[cross-posted at DLCC.org]
Special elections are on everyone’s mind this week as voters go to the polls for the Corwin-Davis-Hochul election in Western New York. But whatever happens in that race, a nationwide surge in Democratic performance is unmistakable.
The DLCC tracks every state legislative special election in the country. In the last three months, we’ve noticed a startling trend: Since March 1st, Democratic candidates have overperformed in almost every similar special election compared to the Democrats who ran in the same districts in 2010.
This is a truly stunning turnaround. The conventional wisdom says that all else being equal (though it never is), a lower-profile election will produce a more Republican electorate. Therefore, a presidential year like 2008 should see better Democratic performance than a midterm like 2010, which in turn should see better Democratic performance than an odd-year special election.
But ever since the radicalism of the GOP's assault on working families had a chance to sink in nationally, we’ve begun to see the opposite. Democratic special election candidates are now performing about 9.7% better than the Democratic candidates who ran in the exact same districts in 2010.
To get useful data, we obviously can’t include districts that produce an “apples-to-Volvos” sort of comparison. Therefore, we have to ignore districts where only one major party fielded candidates in 2010 or in the recent special (10 races); districts which were not up for election in 2010 (3 races); districts where a third party candidate won enough votes to skew the result in either year (2 races); and districts where one major-party candidate died before the election but remained on the ballot (1 race – and a long story).
That leaves 8 elections in 6 states since March 1st:
|District:||2010 Dem %||2011 Dem %||Change|
|Massachusetts HD-10 (Middlesex)||68.86||67.64||R+1.22|
|New Hampshire HD-4 (Hillsborough)||42.69||58.18||D+15.49|
And most importantly for prognosticators, Democrats actually won all three of the swing districts. There is also a rough, directly proportional relationship between the competitiveness of the district and the magnitude of the Democratic gain. The change in Democratic performance in swing districts (D+12% to D+19%) was far higher than it was for either party's safe seats (R+1% to D+8%). If this trend continues through the election cycle, Democrats are on pace for a dramatic turnaround.
As the Tea Party and GOP leaders continue to pursue extreme right-wing legislative agendas, any Republican state legislator who values his or her job needs to stop pandering and start pondering: If my Democratic opponent wins an extra 10-15% of the vote in the next election, will I still have a job?
Likewise, Republicans have a similar question to ask if they represent safe districts but enjoy life in the majority: how many of my GOP colleagues will lose their seats if this trend holds?
There are no more special elections scheduled that would apply to this analysis between now and the Wisconsin recalls, likely to be held July 12th. Those races will tell us a lot more about how the electorate is responding to GOP radicalism.