Recently, the cook political report updated itsHouse race ratingsand all ten races favored Democrats. Before mid March of 2016, most pundits assumed that Democrats could not take the House. Trump may be the nomiee and can harm downballot Republican candidates with his hateful rhetoric. While the downballot Republicans may not make the statements themselves, many will endorse Trump for President and many may appear with him at rallies. One however has already implied that he will not endorse Trump and possibly even vote for Hillary. This representative, Carlos Cuebelo (R) represents FL-26, a Democratic leaning and heavily Hispanic district that he narrowly won in 2014.
The main question is though how strong of an impact will Trump have on downballot races? My answer is that if his candidacy causes high Democratic turnout, it will. If Trump’s candidacy does not generate high turnout among Democrats but only causes Independents to switch, it will not. As shown in states such as Ohio, Virginia and New York, Democratic wave elections that rely on low propensity voters (infrequent voters) have stronger downballot effects than wave elections that rely on persuading Independents.
1.Ohio in 2006: Ohio in 2006 is a prime example of how top of the ticket races that rely on persuading voters instead of turning out base voters do not help downticket. In 2006, Rep. Ted Strickland (D) won the Governorship with 60%. He won for a couple of reasons. One was that Strickland’s opponent, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell (R) was unpopular statewide. Strickland also ran touting his moderate roots and connection to Appalachia (he represented a congressional district in southeastern Ohio). At the same time, Democrats failed to make major gains in House seats. They only gained one, Rep. Bob Ney’s (R) seat which could have been explained as the result of a scandal.
As shown by the2006 exit polls, turnout among key groups such as African Americans, Democrats and young voters remained similar to 2004 but Independents backed Strickland by 43 points. Therefore, Republicans won House seats such as OH-15 which was located in the Columbus area and strongly backed Strickland. The reason the Republican won though was that the voters were not low propensity Democrats but regular voters who backed Republicans in the past (OH-15 supported Bush in 2004) and decided to stick with Republicans downballot. Columbus has a high number of college students and African Americans so a high turnout among those groups would be problematic for Republicans in this district. The same happened in OH-01 as well which voted for Bush by 2 points in 2004. The district is located around Cinncinatti and has a high African American population (27%).
In 2008 however, although Obama won by five points instead of 24 in Ohio, turnout was stronger amongyoung voters, African Americans and Democrats. OH-15 flipped however with help from high turnout from African Americans and young voters in Franklin County (Columbus). OH-01 flipped as well. With high African American turnout in Cinncinati, OH-01 flipped as well.
2.2008 Virginia:in 2008, President Obama won Virginia by seven points, thanks to high turnout among upscale liberals/Hispanics/Asians in Northern Virginia, high turnout from African Americans in SE VA and high turnout from college students in areas such as Charlottesville. It is no surprise that Democrats gained three House seats in Virginia in 2008 despite gaining none in 2006. Even though Democrats won on top of the ticket, Dems won on winning over Independents, not by turning out low propensity voters.
In 2006, Democrats didwin a Senate seatwith Jim Webb (D) defeating Sen. George Allen (R). Webb’s strategy though did not appear to rely on turning out low propensity voters but appeared to rely on winning over blue dog Democrats in SW VA with his moderate views and winning over upscale voters in NoVA due to Allen’s extremism. Allen called an Indian campaign worker of Webb’s a “macaca” (a racial slur from North Africa). Webb used that to cause upscale voters who may have backed Bush in 2004 (Bush received 46% in Fairfax County, the main suburban county in NoVa), to switch to Webb (Allen won 40% of the Fairfax County vote). At the same time, those voters voted Republican downballot. Take VA-11 for example, it flipped in 2008 when Obama won it by 11 but its Republican incumbent won by 13 points. The reason is that its incumbent, Tom Davis (R) was a moderate similar to many of the upscale voters who switched from Bush in 2004 to Webb in 2006. If Webb had brought out more low propensity Democrats though, they may have voted against Davis.
2008 overall was a strong year for Democrats in Virginia. Besides Obama winning statewide by seven points, Democrats also gained VA-2 and VA-5. VA-2 was a district in the Hampton Roads with a sizable African American population that turned out to elect a Democrat. VA-5 is a rural district with some African Americans as well as young voters in Charlottesville.
3.New York 2014: In 2010, Andrew Cuomo (D), then Gubernatorial candidate was thought to be facing a tough race (a poll showed him leading by only 6 points). Cuomo won by 28 points. Democrats however lost many House seats in New York, especially in Upstate. The reason is that although Cuomo may have won, he won by winning over enough center right voters. The Republican candidate, Carl Paladino (R) was in my opinion in a mini Donald Trump. Paladino told a reporter who asked him a tough question, “I’ll take you out!” Paladino then went on to compare beingLGBT to being alcoholic. At his concession speech, Paladino also appeared to threaten newly elected Gov. Cuomo with abaseball bat. One can also make parallels between Paladino and Trump (they both made outlandish statements and both had a chance at winning for awhile) but that is a discussion for another article.
In 2014, Cuomo had angered most of the Democratic base and won by only 13 points, despite being on no one’s radar. At the same time though, Democratic turnout was extremely low hurting Democrats across the state. In NY-24 for example, a 57% Obama seat centered around Syracuse, a Republican John Katko (R) won it thanks to low Democratic turnout. Also, Rep. Bishop (D) lost a Long Island Congressional seat that he had held for 12 years and won through 2010 and the Republican leaning years of 2002 and 2004.
Overall, Trump will hurt House Republicans as long as his candidacy increases Democratic turnout. It should not be difficult for Democrats to bring out their base regardless of the nominee, especially with Trump’s hateful comments toward women, hateful comments toward Hispanics and refusal to denounce the KKK. If Trump’s candidacy though fails to turnout the Democratic base and instead mainly persuades moderate suburban Republicans to support the nominee, it will not have as strong an impact downballot.
Also, both Democrats have arguments that they will increase higher turnout. Hillary’s campaign will argue that they can increase turnout with African Americans and Hispanics and Bernie’s campaign will argue that they will increase turnout among young people. With Trump’s candidacy though, turnout among all three groups should skyrocket.
At this time, it is still unlikely that Democrats regain the House due to gerrymandering but they can greatly narrow the GOP majority. At least any swing district Democrats hold with a high Hispanic population will now be safer due to high Hispanic turnout against Trump. What will be important for Democrats though is that besides persuading center right Hispanics, they also need to register and turnout as many low propensity Hispanic voters as they can. As shown in Ohio, New York and Virginia, sweeping Democratic wins have stronger coattail effects when those sweeping Democratic wins are fueled by low propensity voters instead of simply by persuading Independents to vote Democratic in a top of the ticket race.