Why did Democrats lose House seats?

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2020

Statistical thinking is hard: Democrats won the White House last week. They also lost some seats in the House.

Why did Democrats lose House seats? Dems are at each others' throats, and journalists seem to be puzzled by this. Statistical thinking is hard!

Why did Democrats lose House seats? There are always a million ways you can answer a question like that. But we'd suggest you start by pondering voter turnout in recent House elections, starting in 2008:

Voter turnout, House elections. Off-year elections in bold:
2008: 117.5 million
2010: 83.8 million 
2012: 117.9 million
2014: 75.7 million 
2016: 124.9 million
2018: 111.4 million

2020: 147 million and counting; maybe 155 million when done.

Just consider the last two elections. In 2018, 111.4 million people voted. They elected Democrats to 235 seats.

This year, as many as 155 million people may have voted. In short, this was a vastly different electorate from the one which showed up in 2018.

On its face, there's no reason to assume that this year's (much larger) electorate would produce the same results as the (much smaller) electorate from two years ago. Beyond that, consider this:

Off-year elections tend to favor the party which doesn't hold the White House. So it went in 2018, with angry Democrats turning out to push back against Trump.

This year, with Trump himself on the ballot, Republicans had a major incentive to turn out too. The  smaller electorate in 2018 was largely driven by angry Dems. This year's vastly larger electorate featured a very large wave of Republican voters too.

With these patterns in mind, why wouldn't Democrats have lost some House seats this year? With massive turnout by both tribes, wouldn't that seem like a likely outcome?

Last time, the electorate was Democrat-heavy. This year, both sides came pouring out.

Opponents of the sitting president tend to turn out: 2010 was Obama's first off-year election. More Republican voters turned out. (Roughly, 45 million R to 39 million D.)

2018 was Trump's first off-year election, Many more Democratic voters turned out. (Roughly, 61 million D to 51 million R.)

This year, both parties turned out, bigly. As compared to the turnout last time,  wouldn't this make it fairly likely that Dems might lose some seats?


20 comments:

  1. That doesn't invalidate any of the other analyses about why that large turnout flipped seats. Somerby says it is natural and likely that this would happen because of proportions of the turnout. It is still worthwhile to analyze the appeal of certain messages, the demographics within that turnout, effectiveness of campaigns and so on.

    Somerby himself was complaining that Dems didn't get as many senate seats as they should have, but there were fewer opportunities available this election than there will be in two years, due to who comes up for reelection when. Even Somerby participates in that game, when it suits his purposes. That makes this argument sound a tad hypocritical.

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  2. If more Republicans turned out, but more Democrats turned out too, in the same proportions, then there shouldn't have been greater House losses. It is only when Republicans turn out in greater proportions compared to Democrats that you get the result observed due to turnout. So that means you need to analyze why Republicans came out in greater proportions, not numbers, than Democrats did.

    It is worth analyzing why opposition to Trump didn't translate into opposite to down-ballot Republicans despite their support for Trump. I think Democrats didn't emphasize the responsibility of Republicans for enabling Trump. They may have avoided doing that in order to avoid antagonizing cross-over Republican voters for Biden, by suggesting that they gave us Trump in the first place. So Republican candidates were let off the hook and not held accountable for their support for Trump because Republican voters would have to be held accountable too, and that would jeopardize a Biden victory. The down-ballot races were sacrified to the presidential race.

    Somerby should be held accountable too. His incessant criticism of Democratic candidates, as well as Democrats speaking and writing in the lead up to the election, was certainly no help to anyone trying to sweep out Republicans.

    Somerby wants to pretend that this result is an artifact of turnout. That's an incomplete explanation, at best. Analysts would call his comment "trivial" because it doesn't help those trying to make sense of the results and trying to learn how to run better campaigns in 2022. An excessively literal focus generally produces trivial understandings, especially when a broader context is left out of the discussion.

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    1. I think we can all feel comfortable that Somerby’s rankings did not sway a single voter.

      Delete
  3. "Obits for those who cast ballots are part of the “specific pieces of evidence” aimed at bolstering the Trump team’s so-far unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud and corruption that they say led to Joe Biden’s victory."

    I want to state proactively, that my husband, who died on March 21, 2020, did not vote in the November election. He did try to vote in the primary but they disqualified his signature because it didn't look the same when written lying on his back in a hospital bed, as it did when he was well.

    By the time October rolled around, he had already been deleted from the voter rolls because I never received an absentee ballot for him. He was disabled and had been voting by mail for years prior to his death.

    I find Trump's claim that dead people are voting offensive because it implies that I would have tried to vote his ballot or that election officials are so incompetent that they would leave deceased people (whose names are taken from their death certificates) on the public voting rolls.

    Once again, Trump is showing his trademark sensitivity toward those whose loved ones have died during this pandemic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trump doesn't explain why Republicans wouldn't also try to vote using deceased relatives' absentee ballots. Many of their examples of voter fraud were done by Republicans, not Democrats.

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  5. It is hard to believe but every year there are more people in the country. Wow!

    Interestingly, when barriers to vote are removed, more people vote. Holy Cow!

    Is Somerby ok? Why did he turn this into a shithole blog?

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  7. "Republican officials behind a lawsuit alleging poll workers incorrectly rejected votes cast in person in Arizona on Election Day are only challenging 180 votes while Joe Biden leads Donald Trump by more than 14,000 ballots in the state, the Arizona Republic reports."

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