the fall. Would be a rational strategic logic, if more than a bit disingenuous.  Can we tell from any data whether it is happening?


First off. Let's look at the voter registration trends for Pennsylvania for the two major parties. From the state's voter registration page  I get this time series of voters registered as Democrats or Republicans since 1998:



So that does not say much to answer this question on party switchers. There is data the state has on that same page detailing party to party switches over time.  The question is whether something is different of late heading into the voter registration deadline later this month. First is what those voter registration stats look like over the last few years: 

Since 12/29/2008
Democrats switching to Republicans= 91,160
Republicans switching to Democrats = 56,233

Which gives me a ratio of 1.62 D's switching to R for every R switching to D.

If that ratio seems inconsistent with the time series above, realize this is just looking at party switchers which is a relatively small flow compared to new registrants. Among voters registering for the first time D's outnumber R's.  Now lets look at what the recent stats look like:

For the week 2/27 to 3/5:
Democrats switching to Republicans= 1,227
Republicans switchin to Democrats = 332

Which gives me a ratio of 3.67.

So for whatever reason there are indeed a lot more switchers of Democrats to Republicans of late than is typical of the rate over the last few years.  Whether that is for the reason hypothesized... that folks are looking to vote for the candidate they fear the least I don't know.  It's possible some folks just like to be able to vote and the D primary is uncontested.  Or of course there is a big resurgence in the Republican party that is very strong very recently. 

8 Comments:

Blogger Eric Williams said...

I have no idea how much of an impact they're having, but there's a group called Blue Republicans that's trying to convince D-to-R switches to vote for Ron Paul.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012 7:10:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Regardless of how Ohio ends up, I'd say "inconclusive" is looking good tonight.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012 10:15:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

What? That was a pretty clear Romney win. Delegates are what matter and Romney got those.

Romney wins the nomination but loses the general. It’s looked that way for a very long time. Barring scandal or economic re-collapse, I don't see how it changes.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012 9:20:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

In this context, "inconclusive" just means it is likely the contest will continue in earnest (meaning with serious spending) through at least the April 24 Pennsylvania primary.

I think what happened last night is sufficient for that purpose. As MH points out, Romney remains in the delegate lead and also remains the (very) likely nominee, but (as usual) he underperformed what you would expect from a consensus nominee at this point, and the other contenders each accomplished enough for them to justify to themselves and their supporters to continue their campaigns.

In fact the various voting coalitions are really quite stable at this point. Even when such conditions can be used to predict the ultimate delegate winner with a great deal of certainty, the contest can continue indefinitely, potentially right through the end of the process (that is more or less what happened with the Democratic contest in 2008).

Wednesday, March 07, 2012 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

I don't think Romney has underperformed what you could expect of the consensus nominee at this point. If you compare to 2008's Super Tuesday (which was earlier in the year), he's not doing appreciably worse than McCain was in terms of percentage of delegates. The 2008 Democratic contest was actually a close race, so the commentators didn’t have to spend quite so much time trying to wring suspense from a foregone conclusion.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012 1:24:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

Right, McCain did not really become the consensus nominee until after Super Tuesday in 2008, arguably not until he swept the "Potomac Primary" on February 12. Romney endorsed him on February 14, other party leaders soon after, and the press accepted McCain as the presumptive nominee despite Huckabee soldiering on until March 4, when McCain swept again and Huckabee finally endorsed him.

That's what it looks like when someone actually becomes the consensus nominee: they start winning almost every contest and their opponents are forced to quit and endorse them. Romney just isn't doing that yet, and might never.

By the way, after Super Tuesday it became an extremely good bet that Obama was going to win the nomination, in light of the stabilized coalitions. Any lingering doubts were really put to rest in his sweep of the February contests through Wisconsin on February 19. From that point on, Clinton proceeded to win contests more or less exactly where you would predict, but Obama was right at the time that the "delegate math" made it virtually impossible for her to come back and win.

And yet the contest and the attendant press attention continued. Maybe that was because of the sheer closeness of the delegate count, but I also think it shows that the media is more than happy to pretend the contest is still going as long as the candidates are operating under that pretense as well, and they still have enough of a coalition to actually get some wins.

And that is not a mystery: delegate math doesn't sell ads.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012 2:37:00 PM  
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