What Do the Off-Year Elections Say About 2018?

2017 is an off-year politically. It’s almost like our system is designed to give most voters some relief after the long, drawn out war of a presidential election. The major races were for New York City Mayor, New Jersey Governor, and most interesting of all, Virginia Governor. Democrats won all three. How much does this matter? Remembering our Stumped model of electoral success, let’s try and see what we can find. From there, we’ll try to predict the future.

New York City Mayor

Bill de Blasio won in convincing fashion yesterday, even though he’s unpopular and most people think he’s a doofus. Plus, he’s embroiled in a corruption scandal. You’d think that would be a shoe-in for someone to get voted out of office. In most places, you’d be right.

What makes New York City so different is the sheer numerical superiority Democrats have over Republicans. To put this into perspective, no Republican presidential candidate has carried New York City since 1924 – that’s how big the disparity has always been.

Because of word-thinking, most people vote on party lines. There needs to be a unique circumstance to disrupt that. In New York City, Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1. That means that for a Republican candidate to win, there needs to be something very special afoot, whether that’s a part of him personally or as a result of a massive pendulum swing that demands change.

When Rudy Giluiani was elected in 1993, he had a strong personal brand as a tough DA that had run for mayor before (so people were familiar with him) and who had decimated organized crime in the city. He had a strong atmospheric push too, as there was wind in his sails as a result of the high crime and the Crown Heights Riots, which created a huge pendulum. Even with all these factors, he only won barely, thanks in particular to high turnout in Staten Island, the only part of New York City that trends Republican.

When Mike Bloomberg was elected in 2001, it was in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and outgoing Mayor Giuliani was among the most popular people in the world at the time. The huge social proof that Giuliani provided to Bloomberg, and his endless supply of money thanks to his multi-billion dollar fortune, raised his profile enough to win.

After those two won the first time, they had the advantage of incumbency and, in Bloomberg’s case, endless money.

These things weren’t in place when Bill de Blasio won over his Republican rivals, who had no Stumped factors on their side. History tells us that to win in such a heavily Democratic town, a Republican needs to have at least some of them at their extreme.

New Jersey Governor

When Chris Christie won the governorship in 2009, he had several Stumped factors on his side. He was a larger than life personality, literally and figuratively. Though crass and crude, he had his own inherent charisma to him, much like Donald Trump (though not as pronounced). Furthermore, his opponent was embroiled in a scandal and was very unpopular. 2009 was also near the nadir of the financial crisis, so that may have benefited a challenger as well.

Even so, Christie only won barely. However, New Jersey is not New York, and with the advantage of incumbency, he crushed his opponent in his 2013 re-election bid.

Then came the “Bridgegate” scandal. Though Christie hasn’t been touched by it personally, the miasma tanked him and his party, in much the same way the boot was on the other foot in 2009. Christie’s would-be successor, his Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, had none of his charisma or personal magnetism. Without sporting multiple Stumped factors in spades to counter the Bridgegate affair, no Republican could have hoped to win this race.

Virginia Governor

This is the one that got people talking. It looked too close to call at first, but the Democratic candidate won decisively. The margin was far greater than last year’s presidential contest, where Hillary Clinton won the state by about five points. What should trouble Republicans is that Hillary Clinton had a disadvantage in almost every Stumped persuasion factor and Donald Trump still couldn’t win the state. Republican candidates that lack his charisma or social proof should theoretically do much worse, and that’s what we saw last night.

And to think, Virginia was a solid Republican state all the way until 2008. Ann Coulter has been hammering home on Twitter that thanks to immigration, which has seen Virginia change dramatically more than most places, Republicans cannot win the state anymore.

With the combination of the new voters and the “swamp creatures” in Northern Virginia that huddle around the DC machine, a potentially unbeatable coalition has formed for Democrats, and it happened so suddenly.

Hot fortune teller crystal ball
I thought this would be more entertaining than a picture of a poll or a map.

What This Tells Us About 2018…

…Is not much.

All three of these races involved factors that Congressional mid-terms don’t. New York City is heavily Democratic by default, so it means nothing. New Jersey is usually Democratic and there was the addition of a big scandal in that state. Virginia is more telling, but that was a state election where certain factors present in that state won’t be so in other states, to say nothing of the district House races.

If Congress stops being stupid and passes a good tax bill to get the economy growing (I have my reservations about this current one), not much should change unless some major eruption causes a huge pendulum swing. Despite their fondest hopes, Russia is probably not going to be it.

To get more familiar with all the factors that predict electoral success, and maybe make some huge money as a political consultant, read Stumped.