Ticket splitting in 2016

There’s a number of very vulnerable Republican Senators in blue/purple states who are hoping to run well ahead of Donald Trump to keep their seats.  That, of course, requires many voters to split their tickets.  My friends from grad school, David Kimball and Barry Burden literally wrote the book on ticket-splitting, so I’m been wondering their take on the matter.  Well, they were both interviewed for this nice Vox piece on the matter, so…

As the parties have gotten more and more polarized, voters have grown less and less likely to vote for both a Democrat and a Republican in the same trip to the polls. In 2012, after years of continual decline, we hit a low point — fewer than 10 percent of voters cast split ballots in the last election, Kimball says.

“The amount of ticket splitting in 2012 was lower than any previous election to the 1920s,” he says.

That was true for both the House and Senate. In 2012, the same party that won a congressional district at the presidential level also lost its House seat in just 6 percent of 435 races — breaking another record going back to the 1920s, according to Kimball.

Over the past few election cycles, in other words, the fates of a party’s presidential candidates and its congressional candidates have become increasingly inseparable. If that holds true in 2016, and if Trump’s polling numbers continue to sink, House and Senate Republicans look to be in terrible shape this November…

“Republicans will need lots of ticket splitting to hold on to the House and Senate — and right now the polling is showing a surprising amount of it,” says Barry Burden, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin.

Republicans have a ton of vulnerable seats to try to defend in 2016, so they’re likely to lose the Senate even if their congressional candidates do significantly better than Trump. But the extent of Republicans’ Senate losses — and, possibly, their control of the House — may depend on the extent to which candidates like Portman and Ayotte can reverse a decades-long decline in ticket splitting.

“This year, the relationship that’s been developing with greater strength over the past decades is getting a direct challenge,” Jacobson says. “In recent elections, ticket splitting has been going away. But in recent elections, we didn’t have Donald Trump.”

Short version: we’ll see in November.  Slightly longer version: Donald Trump has been blowing up lots of recent historical patterns.  We’ll have to see if ticket splitting is another of these.



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

4 Responses to Ticket splitting in 2016

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    The Republican NC state government took the option of one check ticket voting off the NC ballot to make it more difficult for voters to split the ticket. Was it one of the changes overturned by the recent Court rulings voiding a lot of the voter suppression actions?
    This may not actually suppress votes but it does mean the voter has to check every box and may be more likely to check more than one party’s candidate or not vote for all the candidates than if the voter could just make one check for the ticket.

  2. Jon K says:

    I’m pretty sure we’ll see a lot of split ticket voting. There are many Republican voters who will be voting for Johnson or Clinton, but are still very much interested in GOP control of Congress. I would think eliminating the straight party voting option would make it easier to split a ticket not harder. It doesn’t bother me. In races for minor offices, that I don’t know anything, or care anything about, I generally don’t vote, meaning I leave that box blank.

    I do find it irritating that we pretend our judicial elections are ‘nonpartisan’ and require consulting a list to determine whether the judge is conservative or liberal. It would be better if our judges weren’t elected at all, but calling a race non-partisan doesn’t make it so.

  3. rgbact says:

    Pre 2008, there were plenty of times where Congressional elections diverged from Presidential. In 2000, GWB won and Democrats gained lots of Senate seats, while in 1996 they lost seats while Clinton was cruising to victory. If anyone can get voters to re-understand the importance of a Congress that checks a president…..it should be Trump and Hillary.

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