Early Returns

Don't Get Too Excited About Special Elections

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Time for a special-elections update after Democrats picked up two seats in the Oklahoma state Legislature on Tuesday. 

Those wins, along with two other Democratic pickups in contested state legislative special elections earlier this year, should put to rest one of the sillier talking points of the year: that Democratic overperformance in House special elections this year doesn't count because they failed to win outright. I suppose there could be some pattern in which Democrats improve on past performance but for some reason couldn't actually win anywhere, but there's no real evidence for it, and no reason to believe it's the case.

Overall, according to Daily Kos's tally, Democrats are beating their 2016 presidential results in 2017 special elections by an average of 11 percentage points, and beating their 2012 presidential results by an average of 8 percentage points.

So should Democrats be excited? Well ... I'll say the same thing I said when Republicans won the hyped special election in Georgia's 6th congressional district: Specials just don't predict future elections any better than presidential approval rating and other fundamentals do. Remember: Special elections are atypical in lots of ways. To begin with, they are open seats, and Democrats are going to have to beat Republican incumbents to have a major landslide (although the one exception to that rule is gubernatorial seats, where a number of Republicans are being termed out). For another, most special elections are either almost invisible or, if they get national hype, atypically visible. Extrapolating from them just doesn't make sense.

At best, we can say that the special elections so far this year are consistent with what we would expect from Donald Trump's low approval ratings, and the specials do nothing to challenge the expectation (so far) that 2018 will be a good cycle for Democrats. Beyond that? Democrats can enjoy a winning day, but don't expect it to predict anything.

1. Great one from Julia Azari at Mischiefs of Faction, who writes in defense of professional politicians.

2. Deborah Avant at the Monkey Cage on privatizing the war in Afghanistan

3. Bloomberg's Hannah Recht with a good status update (and great maps) on the Affordable Care Act marketplaces for 2018. No, there's no death spiral, much less what Trump says about Obamacare being totally dead. Yes, there are trouble spots and disappointing results. 

4. My Bloomberg View colleague Francis Wilkinson proposes a revival of old-style political parties. I'll say this: He's correct about diminishing marginal returns of campaign spending, and it wouldn't be a bad idea for parties to get a little more creative when they have the money to do it.

5. Nathan Gonzales on how the 2018 Senate elections look right now. 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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