Sunday, October 15, 2017

All signs point to a close outcome in Tuesday's Bristol and Norfolk state senate special election

Bristol and Norfolk is a prototypical swing district
by BRENT BENSON

Heavy hitters from the Massachusetts Democratic and Republican parties have gotten involved in the closing days of the special election campaign to take the open Bristol and Norfolk State Senate seat, previously held by Senator James Tmility (D-Walpole). The candidates will need all the help they can get in a district that could easily go to a Democrat or a Republican.

The resignation of Timilty to take the position of Norfolk County Treasurer has led to a scramble by Democratic, Republican, and Independent candidates vying for the open seat in an October 17. The candidates on the ballot will be Paul Feeney, a progressive Democrat from Foxborough, Jacob Ventura, a conservative Republican from Attleboro, and former TV news reporter Joe Shortsleeve of Medfield who is running as an Independent.

Republican Governor Charlie Baker gave his support to Ventura in an October 7 visit to Attleboro, while Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed and canvassed with Feeney on Sunday, October 15. Feeney had a similar event with Congressman Joe Kennedy on September 23rd.

Swing District

The Bristol and Norfolk District, held by Democrat Timilty since 2005, is the definition of a Massachusetts swing district with a PVI rating (an average of the last two presidential races compared to the U.S. average) of D+2. This makes it the fifth-most Republican state senate district in Massachusetts.

There are two Democrats elected in more Republican state senate districts: Marc Pacheco in the 1st Plymouth and Bristol (EVEN), and Anne Gobi in the most-Republican Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire, and Middlesex District (R+4). There are three Republican State Senators in more Democratic districts: Patrick O'Connor (Plymouth and Norfolk—D+2), Bruce Tarr (1st Essex and Middlesex—D+3), and Donald Humason (2nd Hampden and Hampshire—D+7).

Our Mass. Numbers regression model, which looks at district PVI and incumbency status, gives an edge to a Democrat in a D+2 race without an incumbent.

The Municipalities

There are seven full towns in the Bristol and Norfolk District—Foxborough, Mansfield, Medfield, Norton, Rehoboth, and Walpole—and parts of the town of Sharon, and the city of Attleboro.

Table of Bristol and Norfolk municipalities including PVI and percent of the vote

The partisanship of the municipalities range from R+6 in Rehoboth to D+19 in the district's Sharon precincts. Walpole provides the most votes in the last two presidential elections, followed by Mansfield, the Attleboro precincts, and Foxborough.

Bristol and Norfolk Precinct Map

(Click to view interactive map.)
Bristol and Norfolks precinct map


Only Medfield and the Sharon precincts are completely Democratic with respect to PVI, and Rehoboth is the only municipality with completely Republican precincts. The remaining municipalities have both Democratic and Republican precincts.

Fundraising and Expenditures

Campaign fundraising strength is another gauge of candidate strength. Democrat Paul Feeney has outraised and outspent his opponents, raising $76,706 and spending $62,365 as reported on the pre-primary and pre-election reports.

Republican Jacob Ventura raised $39,480 during the same period and spent $40,275, while Independent candidate Joe Shortsleeve raised $5,765 and spent only $3,383.

A wild-card on the spending side is a Republican special interest committee called Jobs First, which has spent $22,772 dollars, mostly on attack ads against Feeney, but also on an a positive ad for Ventura.

Turnout/Third-Party Effects

Special elections normally have very low turnout with only the most motivated voters getting to the polls. The demographic of those hard-core voters normally trends towards older and more conservative, giving a bit of an advantage to Republicans. However, this can be exacerbated or overcome by a strong voter contact and get-out-the-vote efforts by candidates.

It is unclear how Joe Shortsleeve, running as an Independent, will impact Tuesday's vote. Shortsleeve is a bit of enigma, having voted for Trump for President, but saying he will caucus with Democrats in the Senate if elected. Shortsleeve was attacked, along with Feeney, in a Republican mailer, seemingly trying to shore up conservative support for Ventura. However, it is unlikely that Shortsleeve will get too many progressive votes if they know that Shortsleeve supported Trump in 2016.

The new Senator from the Bristol and Norfolk District will likely be the candidate who runs the best voter contact and get-out-the-vote operation on October 17. We could very well end up with another 20 or 100 vote nail-biter.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What do you get when you run 20,000 simulations of the 55 contested MA state legislature races?

A few competitive nail biters and a likelihood of similar partisan make-up to today
by BRENT BENSON

While the vast majority of recent political coverage has been devoted the U.S. presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there remain critically important state legislative races, which can have major consequences issues like healthcare, education, and the environment.

In Massachusetts, there are 55 contested state house and senate general election races. I created a regression model based on historical election outcomes from 466 contested legislative races from 2004 to the present, and created a probability-based forecast for each race, along with predictions as to the partisan make up of the legislature after the election.

First, a look at the results, followed by a deep dive into the model.

Simulated Results

While we have already seen big surprises in this 2016 state legislative cycle—including remarkable primary defeats of longtime incumbent State Representatives Tim Toomey and Marcos Devers—the range of simulated results point to the likelihood of a Massachusetts House and Senate that is very similar to the status quo.

There are currently 126 Democrats and 34 Republicans in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The model indicates a relatively small chance (29%) that Republicans will pick up one or more seats, an approximately even chance (48%) that Democrats will pick up one or more seats, and a 24% chance of exactly the same partisan proportions as today.

MA House Number of Democrats

The smaller 40 member Senate chamber provides for less variability in the range of seats held by Democrats and Republicans. There is an 85% chance that Democrats will keep the same number of seats or add, while only a 15% chance of Senate Republicans increasing in number. There was a status quo outcome of 34 Democratic Senators in about half of the simulations.

MA Senate Number of Democrats

The next table gives a summary across the simulations of each contested race. The table is sorted by the predicted Democratic margin from the model, and there is a probability of a Democratic win, GOP win, or third-party/unenrolled win.

The races in the middle of the table with predicted margins close to zero could easily go either way, depending on district-specific factors—most importantly candidate quality, but also campaign organization and fundraising—and macro factors like the state of the presidential race.

The predictions are strictly based on fundamentals, and do not take into account important differentiators like candidate quality, fundraising, and voter outreach. There is more uncertainty in the open races without an incumbent—the majority of the races that fall outside the 95% confidence bands of the model have been in open races.



The Model

The model is based on an analysis of the 466 contested state legislative elections from 2004 through the present. I developed a regression model that predicts the democratic share of the vote in a state legislative contest, dependent on the Partisan Voter Index (PVI) of the district, the incumbency status, and whether the election occurs as part of a presidential general election.

The Partisan Voter Index was developed by the Cook Political Report to give a baseline reading of a district's partisanship compared to the country as a whole. It is calculated by comparing the districts two-party vote margin for the last two presidential elections with the margin for whole country. A PVI of D+3 means that the district is 3 points more Democratic than the country in the last two presidential elections.

The incumbency status for a race is critically important. The regression model gives a Republican or Democratic incumbent over a 10-point advantage, compared to running in an open seat.

Democratic state legislative candidates perform, on average, 5-points better in a presidential election year, than in an off election year. There are a large group of Democratic voters that only come out for presidential contests.

The three variables in the regression model explains 74% of the variation in the democratic share of the vote, with the remaining 26% due to other factors like candidate quality and campaign strength.

A Democratic state legislative incumbent has not lost in a presidential election in the years I looked at: 2004, 2008, and 2012. However, there have been some close calls, including Denise Andrews's narrow win over Susannah Whipps Lee in 2012 by less than 200 votes. Lee came back to defeat Andrews in 2014, and began a challenge again this year, before withdrawing from the race.

State Legislative model 2004-2014

The chart shows a graphical representation of the regression model decomposed into its Presidential vs. Off-Year components horizontally, and the three incumbency statuses of Democratic, Open, and Republican show vertically.

Presidential Coattails

There has been a history of the presidential margin in Massachusetts being correlated with margins of state legislature candidates. I wrote a piece in the Fall 2016 issue of Commonwealth Magazine describing the possible effects of a larger or smaller Massachusetts win by Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump on November 8.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A look at geography and fundraising in the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex special primary

Diverse district spans Cambridge, Beacon Hill, North End, East Boston, Revere, and Winthrop
by BRENT BENSON

On Tuesday, April 12 there will be a special state primary election to replace State Senator Anthony Petruccelli who has resigned to pursue a job in the private sector.

Open State Senate seats are hard to come by, and there is a very strong field of Democratic candidates vying to represent the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex District, which extends from around Western Avenue in Cambridge, through Beacon Hill, the Theater District, Downtown Boston, and the North End, and into East Boston, including all of Revere and Winthrop.


The 1st Suffolk and Middlesex district is overwhelmingly Democratic with a PVI rating of D+18. The most Democratic precinct in the district is Cambridge Ward 5, Precinct 1 with a whopping D+40 rating, while Ward 6, Precinct 1 in Revere is the closest to a Republican precinct at D+1. You can click on the map above to take you to explore the precincts in more depth.

The candidates reflect the geographic diversity of the district. State Representative Jay Livingstone represents the 8th Suffolk district which has nine overlapping precincts in Cambridge and Beacon Hill. There are three East Boston candidates: Lydia Edwards, Diana Hwang, and Paul Rogers. The Revere candidates are former Mayer Dan Rizzo, and City Councillor Steven Morabito. Joseph Boncore is a Winthrop Housing Authority Member.

Home Turf

When looking to evaluate the chance of the candidates success, it is worth looking at the percentage of the voting population from each of the candidate regions. I will consider the nine overlapping precincts of Rep. Livingstone's 8th Suffolk District to be his home territory. I calculated the home turf using vote totals from the last several elections. The percentages were very consistent across various election types.

1st Suffolk and Middlesex Candidates

Revere is the biggest part of the district by number of votes (28%), while the 8th Suffolk, East Boston, and Winthrop portions are very similar in the 15-17% range. Dan Rizzo also has the advantage of having been on the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex special primary ballot against Senator Petruccelli in 2007—a race won by Petruccelli.

Fundraising

Another metric by which we can judge the candidates is fundraising. While the candidate that raises and spend the most doesn't necessarily win, candidates that cannot or do not raise competitively, are much less likely to win.

The candidate who raised the most during the OCPF pre-primary filing period (January 1 through March 25) was Diana Hwang, who raised a whopping $121,708. The only other recent special senate primary candidates to exceed this total were Linda Dorcena Forry and Nick Collins in the hotly contested 2013 1st Suffolk election to replace Senator Jack Hart—both raised over $130,000.

While Rep. Jay Livingstone raised significantly less during the pre-primary period ($77,783), he started out with over $90,000 in the bank and spent the most money, by far, of any candidate with expenditures of $133,174. With the deciding primary coming up on Tuesday, money sitting in the bank does a candidate no good, and Livingstone spent significantly on mailings and top-flight consulting to push through the compressed and lightning-fast special election calendar.

Lydia Edwards and Joseph Boncore were in the next tier of campaign raising and spending with fundraising totals of $77,783 and $73,675 and expenditures of $45,013 and $70,662. Former Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo raised and spent significantly with totals of $51,100 and $28,779, while Paul Rogers and Steven Morabito did not raise anywhere close to competitive amounts.

Pre-Primary Fundraising Totals

Over the last six years of contested State Senate special primaries fundraising totals have averaged around $50,000, with average spending of around $43,000. The winning candidates have had raised $61,000 on average, and spent an average of $58,000. The top raiser and spender has not won in every case, but very low levels of fundraising and spending do correlate significantly with special primary loss.

Historic Pre-Primary Fundraising Totals

Upshot

There does not seem to be a clear front-runner in the 1st Suffolk and Middlsex special primary.

Dan Rizzo and Steve Morabito have the advantage of having been on the ballot and familiar to about a quarter of the likely voters, but Morabito has not been a competitive fundraiser. Rizzo was also on the ballot against State Senator Petruccelli in the 2007 special state primary with almost the same set of voters, where Rizzo won 40% of the vote, compared to Petruccelli's 60%.

Diana Hwang has shown strong fundraising abilities for a first-time candidate, but did not seem to take full advantage of her raised cash, leaving over $87,000 in the bank as of March 25, and she has never been on the ballot for any of these voters.

Lydia Edwards has been at least competitive on the fundraising front and has received some significant endorsements from noted elected officials and from the Boston Globe. Edwards is also brand new to voters.

Representative Jay Livingstone has been on the ballot for about 17% of the likely voters and has been very successful in raising and spending campaign funds. He has a strong set of campaign advisors who focus on voter ID and turnout, key for a low-turnout special primary election.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Clinton likely to win big on Super Tuesday

Clinton's worst-case scenario is winning six out of nine primaries
by BRENT BENSON

There are nine Democratic presidential primaries on Tuesday, March 1—better known as Super Tuesday—and Secretary Hillary Clinton is predicted to win seven of them, based on the FiveThirtyEight polls-plus prediction model. A win in Alabama—where there is not enough polling for a projection, but where Clinton will almost certainly win—puts the count at nine. Even if Clinton loses all three states where the outcome is in doubt, she will win about four times as many delegates as Senator Bernie Sanders.

Super Tuesday Democratic Primary Projections

Clinton's lead in the polls in five of the eight contests—Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia—are enough to predict wins of 30 points or more with win probabilities of over 98%. While there is only one poll of the Alabama primary, the Clinton +28 margin in the February PPP poll, combined with geographic and demographic similarities with other southern states, means an almost sure win for Clinton in the Alabama.

The Massachusetts and Oklahoma races are much closer with predicted margins of 7 and 9 points and win probabilities of 81% and 77%. Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders home state, is the lone Super Tuesday primary predicted to go for Sanders, with a predicted margin of a whopping 75 points, and a greater than 99% winning probability.

While primaries are notoriously hard to poll and predict, there is enough evidence to suggest that the worst case scenario for Clinton would be losses in the closer contests in Massachusetts and Oklahoma, and the expected trouncing in Vermont. Even in this situation, Sanders' states provide a maximum of 145 delegates, while Clinton's states would total 561 delegates (although the complex delegate division rules make it difficult to predict an exact count for each candidate).

In the most-favorable Clinton scenario, Sanders would win Vermont's 16 delegates, while Secretary Clinton's winning states would have 690 delegates. Based on race results and polling in Super Tuesday and subsequence states, it is unlikely that Senator Sanders can win the nomination without a significant change in race dynamics.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A look at the 3rd Worcester, 9th Plymouth, and 12th Essex special state primaries

Candidates vie to replace DiNatali, Brady, and Cole on February 2nd
by BRENT BENSON

While those who follow politics are busy with this month's Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary, there are three contested State Primaries for Massachusetts State Representative seats on Tuesday, February 2nd, the day after the Iowa Caucuses.

Rep. Steve DiNatali resigned his 3rd Worcester seat to run for the mayorship of Fitchburg. DiNatali won the municipal election and took office on January 4th. The 3rd Worcester State Representative District consists of all the precincts in Fitchburg, and Precinct B of Lunenburg.

Rep. Leah Cole resigned as 12th Essex State Representative to return to her nursing career. All of the 12th Essex State Representative District precincts are in Peabody.

Rep. Mike Brady gave up his 9th Plymouth seat to run for the 2nd Plymouth and Bristol State Senate seat that was left vacant by the death of Thomas Kennedy. Brady won the special election and was sworn in as a State Senator on November 10th. All of the precincts of the 9th Plymouth State Representative District are in the city of Brockton.

While all three state representative districts have a Democratic-leaning Partisan Voter Index (a measure of Democratic vs. Republican voting in the last two presidential elections as compared to the U.S. average), both the 3rd Worcester and 12th Essex districts can go Republican, as indicated in the Charlie Baker margins of +12 and +10 in 2014 gubernatorial election.

February 2nd Special Primaries

3rd Worcester Candidates

There are three candidates for the Democratic primary in the 3rd Worcester District. Joseph Byrne is a retired insurance company owner who has not raised or spent any money in the pre-primary period, and who has not received any major endorsements.

Stephen Hay, an at-large Fitchburg City Councillor, and Kim Maxwell, a Community HealthLink social worker, both seem to have viable candidacies. Hay has raised and spent quite a bit more money, and has received the endorsement of three local State Reps—Hank Naughton, Dennis Rosa, and Jon Zlotnik—and the Fitchburg Sentinel newspaper. Kim Maxwell, on the other hand, has secured the endorsement of Massachusetts NOW, Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, Mass Alliance, SEIU, and NASW. The endorsements point to Hay as a more conservative Democrat, while Maxwell has received the endorsement of more progressive organizations.

There are no official Republican candidates for the 3rd Worcester seat. Dean Tran, a QA Manager at Avid Technologies, intended to run as a Republican, but did not switch his party affiliation from Independent to Republican in time to appear on the ballot. He is therefore mounting a sticker/write-in campaign and needs to get 150 write-in votes in the Republican primary to appear on the special election ballot against the Democratic winner, a fairly easy bar to clear.

3rd Worcester Primary Candidates

9th Plymouth Candidates

There are two current city councillors and one former city councillor in the Democratic primary for the 9th Plymouth State Representative seat. Former councillor Gerry Cassidy has raised over five times as much as his rivals, but current city councillor and aide to Congressman Stephen Lynch, Shayna Barnes has received seven high profile endorsements including Lynch, State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Presley, among others.

The winner of this primary will surely be the next State Representative, given strong Democratic constituency of Brockton (and the lack of any announced opposition).

9th Plymouth Primary Candidates

12th Essex Candidates

The 12th Essex State Representative seat has been in GOP hands during the last two elections with wins by Rep. Leah Cole by 3 points and by 1 point over Beverley Griffin Dunne.

Former State Rep. Thomas Walsh formerly held this seat before resigning after an ethics probe. He is the top fundraiser on the Democratic side over Councilor at Large James Moutsoulas and Best Buddies State Director Craig Welton.

Jaclyn Corriveau, a collector for American Renal Associates, raised over $41,000 dollars in the pre-primary period and will face off against Cole Aide Stephanie Peach.

Christopher Gallagher, former chair of the Peabody Cable Commission, is running as an independent, setting up a three-way special election on March 1st.

12th Essex Primary Candidates

Sunday, November 1, 2015

State Senate race between Brady and Diehl is a tale of two districts

Precinct-by-precinct analysis shows 2nd Plymouth and Bristol district split between Democratic Brockton and right-leaning suburbs
by BRENT BENSON

Massachusetts State Representatives Mike Brady (D-Brockton) and Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman) are facing off in a November 3rd election to replace State Senator Thomas Kennedy as Senator for the 2nd Plymouth and Bristol District.

The 2nd Plymouth and Bristol District has a clear divide between its Democratic-leaning urban center of Brockton, and its more conservative suburbs of Easton (in Bristol County), and East Bridgewater, Halifax, Hanover, Hanson, Plympton, and Whitman (all in Plymouth County).

2nd Plymouth and Bristol Precincts



An analysis of the PVI (Partisan Voter Index, an average of the partisan lean based on the last two Presidential elections) of the district and its precincts bears out this divide. The overall PVI of the district is D+6, which would point towards a narrow victory for a Democrat for an open state legislative seat in Massachusetts.

However, Republican Donald Humason won the 2013 special election to replace State Senator Michael Knapik in the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District in 2013, which has a PVI of D+8, showing that the seat is winnable by Geoff Diehl and the GOP.

2nd Plymouth and Bristol precinct chart

Representative Brady currently represents 12 of the precincts of the senate district, while Representative Diehl represents only 6, which should provide a name recognition boost for Brady.

Money

Geoff Diehl has a definite advantage where money is concerned, receiving backing from outside groups like the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national PAC trying to elect Republicans to state legislatures, and local super donor Christopher Egan (son of EMC founder Dick Egan).

Turnout and ground game

While off-year and special elections normally favor the GOP because of demographic turnout trends, the November 3rd election date corresponds to a contested mayoral race in Brockton, which may even out the turnout between Brockton and the suburbs.

In addition, Mike Brady has built up a strong ground game to identify and get out Democratic voters, bringing in big name supporters like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Joe Kennedy III.

The result on Tuesday may provide a preview for the 2016 state election where outside GOP groups are planning to finance challengers in many Democratically-held legislative seats, and shed some light on whether a strong Democratic ground game can overcome large GOP money advantages.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Special election for 11th Worcester seat gives advantage to GOP but is winnable by either Palitsch or Kane

by BRENT BENSON

Massachusetts political history has shown it is difficult to unseat an incumbent legislator. So when a legislator resigns—as Matt Beaton and Carlo Basile have done to take key jobs in the new administration of Governor Charlie Baker—there are often strong candidates waiting for a shot at the open seat and the upcoming March 31 special elections to replace Beaton and Basile hold true to form.

The March 3 primary for Basile's First Suffolk State Representative seat had five Democratic candidates and the primary winner—former Basile staffer Adrian Madaro—will almost surely emerge victorious against Independent candidate Joanne Pomodoro in the general election in this incredibly Democratic district.

The Shrewsbury-based Eleventh Worcester State Representative seat that had been held by Republican Matt Beaton, and previously by Republican Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, has two strong candidates—Democrat Jason Palitsch and Republican Hannah Kane—and the outcome is harder to predict.

While the GOP history of the 11th Worcester seat seems to show a preference of the district's voters for Republicans, President Obama won the district by 16 points in 2008 and 8 points in 2012. The district has a Partisan Voter Index (PVI) of D+3, or an average of 3 points more Democratic than the country for the last two presidential elections.

But what does a PVI of D+3 mean in terms of a special legislative election? In order to get a clearer picture I did a regression analysis of the Massachusetts legislative special election results since 2009 and compared them to district PVI.

District Fundamentals

While there are only 16 data points, the results indicate that a D+3 district is likely to elect a GOP legislator, but the range of possible outcomes is very wide. A strong Democratic candidate can win in this district—John Velis won in the less Democratic (D+1 PVI) 4th Hampden District to replace Republican Donald Humason a year ago.

The graph shows the Dem-GOP margin vs. district PVI for all of the Dem/GOP contested special elections for state legislative seats since 2009. The horizontal green line shows the cutoff between a Democratic and GOP win, and the angled blue line is regression line showing the best fit for the data. The Palitsch/Kane point shows where the 11th Worcester PVI of D+3 falls on the regression line. The shaded area shows the confidence interval—it is clear that this data is not strong enough to indicate a sure victory for either party, except in the most Democratic districts with a PVI above D+20.

MA Legislative Special Elections Graph

The following table holds a summary of all of the legislative special elections since 2009.

MA Legislative Special Elections Table

Fundraising

Both candidates have done a good job raising campaign dollars with Palitsch raising a total of $102,169 as of yesterday's pre-election report, while Kane has raised $118,630. The big difference comes in spending, as Palitsch spent all but $4,729, while Kane holds onto $71,428. Leaving this much cash on the table a week before the election seems to indicate confidence in a win by Kane—it doesn't make sense to reserve that much money for election day ground game or to leave that much money in the bank in a close race.

11th Worcester Fundraising Table

If the race ends up being close, the up-front spending by Palitsch might be a factor, but the similarity in fundraising totals does not seem to provide a game-changing element to overcome the district fundamentals.