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Are the New Republican Primary Rules a Problem for California in 2016?

The Republican National Committee recently enacted a number of changes to the rules governing its primary process. (Rules changes are a frequent occurrence, and the specific changes are generally a response to the received wisdom about what went wrong last time.) Frontloading HQ has a good round up of the changes.

The general thrust of the rule changes is to compress the primary calendar for the Republican Party. Instead of a process that lasts from January to July, as happened in 2012, the party is trying to get everyone to hold their nominating events between February and May. Here are the big changes in the rules:

  1. The RNC increased the penalties for states that schedule their nominating events before the primary window opens on March 1. (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina will all still be allowed to have earlier events.) Last cycle, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, and Arizona (among others) all scheduled their events in violation of party rules. This cycle, the penalties for doing so will be greater.
  2. States that hold their primaries in the first part of March will have to allocate their delegates on a proportional basis. (Although, that’s not too hard to do and it doesn’t change the results that much. Again, see Frontloading HQ.)
  3. The RNC plans to schedule its nominating convention in July rather than August. (The belief is that Romney was hurt in 2012 because he couldn’t spend general election money until after he was formally nominated.)
  4. The RNC now requires that states pick their delegates to the nominating convention at least 45 days before the convention begins.

It’s really these last two changes that matter for California. In 2012, our presidential primary took place on June 5. Although we like to pretend that we know the results the day after an election, the results for this election were not certified by the Secretary of State until July 13–38 days after the election. If the same 45-day rule had applied, the earliest the RNC convention could have been held and for California to be compliant would have been the end of August.

Assuming the same patterns and no changes in the date of California’s 2016 primary, California would be in compliance only if the convention were held in the middle of September. But the RNC wants to hold the convention in July. So something is going to have to give. Either California will have to move its presidential primary date earlier, or the RNC is going to have to let California designate its delegates late.

My guess? We move our primary forward. The last time neither party had an incumbent presidential nominee, 2000, California moved its primary forward to March 7. In 2004 and 2008, when the Democratic Party did not have an incumbent candidate, the primaries were respectively held on March 2 and February 5. Only in 2012, when Barack Obama was running for re-election did the state keep its presidential primary at the June date.

That said, we allocate our delegates on a winner-take-all basis. If you get more votes that the next person, you get all of the delegates. Assuming we move the primary to the first part of March as we have in the past, then the California Republican Party will have to change how it allocates delegates to the different candidates.

Update: Frontloading HQ indicates that there is an exception to the 45 certification requirement for states that are controlled by Democrats and therefore may not be inclined to move the primary just to abide by RNC rules (e.g., California). That said, I still expect California to move its primary to March in order to be influential in the Democratic primary process.

The Voting Wars Come to California

Rick Hasen calls this kind of thing voting wars, the extension of partisan conflict into the voting process. Last week, the California Secretary of State certified a ballot initiative for circulation (meaning its sponsors can begin to collect signatures) that would require every California polling-place voter to present a government-issued photo identification and every postal/absentee voter to include information from a government-issued identification (e.g., the last four digits of a Social Security number) in order for their vote to be counted. Never mind that the evidence for the kind voter fraud this requirement addresses is basically non-existent and that these kinds of requirements tend to discourage minorities, poor people, and the elderly from voting. Interestingly, this petition comes shortly after California enacted a new law (SB 360) that allows the state to experiment with new voting technologies (hello, internet voting!) in an effort to help more people to vote.

Here’s the official synopsis:

ELECTIONS. VOTER IDENTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Prohibits citizen’s vote at the polls from being counted unless he or she presents government-issued photo-identification. Establishes provisional voting for citizens at the polls who fail to present government-issued photo-identification. Requires that provisional ballots and mail-in ballots be deemed invalid unless the accompanying envelope contains the citizen’s birthdate, and citizen’s identification number or last four digits of driver’s license, state identification card, or social security number. Requires that election officials verify this information prior to opening or counting ballot. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Increased local government elections costs and decreased state fee revenues, potentially in the range of tens of millions of dollars per year. Potentially increased state funding (about $100 million) to local governments, offset by an equal amount of decreased state funding to local governments in future years. (13-0039.)

Be sure to look for it at a supermarket or mall near you. Then, walk away without signing the petition.

Fun with Numbers

Like many in America on Tuesday, voters in Stockton went to the polls. As expected–this was an off-year, local election–turnout was pretty low, only 21% of registered voters cast a ballot.

In Stockton, we voted on two ballot measures proposed by the city council. Measure A was a general sales tax increase: if passed, the city’s sales tax rate would increase by 0.75 cents on the dollar, bringing the total sales tax paid in Stockton up to 9%, for at least 10 years. Measure B was an advisory measure instructing the city how to spend the money raised by Measure A. Specifically, Measure B says:

If Measure A is approved by the voters, shall (i) 65% of its proceeds be used only to pay for law enforcement and crime prevention services in the City such as those described in the City’s Marshall Plan on Crime and (ii) 35% of its proceeds be used only to pay for the City’s efforts to end the bankruptcy and for services to residents, businesses, and property owners?

The key words that I want to draw your attention to here are, “If Measure A is approved by the voters …”

According to the numbers posted on the San Joaquin Registrar of Voters web site, 13,273 people voted for Measure A. (It passed with 52.5% of the vote.) At the same time, 14,809 people voted for Measure B. (It passed with 59.7% of the vote.)

Assuming that everyone who voted for A also voted for B and that everyone who voted against B also voted against A (these seem reasonable assumptions but could be wrong), the following are true:

1) A little more than 1,500 more people voted against Measure A but for Measure B. I think these voters were saying, “I don’t want the tax increase, but if it does pass then I want the money used according to Measure B.”

2) About 450 people voted no on Measure A and then didn’t bother to vote on Measure B. These voters were saying, “My vote against the tax increase is enough.” Maybe they didn’t think Measure A would pass. Maybe they didn’t care what the city did with the money if it did pass.

As for the Measures themselves, I think Mike Fitzgerald of the Record got it right: “There are uncertainties. But voters chose increased public safety certainty over possibly chimeric increased fiscal certainty. They were probably right to do so.”

Fixing Their Mistakes

September 24, 2013 Leave a comment

According to an article in today’s Los Angeles Times, California’s Democrats appear to be learning from their mistakes and making sure that they don’t repeat them in 2014.

Most observers thought that the Democrats would pick up the CA-31 congressional district in 2012. Democrats had a moderate registration advantage, and the new district tended to vote more Democratic than Republican. Yet, when voters went to the polls on last November, there was no Democrat on the ballot.

What happened? Under the new Prop. 14 system, the top two vote getters in the June election face each other in November. Normally, in a moderately competitive district like CD-31, we would expect one Republican and one Democrat to make the runoff election. In 2012, however, the Democrats couldn’t settle on a candidate and so four candidates split the Democratic vote. As the table below (taken from my article; gated) shows, the top two vote getters ended up both being Republicans.*

CD-31 results for 2012 June election.

Pete Aguilar, now the Mayor of Redlands (my hometown!), is not repeating the mistake this time. This time, he is wrapping up the local party endorsements in order to forestall any intra-party challengers. With the local party endorsement in hand, I would expect him to go to the California Democratic Party’s convention and try to win its endorsement as well. As Thad Kousser, Scott Lucas, Eric McGhee, and Seth Masket demonstrate, these party endorsements have important electoral effects. A candidate who wins the party endorsement tends to win a larger portion of the vote than one who does not.

So the incumbent, Gary Miller (R), will face stiffer competition next year. He’ll at least likely have to face a Democrat in the November election.

—–

* As I note in my article: “The astute observer will note that the Republican percentage of the vote in Table 2 totals more than the Democratic vote. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that the Republican presidential primary was the dominant race in the election and that primaries tend to have relatively more Republican voters, one should not take this total as a sign that the district is really Republican and not Democratic.”

 

A Response to George Skelton

September 17, 2013 Leave a comment

So this response is a day late (and maybe a dollar short). Yesterday, one of the deans of the California politics press, George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times, published a column lauding the recent California legislative session as a turning point. He wrote, “It’s a new era in Sacramento — a markedly improved one, so far. Watching the lawmakers, you don’t cringe nearly as much. They’re actually getting things done in the state Capitol. You can set aside that old label ‘dysfunctional.’”

Skelton argues that the legislature’s new found functionality comes from three recent reforms approved by voters:

  • Term limit reform (Prop. 28, 2012), which he argues allows legislators to develop a sense of stability
  • The top-two primary (Prop. 14, 2010), which he argues makes it easier to elect new blood into the legislature
  • The work of the California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission in drawing legislative district (Prop. 20, 2010), which he argues reduced the degree of strident partisanship in the legislature

While, admittedly, I don’t live and breath Sacramento politics the way that Mr. Skelton does, my response is, “No, no, and no!”

The study of Congress has taught us that there are two primary causes of legislative gridlock: (1) ideological differences between the two chambers of the legislature and (2) divided government. The greater the ideological distance between the two chambers (see Congress right now, where Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate) the greater the degree of legislative gridlock. If the legislature and the executive are controlled by different parties (see President Obama (D) versus the House Republicans), then we can expect still more legislative gridlock. Some would add a third cause: The number of seats that the majority party holds relative to those held by the minor party. The bigger the difference in the number of seats held by the two parties, the less gridlock we should see.

If we look at the California legislature following the 2012 elections, what do we see? We see both chambers dominated by Democrats, which minimizes degree to which there will be significant ideological differences between the two chambers. Moreover, Democrats have a 2/3 voting majority in both chambers, which means they have a huge seat margin relative to the Republicans. In an era of simple majority budgeting (Prop. 25, 2010) the Democrats don’t have to worry about negotiating with recalcitrant Republicans. They don’t even need to worry about Democratic defections on most votes. At the same time, we also see that Democrats control both the Governor’s office and the legislature, which minimizes the likelihood of significant conflict between the two branches of government (especially in an age of hyper-partisanship).

I personally would add in the fact that the state’s fiscal situation has improved sufficiently that legislators no longer feel that they have to protect their preferred policies and programs from budget cuts, which makes everyone feel better in the abstract. (The literature on Congress, however, doesn’t suggest this is important in determining the level of gridlock.)

So what, then, do I think has led to the improved situation in Sacramento? The fact that the Democrats now control all the levers of power. (And, by the way, I would expect similar stories of a miraculous change in the culture of Sacramento if Republicans somehow magically controlled all the levers too.) The institutional reforms enacted by California voters may yet create a change in the Capitol’s culture and behavior, but I don’t think they have done so yet.

It’s Campaign Season Again!

September 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Hey, I bet you didn’t know that the 2014 congressional campaign season has already started, but it has! Just this morning I received the following email:

colangelo

And since congressional campaign season has seemingly started, let’s lay out some initial observations:

  1. Based on his official biography, Steve Anthony Colangelo is an amateur candidate. He has never held elected office. He may be an incredibly successful businessman, but business success does not carry over to political success. In fact, political science has demonstrated repeatedly that amateur candidates rarely win against incumbents; they tend to lose by very large margins.
  2. CD-9 is a moderately Democratic district. Any Republican is going to struggle to beat McNerney. McNerney (a weak incumbent) beat Gill (a strong challenger with lots of party and affiliated money) 56% to 44% in 2012. Obama also beat Romney 58% to 40%. Go back to 2010, and Brown would have beat Whitman 55-45.
  3. At least initially, Colangelo is pursuing Ricky Gill’s strategy of emphasizing his connection to the Central Valley. That’s all well and good, and it’s a reasonable attack on McNerney who moved to the Valley from the Bay Area when his district was redrawn. It also ignores the part of the district that is in Contra Costa County, which makes up about 30 percent of the district’s population. The Contra Costa section of the district is event more Democratic than the San Joaquin and Sacramento county portions.

All of this means that Colangelo faces a steep climb if he is going to beat McNerney. But who knows? He may not even make it to the November run-off. Another Republican might beat him in the initial, June election.

 

Prop. 14 and California’s Minor Parties

So after not posting anything new for a while, you get a couple posts one right after the other.

My article, “Proposition 14 and California’s Minor Parties: A Case Study of Electoral Reform and Party Response,” is now available from the California Journal of Politics and Policy here (gated unfortunately; here’s the version I will be presenting at MPSA next month). Here’s the abstract:

In 2010, California voters enacted Proposition 14, the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, which changed California’s electoral system from single-member, plurality district elections to a top two (majority) runoff system. Although literature in comparative politics and formal theory suggests this change should help third parties in California, almost 80% fewer minor-party candidates filed for office in 2012 than in 2010. Indeed, 2012 saw the smallest number of minor-party candidates in California since 1966. Employing a mixed-methods approach, this paper examines different explanations for the decline in minor-party candidacies. Although most observers argue that Proposition 14 directly discouraged minor-party candidates from filing for office (because they likely would not make the runoff ballot), I argue that the decline results from three other factors: (1) a long-run decline in the California Libertarian Party, (2) a legislature-driven increase in the filing fee required from minor-party candidates, and, most importantly, (3) party elites foregoing candidate recruitment in 2012.

If their publishing schedule looks like last year’s, it will be in the upcoming June issue.

The Future of California Politics?

The California Department of Finance released its new population projections for California counties through 2060. There are a whole bunch of goodies in the report, so I thought I would highlight a few of them here.

First, by 2050, Hispanics are projected to be the plurality ethnicity in California. Here’s the projected ethnic makeup (see p. 6) of California in 2010 and 2060:

PopProjectionsBy 2060, Hispanics will make up 48% of the population (up from 38%), Whites will be 30% of the population (down from 40%), Asian and Pacific Islanders will be 13% (same), African Americans will be 4% (down from 6%), and everyone else will be 5% of the population.

In terms of future voters, these changes have potentially significant implications for California politics. I am not one of the people who thinks that “demographics are destiny” in terms of party politics, at least over the long run, so I don’t think these changes mean that the Republican Party is looking at long term irrelevance in California. If the party keeps its current platform, sure, but there is no reason it has to. Both parties, though, are going to have to adapt to the changing electorate as the issue sets of Hispanic voters are different than the issue sets of white voters.

Second, California will remain relatively young relative to the rest of the country. Our economy (and our budget) will not be as heavily impacted by the Baby Boomers and Generation X moving into retirement. There will still be significant demand, and resources, for public education. The aging of the population will not be uniformly distributed across ethnicities, which will also have significant implications for politics. Whites will grow older faster than any other ethnic group. By 2030, there will be more whites over the age of 65 than under the age of 25 in California. In contrast, there will by almost three times as many Hispanics under the age of 25 as there are Hispanics over the age of 65.

Third, the population–and therefore power–will continue to move inland. Southern California (particularly Los Angeles County) will remain the 800-pound gorilla in California politics, but the Central Valley (Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys) and the Inland Empire (San Bernardino and Riverside) will see their relative populations grow with the rest of the state seeing their relative populations decline. The Central Valley will see its relative population grow 27% between 2010 and 2060. The Inland Empire will see relative growth of 28%. The Bay Area, in contrast, is projected to see the steepest decline in its relative population (down 10%). These changes mean that over time the Central Valley and Inland Empire will gain representatives in Sacramento and Washington DC while other areas see their representation decine.

Fourth, San Joaquin County will more than double in size between 2010 and 2060. San Joaquin will go from being the 15th largest county in California (with just under 700,000 residents) to the 12th largest county (with over 1.5 million residents). Hispanics will account for more than half of this growth.

 

Vote by Mail and Election Results

An emerging theme from the 2012 elections is the impact of vote by mail (VBM) and other convenience voting reforms, such as provisional ballots, on the speed with which we know the results. John Wildermouth, for example, argued yesterday that the prevalence of n0-fault, permanent VBM and early voting in California means that it’s taking longer than it should to know who won on November 6. He writes:

It’s taking longer and longer to get a final count of a statewide election and the problem only is going to get worse.

The growing number of vote-by-mail ballots turned in at the polls, combined with more and more provisional ballots that need to be hand-checked, means that election night is becoming election week. Or election month.

The relationship between the use of VBM and other convenience voting reforms and the speed with which we know the results of an election is an interesting question, but it is one that we do not have a lot of data on at this point.

As the following graph shows, voters in California’s counties vary in their use of VBM. The graph shows the percentage of voters casting their ballot through the mail in the June 2012 election. I did a quick and dirty analysis exploiting this variation to see if there is a relationship between the prevalence of VBM in a county and whether or not we know its results by now. If greater VBM usage leads to less certainty about the election outcomes, then counties at the top of the chart should be done with their counts while counties at the bottom should still be counting. The analysis calls into question this emerging theme.

There are two dependent variables for the analysis: First, has a county sent in its county canvass complete (CCC) numbers to the state, thereby signaling it has counted all its ballots? Second, and conversely, has a county still just reported its final election night update (FENU)? The data for county reporting status come from here. Since these are binary outcomes (yes or no), logistic regression is appropriate here.

I use three independent variables in each model: (1) The percentage of VBM ballots in a county in the June 2012 election, (2) the total number of registered voters in a county, and (3) the total number of ballots cast in the county. I use the prevalence of VBM in a county from the June election as the numbers are not yet available for the November election. VBM usage is generally higher in the June election, however, so it should give us a good idea of how many people were likely to use VBM.

The results (shown in Table 1) are suggestive of a relationship but not encouraging for the VBM causes delay hypothesis. The coefficient for the percentage of voters using VBM in the CCC status model is -0.052 with a z of -0.97 (p=0.334). While the estimated effect is negative, meaning that the greater the percentage of VBM ballots the less likely it is a county will have moved to CCC status, given the z-score we cannot conclude that the results is due to anything other than random chance. The coefficient for the percent VBM in the FENU model is 0.023 with a z of 0.89 (p=0.373). Again, the estimated effect is in the right direction–greater VBM usage leads to a higher likelihood of a county still being in FENU status–but the z-score is too small to let us conclude the relationship is real. Substantively the signs are in the right direction, but statistically we can’t say there is a relationship on the basis of these results.

Caveats: (1) The data are for this year only. There may a change due to VBM over time. (2) The data are for California only. There may be differences due to VBM across states. (3) The data are only to date. There may be differences due to VBM that emerge once all of the counties have reported their final counts.

So, How Did the Minor Party and No Preference Candidates Do?

One consequence of Proposition 14 is that there were almost no legislative contests this year featuring minor-party candidates. As I previously argued, Proposition 14 combined with the legislature’s increase in filing fees essentially ended the idea of a third-party candidacy in California. As a result, just three minor-party candidates (all from the Peace and Freedom Party) and five No Party Preference (NPP) candidates appeared on the November ballot.

How did these eight candidates do against their major-party opposition? With two notable exceptions (discussed below), they performed as well as past candidates in similar situations– i.e., not well at all. Over the last five election cycles, there have been 31 contests where a major-party candidate (Democratic or Republican) faced just one independent or minor-party candidate. In every case, the major-party candidate won, usually by a lot. The following table shows the average vote share for the major-party candidate in these contests:

The average vote share for major-party candidates was a little lower in 2012 than in prior years. Whereas the average winning vote share was about 80% previously, in 2012 these candidates still averaged just 75% of the vote across the eight contests.

The following figure shows the average vote share for each of these 31 candidates by election cycle. The large standard deviations for 2008 and 2012 in Table 1 are the result of three contests, all against independent or NPP candidates. In 2008, Abel Maldonado (R), who was instrumental in giving California Proposition 14, faced a strong independent challenger, Jim Fitzgerald. Maldonado won with 63% of the vote. This year, Henry Waxman (D) beat Bill Bloomfield (NPP) with just 53% of the vote. Also in 2012, incumbent Democratic Assemblyman James Paul Fong beat Chad Walsh (NPP) with 62% of the vote. Pull these three contests out, and 2008 and 2012 look just like 2006 in Table 1.

So, to sum up. Did independents (NPP) and minor-party candidates do any better under the top two system than under California’s previous system? Not really. The Fong and Waxman contests are worth some additional exploration in this regard, but even with these contests the major party candidates won by quite a lot on average.

Update [11/16]: The above graph doesn’t appropriately convey the futility of candidates running against otherwise unopposed major-party candidates. Here’s another take:

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