The 2016 national elections not only feature the quadrennial
presidential race, but also include the contests for control of
the U.S. house and senate. There are also the individual state
contests for governor and control of state legislatures.
The now probable nomination of Donald Trump as the
Republican candidate for president has disrupted the
traditional course of the down-ballot races in 2016, as has
the probable nomination of Hillary Clinton as the
Let us review these down-ballot environments.
Overall, it was anticipated to be nationally a favorable
GOP cycle this year because of the "voter fatigue" with a
two-term (and not very popular) Democratic president and
his administration. At the state level, on the other hand, with
Republicans holding most of the governorships and control
of state legislatures, it was the conservative party that seemed
A Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump race, however, could upset
On paper, the Democrats have a distinct advantage in the
critical electoral college map. Also on paper, the Republicans
have the advantage to control the U.S. house of representatives.
As for the U.S. senate and state governorships, their political
landscapes are muddled by the fact that only some of these
posts are up for election this year.
Although the GOP holds 31 of the 50 governorships, it stands to
pick up one or two more this year because more held by
Democrats than by Republican are up in 2016.
It appears likely that Democrats will pick up a net number of
U.S. house seats this cycle, but liberal control is problematic
(yet not impossible) because of the large conservative lead in
that body. A current survey of competitive and open house seats
shows a possible net gain for the Democrats of 6-12 seats.
The U.S. senate, however, is quite a different story. Democrats
are poised to make gains in this body, perhaps enough to wrest
control from the GOP. Most vulnerable are the GOP incumbents
in Wisconsin and Illinois, as well as the open seat in Florida
now held by retiring Marco Rubio. Senator Ayotte in New
Hampshire is being challenged by a popular Democratic
incumbent governor, and even long-time Senator McCain in
Arizona is now considered to have a close race. Only in Nevada,
where Harry Reid is retiring, are there bright prospects for a
GOP senate pick-up.
So a very big question at this point is about how much the
presidential race will affect these down-ballot races. There are
various theories about this. A conventional analysis favors the
Democrats who traditionally turn out heavily in a presidential
cycle. This analysis points to the election of Mrs. Clinton,
liberal control of the U.S. senate, and big gains in the U.S. house.
This analysis cites the electoral college advantage of the large
“blue” states of New York, California, Illinois, as well as a
number northeastern and midwestern states with their black,
Hispanic and Jewish voters, most of whom traditionally vote
Democratic. In fact, these voters, according to 2016 exit polls,
continue to favor liberal candidates. Since many more GOP
than Democratic incumbents in the senate are up this year, this
also favors the liberal party.
A contrarian analysis, however, cites the notable number of new
voters so far in the 2016 cycle for a different outcome. These
“new” voters have appeared in both parties, including white blue
collar voters for Mr. Trump; and young and populist voters for
Bernie Sanders. Only Mr. Trump will appear on the ballot in
November. So the questions are: Will Mr. Trump’s new (and
former Democratic voters) show up in November; and will Mr.
Sanders’ young and populist voters show up for Mrs. Clinton?
The unarguable facts are that more Republicans turned out to
vote in the 2016 primary/caucus season than did Democrats.
Mrs. Clinton’s percentages of black and Hispanic voters did hold,
but the turnout was well behind 2008. Both Mrs. Clinton and Mr.
Trump have, as presumptive nominees, historically high
negatives among voters, and each of them faces desertion from
some of their voter base.
At this point in the national election cycle, there is always some
suspense about the November outcomes. I suggest this is
especially true in 2016 when so much in the election season has
been unorthodox, unexpected, and even perhaps, bizarre.
Pundits are particularly on the spot. They have to rely on
traditional patterns and measurements (polls). It is possible, of
course, that the post-convention campaign will revert to the old
models. So far, however, these models have been “disrupted”
(if not broken).
The voters to date have been in a mutinous mood, unsatisfied
with both party establishments in the nation’s capital.
I suggest we don’t yet really have a credible sense of how 2016
is going to turn out. I contend that the polls tell us little yet of
how voters are going to make their decisions this year.
It’s going to be an election for the books, and no doubt many
books will be written in pure hindsight.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.