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2014 Senate

Sabato's Crystal Ball

Marco Rubio’s Intriguing Presidential Bid

Early on Monday, news broke that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will run for president, ending any uncertainty about his future and whether he would remain in the Senate. He was scheduled to officially announce his candidacy late Monday afternoon. As he enters the race, Rubio sits in third behind ex-Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) in our current 2016 Republican presidential rankings. This positioning reflects both the potential, and the drawbacks, of Rubio’s candidacy. Regarding his potential, Rubio seems to check most boxes. He’s an excellent speaker and a more polished politician in many respects than some of his opponents, including Bush and Walker. His ethnic background as a Cuban American sets him apart from the others, except Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who shares the same heritage as Rubio, and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), an Indian American. Rubio also impresses many Republican insiders, who view him as having the wherewithal to be a capable national candidate, with stronger electability than Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Cruz, and some other possible outsider candidates such as Dr. Ben Carson and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA). To borrow a racing metaphor, Rubio’s position in the establishment derby could allow him to draft

Geoffrey Skelley

Are Voters Drifting Away?

For the first decade after Sept. 11, national elections showed a steady rise in voter turnout. The number of ballots cast in presidential elections jumped from 105 million in 2000 to a record 131 million in 2008, an increase of 25% in just eight years. Similarly, the midterm congressional turnout swelled from 66 million in 1998 to an all-time high of 86.5 million in 2010, a 31% increase over a dozen years. The number of ballots cast from election to election should be increasing at least a bit as the size of the voting-eligible population constantly grows. But in the last two national elections, 2012 and 2014, the upward turnout trend has been broken. The total votes cast in the 2012 presidential election were down by more than 2 million from four years earlier, while the midterm vote last fall for the House of Representatives (the only office contested in all 50 states in a midterm election) dropped by more than 8.5 million votes from 2010. It marked the first time since 1996-98 that the turnout declined in back-to-back national elections. What has happened? Surveys point to an increasingly busy and mobile society, where voting is not a high priority

Rhodes Cook

Now Available: The Surge, the Center for Politics’ New Book Analyzing the 2014 and 2016 Elections

The Surge, the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ postmortem of the 2014 midterms and preview of the 2016 presidential election, is now available. Edited by Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato and Sabato’s Crystal Ball editors Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley and published by Rowman and Littlefield, The Surge: 2014’s Big GOP Win and What It Means for the Next Presidential Election brings together some of the nation’s top political journalists and analysts to explain why and how the Republicans took the Senate and where American politics stands as the country’s polarized political parties gear up for 2016. The Surge can be purchased via Rowman and Littlefield, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major booksellers. The contributors and their chapters are: Larry J. Sabato provides an overview of the 2014 election, including a look at historical election patterns and demographic voting trends. Long-time political expert and Crystal Ball Senior Columnist Rhodes Cook explores the 2014 primary season and how those nominating contests influenced the November results. Politico’s James Hohmann and the Crystal Ball’s Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley provide in-depth analysis of, respectively, the Senate, House, and gubernatorial races. Former Federal Election Commission chairman Michael Toner and former

UVA Center for Politics

Why Outside Spending is Overrated

The Koch brothers and their network of wealthy conservative donors recently announced that they intend to spend almost $900 million on the 2016 elections. This level of spending by a group operating independently of any candidate or political party would be unprecedented in American politics. In fact, it would exceed the combined spending by the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee during the 2012 election cycle. Understandably, this announcement reinforced concerns among Democrats and liberals that spending by the Koch brothers and other conservative groups could give Republican candidates a crucial advantage in key House and Senate contests and in the race for the White House. Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the door to spending by Super PACs funded by unlimited contributions from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals, there has been a dramatic surge in spending by outside groups on federal elections. In 2012, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, groups not affiliated with any candidate or party spent over $1 billion on the presidential and congressional elections, more than three times the amount that such groups spent in the previous presidential election year. In 2014, outside groups spent over

Alan I. Abramowitz

What a Drag

U.Va. Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato is contributing a regular column to Politico Magazine. This week, he examines the presidential party’s penalty for holding the White House: losing ground everywhere else. This article originally appeared in Politico Magazine on Dec. 1, 2014. Think of the billions the parties must raise to elect a president in 2016. Consider the millions of paid and volunteer man-hours that will be devoted to this enterprise. The White House is the center of the partisan political universe, and Democrats and Republicans alike measure success or failure by their ability to win and hold the presidency. Instead, maybe they ought to hope they lose. The surest price the winning party will pay is defeat of hundreds of their most promising candidates and officeholders for Senate, House, governorships, and state legislative posts. Every eight-year presidency has emptied the benches for the triumphant party, and recently it has gotten even worse. (By the way, the two recent one-term presidents, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, also cost their parties many lower-level offices, but in both cases this didn’t happen until they were defeated for reelection.) Since World War II there have been eight two-term presidencies: Dwight

Larry J. Sabato

Louisiana Senate Runoff: Landrieu Appears Doomed

A few months ago, Saturday, Dec. 6 loomed large on the political calendar. Might control of the Senate come down to a runoff in Louisiana between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R)? Nope. With just a few days left to go in the campaign, the race is barely an afterthought: Republicans have already won the Senate, and there’s simply no indication that Landrieu has much, if any, chance of winning. Before Thanksgiving, we mentioned some of the reasons she was in such bad shape: The results of the Nov. 4 midterm confirmed that not only was 2014 a very Republican year, but also that red state Democrats would pay a disproportionate political price in this polarized era. Coming into the election, Democrats were defending seven Senate seats in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012, and Republicans won the six that were decided on Election Night. Only Landrieu remains. Polling has been scarce, but what surveys we do have show Cassidy comfortably ahead. We also have what politicians routinely call “the only poll that matters,” the actual results on Election Night: 55.7% of all the votes went to Cassidy and other Republican candidates, while Landrieu and other

Kyle Kondik

University of Virginia Center for Politics to Host 16th Annual American Democracy Conference

Today, Nov. 20, the University of Virginia Center for Politics will host the 16th annual American Democracy Conference. The conference, which will be held at Alumni Hall on the Grounds of the University of Virginia, will feature panels of leading journalists and political experts focused on the results of the recent midterm elections and the upcoming presidential race. The event, which will begin at 10:30 a.m., is free and open to the public with advance registration, and the press is invited to attend. For more information or to register, please visit The conference will be livestreamed online at the following link: The panels are: 10:30 a.m. to noon: Panel I: The 2014 midterm Moderator: Larry J. Sabato, director of the U.Va. Center for Politics Panelists: Alan Abramowitz, Sabato’s Crystal Ball senior columnist and Emory University professor Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard Chris LaCivita, Republican political consultant who worked on Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R-KS) successful reelection bid Ali Lapp, executive director of House Majority PAC, a Democratic Super PAC Sean Trende, RealClearPolitics senior election analyst and Sabato’s Crystal Ball senior columnist 12:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.: Panel II: What to expect in 2016 Moderator: Geoffrey Skelley,

UVA Center for Politics

Republicans Looking Good in Louisiana Runoff

Congress may eventually approve the Keystone XL pipeline, but it’s becoming increasingly likely that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) won’t be able to witness it as a member of the U.S. Senate. The Crystal Ball is moving the rating in Landrieu’s runoff race against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) from Leans Republican to Likely Republican. We announced that ratings change before Landrieu’s Hail Mary pass — a Senate vote to approve Keystone XL, a contentious oil pipeline that would run from Canada down the middle of the United States — failed to clear the needed 60 votes in the Senate. In reality, though, the vote did not change Landrieu’s reelection chances: They were poor before the vote, and they are poor now. The results of the Nov. 4 midterm confirmed that not only was 2014 a very Republican year, but also that red state Democrats would pay a disproportionate political price in this polarized era. Coming into the election, Democrats were defending seven Senate seats in states won by Mitt Romney in 2012, and Republicans won the six that were decided on Election Night. Only Landrieu remains. Polling has been scarce, but what surveys we do have show Cassidy comfortably ahead. We

Kyle Kondik

14 from ’14: Quick Takes on the Midterm

After going over the results from last week, we had a number of bite-sized observations to offer — 14, to be exact: 1. The polls really were worse than usual This cycle featured the largest average miss by the two major poll aggregators, RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster, in recent competitive Senate races. This isn’t a slight toward them — after all, they simply use the data that’s available, and it seems the data may be getting worse. While the median miss has been somewhat up and down, the average has increased relatively consistently cycle-to-cycle. Why? Prior to this cycle, neither average had missed a race by double-digits, but this time at least one average missed the Arkansas, Kansas, and Virginia races by at least 10 points. Below you’ll find the median and average miss per election cycle from 2006-2014 for both major poll averages. Table 1: Median and average miss per election cycle for RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster poll averages, 2006-2014 Chart 1: Median and average miss per election cycle for RealClearPolitics and HuffPost Pollster poll averages, 2006-2014 Notes: 2014 Senate data based on margins as of Wednesday, excludes yet-to-be-determined Louisiana contest. Races included in the analysis are all contests

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley

Comparing Wave and Calm Elections

Is there something magical and mystical about the number five in elections? After the tsunami of 1994, there were five straight elections that were “calm elections” (1996-2004) and then five straight elections that could be considered wave elections. (A valid argument can be made that despite the size of the Obama win, Democratic gains in the House and Senate in 2012 were so underwhelming that the “wave” designation was overstated.) Well, the answer is no. There is nothing magical about two very different sets of five elections, but the differences in both sets underscore how much volatility there is in American politics today. Let’s look at the House first. Table 1 below shows calm, clear sailing for incumbents in most of the 1996-2004 elections, while it shows a whiplash of waves from 2006-2014: Table 1: House election results, 1996-2014 Several points jump out: From 1996 to 2004, 31 Republican incumbents and 14 Democratic incumbents lost for a total of 45 incumbent losers. Of those 31 Republicans, 18 lost in the 1996 correction after the 1994 tsunami when a number of Republicans won seats they had no business holding. Comparatively, from 2006-2014, 59 Republican and at least 73 Democratic incumbents lost

Glen Bolger

Yup, It Was a Wave

A version of this article originally appeared in Politico Magazine Wednesday evening. It might not have been 1994 or 2010, but 2014 was a wave all its own: A late-breaking surge that lifted Republicans to some surprisingly strong performances across the country. Notably, though, the argument for this election being a “wave” has more to do with the House and gubernatorial races, as opposed to the main event, the Republican Senate takeover. The GOP is likely to bump up its House majority to its highest total since the one it held after the 1928 election, netting at least a dozen additional House seats. The Republicans won some Democratic-leaning territory in places like Illinois and New York that might be difficult to hold in future elections, but they also won a few “white whale” conservative districts in places like Georgia, Utah, and West Virginia that they should have little trouble keeping for the foreseeable future. The Democrats’ road to a future House majority is steep, because their last redoubts in the Deep South and Appalachia are now gone, and they failed to make inroads in the suburban and exurban seats that are now so crucial to them to build a House

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Crystal Ball 2014: So how’d we do?

On Monday, we offered our final calls in all 507 of the Senate, House, and gubernatorial races. As of this writing, 490 of those races have been called for one party or the other, and we got 476 correct (97%). We did best in the category everyone was watching most closely, the battle for the Senate, successfully calling 32 of the 33 called races. Of the three races remaining, it appears that our Leans Republican rating of Alaska will eventually be correct, and we also see Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) as a decided underdog going into her Dec. 6 runoff with Rep. Bill Cassidy (R). In one of the shockers of the evening, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie (R) remain locked in a tight battle, though Warner’s small lead will probably hold up. Still, we tip our cap to Gillespie for running a strong race: This contest was a lot closer than we and a large bipartisan majority of other analysts expected. Still, when it’s all said and done, it looks like the new Senate is going to be 54-46 Republican, almost exactly as we called it (53-47 Republican). Our gutsiest Senate call

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

2014 State Legislative Election Wrap

After a day of double checking partisan composition numbers in the more than 6,000 legislative races this year, the extent of Republican success in this year’s legislative and governor’s elections is mostly clear. Suffice it to say, it was a banner election for the GOP. Republicans ran the proverbial table, taking the majority in 11 legislative chambers previously held by Democrats. Those chambers were: Colorado Senate (conceivable that Dems could still hold on after recounts), Maine Senate, Minnesota House, Nevada Assembly, Nevada Senate, New Hampshire House, New York Senate, New Mexico House, Washington Senate, and the West Virginia House and Senate. Republicans are now in charge of 68 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers and control 30 state legislatures. It is the most legislatures they have held in over 150 years, matching the previous high point after the 1920 election. For governors, Republicans netted three after switching seats in Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts (although they might lose Alaska if Bill Walker, an independent, holds on to defeat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell). Democrat Tom Wolf won a GOP governorship in Pennsylvania. Factoring in all of those changes, here are the bottom line numbers (the Nebraska unicameral legislature is nonpartisan): Legislatures:

Tim Storey

The Crystal Ball’s Final 2014 Picks

If you’re in Charlottesville tonight, please join the Crystal Ball team — Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley — for a free presentation on the 2014 midterms at 7 p.m. in Wilson Hall, Room 402 on the Grounds of the University of Virginia. Visit the U.Va. Center for Politics website for more information and to register to attend. Table 1: 2014 Crystal Ball projected totals As is our longstanding tradition, we at the Crystal Ball attempt to call every election for House, Senate, governor, and in presidential years, the Electoral College. After studying these campaigns for months or years, we believe we owe you our best judgment about the outcomes. While we’re proud of our overall record over the years, we always miss a few calls, sometimes more than a few. Toss-ups are vexing, and the massive amounts of intelligence from polls, analysts, campaign managers, and party officials can be exceptionally contradictory. Not many of our sources have ever attempted to mislead us; they sincerely believe this candidate or that one will win — and smart people on the other side of the aisle are equally convinced their nominees will triumph. The day after any election (or runoff

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

State Legislative Elections Provide Down-Ballot Drama

While the nation’s attention is fixated on the congressional and gubernatorial races, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of states this year will also decide their state legislative contests. Walking us through the state legislative picture once again this cycle is Tim Storey, one of the country’s top experts on state-level politics. Storey is an elections analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures, where he has been researching legislative elections and redistricting for more than 20 years. The finish line is in sight. Only hours remain before states tally 2014 general election ballots. Democrats, by all rights, should be gasping for air and eager to put the midterms in the rearview mirror and turn toward 2016. However, the matter of which party will emerge with a decisive win on Tuesday is still murky. Democrats will almost certainly not defy historic trends and gain seats in legislatures, but Democratic losses might be relatively modest and tempered by gaining key governor’s mansions. On the other hand, this election could leave Republicans in their strongest position in state legislatures in American history. The midterm elections are almost never friendly to the party holding the White House when it comes to

Tim Storey