Elections 101: How Does the Presidential Election Affect Congressional Races?

Presidential elections do affect what
happens down the ballot. When people go to the polls to vote in a presidential
election year they’re usually drawn there by the presidential race. There are very
few voters who are motivated to turn out to vote because they’re really excited
about the Senate race or house race and so what’s happening at the top of the
ticket is really important for what brings voters to the polls. Voter turnout
is higher in presidential races than it is in midterm elections. So
congressional elections are becoming increasingly nationalized. So since the
nineteen seventies, we’ve seen a steady decline in ticket splitting or the
number of voters who go to the polls and vote for a presidential candidate of one
party and a house and or senate candidate of the other party. In 2012 at the rate of ticket splitting
was the lowest that we’ve seen since the american national election study started
tracking these numbers in the early fifties. In 2012 only about eleven
percent of voters voted for a house candidate of one party and a presidential
candidate of a different party. One reason that we see less ticket splitting
now than we used to is because of the increase in a political polarization. So
the two parties, the Democrats and Republicans, are now farther apart from
one another and they’re more internally consistent. So for example we see fewer
pro-choice Republicans that we once did we also see fewer say pro-gun rights
Democrats than we once did. Because of political polarization there are fewer voters who
find themselves attracted to a presidential candidate of one party and
a congressional candidate of the other party. Another piece of this involves
what we call negative partisanship. We’ve seen increases in the degree to which
voters of one political party really dislike members of the other political
party and as a result they feel much they find the other political party much
less appealing because they, they have more negative feelings about them than they used to. We think that voters generally think about house races and Senate races
in the same way. The one exception to this is if voters are going to split
their tickets in-house races they tend to split their tickets in favor of the incumbent, in favor of the candidate who already holds the office. While we see lower levels of ticket splitting than we once did, what we do know is when voters do choose to split their
tickets we know a little bit about what drives them to do that. One thing that we
have some evidence for is that out well informed independents and moderate
voters will sometimes look at a congressional candidate and a
presidential candidate and using their expectations about which party is likely
to win the presidential election they will choose to vote for a congressional candidate of the other party because they want a balanced power at the National level.
They want to have Congress controlled by one party, and a president controlled by the other party as to make sure that policy outcomes don’t drift too far in one
direction or the other. Sometimes we see political campaigns embrace the strategy directly. In 1996, for example we saw
congressional Republicans really push the idea that if voters returned
Bill Clinton to the presidency they also needed to vote for republican
congressional candidates in order to make sure that President Clinton didn’t
have a blank check to do whatever he wanted. In today’s political environment
most voters will vote for a presidential candidate of the same party as the
congressional candidates that they vote for. There are some exceptions to this but
our current levels of political polarization make it really difficult
for most voters to find a presidential candidate one party and a congressional
candidate of the other party sufficiently appealing that they want to split their
tickets. best you suppose usually is not to
confirm what you believe or confirm the media conventional wisdom but to


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