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We know money and several other factors have major effects on House races.  But after we account for these major factors, how much advantage does incumbency give a candidate?  A gerrymandered district?  Getting caught in a scandal?

Yesterday I showed some regressions for Republican performance in House races for the years 2002, 2004, and 2006 that take account of incumbent party, fundraising ratio, and district partisan makeup.

Using these, we can tell how well we expect a Republican to do given certain conditions.  However, the regressions are not perfect - the data don’t fall along the lines plotted.  There’s plenty of room for other factors to be involved.  We can use the differences between what we expect and what actually happened – the residuals – to tease out the effects of additional conditions.  Below, a pack of factors, from the most important – money, party, district – to the less important ones – incumbency, gerrymandering, longevity – to the more interesting ones – scandal and failure.

Cross posted at Open Left and Swing State Project

How do various factors affect a House candidate’s percentage of vote in the election?  All the following numbers relate to average effects.  Individual results may vary.

The first four are the variables used to predict the expected performance:

  1.   High D/R Fundraising Ratio:  +15 points (about 5 points for every factor of 3 increase)

On average, challengers running for a seat currently held by the opposite party will gain 15 points if they outraise their opponent by a factor of three compared to if they raise only one tenth of their opponent’s money, if all other factors are equal.  Note that the D/R Fundraising Ratio is fairly closely correlated to absolute amount of money raised by the challenger, so we can also say that challengers will greatly improve their performance if they raise a great deal of money, regardless of the incumbent’s fundraising.

  1.  Running as incumbent party:  +10 points

Candidates running for a seat currently held by their own party (incumbents or open seat candidates) will gain, on average, 10 points compared to if they were running for a seat currently held by the opposite party, if all other factors (including D/R Fundraising Ratio) are the same.

  1.  Running in a more favorable district:  +10 points (1 point for every 3 point change in Bush’s vote in the district)

Democrats running in the most liberal Republican-held districts (Bush vote 40-45%) will gain 10 points compared to Democrats running in the most conservative Republican-held districts (Bush vote 65-75%), if all other factors (including D/R Fundraising Ratio) are the same.  Democrats running in the moderately liberal Democratic-held districts (Bush vote 30-35%) will gain about 10 points compared to those running in the most conservative Democratic-held districts (Bush vote 60-65%).  

  1.  Political climate:  +6 points

On average, Democratic challengers did 6 points better against Republican incumbents in 2006 compared to 2002 (4 points better than 2004) when accounting for D/R Fundraising Ratio and district partisan makeup.  Republican challengers did 4 points worse in 2006 compared to 2002.  In other words, Republican money was worth less in 2006 than in 2004 or 2002.  They had to raise more relative to their Democratic opponent to get the same result.

The following comparisons are made by comparing actual performance to calculated performance, accounting for the four factors above: D/R Fundraising Ratio, district composition, incumbent party, and political climate.  The numbers given are average residuals of the regressions.  

  1.  Raising more than $2 million as a challenger: +3 points

Remember, this is after accounting for D/R Fundraising Ratio.  If both candidates raise the same amount of money, dollar-for-dollar, then the more money a challenger raises, the better the challenger does.  A challenger who raises more than $2 million (and whose opponent also raises more than $2 million) increases performance by about 3 points compared to one who only raises $100,000 (and whose opponent also raises only $100,000).  In other words, high-spending races with fundraising parity are generally to the advantage of the challenger.  (This leads to the strange corollary that the more an incumbent raises given fundraising parity, the worse the incumbent does!) Let me note again, when we do not control for D/R Fundraising Ratio, a challenger who raises a large amount of money will do far, far better than one who raises little money.

  1.  Running as an incumbent:  + 2 points

The inherent incumbent advantage after accounting for money, party, district, and climate is not large.  This doesn’t mean running against an incumbent is just as easy as running for an open seat.   However, the incumbency advantage may reside mainly in the ability to scare off opponents and scare off opponents’ donors and supporters.  If a challenger can manage to raise as much money as an incumbent, then the challenger has almost as good a shot as if the challenger were running for an open seat.  However, 2 points is still an important amount.

  1.  Running against a first-termer: +1 point

First term incumbents are not much more inherently vulnerable than other incumbents, if at all.  Even those who are in a seat that switched parties.  This doesn’t mean first-termers are safe, because they are more likely to attract high quality opponents with strong fundraising.  When they do, however, they perform only slightly worse than a long-time incumbent under the same circumstances, on average.

  1.  Running against a self-funded candidate:  +1 point

On average, running against a self-funded candidate might give a slight advantage.  However, out of the 18 cases I found over the past three cycles, four showed the self-funded candidate underperforming by a massive 8-10 points.  There may be a risk of completely blowing it by self-funding.

  1.  Running against a Republican incumbent in a Republican-gerrymandered district: +0 points

Looking at some states that were recently redistricted by Republicans in a partisan manner – FL, PA, MI, OH, VA, TX – there has been no benefit in performance for the Republicans.  There may have been a slight benefit the first cycle after redistricting, followed by a slight underperformance later.  The gerrymandering may have scared off opponents and their donors, however, which would certainly have been an overall benefit for the Republicans.

The following comparisons are specific to a just a few races, so we run into the problem of the statistics of small numbers, and can’t really say what the average effect is.  Also, in many of these races, the incumbent was tangled in more than one variety of misdeed.

  1.  Third party candidates:  0 to -15 points

In 2006 there were 16 House races where third party candidates garnered more than 4.5 percent of the vote.  In 11 of these races the Republican underperformed by 4 or more points; in 6 races (2 in MN) the Democratic candidate underperformed by 4 or more points.

  1.  The Abramoff scandals:  1 to 12 points  

Republicans in districts with links to the Abramoff scandal all underperformed: TX-22 (-1),  FL-24 (-3), CA-4 (-4), AK-AL (-6), CA-11 (-7), and OH-18 (-12).

  1.  Alleged domestic abuse:  5 to 6 points

PA-10 (-6), NY-20 (-5):  Not the good kind of press.  

  1.  Threatenting your opponent:  -5 points

WY-AL (-5), where Barbara Cubin told an opponent she’d slap him in the face if he weren’t in a wheelchair.  Cubin wasn’t well liked anyway though.

  1.  The Delay scandal:  +5 to -6 points

TX-22 (-1), AZ-1 (-2), NC-8 (-6), PA-6 (+5).  Districts related to the Delay scandal don’t seem to have been affected too much, although the Delay scandal certainly affected the national climate.

  1.  The Foley scandal:  +1 to -3 points

IL-14 (-2), IL-19 (+1), FL-16 (0), NY-26 (-3).  Again, no obvious severe penalty for those most closely related to the scandal or Foley’s replacement on the ballot, but the scandal contributed to the national political climate.

Overall, these numbers seem to validate the strategy of supporting strong candidates in every district, against every incumbent.  While it is certainly much more difficult for Democratic challengers to win against an incumbent in a conservative district, it is not impossible.  It appears that with enough money, such races will often be competitive or near competitive in the current political climate.  Another way to put it is that the competitive races in conservative districts in 2006 –WY-AL for example- were not simply flukes or outliers, but rather part of a larger pattern that is likely to be repeated in 2008.

Originally posted to dreaminonempty on Wed Nov 28, 2007 at 02:31 PM PST.


In which district did the 2006 Republican candidate underperform worst when accounting for the first three factors above?

16%2 votes
8%1 votes
8%1 votes
0%0 votes
33%4 votes
8%1 votes
0%0 votes
25%3 votes

| 12 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Answer to poll (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    andgarden, joyful, jlms qkw

    It's a tie, really, but CO-4 beats out KY-4 by just a bit - they both underperformed by 8 points.  The best on the list is OH-4, underperforming by 5 points.

  •  this is interesting: (0+ / 0-)

    thanks for your work on this.

    how does this affect getting more & better dems elected ?  

    utah (not a great place for more & better dems) is going to get a 4th seat after the census.  the fight is brewing over how the districts will be drawn.  one 'safe' dem seat?  state is now at 60% LDS or so.  two maybe dem seats?  matheson is not the best progressive sometimes and could lose to a prog challenger in a "safer" dem district.  

    •  It's an opportunity (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, jlms qkw

      While the political climate holds in the Democrats favor (if it holds throught 2008) it is an opportunity to get Democrats into some moderately conservative seats and try for even the most conservative.  Once there, it will still be hard for a Republican to take the seat back even if the political climate shifts away from Democrats.

      As far as getting better Democrats elected, I would have to find the effect of having a primary on the general election outcome before I answer that.  That's a good factor to look at, thanks for the idea.

  •  I don't understand what you mean (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlms qkw

    by the section on gerrymandering. Are you saying that it is difficult to gerrymander a person out of a district?

    •  No (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      andgarden, jlms qkw

      I see what you mean, I need to clarify that section.

      Republicans running in Republican districts in states with Republican gerrymanders didn't show much of an effect.

      I didn't look at the fate of the Democrats, or the effect of Democratic gerrymanders.

      •  In other words, the gerrymanders worked (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jlms qkw

        because they didn't make the Republicans less safe?

        •  First we need to define worked (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          andgarden, jlms qkw

          Many of the incumbents are still in Congress, so in that sense it 'worked.'

          However, as I understand it, gerrymandering also involves doing things like making sure cities with connections to a particular Republican are included in the district.  Or suppose the Republican is an avid hunter, they might extend the district into a region where hunting is popular.  In other words, going beyond simple Republican/Democrat and trying to tailor a district to a particular incumbent.  That's my understanding at least.

          If that's the case, then on average, it had little or no effect.  The Republicans in states where districts were gerrymandered for the benefit of Republicans performed the same as Republican anywhere else on average, once you take into account money, district composition (which the gerrymandering changed to benefit Repulicans), party, and political climate.

          •  The point of gerrymandering (0+ / 0-)

            is to spread your supporters around and "pack and crack" those of your opponents. The idea is that you should have lots of 55-57% districts, and your opponents should have a few 70-90% districts. An effective gerrymander should, in theory, make your own incumbents theoretically less safe. Are you saying that, on average, it does not?

            •  No, Yes, No. Um... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I misunderstood your question above, I think.

              Eventually I'll get it right.

              OK, because of pack and crack, the effective gerrymander makes the average composition of incumbent Republican districts less conservative.  

              On average, I am saying Republican incumbents performed as we expected based on composition of district.  

              Therefore, because composition of district became less conservative, incumbents performed worse, on average - incumbents became less safe, on averge.  

  •  Gerrymandering narrows margins (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, andgarden, jlms qkw

    How it worked in Texas anyhow.  Narrow margins so that the dominant party can take more seats.  Karl Rove kind of thinking.  Tom Delay's "permanent majority" plan for Texas worked in 2004 - most Republican gains that year were because of that mid-decade shenanigan.  And it bit back in 2006, to a degree.

    That's how it works in NM.  So that even though we had 56% of the votes go for Dems in November 2006, Republicans won two out of three seats.  That one Dem got a whopper of a margin - 75% of the vote.  We had a Republican governor for the 2000 redistrict, and it hurt us.  This time around we'll almost certainly have a Dem, plus a Dem legislature still.  

    Not out of the question, once that is over, that we could take three out of three.  But certainly two.

    When there's a tide, more of those narrow margin seats can turn over.  More or less how Richard Pombo lost his seat last time around.  It was "his" district, but not by enough to hold it as it turned out.

    Plus it's different on either side of the aisle.  Most of the highest margin seats are urban and Democratic.  Some of the safest seats in the country, those.

    A few disjointed thoughts on that...
    Anyhow, I do enjoy this kinda stuff.  So keep up the good work!!

    •  Tide still high (0+ / 0-)

      It's looking good for 2008 still.  I think a lot of those incumbents in Republican-redistricted seats of just over 50% Bush vote should be really nervous.  

      New Mexico doesn't look too unbalanced right now - Bush got 47, 54 and 43% of the vote in the three districts in 2000 - but it should be real easy to bring all three under 50% Bush vote 2000.  And, is the state trending away from Republicans anyways, overall?  Looks good for prospects of three Dems from NM in the future.  

  •  Democratic percentage (0+ / 0-)

    overall and by district.

    One thing to look at is this.  The Cook PVI is, essentially, the extent to which the last two presidencies went Democratic or Republican, vs. the national average.  e.g A district that was D + 9 would have given Gore and Kerry 9 percent more than the average.

    Now, the mean CookPVI  for the 435 districts is 1.48

    But the range was from R + 26 to D + 43.  
    230 districts favored Republicans, 11 got exactly 0, only 194 favored Democrats.

    So, the Democratic advantage is concentrated in fewer districts.

    This could be due to gerrymandering

    Does anyone have a list, by state, of who controlled the last redistricting?

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