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2014 MI State House Estimate

by: memiller

Mon Apr 21, 2014 at 13:44:46 PM EDT

(Read this. Read this now. - promoted by Eric B.)

In the Easter open thread, there was a comment: “Wondering what those of you who follow the races closely feel are the chances that we take back the legislature in November?”

I’ve been wondering the same thing, and lazily hoping that someone else would run an analysis to answer this question. I Googled around, and found nothing. “All right”, said the little red hen…

memiller :: 2014 MI State House Estimate
I’ve only looked at the state House, because we already know the Senate is a lost cause for this cycle. I started with the 2012 results, and counted a seat as SD or SR if the two-party results then were outside of 57% - 43%. These seats I did not take any closer look at. If they were within 57% - 43%, I counted it as LD or LR, unless the results were within 52% - 48%, which I coded as (T)ossup. Now, I could subdivide the categories into Safe, Strong, Leaning, Marginal or whatever, but at the high-level and fairly crude analysis I am doing here, I don’t think any finer categories are justified.

This first glance gives us 36 SR, 19 LR, 7 T, 3 LD, and 45 SD seats. If we assign a 25% probability of a Dem win in a LR seat, 50% for a T, and 75% for a LD, this gives us an expected value of 55.5 Dem seats (out of 110) next year – pretty darn close to a tie. Yay! Unfortunately, the news gets worse from here.

I then looked at the current filing list, and campaign finance reports, for all the LD, T, and LR seats. If an LR seat, say, had a Republican incumbent or well-financed candidate (if the incumbent from last time was term-limited), and either no Democrat has filed yet (still two more days, but come on) OR the Dem has filed a waiver or has not filed a CFR OR has less than 1/3 the money of the Republican, then I bumped that race to SR. Similarly for the other cases – I would bump T to LD, one category, if the circumstances were reversed.

At the end of that process, a LOT of the LR seats have become SR. Here’s the breakdown: 52 SR, 6 LR, 2 T, 3 LD, 47 SD. Again, counting a LD as 75%, T 50%, LR 25%, this gives us an expected value of 51.75 Dems in the new House. OK – not so good, but could we pull it off anyhow?

To answer that, I did a Monte Carlo simulation with 1000 trials – basically roll the %ile dice for each seat, and if it comes up 21% for an LR (25% chance of D win) seat, then the Dem wins. Do that for all the seats and add up the Dems who won. Repeat 1000 times. Easy enough in Excel – I did this this morning, including gathering the data, in two hours.

(Drum roll) – The results are, 2.8% chance of a tie in the House, 0.5% chance of a 1-seat Dem majority, 0.1% chance of a 2-seat Dem majority. That’s it. 90% confidence interval is 50 to 54 Dems in the House.

This depressingly narrow range is entirely a result of the successful Republican gerrymander of our House districts (as well as Senate and Congressional districts) made easier by the demographic pattern of Democrats clustering together in cities.

The fact that there are only (by my estimate) 11 arguably competitive seats out of 110 (10%) is a shameful thing in a democracy. But that is where we are, it seems.

Now, you can argue with my methodology (and I invite such argument here!), or my category boundaries, or my crude 75% - 25% breakdown, but I don’t think any arguments around the margin are going to do much to affect the main message – our chances of winning the House are lottery-like at this point.

And remember – I have not factored in any non-Presidential fall-off of Democratic voters. Add in an effect like that, and it is even worse.

If anyone would like to refine my estimates of individual seats, have at it. Here they are:

LR: 23, 41, 45, 63, 65, 106

T: 91, 101

LD: 25, 71, 110

The SD and SR seats (all others) should be obvious, just look at who won last time.


Late Edit: I am convinced by the comment below by '48101 Guy' that this analysis was premature.

(1) Many districts I had bumped from LR to SR because no Dems filed now have Dem candidates.

(2) Many I had likewise bumped because candidates had not reported raising money have just recently filed as candidates, so have not filed CFRs yet. I've been thinking mostly about Federal (Congress) races, where the fundraising from the year before the election is far more predictive. State House candidates, I guess, can ramp up fundraising more quickly to the more modest levels they need to be competitive.

But if I back out those sets of changes, what I am left with is basically a re-run of 2012, with little additional predictive value. So, I am withdrawing my claim that the probabilities I came up with are meaningful. I won't bother re-running this analysis now, but will when the next batch of CFRs come out in July, at which time we'll all be able to see more clearly what the prospects are. Sorry for jumping the gun.

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Lest I be accused of defeatism....
I am working hard in local races, and I see value in maximizing the seats we win, and the candidates we develop for the future, regardless of whether we win a majority this time. It is going to take several cycles to dig out of the hole we are in.

Some of my friends may say I should not publish an estimate like this. Sorry, I believe in being reality-based.

We're a reality-based bunch
Not a big fan of telling fairy tales, myself, unless I am in fact telling a fairy tale. But, you'll find that filed under, "Fiction," and not, "Michigan Liberal."

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
By the way, something weird in Jackson County....
in the 65th, SIX R candidates, all of whom are either on waiver or have not filed their annual CFR, and two Ds, one of whom has not filed, the other raised about $2k. What gives?

As analysis and numbers go, I'd say this is fairly scientific, about as scientific as you can get in politics.  I tend to be a guy who deals with politics as much as art as by science, if not more so.  

So, what I'd add as intangibles to this scientific analysis is that given the lean of the state (and given that Republicans had basically squeezed all they could out of gerrymandering in their last two go-arounds with redistricting) that maybe some of these do become more SR than LR when you put the factors that you did in.  But, I'd argue that even with the movement in the R direction that so-called SR's in Michigan are probably a lot less safe than SD seats.  I also thinks this lessens the effect of R incumbency.  Another intangible (and a very subjective one and harder still to measure) is candidate quality.

It's obvious the swing has become more narrow; I think it'd be silly to argue otherwise.  But I think when you factor in both science and art, it's probably a bit more than 11 competitive seats.  I think the science part of this is about as conservative an estimate as you can get, though, it's definitely good and necessary to have a sober numbers analysis.

Thanks for this.

You can't beat somebody with nobody.
A bunch of those LRs got bumped to SR because no Dems have filed. (I will post an update here in a few days after BurElec has posted final filings) A bunch more have the R with $40k and the D with $2k. In my experience, the $2k person is a token candidate who does not win.

Granted, the margin in SR seats, on  the average, will be less than the margin in SD seats. That again is mostly because it is so easy to pack Dems in a few districts due to our urban character. That does not necessarily mean that the SD seats are safer,on average, if the threshold of the margin used to define SR seats is still in the safe range. And that can be determined by an historical analysis, election-on-election, of the same districts' performances. I have used 67% - 43%, a 14% (two-party) margin to define 'safe' for the next election. Historically, I just don't see margins like that being overcome often enough to make a difference, even in a wave election.

[ Parent ]
Too early for me to make good predictions
I need to see more of who is running. I think percentages are one factor with straight tickets, but with any district heavily independent (Up North, Thumb, etc) matchups are just as important. If I'm a thumb area rep, I'm going to get a lot more concerned over a guy named John Espinoza or Terry Brown than I would someone named Barack Obama or John Kerry.


"He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security" - Benjamin Franklin

Opinions are my own and not that of LCRP

I really would like to refine this estimate...
If any readers have knowledge of specific districts that would change the assessments I give, share it and I will run the model again.

First of all...
Great assessment. Personally, I am very interested in the breakdown this year and this made it quite a bit easier. Thanks!

As for some of the particular districts:

- 23 (LR): Is Somerville's district. As a downriver resident, I have high hopes for Andy Linko. I know he has just recently filed, but he is the Brownstown Supervisor and is pretty well known in the area. Somerville only won by like 500 votes against a former mayor who had been out of office for years and didn't run a very effective campaign. Definitely a pickup opportunity.

- 41 (LR): Mary Kerwin is a good candidate. She ran last cycle and only lost by about 500 votes. I know Howrylak is now an incumbent, but Kerwin has some name recognition and hopefully the party actually helps her this time, compared to last time...

- 45 (LR): I think it will be tough but VanRaaphorst could pull it out. Lost by 5,000 votes to a 2-term incumbent last time, but name recognition and bad repub candidates could lead to a miracle. Not sure about the quality of the repubs though.

- 63 (LR): Bill Farmer only lost by about 700 votes last cycle to Jase Bolger. This time he is going up against two new repubs (however both are well financed). It seems like Farmer can raise money and this is a great chance to steal a seat if the party can dedicate some resources to it.

Don't have really any hope for 65 or 106

- 101 (T): Dont know much about either candidate but it seems like we have a chance if we dedicate resources or atleast make the R's spend their money to protect it.

- 91 (T): Truly the biggest risk for D's in my opinion. Lamonte could easily lose and this is as close to a toss up as one can get.

- 25 (LD): Yanez's challenger so far seems like a prototypical young Republican who was told by the party to run. Doesn't seem to have any qualifications or name recognition.

- 71 (LD): Hopefully Abed can pull it out (seems like she should be able to).

- 110 (LD): Hopefully no one files to run against Dianda.

Sorry for the length.

Obviously Dems will need to keep all the LD seats, which doesn't seem at the moment like it will be too difficult (that puts us at 50). If we win Lamonte's seat and lose the other toss up we are at 51 with 6 seats left.

Honestly I think Linko will pull it out in 23 and Farmer in 63. So in my humble opinion, I think the final tally will be  57-53. Personally I think a pickup of 2 seats would be a success this year.  

[ Parent ]
Thanks in return!
Good insights. I will fold these into the next run after filing updates are complete.

Don't see too much in your comments, though, that would radically change my assessments.

And I note that your 53 is within my 90% confidence interval of 50-54, so we agree there. If I had to bet on a single number, though, it would be (for now) -- 51 -- status quo.

[ Parent ]
Add the 99th
Kevin Cotter has to deal with Brian Mielke there in the Mt. Pleasant-based district.

To win the 99th, Democrats need (a) a solid candidate and (b) good turnout among CMU students. Dems haven't been able to get both in the same year. We've had some great candidates over the years, including Sharon Tillman (the once and current mayor of Mt. Pleasant) in 2004 and attorney Toni Sessoms in 2010. Then in 2008 and 2012, students (and other Democrats) turned out in droves, but there was little focus on turning the seat blue.

This year, we have an amazing candidate in Mielke, a Union Township trustee who is active in the community.

The district itself is somewhat close to 50-50, but Democrats haven't held the district as long as anyone can remember. That can change if we can get enough students (and other Democrats) to turn out.

Now on Great Lakes, Great Times, Great Scott: Cotter vs. Jesus and Reagan

[ Parent ]
very tough year
As much as I hate throwing cold water on everyone's hopes, the 99th is a great example of the problem of the current map.  It is 50-50 if, and only if, we have another base year like 2006, 2008 or 2012. The chances of this are very close to 0%.  Based on past trends, it is more like 44% assuming the statewide base is 49%, which is what it was when Granholm was first elected, or at best 47% if the statewide base is 52%, which would be the 2nd highest Gubernatorial year base in the last 2 decades.

As I see it there are only going to be 42-46 seats with Democratic bases over 50%, which makes the going very, very tough.  These numbers are based on an overall statewide base of 49% to 52%.  In the case of a statewide base of 49%, there will be about 5 seats with bases between 45% and 49.9%, for a statewide base of 52%, there would be about 15 seates between 45% and 49.9%.  I will be happy if the House Dems can hold their own.

In the Senate the numbers are 12 seats over 50% and 3 between 45% and 49.9% for a statewide base of 49%.  for a statewide base of 52%, the numbers are14 seats over 50% with 5 seats between 45% and 49.9%.

[ Parent ]
One issue with your methodology
I realize what you're trying to add by including fundraising data but I'm sure it's all that relevant of a data point right now.

Most candidates filed this year and established their campaign committees this year. Thus, they do not have to file a CFR until July.  The only candidates with CFRs from January would be incumbents and those in a contested primary that started their fundraising in 2013.  So, analysis based on the CFRs isn't going to add much right now.  If you update after the July pre-primary filing you would have a better idea. Although, I agree that those candidates that filed a waiver are not likely to be competitive.

I also think that the PPP generic ballot lead that Dems hold (+10%) cannot be overlooked.  As a general rule a 7% lead on the generic ballot is enough to overcome a partisan gerrymander - so given that Dems have some room to play. Add to that the recent polling from MSU that shows legislative republicans with a 25% approval rating and the basic environment of the battle for the House has shifted in the Dems favor.

It won't be easy to take back the House but I think the odds are much better than you're analysis is predicting.  

OK -- so let's say
I bump a seat one step if the opponent has filed a waiver -- but not if the opponent has simply not yet filed?

I can fold that in to the next run easily, and see how much of a difference it makes. Probably fairly significant.

As far as the generic ballot -- that's if those folks show up. And in 2012, the vote for House was 53% (2.39 million) - 46% (2.04 million), a 7% Dem margin, and we still lost by a 59 - 51 seats. So, in our most recent experience, a 7% lead was NOT sufficient to overcome the gerrymander. Why should it be different this time in a non-Presidential year?

[ Parent ]
Pretty much - In July the CFRs will tell us a lot more
Right now they're pretty much just a reflection of who had a committee in 2013 (and most challengers probably didn't have a committee in 2013, unless they were in a primary).

The generic ballot is more about the overall environment of the electorate. Right now in Michigan that electorate is very displeased with the GOP Legislature.  We will have to see if that holds and how it plays out when actual names are one the ballot.  Comparing generic polling to the results of 2012 is apples to oranges as a lot has changed in the environment (RtW, Abortion Rider, Pension Tax kicking in, School Funding, etc) plus they are different measures.  I cannot recall the generic ballot margin in 2012 but I'm pretty sure it was closer to 3-4% than 10% - the 7% margin rule is a pretty reliable measure in the polling world (for as reliable as things can be in the polling world).

[ Parent ]
I can't get over
how many Republican incumbents are facing primary challenges.  Obviously, most won't pan out to much of a substantive challenge -- but I surely do not recall such a revolt against the incumbent Republicans in cycles of yore.

Great Lakes, Great Times.

In addition to what 48101 said.
Firstly, this is a very decent methodology. As far as publicly available tools go, you really did a great job. Congrats to your hard work!

Secondly, I think your methodology overlooks some quirks of super-local legislative races like state house. In the Republican wave of 2010 a whole lot of local races were lost -- which made a whole lot of people unwilling to put up a serious 2012 challenge for a higher office. No one wanted the demands of a high-octane state house race, after they just lost their city council seat. That lead to weak candidates being placed on the ballot against incumbents. Brutal.  

I think in many races, our bench is stronger in 2014 than it was in 2012 (and of course it is, we're Democrats. We don't think long term). But my real point is I don't think your 2012 numbers are reflective of what a good measure for SR-LR-T-LD-SD should be, and as such that blurs your final assessment.

I know a few races that are almost certainly going to be targeted by the House Caucus that wouldn't be included in your % range. They already have organizers heading out to them. I can't reveal them because in 4 minutes I'd be getting angry calls like I sometimes get ("you know what you post there is public, right?") but they're winnable seats as far as the MIRS book is concerned.

There original question was, what are the chances of winning the legislature? I stand by my 0%.  

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