Election Watch ambition

In case readers are wondering why the occasional foray into elections outside the U.S., (Canada, Ukraine [and here], Palestinian Authority, U.K.) I'm putting together a database of all election contests at national level around the world.

I'm concentrating first on countries whose election systems I am most familiar with, or that spring up in the news: Europe, U.S., Central Asia, Middle East. So unless I get requests, don't expect any particular method in the forays into new countries. For now, at least.


Are the Democrats celebrating the right things?

The Democrats are excited. Not without just cause. But perhaps about the wrong things.

The present unpopularity of President George W. Bush is causing Democratic commentators to dream of capturing both Houses of Congress in 2006, as the prelude to a Democrat victory for the presidency in 2008. I'd say such forecasts are way premature, if not outright utopian.

Where the Democrats can take considerable satisfaction is in the three gubernatorial elections of 2005. I'm including the recounted and court-challenged Washington state election, as well as Tuesday night's more orderly elections in New Jersey and Virginia.

The was every reason to fear that the Republicans could win all three, one by judicial review (Washington), one because of scandals affecting local Democrats (New Jersey), and one by simply not having as good a candidate as the previous one (Virginia). This would have left the Democrats with 19 Governors to the Republicans' 31.

So 2005 is an excellent year for the Democrats in terms of containing the Republicans, given that there have been no opportunities for making electoral gains so far.

Next year's Congressional elections are unlikely to see any change of control for purely technical reasons. The House of Representatives is showing a falling number of truly competitive seats (28 according to Charlie Cook [see "Political Dashboard"]). The Republicans only need to win three (they currently hold 17 of them) to retain control of the House.

In the Senate, another bad tactical situation exists for the Democrats. Last year they were defending 19 Senate seats to 15 Republican, the Democrats promptly made a net loss of four seats. In 2006, the Democrats will be defending 17 Senate seats (plus the Independent seat of Jim Jeffords in Vermont). The Republicans will only be defending 15 seats and would need to lose at least a third of them to lose control of the Senate. At this stage, I don't see this as likely.

Where the Democrats really have chances are in the gubernatorial elections. No fewer than 36 States are due to elect a Governor in November 2006. Only 14 are Democrats, and a staggering 22 are Republicans. Here's were the opportunity to do some real damage lies.

California, Florida, New York and Texas are the big four states with 147 electoral college votes for the presidential elections in 2006 and 2010. All four presently have Republican governors who are up for re-election. Two of them, Jeb Bush in Florida and George Pataki in New York will not be seeking re-election. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected in California during a special election in 2003, he would do extremely well at this stage to win a primary and general election. That leaves Texas.

Among the other states up for election there are plenty of chances for both sides. For the party in opposition nationally, this is the kind of scenario campaigners need.

A reasonable set of goals for 2006 would seem to be to make whatever gains in the House of Representatives are possible. In the Senate to come away with any increase would be a satisfactory outcome (the real chance for change will be in 2008, when 19 Republican senators face the voters). But in the gubernatorial contests the target has to be to win back at least California and New York, and pick off several other states. A majority of the Governors should be the goal of the Democrats for next year.

Meanwhile, of course we have the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito. At this stage I can't see him failing to be nominated to the Supreme Court bench, replacing Sandra Day O'Connor. Judge Alito won't have to be a hardline conservative to tilt the balance of the court away from liberalism. In the long run, that may be the biggest election of the year.

Canada limps towards general election

Canada's minority Liberal government is limping towards a general election either around Christmas or early next year according to this report in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The fact that the Liberals are expected to win most seats is no doubt limiting the ambition of opposition parties to force the issue.


Democratic Party holds Virginia

Tim Kaine has convincingly won the election for Governor in the Commonwealth of Virginia last night, defeating his Republican opponent by nearly six percentage points. The result will undoubtedly give some cheer to Democrats, who retain both [link to New Jersey results] Governorships up for election in 2005. With nine precincts yet to report in Virginia, the results show [hat-tip to The Green Papers]:

TM Kaine 1,019,206 votes (51.71%)
JW Kilgore 907,039 votes (46.02%)
Others (including write-ins) 44,705 (2.27%)
Voter turnout 1,970,950 (44.27)
Precincts reporting 2417 out of 2426 (99.63% of votes confirmed)

Provisional figures suggest that a swing of about 0.5% to Democrats has occured, although late returns could affect this analysis.

I must admit that this is an impressive result, which should avoid the acrimony of the Washington State poll last year that I have written about ad nauseam here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Mark Warner, the outgoing Democratic holder of the Governorship in Virginia, was thought to be the perfect candidate for the Democrats in that state, with his relatively conservative outlook and running an administration considered to be among the best, if not the best in the United States. His successor has increased the Democrat lead, albeit with a slightly reduced share of the vote.

On the one hand, Mark Warner's position as challenger to Hillary Clinton is enhanced. Virginia along with the recapture of the two states (Iowa and New Mexico)lost by Senator John Kerry in last year's presidential election would be sufficient to win the presidential election for the Democrats. Governor Warner did campaign for his successor Tim Kaine, just as President George W. Bush campaigned (and very successfully fundraised) for Jerry Kilgore.

On the other hand, the more Tim Kaine is perceived to have won the election on his own merits, the less necessary Mark Warner becomes.

Watch out for Hillary Clinton fans talking up the merits of Tim Kaine!

My own view (given that I got this result wrong) is that Mark Warner's status as the conservative Democrat candidate is enhanced, at the expense of Phil Bredesen (Governor of Tennessee) among others.

All of a sudden though, we're looking at a clutch of effective Democratic Party Governors, and for the time being, I don't see the Republican candidate with the same background, unless Jeb Bush (Florida) makes a run, and one has to wonder if being the brother and the son of two presidents isn't too much of a good thing!


Voting machine, Party machine?

Amy Alkon discusses a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office into the opportunity for fraud using voting machines.

Her conclusion is that the winner must have stolen the election, which I think isn't proven beyond resonable doubt (see the first comment by Radwaste who takes a similar line). What is clear however is that my views of the Washington gubernatorial election in 2004 (which resulted in a narrow Democratic Party victory there) are echoed by critics of the presidential election in Ohio in 2004 (although the margin of victory for the Republican candidate there was several orders of magnitude greater).

As far as voting machines are concerned, I see them as a solution to yesterday's problem: "Hanging chads" anyone? It's a classic "Willetts".

What's wrong with a piece of paper with a box next to each name, and the voter marks "X"?


Even the best polls underestimate Republican vote

Rasmussen Reports, the U.S. pollster has a self-congratulatory article about its polling for the 2004 presidential election.

It is true that Rasmussen forecast the overall result in terms of the popular vote, getting within half a percent of President George Bush's score and even closer with Senator John Kerry's.

However, is it really clever to publish a list of 25 states that shows that Rasmussen underestimated George W. Bush's vote in 23 of them? With only New Mexico spot on and New Jersey the only state overestimated for the Republican candidate?

I would have a lot more time for opinion polls if in a tight race the over- and underestimates showed more consistency. As it is I expect polls to underestimate Republican voting figures, which is why commentators may believe that I'm biased against Democrats.

According to Matthew Dowd, Bush's campaign strategist: "Scott's [Rasmussen] polling data was dead on this election. Both nationally and at the state level, his numbers were hard to beat."