The full Wonkblog team is here tonight to provide real-time context and information as polls close across the country. Think of this as something similar to our coverage of the presidential debates, where we focused on up-to-the minute background on the candidates' claims. We'll be doing something like that — this time, with the state of the vote. Stay tuned!
There was widespread speculation that young people would be less fired up for Obama this time around than in 2008, when he won the under-30 vote by a 66 to 32 margin. The early exit polls suggest that's not the case: Young people made up an even bigger proportion of voters this year (19 percent) than in 2008, when they were 18 percent of the electorate.
Obama seems to have lost a couple of points among under-30 voters in this election, but he still appears to hold a commanding lead with young voters, pulling support by a 59 to 37 margin. That's consistent with polls throughout this race that have shown Romney trailing Obama with the 18- to 29-year-old crowd.
And that will be a big disappointment for the young Republican operatives who've dreamed of helping to bring a new generation of voters into the party fold, in part by revamping its digital operation. But their revamped strategy proved more successful in reviving an older, white GOP base than drawing in new voters — and it looks like Republicans will have paid a heavy price for that shortfall.
"Prediction: Warren, Cruz will be the stars of this Senate class," tweets Robert Costa of the National Review. "Heroes to the base of their parties, reps, fwiw, as "big thinker" type pols."
Warren is newly minted Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a liberal darling. And Cruz is Ted Cruz, who just won a Senate seat in Texas after branding himself the true conservative back in the GOP primary. The New York Times predicted that Cruz "will be an intellectual force in Congress on behalf of constitutional limits on federal power."
Tim Murphy of Mother Jones wrote a long profile of Cruz outlining some of the policy positions he took during the GOP primary in Texas:
He pledged, à la Ron Paul, to eliminate the departments of education, commerce, and energy, along with the TSA and the IRS. He floated ideas that were unorthodox by traditional GOP standards but pet issues among Federalist Society types, including the use of interstate compacts — an agreement between two or more states — to nullify the individual mandate that is the backbone of health care reform. His theory, drawing on Supreme Court precedent, is that once Congress green-lights such a compact, it will supersede whatever federal law is in place, acting as a backdoor veto.
And back in July, Dave Weigel predicted that Cruz would help shape a new conservative wing within the Senate:
The goal, as DeMint and Clubbers have said many times, is to create a conservative wing inside the Senate GOP — an army of DeMints. When Cruz gets to Washington (he just has to roll over a token Democratic opponent), he joins Rand Paul (age 49), Marco Rubio (age 41), Mike Lee (age 41), Pat Toomey (age 50), and Ron Johnson (age 57). There's a good chance he'll join Rep. Jeff Flake, who turns 50 this year. That's a sizable caucus of obstinate conservatives who have, respectively, threatened to filibuster spending deal compromises, called for quicker action in Syria, called the president's move on the Libya NFZ unconstitutional, argued that the government could operate without raising the debt limit, and ... well, threatened more filibusters. This is a rising generation of conservatives who just added to their number with a candidate who argued that Rick Perry's candidate was too left-wing.
As Dylan Matthews pointed out recently, the number of Senate seats won't change much after this election, but the ideological composition of the Senate is sure shifting.
Early exit polls show the national electorate shaping up to be very similar to 2008, with a nearly identical share of non-white and young voters. Voters this year were also in-line ideologically with those from four years ago, although there may turn out to be fewer moderates.
There is no apparent narrowing on underlying partisan identification: In the early exits this year, Democrats outnumber Republicans by six percentage points. There was a similar seven-point gap in 2008.
Unsurprisingly, the single top issue on voters minds was the economy, and the evident lock-in that characterized the campaign was on full display: around seven in 10 voters said they made up their minds before September.
You can read Cohen's earlier thoughts here.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tweets after concluding that Obama won reelection (which is looking increasingly probable but is not, in any way, confirmed yet): "Now for some pessimism about US future: Lesson of this election is always bail out, never touch entitlements."
The point about bailouts aside, this actually highlights something remarkable about an Obama win: It comes after big cuts to Medicare, namely those in the Affordable Care Act, which Romney-Ryan mentioned at every opportunity. By contrast, Bill Clinton waited until his second term to implement Medicare cuts (only some of which ended up actually taking effect) and George W. Bush expanded the program, and its budget, in his first term.
And despite Paul Ryan's budget endorsing premium support as a method to keep the program's costs down, on the campaign trail he and Mitt Romney campaigned on reversing the Medicare cuts Obama signed. It's hard to figure out the particular lessons a given election will impart on policymakers; the psychology of members of Congress is complicated and beyond the scope of this liveblog. But whatever an Obama win proves, it's not that you can't cut Medicare and get elected. It's that you can.
This is a point that MSNBC's Chris Hayes has made before, but the divergent popularity of the auto bailout and the stimulus sets up a pretty clear lesson for future policymakers: If you want to help the economy, do it in a big, tangible way that voters can see. Don't do it by passing a tax cut that's designed to be invisible, even if economic evidence suggests invisible tax cuts get spent more quickly.
One interesting counterfactual this raises is what if the Obama administration, rather than continuing the TARP strategy of bailing out the banks, had nationalized a couple of them, as they considered doing (at least with Citigroup)? They could have publicly fired the brass and arguably gotten the banks back to lending more swiftly. In this world, would they be getting credit for Wall Street's healthy profits rather than, as often seems to be the case, blame for them?
There is, of course, a lot of risk in this counterfactual. The takeover could've been bungled, for one thing, leading to a total financial meltdown. And perhaps voters would've rejected it as socialism for reasons that didn't apply to the auto rescue. But perhaps it would've worked, and voters would credit the administration with taking decisive action to rescue a key American industry, rather than unsavory action to bail it out.
At any rate, the next time policymakers are faced with a situation like the Obama administration was looking at in January 2009, they will, for better or worse, be trying to figure out how to craft a policy using the lessons of the auto bailout rather than the stimulus.
Numerous news outlets have called the Missouri Senate race for incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill over Republican Rep. Todd Akin. He was among the first Republican politicians to come under fire for a remark about rape when he commented that cases of "legitimate rape" rarely lead to pregnancy.
Earlier I looked at the Indiana Senate race, where polling data suggest that Richard Mourdock's remark wasn't necessarily a definitive factor. In Missouri, though, it looks like it could have played a more prominent role. After Akin made the rape comments Aug. 20, you can see his polling numbers start tanking. Again, here's Talking Points Memo's Polltracker:
Two numbers in preliminary exit polls explain the Republican Party's fundamental divide on immigration policy — and why those fissures will be hard to heal anytime soon.
Asked how U.S. immigration policy should deal with illegal immigrants, 74 percent of Republican voters said that they should be deported to the country from which they came. But only 29 percent of voters overall shared that view. (Some 64 percent of all voters favored giving illegal immigrants a chance to apply for legal status).
Translation: It is hard for candidates in a Republican primary race to embrace anything other than a hard line against illegal immigration. But it also is an unpopular stance among voters as a whole, particularly among the fast-growing bloc of Latino voters. President Obama seized on this divide in an interview with the Des Moines Register last month, in which he said, "Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community."
Indeed, the early exit polls indicate that Romney, who took a hard-line stance against illegal immigration during the Republican primary, won 30 percent of the Latino vote, down a percentage point from what John McCain won in 2008.
The George W. Bush administration tried to enact wide-ranging immigration reform in 2006 that would have offered illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, but it broke down amid opposition from congressional Republicans. Obama said in the Des Moines REgister interview that he is confident he will be able enact immigration reform next year.
Elizabeth Warren is coming to Washington as a senator, but she already has a legacy here: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was her brainchild, is now up and running at full speed.
The bureau oversees all consumer financial activities outside of the major banks: mortgages, credit cards, payday lending, student loans and the like. In recent weeks, it's issued rules for debt-collectors and created databases for mortgages and credit-card complaints. The CFPB has also brought down the hammer on credit-card companies, forcing them to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in consumer refunds and fines for misleading customers. The CFPB has also been a hub for digital innovation, successfully recruiting young creative types from unexpected places.
Republicans originally blocked Warren from becoming head of the CFPB, and Obama ultimately recess-appointed Richard Cordray as director instead. But the GOP may be regretting that decision as Warren has found her way to an even more prominent perch in Washington.
Two notable developments on energy and climate change from tonight's elections.
— The bad news for enviros: Michigan voters handily defeated a ballot initiative that would have required utilities to get 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, according to the Detroit Free Press. This measure would have been one of the most ambitious clean-energy laws in the country. And renewable energy usually polls extremely well. But Michigan's power companies, among others, spent $24 million on ads warning that the measure would raise utility bills. The proposal lost by a lot.
— The good news for enviros: Maggie Hassan will become governor of New Hampshire. That's notable insofar as she'll be the only female Democratic governor in the country (there are only five total). But Hassan has also pledged to keep New Hampshire in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions from electric utilities that spans 10 states. Her opponent, Ovide Lamontagne, would have taken New Hampshire out of the system, which is slowly reducing power-plant emissions in the Northeast.
Former representative Alan Grayson, the Democratic firebreather who lost in 2010 after serving one term, has been reelected to a different congressional seat after his state was redistricted. Grayson is an outspoken liberal, but while in Congress, he also bonded with Ron Paul conservatives in his criticism of the Federal Reserve, backing Paul's "Audit the Fed" effort. Grayson also supported the public option and criticized Obamacare for being unwieldy, though he ultimately voted for the bill.
Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelley looks to be headed toward a win in Indiana in a Senate race that, just weeks ago, Republican candidate Richard Mourdock was polling firmly out front.
Mourdock gained national attention for remarks made during an October debate, when he described pregnancies resulting from rape as “something God intended to happen.” It's hard to know what role, exactly, that comment might have had, but the polling data suggests it wasn't necessarily the final nail in Mourdock's coffin.
Mourdock made the abortion remark on Oct. 24. Polling data, aggregated by Talking Points Memo, shows that his popularity was waning far before then. It peaked in early October and pretty much declined from there:
These are from The Washington Post's early exit polls for the presidential race, so they're not definitive, but here's one preliminary glimpse at how voters are feeling about the major policy issues on a national level.
For 59 percent of all voters, the economy was the top issue, with both Romney and Obama voters citing the issue as important. But Obama voters were far more likely to cite health care as an important issue — 74 percent, as compared to 25 percent of Romney voters. Obama supporters were also overwhelmingly in favor of expanding Obamacare further. Far more Republicans, by contrast, called the budget deficit a top issue — 66 percent compared to 32 percent of Democrats.
Overall, Democrats overwhelmingly believe that the economy is getting better (88 percent) compared to Republicans, 83 percent of whom said the economy was in poor shape. Romney voters said that taxes were the most important issue, while Democrats were far more likely to cite the housing market.
That said, Romney voters were more likely to favor higher taxes on all Americans (45 percent) than higher taxes on those whose incomes were over $250,000 (28 percent). The majority of Obama supporters would rather see higher taxes on the wealthy than on everyone.
AP has called the Ohio Senate race for Sherrod Brown. Given that news, I have no choice but to post this video of Brown getting down to Jay-Z at one of the final rallies of the campaign. You understand.
When it comes to inflation, economists are from Mars and voters are from Venus. While 39 percent of voters in a preliminary exit poll did identify joblessness as the nation's biggest economic problem, it was followed closely by rising prices, with 37 percent.
The consumer price index has risen only 2 percent over the 12 months ended in September, which is low by historical standards and right at the level of inflation that the Federal Reserve aims for. Economists generally view the 7.9 percent unemployment rate as a more pressing problem for the economy, and view inflation trends as benign.
One factor in the disconnect between voters and economists may be that wages have been stagnant in recent years, meaning that even those small increases in prices can pinch Americans' buying power in a way they wouldn't if their pay were rising rapidly. Another factor is that prices for gasoline and other energy sources have risen rapidly since early 2009 — but they were rising from depressed levels caused by the steep economic downturn and are still roughly at summer 2008 levels.
Regardless, the voter unrest over rising prices makes it clear why many lawmakers, especially Republicans, have been critical of the Fed for policies that are focused on reducing unemployment rather than on bringing down inflation levels.
Elizabeth Warren looks like she's headed towards a win in Massachusetts. That sounds normal enough, but a few years ago, it would have been laughable. Warren was an obscure academic known mainly for her research on bankruptcy and, later, for an article she published in "Democracy: A Journal of Ideas" that began with this riff:
It is impossible to buy a toaster that has a one-in-five chance of bursting into flames and burning down your house. But it is possible to refinance an existing home with a mortgage that has the same one-in-five chance of putting the family out on the street – and the mortgage won’t even carry a disclosure of that fact to the homeowner. Similarly, it’s impossible to change the price on a toaster once it has been purchased. But long after the papers have been signed, it is possible to triple the price of the credit used to finance the purchase of that appliance, even if the customer meets all the credit terms, in full and on time. Why are consumers safe when they purchase tangible consumer products with cash, but when they sign up for routine financial products like mortgages and credit cards they are left at the mercy of their creditors?
That article inspired the Obama administration to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as part of the Dodd-Frank financial regulations. And that Bureau led to Warren becoming something of a Democratic superstar and, ultimately, a Democratic senator. Not bad for a journal article.
Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has beat Linda McMahon to win a Senate seat, and his victory will cheer those who've been calling for filibuster reform in the Senate. “The filibuster is in dire need of reform. Whether or not it needs to go away, we need to reform the way the filibuster is used, so it is not used in the order of everyday policy, but is only used in exceptional circumstances," Murphy said last year, per TPM. "I will pursue both filibuster reform and an end to secret holds, whether or not Democrats or Republicans control the United States Senate.”
He'll be joined in the Senate by incoming Angus King (I-Maine), who won tonight and has also supported filibuster reform efforts, which Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) talked up tonight as well, as Ezra noted earlier.
The Washington Post is calling the Florida Senate race for incumbent Bill Nelson (D), who beat Rep. Connie Mack (R) for the spot. Doesn't seem like a huge deal, but there's a minor policy angle here: Nelson has been one of the most outspoken and influential opponents of President Obama's proposals to expand offshore oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast and in the eastern parts of the Gulf of Mexico.
When the Interior Department tried to develop a new five-year plan to expand oil and gas leasing back in 2010, Nelson quickly moved to slow it down. He likewise thwarted Democratic plans to include an expansion of offshore drilling in the climate bill so as to lure GOP votes. (Congress would need to vote in order to open up certain parts of the Outer Continental Shelf, particularly around Florida, for exploration.)
During the presidential debates, both Obama and Mitt Romney said they were fans of more oil and gas drilling. But those efforts will still have to run through Nelson, who has often worried about the potential effects of an oil spill on Florida's beaches.
The presidential election is, obviously, front and center tonight. But it's worth remembering some elections that don't tend to get much attention: state legislatures.
These aren't exactly the most closely watched votes, but state legislatures have huge sway over local rules and regulations. After many state legislatures flipped red in 2010, a wave of abortion restrictions came into effect — more than in any other prior year.
State legislatures can shape the rules that govern voting in the next election. If the health-care law stands after tonight, local legislators could be the ones deciding what the state ought to do in terms of implementation — and whether it ought to participate in the Medicaid expansion.
There are 6,000 state legislative seats up for election this year. Here's the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures' take on what could happen tonight. They've identified 20 state chambers that could flip party control tonight, which would be higher than an average year:
Republicans are coming off one of their best elections in decades after picking up 720 seats and wresting control of 23 chambers from the Democrats. The GOP currently claims 3,979 state legislators, not quite 55 percent of all partisan seats and has control of 59 of the 98 partisan chambers; Democrats control 36 and three are tied.
An average of 13 chambers switch party control in every two-year cycle and NCSL projects only 20 chambers with a likely chance of switching control; 11 Senates are within three seats of changing majorities and nine houses are within five seats. The most interesting state to watch on election night may be Arkansas, the last state in the South where the Democrats control both chambers.
NCSL is also running a live map of state legislature returns, which you can watch here. Here's what it looks like right now:
Angus King is headed towards an easy victory in the Maine Senate race. So what does the idiosyncratic independent want to focus on in office?
"My principal issue is the functioning of the Senate," said King, who aligned himself with No Labels, a nonpartisan group that has outlined changes aimed at improving how Congress functions. King backed several of its proposals, including changing the filibuster rule that allows senators to block legislation and fast-tracking the approval process for presidential nominees.
Meanwhile, I just heard Dick Durbin, the number-two Democrat in the Senate, talking up filibuster reform on MSNBC. Harry Reid, the likely Senate majority leader, has also pronounced himself supportive, though he's not said precisely what sort of reforms he'd support.
Note that filibuster reform won't mean much in the 113th Congress because Republicans will control the House. But it would mean that when one party or the other does recapture control of the government, they'll have a much easier time legislating.
In more Maine news, it also looks like Obama will get all four electoral votes from the state. That's notable because Maine allocates only two of those votes based on who won statewide, and then the other two based on who wins each of its two congressional districts. That prompted speculation that Romney could win the rural Second District. But it was not to be.
Nebraska and Maine are the only states that use this system, and it never mattered until 2008, when Obama won Nebraska's third district as John McCain won the rest of the state's electoral votes.
It appears that Angus King has won the Senate race in Maine, which is both notable (he's an independent!) and not all that surprising (he served two terms as governor).
King hasn't said which party he'll caucus with, but judging from his platform it seems likely he'll side with the Democrats. He has expressed support for lowering the vote threshold for filibusters, among other reforms, as well as tying the expiration of the Bush tax cuts to the unemployment rate or the GDP growth rate, to avoid "fiscal cliff"-like tax hikes that hamper the recovery.
Tonight's likely to be a long night. Don't expect an official call in the presidential election till late in the evening, if not early in the morning.
But we'll get some clues far before that. In particular, I'm looking to see whether the results in early states track the polls.
Remember: If the state polls are right, then the likelihood of an Obama victory is very, very high. The case for Romney relies on assuming some kind if systemic anti-Romney bias in those state polls. If that bias isn't showing up in states like Virginia and Florida, that's a sign that it's probably not going to show up in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, either. And if that bias doesn't show up and the state polls are right, then Romney is going to lose this thing.
It can be hard to keep track of which House races you should be watching. Thankfully, Boris Schor of the University of Chicago has compiled this helpful table listing races in order of the difference between the two candidates' ideological standings.
In other words, these are the races where the ideology of the seat would shift the most drastically depending on who wins:
More negative is more liberal, and more positive more conservative. The Nevada-3 race is between a quite liberal Democrat and a quite conservative Republican, while Arizona-9 is between a very liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican.
In any case, this makes a good cheat sheet when watching down-ticket races.
Election Day rarely goes off without a hitch or 10. My colleague David Beard has a very useful roundup of voting "irregularities" around the country. Keep in mind that this is just a partial list of reported incidents, and it's not at all clear how these problems will affect the overall election. Still, it's a useful page to bookmark. A few excerpts:
Nov. 6 — PENNSYLVANIA — Provisional ballots galore in Philadelphia. Large numbers of registered North and West Philadelphia voters are not being shown on the city’s books and are being asked to cast provisional ballots, election workers and observers tell Philadelphia CityPaper. The problems followed reports that election officials had not processed up to 20,000 voter registrations just two weeks before the vote. Read the full article.
Nov. 6 — COLORADO — A Romney-to-Obama voting machine? The state’s secretary of state is investigating after a dozen complaints that a voting machine in Pueblo changed as many as 12 voters to Barack Obama, KRDO is reporting. The county clerk said the problem has affected choices for both presidential candidates. See the full story.
Check out the rest here.
So, as I said, you shouldn't get sucked into the early exit polls. Here at Wonkblog, in fact, we're leaving that kind of thing entirely up to the professional. Namely, we're leaving interpreting the early exit polls up to Jon Cohen, The Washington Post's official pollster, and a very, very careful guy. Here's are his early takeaways, published with his permission:
EARLY numbers WILL change but some emerging themes/detail ... (all reportable — specifying early, preliminary, etc.)
All the data we have so far matches the expectations set in pre-election polling, so hang on for potentially late night/early morning …
— so far the electorate is shaping up to be broadly similar demographically to 2008 (on race, age, etc.), but, as expected, appear to be a shade more Republican
— tons of lock-in, around seven in 10 say they made up their minds before September
— no surprise, but economy is overwhelming top issue, none of the other three come close — true in national data and across all nine states we subscribed to.
— voters are flipped from 2008 in their interest in a more active federal government. But the limited government sentiment may end up dampened from 2010
— voters nationally split on what to do about “Obamacare,” with slightly more saying get rid of some or all of it.
— indicators of the overall mood of the country are tilted in a far more positive direction than was the case four years ago, with more now saying things are going in “the right direction” and fewer now say the economy is deteriorating. As expected, the improvements are among Democrats.
— The union vote may be headed to a record low; later waves, of course, will give a better tally.