By-elections occurred today for the US House in two Republican-held seats: Georgia’s sixth Congressional District (CD) and South Carolina’s fifth CD. In SC’s fifth, Democrat Archie Parnell almost pulled off an upset, losing by just 51.1-47.9 in a district that voted for Donald Trump by 57-39 over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Democrat Jon Ossoff was thought to have a good chance of winning Georgia’s sixth, but lost by 51.9-48.1 in a district that Trump won by 48.3-46.8. While Trump narrowly won Georgia’s sixth, it is otherwise a strongly conservative district that voted for Mitt Romney by 61-38 over Barack Obama in 2012. Despite Trump’s close win, the Republicans easily held Georgia’s sixth 61.6-38.4 at the 2016 Congressional elections.
There were almost 260,000 total votes cast in Georgia’s sixth, but only about 88,000 in SC’s fifth. While Georgia’s sixth received national media coverage as it was thought to be a potential Democratic gain, SC’s fifth had little coverage. Democrats are currently more motivated to vote due to Trump, so low-turnout contests could be better for Democrats.
The most likely explanation for the Democrats’ disappointing performance in Georgia’s sixth is that many conservative voters in that district do not like Trump, but they will nevertheless vote for a Republican for Congress.
US analyst Harry Enten has tweeted that, in state and federal by-elections held since the 2016 elections, when Obama in 2012 did better than Clinton in 2016, Democrats on average outperformed Clinton by 12 points. However, when Clinton did better than Obama, Democrats only outperformed Clinton by 4 points. This suggests that CDs which Obama narrowly lost, but Clinton lost by more, should be major targets for Democrats at the November 2018 midterm elections.
While SC’s fifth was much closer than expected, the Republican hold in Geogia’s sixth will be a boost for Republicans and depressing for Democrats. Although Georgia’s sixth is not significant as a predictor of the midterm elections, Nate Silver argues it is likely to embolden Republicans to proceed with their plans to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
While Ossoff had a narrow lead in polling for Georgia’s sixth last week, the race tightened in the final days, and two of the three final polls had Republican Karen Handel ahead, though her actual four-point victory margin exceeded her margin in any poll.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregate, 38.6% currently approve of Trump, and 55.3% disapprove, for a net approval of -16.7. Trump’s ratings have improved slightly in the last few weeks.
This week’s Essential is steady at 52-48 to Labor, from primary votes of 38% Coalition, 35% Labor, 9% Greens, 9% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. As with Newspoll, One Nation’s vote has jumped recently; they were at 6% two weeks ago. The two-week sample used for voting intentions had 1790 respondents. Additional questions are based on this week’s responses.
Turnbull’s net approval was -9, up from -11 in May. Shorten’s net approval was also -9, up from -11.
34% said they usually vote for the same party at Federal elections, but have occasionally voted for another party. 27% said they always vote the same way, and 18% said they do not have a party preference. 30% said the budget had worsened their perception of the government, while 17% said their perception had improved.
By 75-6, voters would support a clean energy target if there were no changes to energy prices. If prices rise by 5%, support drops to 41-32. If prices rise by 10%, voters are opposed by 50-21. If prices rise by 20% or more, opposition grows to 67-8. 64% prefer more investment in renewable sources to meet Australia’s future energy needs, and only 18% prefer a new coal-fired power plant.
In Newspoll, 60% thought the government’s priority should be to keep energy prices down, 24% to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and 10% to prevent blackouts. 48% thought we should maintain our commitment to the Paris agreement despite Trump’s withdrawal, 22% thought we should reduce our commitment and 13% increase it.
27% thought the current 23.5% renewable energy target by 2020 was suitable, 38% thought the target should be increased, 9% thought it should be reduced, and 15% wanted the target to be completely scrapped.
Authors: Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne