Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Listen: GA-06

Yesterday was a special election in Georgia to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.  The leading Democrat (almost the only Democrat), Jon Ossoff, came just shy of the 50% he needed to win the seat and avoid a runoff election.  So that means he will face the second-place finisher, Karen Handel, in a June runoff. What is the national significance of these results, and do they tell us anything?

We touched on this topic last week, after the Kansas and California special elections, and I wrote:
For months now, the president's polling has been slowly dropping.  He had a brief high point, as aggregated by 538, of 48% approval and 43% disapproval.  Since then, he has sagged to 42% approve and 53% disapprove.  Moreover, his chaotic leadership and the utterly bankrupt Republican policies have left his entire party scrambling to achieve some scraps of their promised policies.  Obamacare remains intact and healthy, tax reform is being pushed back to August (still optimistically!), and there's no movement on trade at all.
Yes, the Republican is going to win, but this should have been a cakewalk.  It was a fight.  Two is the start of a trend, and this is the sort of data point that no one can ignore.  Both of these elections swung twenty points to the left, compared with 2016.
No individual special election means much.  The question should be: did the trend hold?

The answer is that yes, it did, essentially.  When compared to the 2016 presidential race, Ossoff actually lost a few points from Hillary Clinton's total, but the more predictive comparison is with the generic Republican lean of the seat.  And there, we can say that the combined Democratic vote versus the combined Republican vote points to a swing of nine points to the Democrats.  For the significance of that, I can do no better than to quote Harry Enten of 538:
The Republican +2 aggregate margin in Georgia 6 implies a national environment in which Democrats are competitive in a bunch of GOP-held House seats in 2018. According to the weighted average of the past two presidential elections, there are 48 House districts that were won by GOP candidates in 2016 that are redder than Georgia 6. The district’s Round 1 results suggest Republicans could lose a good portion of those 48 seats. And Democrats need to win just 24 Republican-held seats for control of the House.
That’s clearly a good sign for Democrats.
Of course, the national political environment could change between now and November 2018. Moreover, the Georgia 6 result isn’t anywhere near as strong for Democrats as last week’s result in the special election in Kansas’s 4th Congressional District. The Georgia 6 Democrats outperformed the weighted average by 7.5 percentage points. In Kansas 4, Democrat James Thompson beat it by 22 points.
Still, that’s the difference between a good Democratic year in 2018, with the House in play, and a crazily, ridiculously good Democratic year, with the House a foregone conclusion to flip to Democratic control. (Again, that’s if the national political winds don’t shift between now and then — an unlikely proposition.)
The truth is we need a larger sample size of special election results before understanding what Kansas 4 and Georgia 6 tell us about the midterms.

So there we are.  A good sign for the future, but ultimately it's just one very early data point.

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