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2016 Governor

Sabato's Crystal Ball

Incumbent reelection rates higher than average in 2016

The Crystal Ball will be away for the next two weeks. We’ll be back on Thursday, Jan. 5. We wish you and your family Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. — The Editors With Republican Sen.-elect John Kennedy’s triumph in the Louisiana runoff last weekend, victories by two other Republicans in Louisiana House races, and Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) concession last week to Gov.-elect Roy Cooper (D) in North Carolina, the winners of 2016’s House, Senate, and gubernatorial races are now set. This allows us to do a little housekeeping. Kennedy’s win confirms that this is the first cycle in the history of popular Senate elections that every state that held a Senate election in a presidential cycle voted for the same party for both president and for Senate (34 for 34 this year). Also, finalizing these results permits us to give a final assessment of our down-ballot Crystal Ball projections for 2016: We picked 32 of 34 Senate races correctly, along with 10 of 12 gubernatorial races and 428/435 House races. Looking over the down-ballot outcome, there’s one inescapable conclusion in a year that was defined by a political outsider, Donald Trump, winning the presidency: It was still a really

Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley

Partisan Geographic Sorting

Speaking at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama, then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, famously declared that “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.” Obama then went on to decry political pundits who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states.” The implication of Obama’s speech was that the perception of geographic sorting of the country into reliably Democratic and Republican areas was not based in fact, but was instead a false narrative imposed by the media. Obama’s rhetoric of unity and homogeneity across party lines notwithstanding, there is substantial evidence that cultural and lifestyle preferences are strongly related to political tastes. Political scientists have demonstrated that political ideology and party identification are predictive of choices in areas as varied as mate selection, media consumption, cleanliness, office décor, music tastes, and housing decisions. If such relationships between political and lifestyle preferences are strong enough, and individuals are sufficiently willing and able to “vote with their feet” and move to areas that are a better match for their tastes, the implication is clear: We should expect to see the emergence over time of a geographically divided

Steven Webster

Watch Today’s American Democracy Conference

The Crystal Ball is coming out a day early this week because we wanted to invite our readers to watch the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ 18th annual American Democracy Conference, which is going on today from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington D.C. Registration is full but members of the media interested in covering the conference are welcome to attend, and we will be streaming the conference live throughout the day at Our featured speakers are Kellyanne Conway, who managed Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign, at 9 a.m., and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) at 12:30 p.m. Additionally, Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato will interview Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, at 1:30 p.m. There will also be three panels discussing various aspects of the 2016 campaign. Here’s the full program:   9:00 a.m. Welcoming Remarks by Larry J. Sabato, Director, UVA Center for Politics   9:05 a.m. Keynote Speaker: Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for President-elect Donald J. Trump’s campaign   9:45 a.m. – 11 a.m. Panel I – Politics and the Fourth Estate Moderator: Geoffrey Skelley, Associate Editor

UVA Center for Politics

16 For ’16

Editor’s Note: The Crystal Ball is taking the week off for Thanksgiving next week, but we’ll be back with another edition on Thursday, Dec. 1. Now that we’ve had a week to digest the results of the 2016 election, here are some observations about what happened and what the results might tell us about the future: 1. Electoral map tilts to the GOP In close elections, the Electoral College will probably continue to tilt to the GOP. Twice in 16 years, we’ve had a “misfire,” where the popular vote went to one major-party candidate while the other candidate secured a majority of the electoral vote. This is because Democrats secure large, sometimes enormous, majorities in mega-states such as California, New York, and Illinois, while Republicans have just Texas, where Donald Trump’s margin of victory was nearly 450,000 votes fewer than Mitt Romney’s. (You should never join “just” with Texas, but we trust you’ll see what we mean.) Other sizable states, such as Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, are closely divided and add only small pluralities to the candidate that wins them. While the cumulative popular vote means nothing under the Constitution, it is not a good thing for a president

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

Well, what can we say — we blew it. We thought the signs pointed to Hillary Clinton winning the White House. We thought that even if she lost Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, her Midwestern “firewall” of states that not only had voted for Barack Obama twice, but hadn’t voted for a Republican since the 1980s, would hold for her. It didn’t — Trump blew a hole in what we dubbed “Fortress Obama.” Remarkably, this all happened while Clinton was winning Virginia by a larger margin than Obama did in 2012 and almost certainly winning the national popular vote. Every two years, we put out an update after the election asking, “How did we do?” Well, let’s see: President Do we really have to get into it? OK, fine. We wrongly insisted for months that Clinton was always leading the race and never put her below 270 electoral votes. As of this writing, Trump won 279 electoral votes to Clinton’s 228, according to NBC News projections. We missed the following Leans Democratic states: Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. We had Wisconsin as Likely Democratic, yet Trump also carried it. Two other Leans Democratic states — Michigan (where Trump leads) and

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

Our Final 2016 picks

After a nearly two-year campaign — kicked off in December 2014 by Jeb Bush (remember him?) — we’ve come to it at last. Election Day is less than 24 hours away. And we know why you’re here: You just want the picks. So let’s cut to the chase. Table 1 shows our final selections for the Electoral College, Senate, House, and the governorships. Table 1: Crystal Ball 2016 election projections Let’s start with the presidency: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE Map 1: Crystal Ball Electoral College projection Despite some wobbles along the way, we’ve favored Hillary Clinton as the 45th president of the United States ever since we did our first handicapping of the Clinton vs. Donald Trump matchup back in late March. The edge we had for her back then has eroded a little bit at the end — we had her as high as 352 electoral votes, and in the final tally we have her down to 322, with 216 for Trump. If this is how it turns out, Trump will fare 10 electoral votes better than Mitt Romney, and Clinton will do 10 electoral votes worse than Barack Obama in 2012 — 11 or 12 if rogue Washington electors

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley


Another week has passed in the presidential race and it appears that Donald Trump is not making up much if any ground on Hillary Clinton. Last month, we coined the term “Fortress Obama” to describe an outer and inner ring of defenses Clinton had against Trump as she sought to recreate Barack Obama’s Electoral College majority. The outer ring consisted of states like Florida, Iowa, Nevada, and Ohio — states that Obama won twice but that are vulnerable to Trump — as well as North Carolina, which Obama carried only in 2008. These are states that Trump needs but that Clinton could probably do without. Then there’s the inner ring, states like Colorado, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin, none of which Clinton can afford to lose if Trump were to completely knock down the outer ring. At this point, Clinton is no worse than 50-50 to carry each of the outer ring states — even states like Iowa and Ohio, where polls have been very close or even show a Trump edge — and she seems secure in all of the inner ring states. This is why Clinton is such a heavy favorite to win the presidency, and our

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley


They aren’t getting much national attention because of the races for the presidency and Congress, but this year’s gubernatorial contests seem to be just as confounding as the ones from 2014 — and they could produce some equally head-scratching results. Heading into Election Day 2014, polls in 11 of the 36 contested races showed a margin between the candidates of less than five percentage points, according to the HuffPost Pollster averages. These close races produced some results that cut against the partisan grain in many states: In a Republican-leaning year, states that typically vote very Democratic at the federal level like Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts elected Republican governors, and deep-red Alaska voted out a Republican incumbent in favor of an independent, Bill Walker, who had a Democratic running mate and was the de facto Democratic candidate. Most of the gubernatorial elections are held in the midterm year (and some others in odd-numbered years, like next year’s New Jersey and Virginia contests), but we have a dozen races this year, including a special election in Oregon. Of those 12 races, at least six appear to be very close: Indiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, and West Virginia. And another, Montana,

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley


Dear Readers: Larry J. Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, will be the keynote speaker for the 54th annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization ceremony at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson and a must-visit American treasure. This ceremony is the oldest continuous naturalization ceremony that takes place outside of a courtroom. As 76 people from 40 countries prepare to take the oath of citizenship, Prof. Sabato’s remarks will focus on the value and importance of citizen participation for the health of American democracy. The text of his speech is below. If you would like to watch the ceremony live this morning, it will be livestreamed here beginning at 9 a.m. EDT. We wish you and your family a safe and happy Independence Day. — The Editors Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you for that kind introduction. I’m grateful to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Chairman Donald King, and President Leslie Greene Bowman for inviting me to speak to you today. If I may be permitted a point of personal privilege: Over the last decade my UVA Center for Politics has hosted delegations of students from more than 40 nations around the world including

Larry J. Sabato


The 2012 election provided two powerful reminders about the electoral implications of overly-concentrated Democratic voters. First, the Republicans held their U.S. House majority, won in 2010, despite the fact that the Democratic candidates in the 435 House districts received more votes than their Republican opponents. Second, these House results were echoed by Democrat Barack Obama’s defeat of Republican Mitt Romney by nearly four percentage points nationally despite the fact that Obama carried fewer House districts than Romney did (211 to 224 based on the most recent congressional maps). Whether by dint of the nonpartisan self-segregation of voters or partisan gerrymandering, Democratic voters are distributed inefficiently in U.S. House districts. Of course, House districts and state legislative districts can be redrawn each decade in ways that concentrate or diffuse voters to the electoral benefit of either (or neither) party. What do not change are borders for state, county, and local jurisdictions that elect officials and that also may happen to confer an advantage on one party or the other. For example, as I document in my latest book, The Stronghold, for the better part of a half-century Republicans have enjoyed inflated representation in the Senate by virtue of their greater strength

Thomas F. Schaller

Senate/Governor 2016: Several ratings move toward Democrats

When you look at the big picture of presidential elections, and you try to discern the connection between the White House contest and the 34 Senate elections on the same ballot, it becomes obvious there are two types of years. The first type we might call “disjointed.” Voters seem to be separating their judgments about these very distinct offices in most competitive races. The presidential candidate who wins adds only a handful — or fewer — additional Senate seats to his party’s total. The presidential coattails are short. The second type could be termed “intertwined.” The candidates for the White House are very polarizing and distinct, and one or both major-party contenders color the voters’ perceptions of all officeholders on the same partisan label. The party whose letter (D or R) becomes toxic loses a substantial number of Senate seats; thus, the presidential coattails are long. The second type is somewhat rarer, to judge by the elections for president since World War II, as shown in Table 1. However, the six-year cycles of the three different Senate classes and the current party makeup of each class obviously matter. For instance, the Democrats only gained two net Senate seats in 1964,

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley

The down-ballot outlook as 2016 approaches

The upcoming battle for the Senate depends to a large extent on the presidential race; Democrats should gain House seats but not truly threaten the GOP’s big lower chamber majority; and Republicans are positioned to add to their already-substantial majority of governorships. That’s the early line on next year’s down-ballot contests as we prepare to turn the calendar from 2015 to 2016. Of course, a lot can and will change with these ratings, particularly as the identity of the Republican presidential nominee becomes clearer (and if something goes seriously amiss for the current Democratic presidential favorite, Hillary Clinton). But here’s where we stand now: The Senate Map 1: 2016 Crystal Ball Senate race ratings The Republicans currently hold a 54-46 advantage, so they can afford some losses and still maintain their majority. We currently have them as underdogs in two seats they are defending, Illinois and Wisconsin; three other seats — Republican-held Florida and New Hampshire as well as Democratic-held Nevada — are Toss-ups. There are additional Democratic targets, particularly Pennsylvania, which Leans Republican now only because of uncertainty over the strength of the Democratic nominee. Assuming the eventual Democratic standard bearer isn’t damaged beyond repair in what could be

Kyle Kondik

The Baffling Bayou

Based purely on poll numbers, the Louisiana gubernatorial race should be easy to call. State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D) leads Sen. David Vitter (R) by 11 percentage points in the current HuffPost Pollster average, a seemingly insurmountable lead with the runoff contest taking place just two days from now on Saturday. But these days there are serious questions about the credibility of polls. Earlier this month we saw just how wrong surveys can be. In Kentucky, state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) held a narrow but consistent lead over Matt Bevin (R), only to have Bevin win in a rout. The polls were actually pretty close on Conway’s final percentage (43.8% actual versus 43.0% to 44.3% in the averages); they just happened to vastly underestimate Bevin’s support and exaggerated the independent candidate’s position (a common problem seen in contests with relevant third-party candidates). In the Kentucky race, seemingly all the undecideds broke for Bevin (though we are not really convinced of this — it’s a cop-out for pollsters). We had witnessed similar occurrences in previous races in the 2013 and 2014 cycles in states such as Kansas and Virginia, but the Bluegrass State contest cemented our skepticism about Democrats

Geoffrey Skelley

University of Virginia Center for Politics to host 17th annual American Democracy Conference in Washington

On Thursday, Nov. 19, the University of Virginia Center for Politics will host the 17th annual American Democracy Conference in Washington, DC. The conference will feature leading journalists and political experts discussing the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries as well as the overall political outlook for 2016. The conference will be held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center’s Atrium Ballroom, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW. It will begin at 10 a.m. and 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 Tweet about the conference by using the hashtag #2015ADC. The conference will also be livestreamed online at the following link: The conference will feature: 10:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Panel I: The Democratic Presidential Primary Moderator: Margie Omero, pollster with Purple Strategies Panelists: Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate Maria Cardona, principal at Dewey Square Group Mark Mellman, president and CEO of The Mellman Group Dan Pfeiffer, former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama for Strategy and Communications Hilary Rosen, managing director of SKDKnickerbocker 11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Keynote Speaker: Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) 12:15

UVA Center for Politics

Ratings change: Louisiana gubernatorial race now a Toss-up

After Gov.-elect Matt Bevin’s (R) strong victory in Kentucky last week — a nine-point win that surprised almost all political observers, including us — we’re again confronted with a difficult-to-handicap red state gubernatorial race, this time in Louisiana. There, Sen. David Vitter (R) appears to be trailing state Rep. John Bel Edwards (D) despite the state’s strong Republican leanings. Vitter has been under fire for months for his 2007 admission that he used a prostitution service in Washington D.C. and appears weak in other ways. He won just 23% of the vote in the initial round of voting to edge out two Republican rivals and advance to a runoff with Edwards. While Republicans will try to link Edwards to President Obama — a surefire strategy in any red state — Democrats appear to be successfully tying Vitter to very unpopular outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). (Supporters of each candidate will quibble with these comparisons: Unlike Obama, Edwards is culturally conservative while Vitter and Jindal are longtime bitter rivals.) Still, using Kentucky as a precedent suggests a clear outlook: Both states are very Republican at the presidential level, and polls showing Edwards with a solid lead over Vitter could very well

Kyle Kondik