US off-year elections minus five days

Will Biden’s ratings slide damage Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey? Also featured: gerrymandering latest and Sunday’s election in Japan.

Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at the University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.

Elections for governors of Virginia and New Jersey, and two federal House by-elections, both in Ohio, will be held next Wednesday AEDT. Polls close at 10am AEDT in Virginia, 10:30am in Ohio and 11am in New Jersey. If 2020 vote counting patterns are repeated, I would expect early results in Virginia to favour Republicans, but in Ohio to favour Democrats.

I believe there will also be legislative elections in Kentucky and Mississippi, and local government elections. The highest profile of these is for New York City mayor, which Democrat Eric Adams is set to win after narrowly winning the Democratic primary earlier this year.

Joe Biden’s ratings continue to slide. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, he’s now at 51.0% disapprove, 43.7% approve (net -7.3); his net approval has dropped a further 2.3 points since my last article, two weeks ago.

Economic concerns explain Biden’s current problems, with headline inflation up 5.4% in the year to September. In the September quarter, US GDP grew at an annualized 2.0% (0.5% in quarter on quarter terms), disappointing analysts who expected higher growth. The economy was up 6.7% annualized in the June quarter.

In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate of Virginia polls, Democrat McAuliffe leads Republican Youngkin by just 0.1%, down from 2.5% last fortnight. A Fox News poll out Friday AEDT had Youngkin leading by eight points; while Fox News is very right-wing, its polls are well regarded. Biden won Virginia by ten points in 2020. In New Jersey, four recent polls gave Democratic incumbent Murphy a four to 11 point lead (Biden by 16 in 2020).

Democrats have been unable to make progress in advancing either the bipartisan infrastructure bill or the Democratic infrastructure bill through Congress. It is not likely that either of these infrastructure bills can pass before next Wednesday’s elections.

US gerrymandering: there are no good guys

Every ten years, a US Census is conducted, and maps for US House seats are based on the Census. But the US has no national body like Australia’s AEC to draw boundaries. While some states, notably California, have an independent commission, most states allow politicians to draw boundaries.

If one party has control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor, they can gerrymander away, though occasionally courts will intervene. Seats must have equal numbers of people, but can have ugly maps.

In comments to my last article, I posted a proposed Democratic gerrymander of Illinois that would create a 14-3 Democratic split of Illinois’ House seats (13-5 previously with Illinois losing a seat).

2020 and 2010 were both Census years. Republicans’ big victories at the 2010 midterms gave them full control of many populous states, and enabled them to draw maps that allowed them to comfortably retain the House in 2012 despite Democrats winning the popular vote that year by 1.2% (see my 2012 report for The Green Papers).

But Democrats are no innocents. Republican control of the New York state senate in 2010 kept Democrats from gerrymandering NY, but Democrats won the state senate in 2018, and are likely to aggressively gerrymander NY for a far more lopsided split than the current 19-8. Democrats would love to gerrymander California (currently 42-11), and I have seen comments that suggest they could wipe out Republicans with a gerrymander. But California has used a nonpartisan commission since 2010.

Democrats justify their gerrymanders by arguing that Republicans do it too, and that unilateral disarmament would cost them seats. But by continuing to gerrymander, Democrats undermine the case for electoral reform.

Japanese election on Sunday

Japan’s elections have been boring, as the conservative LDP and its Komeito allies have governed since 1955 with only two brief interruptions: 1993-94 and 2009-12. In 2017, the 465 total seats were elected using 289 first-past-the-post seats and 176 proportional seats. Polling for Sunday’s election indicates another easy win for the LDP. This is an election for the lower house only; upper house elections are held separately.

12 comments on “US off-year elections minus five days”

  1. Phil Murphy will be comfortably re-elected in New Jersey, but Virginia is looking increasingly knife-edge, with polls now putting McAuliffe and Yougkin in a statistical dead heat. On the upside for the Dems, early voting is way, way up on 2017, and such votes normally skew Democratic (and I believe that most of these have come from the heavily Democratic DC suburbs).

    Even if McAuliffe can eke out a win in increasingly Blue Virginia, it will hardly be a ringing endorsement, and you’d have to think the long running clown show that is the twin infrastructure bills in Congress must be having an effect. The Dems are certainly giving life to that old Will Rogers line “I am not a member of any organised political party. I am a Democrat”.

    For all that, these off-year elections are not normally indicative of much beyond the states in question, and it’s much more likely that next year’s mid-terms will be decided by different dynamics than those playing out right now. The GOP are still favourites to re-take the House, but the Senate map remains favourable to the Dems, and they are as likely as not to slightly increase their hold there.

    Still, a lot of water still to flow under that particular bridge.

  2. Adrian – I do sometimes feel that you are guilty of “both-sides-ism”, and you are demonstrating it again here. Yes, Illinois and New York are contemplating gerrymandered maps, but to suggest that this is somehow a evenly balanced problem is wilfully misleading. There is only one party that continues to systematically undermine fairness in US elections, through gerrymandering, restricting voting, making voting difficult and other such chicanery, not to mention conspiring to overturn election results. And that party ain’t the Democratic Party, at least nowhere near to the extent that the GOP does it. To suggest that “both sides do it”, as you seem to above is quite disappointing as political analysis .

  3. @Adrian, or anyone. Is a view emerging about which party is doing better in being evil in redistricting?

    From the states I’ve lookedat the republicans seem to be building too big a margin on their safe seats. They’re using their redistricting advantage to mean that even with a 15 point democrat lead the republicans would still get say 45% of the seats. But with a 5 point republican advantage on vote it would only take them to 49% of seats.

  4. I agree that Fox poll are well regarded till now. It is worry that there is a swing of 18 % since the election of Biden ad President.

  5. Not to relitigate the last thread, but given how the reconciliation process for BBB has collapsed into utter shambles, and there’s no indication that Democrats will end up doing anything in 2022 either, I’m more confident than ever that they’re going to get absolutely crushed in the midterms.

    Have to agree with Hugo though on ‘both-sidesing’ gerrymandering. Only Democrats actually want to end gerrymandering as a practice, only they support the Freedom To Vote Act that would see non-partisan districts drawn across the country. Republicans opposed it, and are going to keep on gerrymandering as long as they can get away with it, because they fundamentally don’t believe in democracy at all. The only way they’ll ever be brought to the table is if the math for allowing rampant gerrymandering simply doesn’t work out for them.

  6. Hardly think it’s fair to accuse Democrats of undermining electoral reform with gerrymandering in the house – Democrats absolutely still support electoral reform while doing everything in their power to ensure that they don’t cede an even bigger advantage to the GOP, they’re not mutually exclusive.

    Without gerrymandering in IL, NY and OR they were likely heading into a situation where they would need to have more than a 4-point margin (as opposed to the current 3 point margin) just to hold on to the chamber that’s designed to be representative unlike the senate and presidency.

    When one party is openly anti-democracy both-sidesism needs to be left behind.

  7. VA did a major update of its election laws earlier this year which now basically Insists that mail in ballot be processed much earlier than previously and most counties will be releasing those results along with physical early in person votes very soon after on the day physical polls close rather than hours later as previously.

    This will affect how the results come through because previously the smaller but more Republican voting counties in southern parts of the state posted results earlier whereas the much more populous democratic voting counties in Northern Virginia posted later because they had more ballots – however cast – to be processed.

    So there will be a major dump of democratic votes early on in the evening.

    But polls mean nothing unless the people saying they will vote go out and vote.

    In the last couple of days Trump reared his head threatening to visit VA but the Republican candidate Youngkin needs that like a hole in the head because it will put off the independent voters he needs to win and fire up voters to go vote for McAuliffe.

    Also in the last couple of days a Republican state senator again raised the canard of election fraud which depresses Republican voters (why should I go vote if they don’t count it???). Despite been asked several times – including by the VA Attorney General – she has refused to put up her evidence to election authorities for them to investigate. Methinks she has no evidence because if she had she’d be happy to share it.

    As to gerrymandering why no mention of Texas where the GOP has gerrymandered the state to a greater degree than Illinois has especially ignoring the growth of minority voters.

    In California even without an independent commission it would be hard to create fewer GOP districts than exist already. Indeed a map released earlier this week has turned a current marginal GOP district into a stronger GOP one..

    VA has a supposedly bipartisan commission but that has basically broken down and unless it comes up with something in the next week or so ir will be up to the state Supreme Court to draw up all the maps there for congress and both houses of the state legislature.

  8. The best source for following US redistricting is Dave Wasserman’s Twitter account:

    538 also has a tracker of redistricting. So far, that has Dems up 7 vs 2020 results, Reps up 1 and competitive down six.

    I strongly condemned the Reps who voted against certification in my live blog of the January Georgia Senate runoffs. Gerrymandering has been historically used by both parties in the US; it’s not a Dem response to Rep abuse. If Aus Labor had responded to rural malapportionment by giving working class areas in cities greater weight, that wouldn’t be OK.

    In my view, Biden’s problems are far more to do with the economy than with how the infrastructure bills fare. Most voters don’t care very much about what goes on in Congress.

  9. I’ve been talking to my friends in VA/DC burbs and their view is the Fox Poll is a massive outlier. They’re concerned about McAuliffe’s chances, but based on the heavy early vote and strong turnout in NoVA, they expect he’ll get over the line by 2-3 points.

  10. Unfortunately, the ethics of gerrymandering are muddled by a classical case of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Democrats do not want to do the right thing because the consequence of them doing the right thing, while the Republicans continue to do the wrong thing would be far more dire than if they both continued to do the wrong thing. The ideal is that they’re both doing the right thing but because there’s no enforcement or incentive to do so (and one side actively wants to do the wrong thing), that’s an impossibility at this point.

  11. Yep. If fighting gerrymandering with gerrymandering is wrong, what’s the alternative? What’s the realistic solution to preventing a party that is absolutely ideologically supportive of minoritarian rule and is terminally incapable of operating under anything resembling good faith? As far as I can tell it’s just ‘get a supermajority and pass FTV act anyway’. Not just *a* supermajority, a supermajority in the Senate, an institution that’s already passively gerrymandered by design.

  12. “Yep. If fighting gerrymandering with gerrymandering is wrong, what’s the alternative? What’s the realistic solution to preventing a party that is absolutely ideologically supportive of minoritarian rule and is terminally incapable of operating under anything resembling good faith? As far as I can tell it’s just ‘get a supermajority and pass FTV act anyway’. Not just *a* supermajority, a supermajority in the Senate, an institution that’s already passively gerrymandered by design.”

    Counter gerrymandering is certainly wrong but way less wrong than not doing it. Surrendering to fascism and white supremists is always extraordinarily bad.

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