Friday, February 08, 2013

Shattered Crystal Balls... And Criminal Gerrymandering In Florida


Will Florida voters hold legislators accountable for cheating?

The day before the election in November, I glanced at Larry Sabato's predictions, just so I could amuse myself about how slanted they would once again be towards the GOP. I don't know the man or even his politics but I do know that he always looks in his crystal ball and sees an optimum outcome for Republicans and nothing but failure for Democrats. For example, the election yielded 332 electoral votes for President Obama and 206 for Romney. Sabato's crystal ball, the night before, showed Obama with 290 and Romney with 248. He messed up Virginia (1,971,820 for Obama to 1,822,522 for Romney) and much closer Florida (Obama 4,237,756 to Romney's 4,163,447). He also called Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire as only leaning towards Obama. Here's Obama's margin of victory in each one (in the real world):
Colorado- Obama- 5%
Iowa- 6%
Wisconsin- 7%
Ohio- 3%
Pennsylvania- 5%
New Hampshire- 6%
His last Senate analysis showed that North Dakota was leaning towards Republican Rick Berg and Montana was leaning towards Republican Denny Rehberg. Both lost. He didn't do very well with his predictions for the House either. His final tally was 196 Democrats and 239 Republicans. Reality spit up 201 Democrats and 234 Republicans. He predicted Democratic incumbents John Tierney (MA), Mike McIntyre (NC) and Jim Matheson (UT) would lose and they were very close but the Democrats won all of them. He predicted Ann Kirkpatrick would lose AZ-01. Again, very close but she won. He predicted Republican incumbents Robert Dold (IL), Allen West (FL), Frank Guinta (NH) and Mary Bono Mack (CA) would hold on to their seats but they all lost to Democrats.

He's not very good-- unless you're looking for something other than accuracy. and yesterday his senior columnist was out with early predictions for the midterms: Democrats May Gain House Seats In 2014 But Majority Probably Out Of Reach. Conventional wisdom on display: "The 2014 midterm elections are a long way off but one thing is already fairly clear: Democrats face an uphill battle in trying to win back control of the House of Representatives... Democrats would need to pick up at least 17 seats to regain control of the House." He attributes the inability of the Democrats to win back the House to gerrymandering by Republican legislatures. And he's got that right: "Thanks in part to their control of redistricting in a large number of key states, Republicans easily managed to hold on to their House majority in 2012. Despite losing the national House vote by well over a million votes, the GOP suffered a net loss of only eight seats in the House. So Republicans will go into the 2014 midterm election with 234 seats to 201 seats for the Democrats." And then there's the midterm jinx (bad for the sitting president's party.) Interestingly, he finds this is something Democrats could overcome.
[T]he circumstances of the 2014 midterm election indicate that this could very well happen again: A statistical forecasting model based on three factors that accurately predict the outcomes of midterm elections indicates that Democrats have a chance to gain seats in the House.

The midterm forecasting model predicts the change in Republican House seats based on three factors-- the number of seats held by Republicans in the current House, the margin by which the Republican candidate won or lost the previous presidential election and the Republican margin in the generic ballot in early September.

The number of Republican seats in the current House is a measure of exposure to risk-- therefore, the more seats Republicans hold going into a midterm election, the more seats they should lose or the fewer seats they should gain. The margin by which the Republican candidate won or lost the previous presidential election is a measure of the coattail advantage or disadvantage that Republican House candidates had in that election-- therefore, the larger the Republican presidential margin, the more seats Republicans should lose or the fewer seats they should gain in the subsequent midterm election. Finally, the generic ballot is a measure of the mood of the electorate going into the midterm election-- therefore, the larger the Republican margin on the generic ballot, the more seats Republicans should gain or the fewer seats they should lose in the midterm election.

...The results of the midterm forecasting model indicate that while Democrats have a real chance to buck the normal pattern of midterm elections and gain seats in the House of Representatives, they are unlikely to pick up the 17 seats that they would need to regain control of the chamber. That outcome would require a wave election like 2006 or 2010. But the 2014 midterm election is unlikely to be a wave election.
Why is that? One thing we can predict with certainty... if there is a wave election-- if voter disdain for Republican obstructionism, dysfunction, corruption, and bigotry becomes a motivational factor for voters at the polls-- the last place we'll hear about it is from Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball. But they'll report it the day after the election.

As for the gerrymandering, there was an interesting report out of the Center For Public Integrity regarding Florida yesterday. In 2010 Florida voters approved-- and by very wide margins-- amendments to the state Constitution prohibiting legislators from partisan drawing of district lines. But that appears not to have stopped them one bit.
Documents released this week appear to show that Florida legislative leaders worked with state Republican officials to manipulate redistricting efforts, in apparent defiance of a constitutional amendment that banned such coordination.

The documents, the contents of which were first described by the Herald/Times of Florida, were ordered released by a judge presiding over a suit against the state filed last year by both individuals and government watchdogs. That suit alleges that new boundary lines for both congressional and state Senate districts are illegal because they came about partly as a result of politically-driven activities forbidden by the amendment. Among the documents are emails between political consultants, the staff of Republican leaders and two state representatives discussing the new district lines.

...Plaintiffs say the emails show a clear violation of the amendment. In one, a Republican lawmaker writes an email from his personal account to a campaign consultant hired by Republicans, asking, “What does this do to my district?” Another email, from another Republican consultant, announces a redistricting meeting that was to be held at the state GOP headquarters. Those scheduled to attend included several consultants as well as staff members of the House and Senate leadership. Other emails show the consultants discussing the maps and possible changes.

“These documents suggest very strongly that partisan motives were not only at work but helped develop the plan,” said Gerry Hebert, a lawyer representing the League of Women Voters, one of several plaintiffs.

In an initial, automatic review last year, Florida’s Supreme Court struck down the Republicans’ first attempt to draw new lines for the state Senate, but approved the current map. The plaintiffs quickly sued to challenge those districts, as well as the lines Republicans drew for Congress.
It looks to me that 9 districts were manipulated to make it easier for Republicans to win:

FL-07- John Mica
FL-08- Bill Posey
FL-10- Dan Webster
FL-12- Gus Bilirakis
FL-13- Bill Young
FL-15- Dennis Ross
FL-16- Vern Buchanan
FL-17- Tom Rooney
FL-19- Trey Radel

And the GOP also decided to throw embarrassment David Rivera over the side, giving him new boundaries. His old district had been won by McCain with 50% against Obama's 49%. The new boundaries gave Obama 53.1% this year against Romney's 46.4%. And Rivera lost his seat to Joe Garcia, 54-43%.

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