John McLaughlin, Eric Cantor’s longtime pollster, is taking a lot of flak this week for his pre-election survey showing Cantor with a 34-point lead. His poll (and we had even bigger margins for Cantor a month earlier) was flawed because he, like all of us who polled this race, surveyed only primary voters who had participated in the low-turnout 2012 Presidential or 2012 Senate and Congressional primaries and not the broader universe of all eligible voters (which means everyone).
But McLaughlin misses the mark by blaming the Cantor defeat on “Democrats” raiding the open GOP Primary as does Cantor consultant Ray Allen who tried to alibi the embarrassing defeat on “15,000 card-carrying Democrats” voting in the GOP Primary.
But an analysis of the numbers indicates the exact opposite is true, because the more Republican the area, the higher share of the “new” vote that went to Dave Brat. And that this election was not an example of Democrats raiding an open primary, but Republicans taking their party back.
No one anticipated a slew of unforced errors by Cantor and his team. After the Slating Debacles and repudiation at the Seventh District convention, and Cantor’s in-your-face support for anti-Tea Party “Republican” organizations, Cantor made things worse with comments on amnesty, a refusal to campaign and an overall image as weak and spineless.
Even after all of that, no one, including those in the campaign, would have predicted that turnout would have jumped 28 percent from 2012. And even fewer people would think that with a 28 percent turnout jump that Cantor’s vote would have gone up, instead of down by 8,000.
We analyzed the differences between the Cantor/Brat 2014 race and the Cantor/Bayne contest two years earlier and found a direct correlation between the vote for Mitt Romney for President and the share of the added new vote Brat received.
In order to compare apples to apples, we’re going to limit this analysis to the Election Day vote, because some counties are split and do not break out presidential absentees by Congressional District.
Overall (including absentees), turnout was up by 17,984 from 2012, from 47,037 to 65,021. But the Cantor vote was down by 8,468 while Brat received 26,452 more votes than Floyd Bayne in 2012. In other words, Brat received 147.1% of the “new” voters (26,452/17,984). (Brat won 148.2% of the “new” absentee vote)
Now let’s look at these numbers based on the share of the “new” vote Brat received based on the share of the two-party vote that went to Mitt Romney in 2012.
There are 229 precincts in the 7th CD. Romney won 171 of these and Obama won 58. Brat won 132.9% of the “new” vote in the Obama Precincts, but an even bigger 149.9% of the “new” vote in the Romney Precincts.
Those numbers by themselves should put to rest the myth that “Democrats” elected Brat. But an even closer analysis makes the case even clearer.
The share of “new” voters going for Brat dropped the more Democratic a region was. In the 20 precincts where Romney received less than 40 percent, Brat won 126.3% of “new” voters. That number dropped to 121.4% in the 13 precincts that Romney lost 2-1 or worse, 110.9% in the 8 he lost by 3-1 or worse and 97.6% in the five precincts Obama carried by 4-1 or more.
Similarly, Brat’s share of the “new” vote increased in the Romney Precincts as well. Brat won 153.0% of the “new” vote in the 103 precincts Romney won with 60 percent or more, 159.1% in the 54 precincts Romney carried 2-1 or better, 189.8% in the 7 precincts Romney won 3-1 or better and an incredible 229.3% in the three precincts, all in Hanover County, that Romney won by 4-1 or better.
Among those last three precincts, where Mitt Romney averaged 81.6% of the vote against Barack Obama, Dave Brat won 72.3% over Cantor, while two years earlier Floyd Bayne received just 20.3%, or a shift of 52.1% over the two years.
Put another way, in those three ultra-red precincts, Eric Cantor’s vote dropped from 829 to 383 while the anti-Cantor vote went from 211 to 1002.
It wasn’t Democrats who defeated Eric Cantor. It was the reddest of red Republicans who sent Cantor packing, and that’s a big warning sign to every single incumbent Republican anywhere in America who thinks they “can’t lose.”
Rick Shaftan is a pollster and media consultant based in New Jersey. His firm prepared Independent Expenditure Radio Commercials and Web Ads in opposition to Cantor and in support of the Brat campaign.