New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, Part 2

In a post a few days ago, I wrote about New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, the district in which I grew up. I briefly discussed the current representative, Mr. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican, and introduced the promising Democratic Party challenger, Ms. Mikie Sherrill. This year, the 11th’s seat in the House of Representatives could be competitive. I may have gotten a bit ahead of things in the previous post by diving straight into demographic features of the district, so let’s back up a bit and take a look at how the 11th voted in the 2016 general election.

First, some maps for geographic context:

Map A

Residents of the 11th have been reliable Republicans for some time. They have sent Mr. Frelinghuysen to Congress every election since 1994, and in recent presidential elections they went for Senator John McCain in 2008 and Mr. Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2016, voters in the 11th got a little wonky: they voted even more heavily in favor of Frelinghuysen than they had in the two previous elections, but were less decisive than usual on the presidential ticket.

Here’s a chart that breaks the aggregate percentages down:

11th District Results
Note: The presidential election numbers are not accurate because they include all voters in three municipalities – Bloomfield, Montclair, and West Orange – which have significant populations that fall outside the 11th’s boundary. Also, those three towns skewed heavily towards Clinton. Indeed, if we take those three towns out entirely, Donald Trump received the most votes in the remaining municipalities that lie entirely within the 11th District. In those, Trump received 52.8% of the two-party vote.

Here’s how the presidential vote looks by municipality as measured by Mr. Donald Trump’s vote share:

Map B

And here’s how the vote for congressional representative looks by municipality as measured by Frelinghuysen’s vote share:

Map C

In these two maps, I used the Republican candidates’ vote shares and kept the percent ranges consistent around the 50% majority threshold so that the contrast would be clear. Several things stand out:

  • As mentioned above, if we take out the three municipalities that do not lie entirely within the 11th District, Trump won the remainder of the municipalities, and he won them by a wide margin.
  • Again, if we take out those three municipalities, we are left with 51 municipalities. Of those, only four preferred both Ms. Hillary Clinton for president and Mr. Joseph Wenzel, the Democratic candidate for the House seat.
  • Thirteen municipalities preferred Clinton but voted for Frelinghuysen, the Republican House candidate.
  • Sixteen municipalities gave Trump between 50 and 56 percent of their votes and voted overwhelmingly (56% or more) for Frelinghuysen.
  • Eighteen municipalities voted overwhelmingly for both Trump and Frelinghuysen.

What can we make of these facts? An indisputable conclusion is that voters in the 11th are staunch Republicans. They have a history of giving clear majorities to their long-serving Republican House member and Republican candidates for president. Even when some of them were repulsed enough by Trump to vote for Clinton or another party’s candidate, many still went with Frelinghuysen. Less indisputable but likely, it appears as if some people who usually vote party-line for Democrats voted for Frelinghuysen.

Any Democrat will have an uphill battle trying to win the 11th’s House seat. Winning in the 11th would require that the Democratic Party’s candidate be a good one, that she has a good strategy, and that she gets lucky. Sherrill has already met two of the three requirements: she’s an excellent candidate, both by biography and her policy positions, and she’s lucky in the sense that conditions are ripe because out-party candidates tend to do better when the incumbent party’s president is as unpopular as Trump seems to be. Add to that the fact that the Republican Party just passed a tax bill widely understood to benefit corporations and certain real estate moguls at the expense of affluent homeowners – precisely the kind of people who live in the 11th – and Frelinghuysen may be running into a bit of a buzzsaw this year.

That leaves strategy, which is where spatial analysis can come in handy. Above we found 13 municipalities that, judging by their votes, wanted a Democratic Party president (above Map B) but a Republican House member (above Map C). Generally speaking, it is irrational to split one’s votes among candidates from the different political parties because the major parties promote entirely different policy agendas. Perhaps many of these voters were happy with Frelinghuysen’s constituent services, or perhaps they thought Frelinghuysen would shield them from tax increases under Clinton should she have won. But again, generally speaking, voters in our political era should understand that the Democratic and Republican parties stand for completely different policy agendas.

Why did voters in these 13 municipalities choose a presidential candidate who would ensure affordable healthcare, a woman’s right to choose her own form of healthcare, a safe environment, efforts to mitigate climate change, and infrastructure investments, while they voted for a House candidate who would deny all of those things? Whatever the answer, these 13 municipalities are places where Sherrill’s policy arguments might persuade voters.

Further spatial analysis suggests that Sherrill should spend time campaigning in the four municipalities that backed both Clinton and Wenzel last year. Motivating one’s proven base of support is always a good way to go.

Another strategy involves boosting voter turnout in general. In the 11th, 334,190 people physically residing in the 11th cast votes for House representative in 2016. Currently, there are approximately 578,429 people of voting age in the 11th, which means there are approximately 244,239 people of age who did not vote in 2016 (unfortunately, dismal turnout rates like the 11th’s approximate 57.8% in 2016 are hallmarks of American democracy). Last year, Frelinghuysen beat his Democratic challenger by 64,610 votes. Demographic analysis will really tell us what kind of potential there is in the 11th for a Democrat, but for now, we can conclude there is a massive number of potential voters in the 11th who could be registered and/or mobilized to go out and vote.

To game out the turnout strategy a little further, if Sherrill could get half of the eligible people who didn’t vote in 2016 to go out and vote in 2018 – 122,120 people – and 75% or more voted for her, she could win the election without changing a single 2016 voter’s mind, assuming they all went out and voted for the same party’s candidate as they did in 2016. This is a bit ambitious, but speaks to the potential of the 11th’s electorate. More detailed demographic analysis would indicate just how viable a strategy of increased voter turnout may be. Since people of color and younger people are the ones who tend not to vote, and if they are indeed the populations that haven’t been voting in the 11th, then efforts to boost their turnout would be a great strategy. I’ll be working on that analysis for my next post about the 11th.




2018 Midterm Elections – New Jersey 11th Congressional District

Happy 2018! If the Democratic Party can take control of either the House or the Senate in this year’s midterm elections, it will have been a good year. There are a lot of interesting opportunities for Democratic candidates to beat Republican incumbents or pick up open seats. One is the district in which I grew up – now known as New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District.

The 11th is currently represented by Mr. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican who has held the seat since 1995. New Jersey has a total of 12 representatives. Congressman Frelinghuysen is one of five Republican representatives from New Jersey while the other seven are Democrats. Frelinghuysen has been a reliable vote for the Republican/Trump agenda, and 11th District voters need to send him home.

Successful efforts to unseat incumbents or to win in hostile districts usually require good candidates as a first step. Luckily for the 11th, Ms. Mikie Sherrill, Democrat, is an outstanding candidate. Her biography alone – Naval Academy graduate, Navy helicopter pilot, federal prosecutor, and mother of four – is powerful and will be attractive to the affluent white voters who dominate the district. She is also a strong supporter of most of the Democratic Party’s platform, which will be attractive to voters in the 11th who care about policy.

Winning candidates also usually need effective strategies. To that end, this year I aim to produce a series of maps that point candidates to areas in their districts where campaigning and “get out the vote” efforts can make a difference. The map below illustrates ample opportunity in the 11th:


New Jersey’s statewide population is 68.1% white. The 11th is about 82.7% percent white. That makes it a challenge for Democratic candidates, but with indications that whites in the 11th may be ready to consider non-whites and women for elected office, the time may be ripe for a candidate of Ms. Sherrill’s caliber. Her strategy should focus on motivating people in the red, orange, and yellow areas indicated in the map above to register and then get out and vote. Ms. Sherrill can also make a strong play for affluent whites who feel betrayed by the Republican Party, but she should not risk alienating people of color and educated women by compromising her policy positions. If we know that voting for Republicans and Trump is mainly a function of white identity politics, and we should, Democratic Party candidates should prioritize mobilizing people of color in their districts.

Republicans May Pass a “Health-Care” Bill As Soon As Next Week


Is Trumpcare a health-care bill if it leaves tens of millions of people worse off in order to cut taxes for high earners and corporations? By Congressional Budget Office ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Republicans in Congress are using reliable tactics to achieve quick results on their various “health-care”* bills. That is, Republicans have avoided public scrutiny, misled, obfuscated, tossed around word salads, pointed fingers, and even lied – all in service of passing unpopular “health-care” legislation that is mostly a vehicle for tax cuts. Since they ran against Obamacare for the last eight years Republicans might as well follow through on their threats to destroy it, end Obamacare’s higher payroll taxes on high earners and other taxes, and then get on with income and corporate tax cuts.

(*I put “health-care” in quotes because the bill passed by the House and what we’ve heard about the Senate’s version so far are not really pieces of health-care legislation. They result in loss of coverage for over 20 million people and worse or less affordable coverage for millions more who had benefited from Obamacare. In addition, millions of Americans with employer-sponsored coverage will be worse off than they were in the pre-Obamacare status quo. Trumpcare dismantles government programs, regulations, and subsidies that make health insurance accessible, affordable, and useful to poor and working class Americans, all in the name of tax cuts for high earners and corporations. Really, a fairer way to describe what Republicans are up to is to say they are trying to offset tax cuts for the rich by stripping millions of poor and disabled Americans of their coverage and making insurance less affordable and useful to many other Americans. Some have referred to Republican plans as “wealthcare” but whatever we call it, the most important thing is to understand what it is.)

This is a good time to remind readers of a post I wrote describing a heuristic for understanding elected Republicans’ behavior. In “Why Trump Can Do Whatever He Wants,” I argued that the only way to make sense of their policy priorities is to realize that they are united in service of one goal: cutting taxes for the wealthiest. Why else are so many Republican members of the House and several senators marching to what many think is certain doom in their 2018 elections by taking health coverage away from their voters?

The answer is that you get elected to do stuff, even if that stuff may cost you your job. Republicans think they got elected to enact tax cuts financed by Obamacare repeal.

Back in 2009, Democrats thought they got elected in 2008 in part to make the health-care system work better for poor and working class Americans. They passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) and improved the system even though many of them knew Republicans would be able to demagogue the issue and beat them at the polls in 2010. Indeed, that came to pass and Democrats have been in the minority in the House since their 2010 wipeout. But some Democratic House members of the 111th Congress who lost their job consider their vote worth it. They got into office to make things work better for more American people. If the price of that decision was their seat in Congress, so it goes.

In a sense, that is what is going on with Republicans in Congress now. Except the constituency they are serving is not the poor and working class, but the highest 2% of American earners and corporate interests. This is an entirely reasonable thing to do. You get elected to do stuff, and most Republicans think they got elected to cut taxes on high earners and corporations. How they have been able to win elections while obscuring their overarching policy goal is interesting but beside the point. The fact is Republicans in Congress agree wholeheartedly on one main goal and want to achieve it. Funding that supports poor and working class Americans’ access to the health-care system stands in the way of tax cuts, so Republicans need to remove the obstacle.

Americans ought to debate these policy choices. But we kid ourselves and risk damage if we pretend these choices do not come with different sets of winners and losers. For example, one of the dumbest things any Democrat did during the ACA debate was when President Obama said people would be able to keep coverage and doctors they already had if they liked them. That line was meant to comfort a portion of the electorate that already had coverage and was nervous about potential negative effects of changes to the system. Unfortunately, as the ACA went into full effect some Americans had to find new carriers and provider networks, so Obama was either wrong or a liar. He and other Democrats avoided a full accounting of the ACA’s effects and one can argue they suffered accordingly at the ballot box.

Now, Republicans want to cut taxes for the wealthy, but they do not want to explain how that comes at the expense of the health of the poor and working class. What are they to do? Exactly what Republicans have been doing: rush legislation through with little analysis or public debate, and when challenged hedge or pretend the bills don’t do what they actually do.

For example, West Virginia’s Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito is saying she does not look favorably on the Medicaid cuts rumored to be in the Senate’s bill. But in the end she’ll vote for the bill because that’s what she thinks she was sent to the Senate to do: free up money for tax cuts by repealing Obamacare. In the meantime, Capito will pretend she’s “concerned” and “worried” and “troubled” and “uncomfortable” about the Medicaid cuts to deflect from her true intentions. If she actually cared about the Medicaid cuts, after all, she’s free to debate the bill’s details in public and vote against the bill if she does not like the final product.

In the real world where policies have consequences, Capito and other “concerned” Republicans have two choices: 1) maintain or tweak coverage for poorer and lower income Americans and the taxes that finance it, or 2) cut hundreds of billions of dollars out of the system, kick millions of people out of the system, and use the savings for tax cuts. Capito and her fellow travelers insist on a third option: express concern about people losing coverage, vote to take away that coverage, and pretend cutting hundreds of billions of dollars out of the system won’t make anyone worse off, somehow (because freedom maybe). That’s just not how this works in the real world, but Republicans will dismantle Obamacare because of – not in spite of – this kind of dissembling. It works all the time in American politics.

I don’t know where all this goes in the medium term. In the short term, I’d bet Republicans succeed in gutting Obamacare but I hope I’m wrong. If I’m right, then Republicans up for election in 2018 and then 2020 will be running on their support for Trumpcare. Democrats say that removing hundreds of billions of dollars and important consumer protections from the system will have broadly negative consequences, including coverage loss for millions; Republicans say no it won’t, that citizens will once again have the freedom to not plan for an adverse health circumstance. We’ll see who’s right and whose interests are best served, and then we’ll see what voters think about it.

(But again, I’d rather Republicans not dismantle Obamacare. It’d be much better if they stopped sabotaging Obamacare and in fact made some tweaks to improve it. That’s very unlikely to happen, but I should make my preferences clear.)