How migration does — or doesn't — change how a state votes
May 16th, 2013,
“I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American.” — Daniel Webster
While Daniel Webster died an American in 1852, his political legacy does not belong to just one state, but two: New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Born in New Hampshire, Webster represented the Granite State in the House of Representatives from 1813 to 1817. But he then moved to Massachusetts seeking to improve his legal career, only to wind up returning to the House as a Bay State congressman in 1823. (Republican ex-Sen. Scott Brown is currently pondering the reverse move.) Webster went on to have a lengthy stay in the Senate, becoming part of the upper chamber’s revered “Great Triumvirate” with Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. As a transplanted New Hampshirite representing Massachusetts, Webster’s individual case demonstrates how politics can be affected by the movement of Americans from state to state.
In the aftermath of the 2012 election, the “demographics as destiny” discussion has dominated political analysis, with the latest data being provided by last week’s U.S. Census report on the 2012 electorate. But one demographic statistic hasn’t received much attention in the conversation: state nativity rates — that is, the percentage of people residing in a state who were born there. Does that statistic tell us anything about the politics of a state?
If we order the states by nativity percentage (Chart 1) while also considering which party each state supported in 2012, we find that there are more Blue states than Red states with lower levels of nativity. Yet it’s obvious that high nativity rates in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin did not keep Barack Obama from winning those states in 2012.
Chart 1: Percentage of people residing in a state who were born there in 2010, shaded by 2012 vote
Source: 2010 Census data
If we dig deeper by analyzing the relationship between state nativity rates and President Obama’s support level, we find evidence that, superficially, nativity rates tell us little. As Chart 2 indicates, there is only a weak negative correlation (R = -.235) between a state’s nativity percentage and the percentage of the vote Obama received in the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. The analysis also tells us that nativity rates explain very little of the variation in Obama’s performance from state to state. In other words, a state with a low percentage of native-born residents was not clearly more likely to support the president’s reelection bid.
Chart 2: Simple linear regression analysis of 2012 Obama vote and state nativity rates
Nonetheless, on a case-by-case basis, the nativity rate can tip us off to important changes within a state. While it doesn’t tell us much about Nevada, for example — which has always been a state with a high number of residents born elsewhere — it can reveal something about states where there have been significant decreases in nativity over time.
Appropriately for our purposes, the Crystal Ball’s home state of Virginia exemplifies how nativity can matter as a part of the demographics discussion. Chart 3 details the nativity percentage in each state over the last century (from 1910 to 2010) based on U.S. Census data. Many states have had relatively stable nativity rates: for instance, perennially competitive Ohio and Pennsylvania have consistently had populations where roughly three of every four residents were native-born over the past 100 years. However, relatively sharp drops in nativity explain a lot in a few states, including Virginia, which has gone from having one of the nation’s highest nativity rates in the 1910 census to having one of the lowest in the 2010 census.
Chart 3: Percentage of people residing in a state who were born there, 1910-2010
Source: Decennial census data, 1910-2010. Click here to download data.
Note: While Arizona and New Mexico did not become states until 1912, the Census did have nativity data from 1910 available for them.
In fact, over the last century, Virginia saw the largest decrease in the percentage of people living in the state that were born there (as well as the sharpest downward slope). For the first time in the modern era, the 2010 Census recorded that a slight majority of Virginia residents were born outside the state. That should not come as a surprise: People from across the country and around the world have been moving to the D.C. suburbs to work in government, government relations and corporate jobs in or near the nation’s political center for decades, while others have taken positions in the service industries that have boomed while the region has grown. Consequently, the economic engine of Northern Virginia has altered the political culture of the state. As a Public Policy Polling survey showed in August 2012, those who had lived in the state 30 years or fewer favored Obama (particularly the 10 years or fewer group), while those who had lived in the state longer than 30 years favored Mitt Romney. Although PPP’s poll found equal support for Obama among native and non-native Virginians, the “length of stay” factor in Virginia shows how younger native Virginians — a more diverse group — were more inclined to support Obama. The poll also showed that the Virginia electorate was half native, half non-native, matching the general population as reported by the Census figures.
However, Virginia’s nativity rate had already shrunk significantly before the state went Democratic in 2008, the first time it had done so since 1964. An additional factor within the falling nativity rate is the increasing diversity and background of people moving to the state. The foreign-born percentage of the state’s population grew from 5.0% in 1990 to 8.1% in 2000 to 11.4% in 2010. As of 2011, 47% of those who were foreign born in Virginia had become naturalized citizens. And this doesn’t account for any American-born children they or non-citizens have had in the last two decades who have reached voting age.
Nationally, the groups most likely to move are minorities, and while this was true previously, the sheer numbers have increased, particularly among Asian and Latino groups. As of 2011, the top three countries of birth for foreign-born Virginians were El Salvador, India and South Korea. In 2000, about 8% of the state’s population was neither solely white or black; in 2010, that figure stood at 12%. (Although the Census Bureau has not previously included Hispanic as a racial category, about 47% of Virginia Latinos counted themselves as something other than white or black in the 2010 Census.) Connecting the dots, simply look at the 2012 exit poll in Virginia: roughly two-thirds of Asian-Americans and Hispanics voted for Obama. While black voters obviously played a key role in Obama’s success in the Old Dominion (20% of the state’s electorate), voters who did not consider themselves white or black were 10% of the state’s turnout in 2012.
The Virginia example shows how an increasingly diverse population (whose most varied members are the most likely to move around) can impact an electorate and potentially alter a state’s political culture. It’s also important to consider how nativity rates could signal changes in other states. Returning to Chart 1, the fact that a number of Midwestern Obama states (plus Pennsylvania) have high nativity rates could add to our previous discussion of how the very white Midwest may be key to future presidential successes for the GOP.
Conversely, some Southern states, notably North Carolina and Georgia, exhibit similar nativity patterns to Virginia. Like Virginia, North Carolina has become more politically competitive in presidential races as population shifts have occurred, with people from all regions moving to the Research Triangle and Charlotte areas. But while Virginia’s 2012 electorate was about 50% native, polling found during 2012 that the Tar Heel State’s electorate was slightly more than 60% native. Georgia, too, could conceivably be headed for a future of greater electoral competitiveness as its population becomes more diverse and less home-grown.
Although Daniel Webster’s time saw the rise of Manifest Destiny, the pull of the California Gold Rush and famous treks on the Oregon Trail, Americans are exceedingly more mobile today than they were in the first half of the 19th century. And as Virginia demonstrates, who stays and who goes can have major political consequences.
May 9th, 2013,
In winning his special election victory on Tuesday night, incoming Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) joined a dubious but sizable bipartisan House caucus: The Underachievers.
Many House observers — including the Crystal Ball — have focused, understandably, on the small number of House members elected from districts won by the other party’s presidential nominee. These represent obvious targets for the other party, although there are only a handful of these districts (nine Democrats reside in seats won by Mitt Romney, and 17 Republicans occupy seats won by President Obama). So in an effort to expand their maps, strategists from both parties will also look at The Underachievers, who ran behind their party’s presidential nominee in their districts. Sanford is in the club because he won about 54% of the vote in the special election, but Mitt Romney won about 58% in the district in last November’s presidential election.
Close to three of every 10 House representatives are members of The Underachievers. These 60 Democrats and 63 Republicans could be vulnerable in a primary or general election, but there are plenty of extenuating circumstances that explain their underperformance, too.
Chart 1: House Democrats who ran behind President Obama in their districts
Chart 2: House Republicans who ran behind Mitt Romney in their districts
Notes: *Represents members who ran against members of their own party in the fall general election (applies to some races in California and the 3rd District runoff in Louisiana; in the LA-3 race, the runoff results were used). ^Represents members elected in 2013 special elections. Names in bold are freshmen members; new members with previous service time, like Sanford, are counted here as freshmen.
Source: Election results from state-level sources; 2012 district-level presidential results from Daily Kos Elections.
The most obvious and common reason for a member to be on this list is because he or she is a freshman: 85 new members were elected either last November or in a special election since the November election (Sanford and Democratic Rep. Robin Kelly of IL-2), and of those more than half — 45 members (23 Republicans and 22 Democrats) — underperformed their party’s presidential nominee. That makes sense; it’s harder to run as a challenger than as an incumbent. As they become better known in their districts, many of these members will improve their performance over time (which would be unsurprising in an institution where on average more than nine of every 10 members who run for another term get it).
Some of the biggest underachievers are a number of California Democrats, but there’s a big caveat. The Golden State instituted a new election system in 2012: All candidates from all parties run against each other in the same primary, and the top two finishers advance to the general election. So in some instances — marked with asterisks on the charts above — two members of the same party face off in the general election. That explains why some Democratic members severely underperformed President Obama — Rep. Janice Hahn (D, CA-44) is the biggest “underachiever” on this list, but she ran against a fellow Democrat, ex-Rep. Laura Richardson, last November. Hahn, a white woman representing a district that is only about 7% white, will probably continue to face primary challenges in her district, which because of California’s rules will often extend into the general election given how Democratic the district is (Obama won 84.7% there).
Underperformance can be a sign of past or future primary trouble for others, too. For instance, Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R, TN-4) ran almost 10 points behind Mitt Romney in 2012, but DesJarlais’ embarrassing personal history explains why he lagged. If DesJarlais somehow wins his 2014 primary, Democrats might have a shot at him, but that’s only owing to his own personal weakness, not because his blood-red district (65.3% for Romney) has any interest in electing a Democrat. Some other underperformers on this list faced primary trouble last year — like Reps. Spencer Bachus (R, AL-6) and Charlie Rangel (D, NY-13) — which could have also affected their general elections (although they still won by huge margins).
Several potential Senate candidates are included on this list. The biggest name that jumps out is that of Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D, HI-1). If the handful of members from California who ran against members of their own party in the general election is excluded, no current House member ran further behind his or her party’s presidential nominee than Hanabusa did in her Honolulu-based district in 2012. In Hanabusa’s defense, President Obama has a special appeal in Hawaii, which makes the Aloha State seem more Democratic at the presidential level now than it usually is. For instance, Hanabusa’s current district — which changed very little in post-2010 redistricting — only gave John Kerry a 53%-47% victory over George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as opposed to the sky-high 69.7% of the vote it gave to Obama last November. Still, these results lead one to question Hanabusa’s appeal as she seeks to unseat appointed Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) in a primary. Other potential Senate candidates who ran behind their presidential nominee in 2012 (though by much, much smaller margins than Hanabusa) are Reps. Kristi Noem (R, SD-AL), Steve Daines (R, MT-AL), Tom Cotton (R, AR-4) and Justin Amash (R, MI-3). All four are newer members of the House, and Cotton and Daines are freshmen. In other words, these results don’t tell us much about how these representatives might perform if they tried to move up to the Senate.
Redistricting explains some of the underperformers. Six of the nine Republicans who now represent North Carolina in the House ran behind Romney, and Republicans heavily redistricted that state in order to pick up seats there (they largely did, winning three Democratic-held seats and nearly winning a fourth). Three of the six Republican Tar Heel State underperformers are first-time representatives; Rep. Richard Hudson (R, NC-8) ran about five points behind Romney, but that’s because he defeated a Democratic incumbent, ex-Rep. Larry Kissell (D). In all likelihood, 2012 will probably be the hardest race he faces under the current map. On the other side of the ledger, the Democratic redraw of Illinois allowed Democrats to grab several seats there, but many of their winners lagged behind favorite son Obama. Notably, Rep. Bill Foster (D, IL-11) actually ran ahead of Obama, yet his district seems to be receiving outsized attention from Republicans, while there’s hardly a peep of anyone trying to run against Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D, IL-8), the war hero who nonetheless lagged behind Obama in her district (and ran against a particularly weak Republican incumbent, loudmouth ex-Rep. Joe Walsh).
National Democrats and Republicans sifting through this list can find some targets, although some are more attractive than others. Democrats, for instance, could try to dislodge freshmen Reps. Keith Rothfus (R, PA-12) and Andy Barr (R, KY-6), who each defeated solid Democratic incumbents in strong Republican presidential districts. But Rep. Jackie Walorski (R, IN-2) might be more vulnerable. She’s a freshman too, but unlike Rothfus and Barr, she did not face an incumbent in 2012, and she lagged further behind Romney than all but two Republican members of the House: the aforementioned DesJarlais, and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R, OK-2), who won an ancestrally Democratic seat in 2012 (only two Republicans had ever been elected to it prior to Mullin).
Two of the worst Democratic underperformers on this list, Reps. David Cicilline (D, RI-1) and John Tierney (D, MA-6), had unique problems in 2012 — Tierney’s family was embroiled in a criminal case, and Cicilline faced questions over his stewardship of Providence while mayor. Will these problems blow over, or will these two New England Democrats continue to underperform?
In many of these races, significant third party challengers siphoned votes from one or both candidates. For instance, Rep. Dan Maffei (D, NY-24) ran about eight points behind Obama, but a Green Party candidate also won close to 8% of the vote in the race. Presumably, that candidate siphoned more votes from Maffei than from his Republican opponent, ex-Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle.
Nonetheless, Maffei was one of seven Underachievers who not only lagged behind their party’s presidential nominee, but also won less than 50% of the vote in their districts. The other Democrats are the aforementioned Tierney (MA-6), along with Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-9); the Republicans were Walorski (IN-2) as well as Reps. Dan Benishek (MI-1) and Rodney Davis (IL-13). All could face stiff challenges.
Meanwhile, Sanford’s days of being challenged by Democrats could very well be over, though his membership in The Underachievers is but one reason why his next primary could be his last.
May 9th, 2013
2016 Presidential Update: The newest shiny object
Last week, intense speculation centered on freshman Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) possible presidential aspirations. The revelation has prompted all sorts of reactions, including a positive one from the unlikeliest of sources. While some have asked questions about his constitutional eligibility to run for the highest office in the land, Cruz’s strong conservative appeal could very well make him a force in the next presidential race. For that reason, he deserves a place on our list of 2016 GOP hopefuls, though he starts near the bottom.
In some ways, the rise of someone like Cruz into the Republican presidential discussion is unsurprising. Cruz is the newest shiny object for Tea Party members and constitutional conservatives in the GOP, supplementing those who prefer Rand Paul or Marco Rubio (though the shine is off Rubio because he favors immigration reform). It is a reminder that in the next three years, even newer, shinier objects may come to the fore. For example, if Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) wins the state’s governorship this November, it is an easy prediction that he will consider a presidential run, with strong backing from his intense supporters. Barack Obama’s promotion to the presidency after less than four years in the U.S. Senate has seemingly lifted all prohibitions on inexperienced politicians launching a White House bid.
Also, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the biggest — or smallest? — political story of the week: Gov Chris Christie’s (R-NJ) lap-band surgery. In all seriousness, his explanation for the weight-reducing procedure — he wants to improve his health for the sake of his family — is totally reasonable, but it’s impossible not to interpret the decision as just another indication he’s pointing to a future run.
In response to questions about a potential presidential run way back in 2005, then-Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) joked that, “Well, I could lose 50 pounds. I might even grow 4 inches. You never know.” So we guess if Christie gets some stilts he’ll really be serious.
Chart 1: Updated Crystal Ball 2016 Republican presidential watch list
|Candidate||Key Advantages||Key Disadvantages|
|•Midwest GOP gov. in Obama state
•Heroic conservative credentials
•Shown political durability
•Too bland? Next Pawlenty?
•Dynamic speaker and politician
•From most electorally valuable swing state
|•Future tough votes in Senate; has and will have federal record
•Vetting issues regarding family
•Could he really deliver more Hispanic votes?
Chris Christie Governor, NJ
•Shown ability to pursue conservative agenda in Blue state
•Less is more — the future slogan of a svelte Chris Christie?
|•Superstorm Sandy fallout
•Not conservative enough for base?
|•Tea Party favorite
•Strong support from libertarian GOP wing
•National ID and fundraising network
•Association with out-of-mainstream father
•Too dovish/eclectic for GOP tastes?
•Southerner in Southern party
•Extensive state/fed. experience
•Not nationally vetted
•Not a dynamic speaker
Fmr. Senator, PA
|•Strong support from social conservatives
•2nd place finisher in ‘12 – next in line?
•Bring around primary track
|•Too conservative for general election?
•Lost last Senate race by 17%
|•2012 VP candidate – next in line?
•General election experience
•Strong conservative record
|•May not want to run
•Couldn’t help Romney carry WI
•Not a dynamic campaigner
|•Tea Party favorite
•Conservative voting record
•Disliked on both sides of the Senate aisle
|•Strong conservative credentials
•Extensive executive experience
|•May lose ‘14 TX GOP gubernatorial primary
•Ran very poor 2012 race
•”Oops,” we forgot the rest
•Long conservative record
•Ohio’s unemployment below national average
|•Supports Medicaid expansion
•Legislative resistance to budget
Senate update: Lots of news, but little change
Dominoes continue to fall in the Senate, but what effect do they have on the overall picture? Here’s a quick look:
– Alaska: Gov. Sean Parnell (R) is unsurprisingly running for reelection, leaving Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) as the leading challenger to Sen. Mark Begich (D). Parnell was probably the strongest potential opponent for Begich, although Treadwell, assuming he wins the primary, will probably be a decent challenger too, if only because of Alaska’s strong Republican leanings. As one local observer notes, though, nobody knows how Alaskans will react to the $10 million to $15 million of outside spending that probably will be targeted against Begich. “It’s never been done here before,” he said. This race remains a TOSS-UP.
– Georgia: Conservative Democratic Rep. John Barrow is not going to run here, robbing Democrats of a potentially strong candidate. Former Sen. Sam Nunn’s (D) daughter, Michelle, remains a possibility, but the competitiveness of this race is probably going to be decided in the Republican primary, where a number of sitting congressmen are competing for the nomination. Pick the wrong one, and Democrats could still pull off a monumental upset. So we’re holding off on calling this one “safe” for the Republicans and sticking with LIKELY REPUBLICAN.
– Iowa: Republicans are having more recruiting problems in the Hawkeye State: Not only is Rep. Steve King (R) not running, but neither is Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) or state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey (R). Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register has a list of the other potential candidates looking to challenge Democratic frontrunner Rep. Bruce Braley (D), but things aren’t really breaking right for the Republicans here. Still LEANS DEMOCRATIC.
– Massachusetts: In the wake of their respective victories in last week’s special election primary, Rep. Ed Markey (D) and Gabriel Gomez (R) are relatively close in recent polling. We still think Markey has an edge in the race, which will be decided June 25, because of Massachusetts’ strong Democratic leanings, but we’re keeping a close eye on the contest, and there may be a reason to give it a more competitive rating depending on the state of the race and the national mood. LIKELY DEMOCRATIC, for now.
So this is a long way of saying that despite all the news, we’re not changing any of our ratings for the time being. To see a map of the current state of the Senate and our full ratings, click here.