After spending the bulk of my time so far looking at areas where Democrats have been met with their fair share of struggles, I figured it was an appropriate time for a little pick me up - today I am releasing data for Hawaii, the strongest Obama state in 2008 and where Democrats took back the Governor's office in 2010.
Democrats hold huge majorities in both chambers, controlling a solid 16% of the House and 4% of the Senate. Continued Democratic dominance in these races is tremendously problematic for Republicans, as it threatens to completely cut off their bench for higher office.
That might seem like a fairly obvious conclusion in all states - where wouldn't Democrats want to hold down every seat? But it is especially relevant in Hawaii, which has displayed dramatically different results than any of the other states the LDI project has looked at so far. While Hawaiian Democrats possess a 58-42 edge on the generic ballot, the state is ideologically far more homogenous than any other state we've surveyed thus far
The above graph is a plot of the five states released thus far. The x-axis is a measurement of where the district falls in comparison to others in the state. For example, 0% is the most Democratic district, 100% the most Republican, 50% in the middle. The y-axis displays how Democratic and Republican those districts are. Keep in mind that this graph is not comparing the political preference of allt he states, but rather the distribution of political preferences within each state. So D+0 for each state does not mean that each party has the same chance of winning that seat in each state, but rather it means that every D+0 district is the average result for that respective state.
What the graph shows is a remarkably small range in political preference for Hawaiians compared to the other states released thus far. The range between the most Democratic and most Republican seats is only 42 - compare that to Maine (80) or Ohio (88), and the contrast is clear. Hawaii's legislature is smaller, which may lead to less partisan districts as they have to cover more ground, but even in Nebraska, where the Unicameral is roughly the same size, the range is a whopping 130.
What this means for Hawaii Democrats is that voter satisfaction can shift fairly quickly, based on the popularity of those in office. There simply aren't Democratic or Republican strongholds that the party can count on regardless of the candidate or climate. These small shifts in favorability can translate into large shifts in electoral preference - I believe this was the case in Governor Linda Lingle's continued success. Gov. Lingle didn't manage to turnout Conservative pockets to overcome the institutional strength of the Democratic party - across the state she simply flipped voters, and then maintained popularity through re-election. But you can't take advantage of those situations unless you have elected officials who are ready to move up through the ranks - and one look at the Senate composition should signal that the Republican bench is dwindling.
It's still hard to pull much out of the Hawaii data, given the lack of states to compare it against (we will have more blue states coming in the next week). But one thing I am curious about is that it would seem to me that Hawaii may provide a case where competitive primaries can have a seriously negative effect on a party's general election prospects.
My rationale is as follows: the Hawaiian electorate is unusually homogenous, at least in comparison to what I've seen so far. Thus, Room for large ideological differences amongst the electorate is much smaller. Unlike in Maine, where there was a huge contrast between the kind of Democrats that would win in Portland as opposed to the rest of the state, there are no big chasms in preference. Thus, this leaves less room in a primary for exchange about different ideas and policies, and forces them to become more personal affairs. The 2002 Ed Case- Mazie Hirono primary seems to be an example of this - while Mr. Case is fairly well known online as a sort of conservative boogeyman of Hawaii Democratic politics, that primary campaign was not about ideology, but was much more about the perceived "old boy network" that Mr. Case tried to cast then-Lieutenant Governor Hirono as a member. Gov. Lingle, still popular from her 1998 campaign, didn't face the same kind of character attacks, and the result was an almost universal swing towards Republicans.
Either way, the results from Hawaii are very different than what we've come across thus far. It makes me more excited to looking at some other states with smaller legislatures, such as Alaska, to see if size is playing a role in shrinking the partisan range. Have a pet theory on why the difference exists, or something else jumping out at you? Let me know in the comments.