Your District is More Flippable Than You Think

Your District is More Flippable Than You Think

In our series on voter turnout, we previously looked at the congressional abstention rates (casting a ballot but not voting for a congressional candidate) in New Jersey Municipalities in the 2016 election. After accounting for the statewide trend of higher congressional abstention in municipalities with lower incomes, we found a pretty strong district level trend where turnout was higher in districts that ended up being more competitive races. Since voters can't know the outcome of the election before it happens, any direct effect on turnout must be due to perceived competitiveness. This made us wonder about how perceptions of competitiveness can be manipulated to change the actual competitiveness of a race. With this in mind, in this post we will look at New Jersey's 11th district, which has been held for over two decades by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen. 

Frelinghuysen has won reelection very comfortably for his whole career, most recently defeating Democrat Joe Wenzel and winning 58% of the vote in 2016. Republicans generally dominate state and local public offices in the district as well, and the conventional wisdom is that the district is a fairly safe Republican seat. As far as we can tell however, the safety of Frelinghuysen's seat depends on his campaigns consistently turning out a Republican base that is not nearly as large as Frelinghuysen would like opponents to believe. This job is made even more difficult because he needs to convince substantial numbers of these core supporters to consistently vote for the Republican party against their own policy interests. 

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Congressional Abstention Catch-22

Congressional Abstention Catch-22

We recently started exploring patterns in voter turnout in New Jersey, with an eye towards putting together data and analyses that will hopefully be of use to advocates who are interested in improving voter turnout and access. In the last post in this series, we took a look at the relationship between voter turnout and income in New Jersey municipalities. The idea was to see if there were any trends in turnout at the county level that emerged after accounting for the trend of lower turnout in municipalities with lower incomes.

Here we will look at the 2016 congressional turnout, but in a slightly different way than we did before. First, instead of using the number of ballots cast as a fraction of the number of registered voters as the measure of turnout, we'll use the number of votes cast in the congressional race as a fraction of ballots cast. This generally represents the congressional abstention rate, or the rate at which voters cast a presidential ballot but left the congressional question blank. This measure also eliminates difficulty or deterrence in casting a ballot as a factor on turnout, since by definition there are at least as many ballots cast as votes cast in the congressional race.

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Rodney Frelinghuysen's Voters Take A Lot of SALT Deductions

Rodney Frelinghuysen's Voters Take A Lot of SALT Deductions

The GOP controlled House of Representatives recently passed a budget resolution, which is regarded as one of the first steps toward passing a proposed overhaul of the U.S. tax code. The Republicans have not released a complete version of their plan, which seems to be a fairly transparent ploy to dismiss critics by saying that the plan is incomplete and will be modified later. Additionally, since there are winners and losers in any reform of the tax code, floating a partial plan lets republicans test the waters to see what kind of pushback they get and from where. As the plan stands now, the federal income tax deduction for State and Local Tax (SALT) paid is to be eliminated. This will potentially increase the tax liability for middle to upper middle class families, especially in blue states where State and Local Taxes are relatively high. A recent analysis by NJ Spotlight computed estimates of the how much in SALT deductions New Jersey residents stand to lose by zip code, using data compiled from individual tax returns by the IRS.

Among the Yea votes for the budget resolution was Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey's 11th district, whose constituents, and in particular his voter base, take a lot of state and local tax deductions. The plan is incomplete and elimination of SALT deductions is only one among many changes of the tax code. Therefore estimating the change in someones tax liability is very complex, and critics such as ourselves can't claim that elimination of someones SALT deductions means their taxes will go up. However, being a grown adult and an experienced legislator, if Congressman Frelinghuysen believes that a GOP tax plan that includes elimination of SALT deductions will be a net benefit to his constituents, then it is up to him to make his case. We have a feeling that a many of his constituents, and even many of his lifelong supporters will want these details about the changes in their tax liability clarified as soon as possible.

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2016 Voter Turnout in NJ Municipalities was Strongly Correlated with Income

Voter turnout in the US is pretty low compared to other democracies. There are many reasons for this but among them is the fact that voting isn't as convenient as it could be in many parts of the country, in addition to overt efforts to suppress the vote by placing overly burdensome requirements on voting. Voting isn't always at the forefront of many people's minds and it can be easy to miss a registration deadline or to not realize that you don't have the proper ID to vote before it's too late. There is also some evidence that consolidation of polling places can lead to reduced turnout by making polling places more difficult to find and get to.

Election days are during the workweek. This makes it more difficult for anyone with a job to get to the polls, particularly if they use public transportation or are unable to find time during to workday to get away from work. These seemingly small deterrents to voting can add up to thousands of people not casting a ballot when they otherwise would have if it was more convenient. Over the next few months, we'll be doing several posts on trends in voter turnout in recent elections. It seems unlikely that we'll uncover any trend that is not already well known to political scientists or campaign strategists, but that isn't the point. Instead, the goal is to gradually build up data sets and analysis tools that can help citizens communicate with their local legislators and election administrators to improve voting access and voting rights. If this project ends up making it easier for advocates to address access issues in chronically underserved communities, promote voting by mail, or lobby their state legislators to pass same day or automatic voter registration, then we'll call that a win.

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Does your Representative Take Accountability Seriously?

Does your Representative Take Accountability Seriously?

For some of us at Unbury the Lead, New Jersey's 11th District is home. Our Congressional Representative is Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican who has held his office since 1995. Congressman Frelinghuysen generally has reputation as a moderate Republican, often aligning with his party on fiscal and foreign policy, while breaking with his more socially conservative colleagues on issues such as abortion. His nickname "The Dynasty" comes from his family's history in New Jersey politics which goes all the way back to the Revolutionary war. His father, Peter Frelinghuysen, represented New Jersey's 5th district for over 20 years. His great-great-great-great grandfather Frederick Frelinghuysen was a revolutionary war veteran and delegate to the second continental congress in 1779. 

Congressman Frelinghuysen has easily won each of his reelection campaigns during his tenure, most recently winning 58% of the vote over democratic challenger Joseph Wenzel in 2016. Lately however, many of his constituents have been showing their displeasure with the congressman, holding regular demonstrations outside his office. The demonstrations were generally focused on pressuring Congressman Frelinghuysen in to holding a town hall and addressing their concerns about the Trump administration. Congressman Frelinghuysen has been communicating with constituents using telephone town halls, which according to his office, have been attended by thousands of constituents. His response to a constituent regarding President Trump's tax returns in a town hall on February 28th was extremely peculiar, here is his statement, recounted in a communication to constituents:

 

"I told Mary in Morris Plains that I believe the President should release his tax returns, Vladimir Putin is KGB and not a friend of this country and that we must put pressure on Putin and his cronies at every turn." 

 

Unfortunately, his office did not restate or summarize Mary's question, so it may be possible that the tax return issue and the Putin comments are not meant to be connected. If they were, it appears the congressman would be implying that President Trump is one of Putin's cronies, which seems unlikely. Assuming that this is just unfortunate wording, the congressman's statement that President should release his tax returns is quite strange on its own. Why? Because a day earlier, Congressman Frelinghuysen voted to block a measure which would have released the returns to the House Ways and Means Committee for review.

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