Stop me if you have heard this before, “Since the October 5th lewd comment video where Donald Trump admits to groping women GOP fortunes have turned south.” I could go on but like I said I am sure you have heard it before. But perhaps what is most notable is that while Democrats have more targets at every level, the anticipated gains are expected to be minimal. At least at the state level. And that is a sign that voters are willing to split their tickets.
Consider the legislative targets Democrats have to pick from. In the Northeast, Democrats are giddy about picking up the New Hampshire Senate and House, Maine Senate, and breaking up the power-sharing agreement some New York Democrats have with the Senate GOP. Even in Pennsylvania, Democrats are optimistic of gains in the Philly suburbs. In the Midwest, Democrats are targeting the Wisconsin Senate (a tough slog) and the Minnesota House. In the West Democrats have their sights set on the Arizona Senate, New Mexico House, Colorado Senate and Washington State Senate. Democrats are even eyeing regaining their super-majority in the California legislature.
Such a bevy of targets suggests Democrats will indeed find down-ballot success this cycle. Indeed, not since the 60’s has a party that won the White House not gained legislative seats. This is extremely important when one considers divided government is likely to reign after this election nationally but in the states the GOP is still likely to dominate.
Of course, Republicans do have their targets. Republicans are spending heavily to take the Iowa Senate as well as the Kentucky House. But, the GOP’s best targets lie in gubernatorial contests.
Due to a quirk of when states hold their gubernatorial elections Democrats are fighting to hold these executive positions in predominately red states. Trump is expected to win Montana, West Virginia, and Missouri and all are run by Democrats. In Vermont, the GOP is hoping a moderate Lt. Governor can overcome Trump running on a platform of ethics reform and social liberalism.
Along with fighting to hold these seats Democrats best chances for a pick-up come in politically divided North Carolina and open seat Indiana. Both states are rife with divides within the state GOP and polls show narrow leads for the Democratic challengers. The same can be said for Democrats in Missouri and West Virginia while Montana Governor Steve Bullock is losing steam.
This suggests that a plethora of voters are willing to split their tickets for Governor, legislature, and President. This is not new though. Studies have shown voters rate their vote for Governor different than federal contests which tend to be more ideological.
What is more surprising is how willing voters seem to be to split their tickets at the federal level. It is clear that short of Indiana and Missouri, Senate Republicans in competitive contests are running ahead of Donald Trump. By how much depends on the poll you read and how you interpret them. You can see this by comparing the RCP Senate average of polls to the state averages of Presidential polls.
But, anecdotal suggests this is occurring in greater abundance than originally thought. For example, the Washington Post recently interviewed 30 white men (a good demographic for the party), college educated (less so) in the Philly suburbs (ouch). Not a single one said they were voting for Trump but well over half said they are voting for GOP Senator Pat Toomey. This explains why Toomey is running well ahead of Trump in the state.
Part of this is likely due to the unique nature of the Trump candidacy. But, additionally, it is also due to Republicans doing a good job localizing their races. Indeed, for all the doom and gloom about Trump dragging down House Republicans a surprising number are flourishing and Democrats are struggling to finish them off (according to their internal polls).
Ultimately, 2016 could go down as an election of split ticket voting at every level. This phenomenon might help Republicans maintain health majorities in the House, a slim majority in the Senate and do better than expected at the state level. For Democrats, it will damage their Congressional prospects but allow them to at least retain relevance in many red states.