Thursday, April 28, 2016

An Election Primer

Dear George,
I’ve been following the presidential primaries fairly closely since they began, and they’re unlike any campaigns that I can recall —  mesmerizing, perplexing, sometimes frightening.   The Democratic contest has been a lot more competitive than anybody expected, and the Republican party seems on the verge of dissolution.  In an effort to get a handle on it all, I’ve been busy assembling various relevant facts.  Though much of this information is probably familiar, I pass it along for readers’ interest and contemplation. 

The voters

How many Democrats and Republicans are there?  
A recent large national survey of over 25,000 adults by the Pew Research Center found that 39% of respondents identify as independents, 32% as Democrats, and 23% as Republicans.  Among independents, 48% lean Democratic, and 39% lean Republican.   Party identification as Democrats is higher among blacks, Asians, Jews, Hispanics, well-educated adults, women (especially college graduates and single women), and Millenials.  Republican identification is higher among  whites (especially white evangelicals, white southerners, and white males with some college or less); older persons (ages 69-86); and Mormons.   (13)

How often do various groups vote?
58.4% of the eligible population voted in the presidential election in 1996, 59.5% in 2000,  63.8% in 2004, 63.6% in 2008, and 61.8% in 2012.  Voting rates by race/ethnicity in 2012 were 66.2% for Blacks, 64.1% for Non-Hispanic Whites, 48,0% for Hispanics, and 47.3% for Asians.  Women have voted in higher numbers than men in recent decades (64% vs. 60% in 2012).  Voting rates generally tend to increase with age.  In 2012 41.2% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted, compared to 71.9% of those 65 years or older.  (4) (21) 

Campaign funding

How much have the major parties raised for the upcoming presidential election? 
As of Apr. 26, 2016, the Democratic Party has raised $370 million for presidential candidates in the 2016 Election cycle and has spent $324 million.  The Republican Party has raised $350 million to date and spent $330 million.  (12)

Who gives to Republicans and Democrats?
Political donors are commonly subdivided into Business, Labor, Ideological, and miscellaneous Other interests.  Business accounts for 75% of contributions, followed by Labor (3%), Ideological (6%), and Other (13%).  According to Federal Election Commission data (Apr. 16, 2016) on individual, corporate, and union contributions to candidates, parties, super PACs, and outside spending groups, Democrats received  greater contributions from than Republicans from Labor ($21.9M vs. $4.6M).  Republicans received greater contributions from Business ($549M vs. $398M), Ideological ($34.5M vs. $34M), and Other sources ($101M vs. $94M).  (12)

Who do Super PACS support?  
As of April 27, 2016, there are 2,265 Super PACs, and they have raised $707,071,383 in the 2016 election cycle.   Of seventeen Super PACs spending ten million dollars or more to date, 14 have supported Republican candidates and 3 have supported Democrats.  (12)

What has been the impact of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision?
In their Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling (2010), the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, like individuals, have free speech rights under the First Amendment, and consequently unlimited political spending by corporations and unions should be allowed.  Critics were concerned that Citizens United would result in a dramatic increase in corporate influence in politics, enabling business corporations to “buy” elections.  According to Wikipedia information, however, corporate funding is relatively small compared to donations from a small group of billionaires based on ideology.  (23)

 How much money has been raised for specific candidates? 
Candidate committee money and outside money for current candidates as of Apr. 21, 2016, are as follows: Hillary Clinton, $256 million; Bernie Sanders, $183 million; Ted Cruz, $142 million; Donald Trump, $51 million; John Kasich $29 million.  (12)

The Presidential primaries

Caucuses vs. Primaries
Some states use caucuses and some use primaries to select party presidential candidates.  Caucuses were the original method but have decreased in number since the early twentieth century.  With caucuses, a party announces the date, time, and location of the caucus, and any registered party voter can attend.  Prospective delegates are identified as supporting a specific candidate or as uncommitted, and an informal vote to choose delegates is taken after several hours of  discussion and debate.  Primaries, which were adopted as part of a reform movement in the early 1900’s, allow registered voters to participate in selecting a candidate by voting through a secret ballot, as in a general election.  In closed primaries, only voters who are registered for a given party can vote in that party’s primary.  In open primaries, a voter can vote in either primary regardless of party membership.  (20)  In 2016 Just 14 states and 4 U.S. territories held or will hold caucuses.   Turnout tends to be lower in caucuses than in primaries.  For example, only 20% of registered Republicans participated in Iowa’s caucuses in 2012, but 31% voted in the primary election in New Hampshire.  (5)

Proportional vs. winner-take-all methods of awarding delegates
The Democrats use a proportional method for awarding delegates.  For example, if one candidate gets 60% of the primary vote and a second gets 40%, the first gets 60% of the delegates and the second, 40%.  The Republican Party, in contrast, allows each state to determine whether the proportional method or a winner-takes-all method is used.  In the winner-take-all method, the candidate who wins the caucus or the primary vote receives all of the delegates.  (20)  The Republican Party required states with primaries or caucuses before March 15 to award delegates on a proportional rather than winner-take-all method.  This year Florida and Ohio hosted the first Republican winner-take-all contests on March 15. (5)

The conventions

When are the conventions?
The Republican convention will held from July 18 to July 21, 2016, in Cleveland.  2,472 delegates are expected, and a candidate must win over 50% (1,237) to receive the party’s nomination.   The Democratic convention will be held from July 25 to July 28 in Philadelphia.  4,765 delegates are expected, and a candidate must win 2,383 delegates.  (7) 

Who are delegates? 
Delegates to the national convention are chosen at state and congressional district conventions.  Delegates are often party activists, local political leaders, members of a campaign’s steering committee, or early supporters of a given candidate.  Presidential campaigns seek local and state politicians as delegates because they usually bring the support of their followers.  (5)

The Democratic Party uses pledged delegates and superdelegates at the national convention.  Pledged delegates (about 85% of the total) are selected at the state or local level, with the understanding that they will support a particular candidate.  However, they are not actually bound to vote for that candidate.  Super delegates (15% of the total) include members of the national committee, members of Congress, governors, former presidents and vice presidents, former leaders of the Senate and House, and former chairs of the Democratic National Committee.   (5)  Superdelegates are not obliged to represent the popular primary voting in their region, but rather are free to support any candidate.  The purpose of superdelegates is for high-ranking Democrats to maintain a degree of control over the nomination process.  Examples of super delegates from Ohio this year are Senator Sherrod Brown, David Pepper (chair of the Ohio Democratic Party), and Mark Mallory (former Cincinnati mayor).   (7)  The Republicans also reserve a certain number of delegate slots for high-ranking officials.  In 2016 these include the three members of each state’s national committee (less than 7% of the party’s total delegates).  The party has instructed state delegations to bind RNC members based on voting results in their state.  (5) (22)

Can Donald Trump win the Republican nomination outright?
According to the New York Times (Apr. 27, 2016), if Trump maintains his current level of support in the remaining races, he can win a majority of 1,237 or more delegates before the convention.  However, it will be close, and if the race shifts even slightly Trump could fall short.  The outcome of Indiana’s primary on May 3 is critical to Trump’s chances.  He currently holds a single digit lead in Indiana.  (10)

What if no one gets a majority on the first ballot?
Delegates become free agents, no longer bound to follow the state’s primary results.  Anti-Trump forces are planning a delegate-by-delegate fight to back another candidate than Trump.  If there is a Republican rule change, the nominee could be someone who is not currently in the race, e.g., House speaker Paul Ryan.  (9)

The candidates

How liberal or conservative are the presidential candidates?, a nonpartisan voter education website, rates the candidates on a liberal/conservative dimension from 10L (the most liberal) to 10C (the most conservative), based on public statements, voting records, and campaign contributions.  The current candidate ratings from most liberal to most conservative are: Bernie Sanders (8.2L), Hillary Clinton (6.5L), John Kasich (4.6C), Donald Trump (5.1C), Ted Cruz (9.9C).  Sanders is the most liberal of the seven Democrats who entered the race or declined to run.  Except for Rand Paul, Ted Cruz is the most conservative of 16 Republican candidates.  (2)

How many endorsements have candidates received from governors, senators, and representatives?
According to the Nate Silver’s website, FiveThirtyEight (Apr. 25, 2016), Ted Cruz has received endorsements from 5 governors, 3 senators, and 34 representatives; John Kasich, from 3 governors, 2 senators, and 8 representatives; Donald Trump, from 3 governors, one senator, and zero representatives.  Hillary Clinton has been endorsed by 13 governors, 40 senators, and 160 representatives; Bernie Sanders by 1 senator and 8 representatives.  (15)

Who are some other candidate endorsements?  (A true but whimsical listing)
Ted Cruz: Jeb Bush, Gun Owners of America, Texas Patriots PAC, Georgia Right to Life.  John Kasich: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charles Barkley, Jim Tressel (former Ohio State football coach).  Donald Trump: Jerry Falwell, Jr., Clint Eastwood, Hulk Hogan, Dennis Rodman, Mike Tyson.  Bernie Sanders: Erin Brockovich, Julia Butterfly Hill, Clay Aiken, Michael Keaton.  Hillary Clinton: Amy Poehler, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, Tom Hanks.  (24)

How do the candidates rate on fact-checking? assessed various candidate statements as True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire.  For the Democrats, statements were judged to be True or Mostly True 51% of the time for Sanders, 49% of the time for Clinton.  For the Republicans, statements were judged True or Mostly True 52% of the time for Kasich, 22% of the time for Cruz, and 9% of the time for Trump.  (14) 

How are the candidates doing in the polls?
USA Today’s Elections 2016 Presidential Poll Tracker reports national poll results (as of Apr. 27, 2016) as follows: Clinton, 49.5%; Sanders, 45.8% for the Democrats.  For the Republicans, Trump, 43.0%; Cruz, 30.0%; Kasich, 21.0%. (19)

How many primary delegates have the candidates won so far?
According to USA Today (Apr. 27), Trump has won 954 primary delegates; Cruz, 562; and Kasich, 153.  Clinton has won 1,151; Sanders, 1,338.  According to FiveThirtyEight, based on results to date, Trump is on target to win 97% of the primary delegates needed for the nomination; Clinton, 107%.  (15) (18)

The November election

What are the swing states in 2016?
Swing states are those in which no single candidate or party has overwhelming support, and consequently, winning swing states is the best opportunity for candidates to increase their electoral votes.   According to the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report, pure toss-up states and their total electoral votes are: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Ohio (18), and Virginia (13).  Toss-up states which tilt or lean Democratic include: New Hampshire (4), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), and Pennsylvania (20).  Toss-up states which tilt or lean Republican are: North Carolina (15).  Rothenberg and Gonzales list 19 states as favored or currently safe for Democrats (223 electoral votes) and 23 states as favored or currently safe for Republicans (191 electoral votes). (17) 

How big a problem is voter suppression in 2016?  
The ACLU reports that 10 states are putting into place restrictive voting laws for the first time.  All have Republican-dominated state legislatures.  Restrictions include early voting cutbacks, elimination of same-day registration, Voter ID requirements, proof of citizenship requirements, purging voter rolls, and dual-registration systems (e.g., separate registration for federal and state elections).  Voter suppression disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics, the poor, the elderly, college students, and persons with disabilities — mainly groups prone to vote Democratic.  The ten states are Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota, and Arizona.  Combined, they contain 80 million people and account for 129 of the 270 elector votes necessary to win the election. (1)

The Electoral College
The President and Vice-President are not elected directly by the voters.  Rather, their votes function to elect the “electoral College,” the group of citizens chosen by the political parties to cast votes for President and Vice-President.  With the exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, the candidates who win the popular vote in a given state receive all of that state’s Electoral College votes.  The winner of the election is the candidate who receives 270 or more of the 538 Electoral College votes.   The Electoral College system was devised by the nation’s founders who wanted to stay true to republican principles but were wary about permitting average citizens to vote.  A state’s number of electoral votes is equal to the sum of its numbers of Senators and Representatives.  Thus, the bigger the state, the more electors it has.   However, like the Senate (with two members per state), the Electoral College serves to shift power away from the nation’s most populated states.  For example, California gets 55 votes and Wyoming gets 3, but, in fact, California’s population is 66 times greater than Wyoming’s.  Historically, five candidates have lost the popular vote nationally but won the Electoral College vote and become president, including George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.  (vs2)

How do the Democratic and Republican potential candidates currently fare against one another in national polls? 
According to, if the election were held today, Clinton would defeat Trump (49.0 to 40.5%) and Cruz (46.0 vs. 43.0%), but would lose to Kasich (48.2 vs. 40.2%).  Sanders would defeat Trump (53.0 vs. 37.8%), Cruz (51.0 vs. 39.0%), and Kasich (46.8 vs. 42.0%)  (16)

And that’s the story for now. 

(1), “Will the 2016 Presidential Election Be Decided by Voter Suppression Laws?”;  (2), “2016 presidential candidate ratings and scorecards”; (3), “Republican National Convention, 2016”; (4), “The Diversifying Electorate”; (5), “The U.S. Presidentail Nominating Process”; (6),”Trump allies sidelined in KY delegate battle”; (7), “Superdelegates”; (8), “In Kentucky, Anti-Trump Forces Again Dominate Delegate Selection”; (9), “GOP presidential race: How a brokered convention would work”; (10), “How the rest of the delegate race could unfold”; (11), “Election Overview”; (12), “Super PACs”; (13), “A deep dive into party affiliation”; (14), “Fact-Checking the 2016 GOP presidential candidates”; (15), “The Endorsement Primary”; (16), “General Election: Clinton vs. Trump”; (17), “Presidential ratings”; (18), “Elections 2016”; (19) Elections 2016 Presidential Poll Tracker (USA Today) (4-27-16); (vs2), “What is the Electoral College?”; (20), “United States Presidential Primary”; (21), “Why women are far more likely to vote than men”; (22), “Delegate”; (23), “Citizens United v. FEC”; (24), “Endorsements for the Democratic (Republican) Party presidential primaries, 2016” 

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