Why are senate races seemingly so close?

Why are senate races seemingly so close?

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., November 2, 2014—With only two days to go before ballots are finally tabulated, Colorado’s senate race, like most of the senate races nationwide, seem too close to call. And yet, to the seasoned political observer the differences in candidates could not be more stark nor the issues more clear. Only 26% of Americans believe the country is moving in the right direction and only 8% believe Congress is doing a good job. Voters seem to oppose the president’s policies on terrorism, immigration, and healthcare. The political landscape seems ripe for change.

Several common arguments are put forward for the closeness of the election.

One is that districts are highly gerrymandered. Both parties do this. The party in power uses computer models of registered voters to fashion the most districts possible for their party. In Colorado prior to the 2012 redistricting, Republicans held a 1-seat majority in the House. After redistricting and the 2012 election, the Democrats had a 5-seat majority.

Their majorities in the state legislature and the governorship allowed them to pass radical gun control, civil unions, sex education for kindergartners, and election law reform—to mention a few of the most unpopular laws.

Gerrymandering as an explanation of radical politics works as an explanation at the state level, but not for state-wide races such as governor and U.S. senator.

Another explanation is that we are, in fact, a closely divided nation politically. On closer examination, that argument falls flat as well. On the issue of Obamacare, for example, opposition has always been in the 51-60% range, while support does not exceed 35%. That’s not close. Neither is it close on the open borders immigration policy of this administration, which two-thirds oppose.

Party affiliation doesn’t show a close division either. In Colorado, the electorate (active voters) is roughly evenly divided into thirds of Democrats, Republicans, and those registered unaffiliated. The two major parties have been steadily losing adherents; the unaffiliated category is actually the largest. People are dissatisfied with both parties—although perhaps for different reasons.

A wild card in the whole question is the new voter law in Colorado, passed in haste at the very end of the legislative session in 2013 and amended in 2014. The new law mandates all mail-in ballot elections for statewide elections and further mandates that every registered voter, active or not, be mailed a ballot.

While Republicans hold a lead over state Democrats in active voters, the lead narrows to almost a tie at a little over 1.1 million voters each when inactive voters are included. Independents account for almost half of the registered voters at 2.2 million. Of the 3.5 million ballots mailed out in Colorado, over 727,000 went to inactive voters.

Inactive voters are those who have not voted in the previous general election. They’re still mailed a ballot unless the ballot was returned “undeliverable.” So if the voter died or moved out of state after voting in 2010 or 2012, a ballot will still be sent to the last known address.

As of Thursday October 31st, Republicans led Democrats in returned ballots by almost 105,000. As percentages of active voters, 51% of Republicans voted, 41% of Democrats and 29% of Unaffiliated.

Will the last-minute vote allow Democrats to catch up? Who won the Unaffiliated vote? If the Democrats do manage to win, will it be because of their superior get-out-the-vote machine or their ability to harvest mail ballots? We won’t know for sure until late Tuesday night.

None of the vote counting or other motivational questions speak to the issues themselves.

Issues take a back seat because the media treats elections like horse races or as popularity contests. Another factor this year is that Republicans seem mostly content to be running on dissatisfaction with Democrats rather than on positive issues.

One exception in Colorado is Cory Gardner’s campaign which is focusing on jobs, energy and the economy while Mark Udall pushes abortion and contraception. It does seem as though the energetic and upbeat Gardner is beginning to pull away from the dour, hectoring Udall.

The issues should always be front and center along with the principles the issues represent. If the principles and issues were more central to campaigns this year, the elections really would be run-away.

You can focus on principles and issues. Then vote as if your liberty depends on it—because it does.

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