Thursday, October 13, 2016

A new era of ticket-splitters?

Harry Enton notes that while Clinton has surged to a comfortable lead in the presidential race, Democratic Senate candidates have not experienced a similar surge. One explanation, he notes, is that the Senate race is not polled as much, so there is a lag before the Democrats' gain will show up in the polls.
Another, far less optimistic hypothesis for Democrats is that voters are purposely splitting their tickets. As my colleague Nate Silver pointed out on Tuesday, there’s some evidence that voters split their tickets when they feel confident in predicting who the next president will be. If they’re certain it will be a Democrat, they’ll vote for a Republican for Senate, and vice versa. It’s known in political science as “anticipatory balancing.” With Clinton’s lead becoming clearer by the day even as her favorability rating remains low(albeit not as low as Trump’s), it wouldn’t be surprising to see voters seeking a Republican Congress as a check on a President Clinton.

Can I offer a third hypothesis? A lot of the people turning away from Trump are Republicans. Maybe they are getting increasingly frustrated with Trump, enough perhaps to push them to Clinton, but still identify with the party. When a pollster calls them and asks who they support in the presidential election, and then asks them who they support in their local Senate race, a Republican respondent who just said "Clinton" might feel the need to reassert their party loyalty and commit to a Republican on the second question.

Yeah, this is all hypothetical psychological gobbly-gook, but so much party politics these days is driven by tribalism rather than policies. Party identification has been strengthening and, in my experience, has become more and more an indicator of social identity. One measure of partisanship is the extent to which people resist splitting their ticket when they vote. But I wonder if a weird presidential candidate like Trump won't get more people to split their ticket as a way to reaffirm their partisan identity ('sure I'm voting for Clinton because Trump is awful, but I am still a Republican, look at my vote for Pa Toomey!")