Sabato's Crystal Ball

Indiana: #Nevertrump’s Last Stand?

Cruz hopes for Wisconsin repeat in a state that’s more open to voting Trump

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, Sabato's Crystal Ball April 28th, 2016


One could not be blamed for looking at the Republican primary results over the past 10 days and questioning how someone could stop Donald Trump from being the Republican nominee.

But a look at the delegate math suggests that the race is not over yet. As we laid out after New York, the roadmap to a Trump delegate majority involved big wins in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states that voted this past Tuesday. To be sure, Trump’s wins were larger than the polling averages suggested, just like the Empire State primary a week earlier: He generally ran several points ahead of his polling in these states and ran slightly ahead of our delegate roadmap. But as things stand, all paths to 1,237 delegates for Trump run through Indiana and California. And the Hoosier State primary on May 3 is ground zero for the anti-Trump forces if they want to trip up the real estate mogul and reality TV star. If Trump wins statewide in Indiana, which is winner-take-all statewide and by congressional district, he would remain on pace to cross the majority threshold. However, if Ted Cruz wins, it would become harder for Trump to actually hit his target.

For Cruz, he needs a repeat of his victory in Wisconsin on April 5, when he unified anti-Trump Republicans and scored a strong, 13-point victory. But Indiana is not Wisconsin.

Prior to the Wisconsin primary, Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel used months of Marquette Law School polling to document Trump’s horrible personal favorability ratings amongst Republicans in the Milwaukee area. Sure enough, this translated to Election Day: Trump got below 30% of the vote in just five counties, all of them in the Milwaukee media market. These counties cast close to one-third of all the votes, and together they accounted for 80% of Cruz’s statewide plurality. In other words, Cruz only won the rest of the state narrowly, but he cleaned Trump’s clock in Milwaukee and a few of its surrounding counties. Overall, Gilbert found that Trump’s statewide GOP favorability in Wisconsin was 40% positive and 47% negative, very poor numbers that presaged his 35% statewide performance. To date, Trump has only lost two primaries east of the Mississippi: Wisconsin and John Kasich’s home state of Ohio.

But according to a WTHR/Howey Politics poll of Indiana, 56% of Republicans there view Trump favorably and 40% unfavorably, not bad compared to Wisconsin (Cruz, Trump’s top rival in Indiana, had similar numbers). Brian Howey, a keen observer of Hoosier State politics and friend of the Crystal Ball, provided us with the crosstabs of the polls, and there does not appear to be a major regional variation in Trump’s favorability. He is a little weaker in the central part of the state (54% favorable), which is where Indianapolis is, than in the east (57%), northwest (59%), and south (60%), but that’s not a dramatic difference — certainly nothing like the huge gap in favorability we saw in Wisconsin between the heavily populated southeast and the sparsely populated northwest. The few polls we have of Indiana suggest that Trump’s ceiling is higher than it was in Wisconsin, a view bolstered by these improved favorability ratings.

Reinforcing those findings is a congressional district model the Crystal Ball put together based on key demographics and other factors that appear to impact Trump’s support levels, including ethnic background, median income, education level, marriage rates, contest type (primary or caucus), voter access (closed primary/caucus or not), the number of candidates in the race, and region. Overall, if the share of the vote from each congressional district is similar to the 2012 GOP primary — not a certainty, of course — the model finds Trump at 42% statewide, close to his polling average of 39%. Thus, much like in Wisconsin, the question becomes whether or not anti-Trump forces can coalesce around Cruz, who clearly is in the best position to challenge Trump in the Hoosier State. That was the whole point of the supposed Cruz-Kasich détente: Kasich recognized he couldn’t win Indiana, so he is grudgingly ceding it to Cruz in order to fight another day. Cruz pulling back in New Mexico and Oregon is not all that meaningful, given that those states award their delegates in a proportional manner and aren’t overly important in Trump’s quest for 1,237. But Indiana is a state where the statewide winner will take the lion’s share of the delegates, and Cruz needs to absorb as much of the Kasich vote as possible to overcome Trump. One other thing: This model generally underestimated Trump’s performance in the recent Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic primaries. That could be because Trump had a homefield advantage and also did not face much competition from his rivals in those states, or it could be because resistance to Trump is fading. If so, perhaps Trump will outperform the model again in Indiana, something he may need to do in order to finish ahead of Cruz.

Cruz’s pressing need to win Indiana is obvious: Not only does it justify the Kasich deal, but it also partly explains Cruz’s late Wednesday announcement of Carly Fiorina as his running mate. After getting blown out in the Northeast, Cruz had to change the narrative with only days to go until Indiana voted, and naming a running mate was one of the few cards he had to play. It’s very rare for someone who is not the presumptive nominee to name a running mate in advance — the only other example we could think of is Ronald Reagan naming Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker as his running mate in advance of the 1976 Republican convention, a contest Reagan lost to President Gerald Ford. We doubt the Fiorina pick moves the needle that much, whether in Indiana or in California, where Fiorina unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2010. However, every little bit might help. Fiorina did do well at times during her own presidential campaign, and she could be an effective attack dog against Trump, who has said many controversial things about women, including about Fiorina herself. If Cruz does win the nomination, though, Fiorina has plenty of baggage from her time as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard that Democrats could exploit. And while Cruz and Fiorina are both highly articulate and good debaters, they would constitute a charisma-challenged ticket.

Individual congressional districts are pivotal to the delegate math in Indiana (27 district delegates, three per district; 30 delegates go to the statewide victor), so the outlook in each is important to note. Trump appears strongest in the Sixth Congressional District, which is the most Southern-like district in Indiana. Located in the southeast corner of the state, it abuts southern Ohio and northern Kentucky, both areas where Trump performed fairly well (outside of Hamilton County in Ohio, where Cincinnati is). In the horserace, the Howey poll showed southern Indiana was Trump’s second strongest region in the state. The strongest was the northwest part, near Chicago, which agreed with our model’s finding that the First Congressional District is Trump’s second-strongest district.

The western TV market in Indiana is the area that had the highest unfavorable rating for Trump; this includes cities such as Lafayette and Terre Haute. In our model, the corresponding Fourth and Eighth congressional districts were two of the weaker Trump districts. But by far the weakest Trump district in the model was the Fifth, which mostly encompasses suburbs and exurbs north of Indianapolis. We’ll see if the model works out, but Trump’s numbers in that part of the state aren’t notably bad, though his horserace performance in the central region of the state, where this district lies, is his worst in any region. Remember, dear reader, no model is perfect.

The Hoosier State now faces the choice that the Badger State faced several weeks ago: Does it want to vote to bring this race to a close, or does it want the anti-Trump forces to fight on? Wisconsin overwhelmingly chose the latter option, and Cruz is hoping Indiana does as well.

Cruz probably should win Indiana, but to us it’s very much an open question as to whether he will. If Cruz doesn’t, all of his maneuvering behind the scenes to secure the support of delegates who could support him on a second ballot at the convention might be for naught, because there might not be the need for a second ballot: Trump could be wrapping it up on the first.

House 2016: Incumbency Still Powerful in Primaries

Plus, half a dozen general election rating changes

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor, Sabato's Crystal Ball April 28th, 2016


On Tuesday night, scandal-drenched Rep. Chaka Fattah (D, PA-2) became the first House incumbent to lose a primary this year. History suggests a few others will join him, but only a few.

Since the end of World War II, there has never been a year where every single House member who sought another term won his or her party’s nomination. However, the vast, vast majority who want to be nominated again get nominated.

Table 1 shows the postwar history of House renominations. Overall, more than 98% of members who seek renomination get it each election.

Table 1: Renomination rates of U.S. House members, 1946-2014

Note: The 2014 total does not include former Rep. Vance McAllister (R, LA-5). He ran for reelection in 2014 and did not finish in the top two in Louisiana’s all-party “jungle primary.” In a way, he did not win renomination because he was not one of the two candidates who advanced to a runoff, but his situation isn’t quite comparable to other, more traditional incumbent primary losers.

Source: Vital Statistics on Congress, Crystal Ball research

To the extent that there have been years with higher-than-average numbers of incumbent primary losses, they have been in years that end with “2.” Those are the first elections held after decennial redistricting, so the number of incumbent losses can increase because two incumbents are thrown into the same district or incumbents have to deal with a large number of new constituents. Indeed, as we’ll describe in more depth below, mid-decade redistricting in Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia could contribute to some incumbent losses in primaries this year.

So far, eight states have held their House primaries, and Fattah is the only incumbent who has lost, so the incumbent record is 102/103, or about a 99% winning percentage. Again, this is very much in line with the postwar record, and despite a clear anti-establishment mood in American politics (mostly on the Republican side), there has not been a real increase in the number of incumbent primary losers in the last few cycles. However, there have been some weak performances: Six House members have won less than 60% of the vote, which can be a warning sign for incumbents. That includes Rep. Bill Shuster (R, PA-9), who came very close to losing on Tuesday, and Fattah, who didn’t even crack 35%. In 2014, 20 members finished with less than 60%, including the four renomination losers. That does not include states that use an all-party primary, like California and Washington. We’ll keep an eye on the list of sub-60% winners as a broader method of measuring incumbent weakness. But, again, incumbents who want to be renominated almost always are, and there’s little sign that is changing in a dramatic way.

As of now, 392* House incumbents are slated to run for another term. That’s slightly lower than the postwar average of 398 members running for another term in each election, and it could get lower if there are additional retirements or vacancies. Based on the postwar average, we would expect about a half-dozen members to lose renomination. So far, only Fattah has. Who else could lose?

First of all, at least one more incumbent appears guaranteed to lose. That’s because North Carolina Reps. Renee Ellmers (R) and George Holding (R) are now running against each other in the state’s redrawn Second District. The only reason we say “appears guaranteed” because there is a small possibility the map could be altered again before the primary, but assuming it isn’t, at least one will lose. And it’s possible both will lose, because there’s a third candidate in the primary: Greg Brannon, who unsuccessfully ran for a Republican Senate nomination in 2014 and earlier this year. The Tar Heel State could see additional turnover. First-term Rep. Alma Adams’ (D, NC-12) district was vastly reconfigured, and she’ll have to run in a contested primary in her-now Charlotte-based seat (this district used to snake from Greensboro to Charlotte but is now centered in the state’s largest city). Rep. Walter Jones (R, NC-3), a former hawk who has become more dovish in recent years, fought off a tough challenge from former George W. Bush administration official Taylor Griffin in 2014. Griffin is running again, and Marine veteran Phil Law is also in the race. Jones could benefit from split opposition, particularly because there will be no runoff for North Carolina House races this year (the state typically does have runoffs, although the threshold to avoid a runoff is 40%, not 50%). Other North Carolina primaries could potentially be interesting, too.

Redistricting is also potentially imperiling some Florida representatives. Reps. Corrine Brown (D, FL-5) and Dan Webster (R, FL-10) saw their districts dramatically redrawn. Though she’s still fighting in court to reverse the redistricting, Brown is running for reelection in her current district, which now runs from Jacksonville to Tallahassee from east to west instead of north (Jacksonville) to south (Orlando). Webster is now running for the open FL-11, which is being vacated by the retiring Rep. Rich Nugent (R). Both will have opponents. One other Florida primary to watch is in FL-23, where Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, is facing a well-funded challenger, attorney Tim Canova. It’s hard to say how hard Canova will ultimately push Schultz, but she has enemies on the left. Those looking for a stunning repeat of Eric Cantor’s primary loss in 2014 should keep an eye on this race.

In Virginia, redistricting pushed Rep. Randy Forbes (R, VA-4) to abandon his now very-Democratic district in favor of the swingy, Hampton Roads-based VA-2, where Rep. Scott Rigell (R) is retiring. Forbes’ main primary opponent is state Del. Scott Taylor.

Outside of states with new districts, there are some other possibilities. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R, TN-4), an anti-abortion rights doctor who found himself in hot water after stories emerged that he had pressured a mistress — who was also a patient — to get an abortion, nearly lost in 2014, and he again faces a tough challenger in 2016, former Mitt Romney aide Grant Starrett.

While he is not in a traditional primary because of California’s top-two election system, Rep. Mike Honda (D, CA-17) faces a rematch with former Obama Administration official Ro Khanna (D). Honda and Khanna both advanced to the general election in 2014, and the incumbent only prevailed by four points. Honda is now facing ethical questions and Khanna only appears to be getting stronger. Honda is in real danger of losing to a fellow Democrat.

Other incumbents to watch include Reps. Doug Lamborn (R, CO-5) and Tim Huelskamp (R, KS-1), who have had weak primary performances in the past, and Rep. Doug Collins (R, GA-9), who is facing former Rep. Paul Broun (R), a failed Senate candidate in 2014. Another is Rep. Frank Guinta (R, NH-1) — more on him below.

There are other primary races that will emerge over the next several months. Again, history suggests that almost every incumbent who wants renomination will get it. But a few won’t, and chances are the list of losers will include a few of the names listed above.

House rating changes

After moving 14 House race ratings two weeks ago, all but one toward the Democrats, we’re making seven other changes this week. Four are positive for the Democrats, and three are positive for Republicans.

Table 2: Crystal Ball House ratings changes

Reps. David Joyce (R, OH-14) and Ryan Costello (R, PA-6) are both newer members of Congress — Joyce was first elected in 2012 and Costello was first elected in 2014 — and they both represent suburban districts that lean Republican, but not overwhelmingly so (Mitt Romney won both districts 51%-48% in 2012). They also both have fairly weak Democratic opponents who have raised almost no money. If either of these incumbents end up being in trouble, it will be a sign of a big Democratic wave. As for now, we see both districts as Safe Republican now instead of Likely Republican. We’re also making the same ratings change for Rep. Pat Meehan (R, PA-7). National Democrats’ preferred candidate, Bill Golderer, got blown out in a primary by 2014 nominee Mary Ellen Balchunis. Meehan beat Balchunis, who has raised hardly any money, by 24 points in 2014. Perhaps things get so bad for Republicans that we have to revisit this race as well, but for now it feels Safe for them. All three of these seats are the kinds of districts that Democrats really need to bring into the fold to build a durable House majority, and they’ve seemingly struck out in all three.

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R, MN-3) has had an easy go of it since his initial election in 2008 despite occupying a seat President Obama won by a point in 2012, but Democrats are gearing up to take him on, and they just scored a potentially strong recruit against him in state Sen. Terri Bonoff. We’re moving this race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican, and if Bonoff pulls the upset she’ll almost certainly have a weak GOP presidential nominee assisting her. Meanwhile, we’re bringing the seat of Rep. Mike Bost (R, IL-12) back onto the board at Likely Republican after his opponent, attorney C.J. Baricevic (D), outraised him in the first quarter of 2016. This southern Illinois district is ancestrally Democratic but is trending Republican: Bost should be OK but we’re going to keep an eye on this race.

The two boldest moves here are moving two Toss-ups to Leans Democratic: the open AZ-1, currently held by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), who is now running for Senate, and NH-1, held by embattled Rep. Frank Guinta (R).

In AZ-1, a very swingy district with a Republican lean, Democrats benefit from having just a single candidate, former state Sen. Tom O’Halleran, who used to be a Republican. The GOP, meanwhile, has a crowded field filled with potentially problematic candidates, like controversial Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu (R) and state House Speaker David Gowan (R). National Republicans seem to like state Sen. Carlyle Begay (R), who recently switched parties, but he hasn’t raised much money. A divisive, late Republican primary helped Kirkpatrick hang on to the seat in 2014, and the same thing could happen in 2016.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, NH-1 could be headed for the fourth-straight matchup between Guinta and ex-Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D). Shea-Porter first won the seat in the 2006 wave, then lost it to Guinta in the Republican wave of 2010. Shea-Porter won it back in 2012, and then Guinta reclaimed it in 2014. Guinta has been under fire all cycle after he reached a settlement with the Federal Election Commission in a matter involving him taking improper campaign contributions from his parents during his 2010 campaign. Several Republicans, including Sen. Kelly Ayotte, have called on him to resign, but Guinta is trying to weather the storm. He very well could lose his primary against state Rep. Pam Tucker and businessman Rich Ashooh, although split fields can sometimes benefit the incumbent. Meanwhile, Shea-Porter is locked in an increasingly nasty primary with businessman Shawn O’Connor, who has threatened to sue Shea-Porter and the state Democratic Party for what he describes as a whisper campaign accusing him of domestic violence. Needless to say, this isn’t endearing O’Connor to the party leadership.

Ultimately, we’ve heard complaints for years about Guinta from Republicans and Shea-Porter from Democrats. However, we think Guinta looks significantly weaker than Shea-Porter at this point, and, more importantly, we think either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz could be a significant drag in this swingy district. So we see a small advantage for the Democrats.

These changes in AZ-1 and NH-1 are fairly tentative, which gets at a larger point. It would be inaccurate to suggest that the House battle is clearly tilting to the Democrats. Yes, there does seem to be some movement in their direction driven by the presidential race, but the Republicans remain fairly big favorites to hold the House. Just to put it in perspective, Republicans now have 227 seats Safe, Likely, or Leaning to them, while Democrats have 190 Safe/Likely/Leaning to them, and there are 18 Toss-ups. Split those down the middle, and the House would be 236-199 Republican, for a net Democratic gain of 11 seats. Democrats need to net 30 to win the majority. However, if a wave develops thanks to the top of the ticket, it might not emerge until much closer to Election Day. So, again: The GOP majority seems fairly secure but the Democrats have a shot if they catch a lot of breaks.

By the way, of 435 House seats, 383 of them are rated as Safe for one party or the other (207 Republican seats and 176 Democratic ones). While there will be more competitive general election contests than primaries, the vast majority of House incumbents will be equally safe in both their primary and general election contest.

*This number has been corrected — it was initially reported as 391.

Democratic Forecast Model Beats the Polls

Alan I. Abramowitz, Senior Columnist, Sabato's Crystal Ball April 27th, 2016


Late last week, the Crystal Ball published a simple forecasting model that I created to try to predict the results of the Democratic primary. The model is based on three predictors — region (South versus North), African-American percentage of primary voters in 2008, and Democratic percentage of primary voters in 2008 — and it outperformed pre-election polls in the five Democratic primaries held on April 26. Table 1 compares the forecasts based on the model with the results of the Democratic primaries in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Table 1: Accuracy of April 26 Democratic primary forecasts

The model correctly predicted the winner in all five states with an average error of only one percentage point. In contrast, pre-election polls missed Bernie Sanders’ victory in Rhode Island and badly underestimated Hillary Clinton’s margin in Delaware. In terms of margin, the average error of the model was 3.6 percentage points across all five states compared with an average error of 8 percentage points for pre-election polls according to data from RealClearPolitics. The model performed as well as pre-election polls in the three states for which there were a large number of polls — Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut — and much better in the two states for which there were only one or two polls available — Delaware and Rhode Island.

Table 2: Updated Democratic primary model

Table 2 displays the results of an updated regression analysis of Clinton’s vote share on the three predictors in the model, adding the results from the three states voting on April 26 for which exit poll data are available — Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The model continues to perform extremely well with an adjusted R2 of .90, thus accounting for 90% of the variation in the data. All three coefficients are highly statistically significant.

Table 3: Predicted Clinton vote share in May primaries

Note: African-American and Democratic share of electorate based on 2008 Democratic primary exit polls

Finally, Table 3 displays forecasts of Hillary Clinton’s vote share in the four Democratic primaries coming up in the month of May: Indiana on May 3, West Virginia on May 10, and Oregon and Kentucky on May 17. Based on the African-American share of the electorate in 2008, the Democratic share of the electorate in 2008, and the fact that all three states are located outside of the South, the model predicts Sanders victories in Indiana and Oregon, a Clinton victory in Kentucky, and a tie in West Virginia. The main reason why Sanders is favored in Indiana and Oregon while Clinton is favored in Kentucky is that the Democratic share of primary voters in Kentucky was much higher than in Indiana or Oregon in 2008. While Oregon’s primary, like Kentucky’s, is technically closed, self-identified independents made up a much larger share of Oregon’s Democratic primary voters in 2008, and I assume that this will also be the case in 2016. And while West Virginia holds an open primary, Democrats made up almost 80% of the voters in 2008.

While the model predicts that Bernie Sanders has a chance to win three of the next four Democratic primaries and is clearly favored in two, the relatively small numbers of delegates at stake in these three states and the expected closeness of the predicted margins indicate that he is unlikely to gain much ground in the overall delegate race. As a result, Hillary Clinton’s substantial lead over Bernie Sanders in pledged delegates is unlikely to change very much in the next month.