2014 Election

Is The Tea Party Suffering From Republican Fatigue Syndrome?

Gadsden Flag Cape

Maybe the chickens are coming home to roost for the GOP in St. Louis County.chickens at roost

In my day job, I focus on two subjects: strategic behavioral science and analytics. Really smart people do most of the heavy analytics work. I deal with the human behavior (neuroeconomics, psychology, etc.). In our narrow field of loyalty and motivation, I think we’re the best in the business. Not me, but the people I work with. For example, one client asked us to develop a strategy for overhauling their loyalty program. The result was nearly a 20 percent increase in sales YOY against market growth of 8 percent.

Before I moved into strategy, I was a software architect. The two fields, strategy and coding, are more alike than you might imagine.

Both fields help you develop a sense for patterns and anomalies. There might be a name for this sense, but I don’t know what it is. But I know it when I feel it.

After Tuesday’s primary, I felt it, so I’ve been crunching numbers.

St. Louis County Primary Numbers Were Weird

As I said, I’m not the hard numbers guy, but I have taken a few stats classes. And I use some statistical analysis every day. When I think a number looks goofy, I do is a quick analysis (ANOVA, chi square, whatever it takes) to see if the differences are really freaky or if it’s just my imagination.

I wrote about weird numbers Tuesday night and again on Wednesday.

Last night, I took another look at voting in St. Louis County from 2006 to 2014. I looked only at primaries. Here’s what I found: they’re really freaky. Especially if you’re a County Republican.

Democrat ballots increased steadily from 2006 to 2012. But Democrat ballots in 2014 were insanely high. In fact, they were nearly two standard deviations over 2006 to 2014 period.

Democrat Primary Ballots STL CO
Source: St. Louis County Board of Elections

That should concern the County Republicans, but not as much as Republican trends

Republican ballots were more than one standard deviation high in 2010 and 2012. In 2014, they were not ridiculously low; they reverted to the mean.

Republican Ballots STL CO
Source: St. Louis County Board of Elections

If you notice, Republican ballots were more than one standard deviation high in both 2010 and 2012.

I’m going to speculate that Tea Party activism contributed some of that bump in 2010 and 2012. Face it, we haven’t been nearly as visible in 2014 as we were in those years.

The GOP’s real problem with the Tea Party (and will free market conservatives in general) goes deeper than fewer grassroots activist demonstrations. I’ll get to that shortly.

Lee Presser’s excellent guest post on Hennessy’s View asks similar, disturbing questions:

If Republican voters are not adrift, why did so many Republican voters who voted for Steve Stenger continue to vote for other Democrats? Asked more directly, why were Republican voters so unsure their County Executive candidate was going to win in November that they had to vote for Stenger to make sure Dooley would be gone.

So I’m not the only one asking these questions or noticing these trends in St. Louis County. So I kept digging.

Nate Silver Sees Something In the Number, Too

Even after I did the analysis, I was tempted to say, “nah, Hennessy; you’re seeing things,” and drop this until I could do more analysis. Then I read this article on Nate Silvers’ FiveThirtyEight blog. He begins:

One of the most universal lessons of sports prediction is that margins matter. An NFL team that wins a number of games by less than a touchdown might get banner headlines for its clutch performance. But a team’s record in close games is mostly just luck. A football team that thrives on winning close games is likely to see its luck revert to the mean and start losing its fair share of them. The same is true in baseball, basketball and most other sports.

Makes sense. And he’s right. Teams that rely on one freakish outlier statistic usually crash hard to the mean–in the Super Bowl or NFC Championship or Stanley Cup.

Politics is no different from sports. Statistics tell you something. They report on how humans perform in given situations. What I love about my day job is the combination of the two: numbers and people. If I could, I’d go back to school to study neuroeconomics.

Nate Silver tells us what Senatorial close calls mean for GOP incumbents.

Between 2004 and 2008, just four of 39 Republican senators running for renomination, or 10 percent of them, got less than 65 percent of the primary vote. This year, five of 10 have fallen below that threshold: not only Roberts, Cochran and McConnell, but alsoLindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas, who both benefited from running against divided fields.

In fact, the average share of the primary vote received by Republican incumbent senators so far this year is 73 percent. Not only is that lower than 2004 through 2008, when incumbents averaged 89 percent of the vote — it’s also lower than 2010 and 2012, the years when the tea party was supposedly in ascendancy, when GOP incumbents got an average of 78 percent.

Ascendancy and maturity are two different things.

A lot of Tea Partiers suffer from Republican Fatigue Syndrome. RFS is a disease spread through casual contact with the establishment. Republican Fatigue Sydrome explains both the Senate incumbent challenges and the St. Louis County primary numbers. I’ll give you that the County Executive race lifted the Democrat ballots above their eight-year trend line. But that doesn’t account for the sharp fall in GOP ballots this year.

(Before I forget, here’s the link to my Excel spreadsheet.)

For example, Lee Presser noticed that Ann Wagner get fewer votes in St. Louis County in 2014 than in 2012 And the Democrats got more:

Compare the numbers above [2014] to the vote totals from the 2012 St. Louis County primary election. Then, four Republican primary candidates for Missouri’s 2nd Congressional district received 63,978 votes. Of that total, Mrs. Wagner received 42,573 votes (2106 more votes than she received in 2014). Four 2012 Democrat primary candidates received a total of 22,446. 2014 candidate Lieber received 48,742, which was 26,296 more votes than four 2012 Democrat candidates.

Remember, Republican ballots in 2012 were a full standard deviation above the eight-year trend in St. Louis County.

The Science of Persuasion Could Affect November Turnout

Psychologically, Tuesday’s turnout was really bad news for Republicans in St. Louis County. While voting is dynamic and events can alter trajectories, two psychological factors will help Democrats in November: consistency and social proof.

The easiest way to get people to take a big step, like voting in a general election, is to get them to take a small step, like putting a yard sign up or donating (even $1), or voting in a primary. As the charts above indicate, Democrat primary votes in St. Louis County have been steadily increasing for a decade. Tuesday was a step change. People who pulled a Democrat ballot on Tuesday are very likely to vote Democrat again in November. That’s the consistency part.

Studies show that Democrats tend to hang around with other Democrats and Republicans hang around with Republicans. Plus, the number one predictor of whether someone actually votes is if someone in their network votes. And that effect extends to people two-degrees of separation from the voter, as I mentioned in my pre-election blog:

Even when we control for alternative sources of similar behavior, such as having the same income, education, ideology, or level of political interest, the typical subject is about 15 percent more likely to vote if one of his discussion partners votes. But does this influence spread beyond that to the rest of the network? As it turns out, we see a correlation between people who are directly connected and also between people who are indirectly connected via a common friend. In other words, if you vote, then it increases the likelihood that your friends’ friends vote as well.

Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2009-09-09). Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (p. 185). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.

Those 130,000 people who voted Democrat on Tuesday likely have 5 close friends. Each of those friends has 5 friends. Three from each circle is likely to vote, in part because of the person who voted in August. You do the math.

Moreover, the number of registered voters has declined over that period while the number of Democrat voters has risen.

I haven’t done all the math, but it appears that the loss of registrations in St. Louis County comes disproportionately from Republican voters. That aligns to my post-2012 analysis that concluded Republicans are dying faster than Democrats, and the GOP isn’t replacing those deceased voters. I also discussed the problem here.

So the GOP has a lot of work to do before November. It needs to reignite traditional Republican voters, overcome a growing Democrat advantage in the County, and find a cure for Republican Fatigue Syndrome among free market conservatives.

Or maybe things are right where the Establishment want them—the Tea Partiers returning silently to their pre-2009 lives or moving over to the Libertarian Party. If you wonder, “why would Tea Partiers abandon Republicans,” look no further than the race-baiting fiasco in Mississippi that has now embroiled Erick Erickson of RedState.

If that’s the way the Establishment wanted things, all I can say is “Mission accomplished.”

Author: William Hennessy

Co-founder of St. Louis Tea Party Coalition and Nationwide Chicago Tea Party Persuasive design expertLatest book: Turning On Trump: An Evolution (2016)Author of The Conservative Manifest (1993), Zen Conservatism (2009), Weaving the Roots (2011), and Fight to Evolve (2016)I believe every person deserves the dignity of meaningful work as the only path to human flourishing.

2 Comments on “Is The Tea Party Suffering From Republican Fatigue Syndrome?

  1. Bill, this is the nail, being hit on the head. “Or maybe things are right where the Establishment want them—the Tea Partiers returning silently to their pre-2009 lives or moving over to the Libertarian Party.”

    If we want to retake the repub party, and make is once again the party of Reagan’76 … and in many ways Goldwater’64 and Taft’40 … plus parts of Coolidge’24 and Cleveland’80 and Tyler’40 … of course huge chunks of Madison’08 + Jefferson’00 + Adams’96 + Washington’88 … not to mention more than a little bit of Paine’76 + Franklin’58 … those darn old the ancient republics too while I’m at it … then starting Yet Another New Party is the wrong tactical approach, whether you call it the Davids or the Plebes or the Conservative Party or whatever. (Constitution Party is taken. Libertarian Party is taken. American Party is taken. Reform Party is taken. You get the gist. Anti Bull Moose Party is *not* taken, but people will think you mean anti-ballistic-missile party.)

    Tactics are not the whole story though. The fundamental reason, for why the tea-party-folks have only one option, which is to retake the repub party from the inside, is Duverger’s law. You have studied Condorcet, and seen the danger of vote-splitting; in any system where the voting-system is first past the post, then INEXORABLY what develops is a twin-party-system (aka the estab). The only option available, mathematically, is to pick one of the twins, and make it our own. As the old joke goes, people talk about a third party, but I’d be happy with an actual *second* party.

    Sometimes math is wrong, but history also proves the exact same point. Ron Paul, a rep (never senator / never governor) at the old age 76, got 2m votes when he ran as a repub during the primaries. Gary Johnson, a former gov w/ executive experience at the ideal age of 59, later in 2012 only managed 1m votes, despite a largely identical platform, despite a more centrist stance on marijuana, despite a MUCH larger electorate pool to draw from, and despite a repub candidate so unpopular that Romney’12 did proportionally worse than McCain’08. Similarly, when Ron Paul himself ran as an L, he lost extremely badly. When even earlier, David Koch ran as an L, he did very poorly. This is not because of a lack of money; this is not because of a lack of ideas; this is not because of name-recognition. It is because of the election-math which dooms all such efforts to fruitlessness: Duverger’s law.


    The folks who are estab-repubs (and for that matter estab-dems) understand Duverger’s law very clearly. They know that they can win the presidential primaries, simply by fielding one main estab-repub, who goes up against a good-sized-handful of challengers that split the votes betwixt themselves, handing the estab-repub a plurality victory. Even better if the estab-repub has tons more cash from mega-donors, and an obsequious RNC that will helpfully ‘compress’ the primaries to favor those mega-donor favorites, at the behest of Henry Barbour’s autopsy report, and his hand-picked chair Priebus.

    Orchestrating the vote-splitting is hard sometimes, even when you have the mega-donors and the media and any number of estab-repubs willing to masquerade as stalking-horse-candidates for you. Therefore, the estab-repubs are ecstatic when conservatives get fed up and sit out the primaries, or when libertarian-leaning repubs (or right-leaning libertarians as the case may be) get fed up and become capital-letter Libertarians for a time, or forever. Estab-repubs are *happy* when people don’t vote; it makes their lives much easier. Estab-repubs are *happy* when people divert their efforts, funds, and gumption into third parties, because Duverger’s law guarantees those will fail (and the deck of media access / debates / ballot access / low info voters / mega-donors are of course also stacked entirely against such things).

    There is a reason the Ron Paul returned to the R brand, in order to run in 2008 and 2012. There is a reason that the Koch Bros fund candidates with R behind their name, nowadays. There is a reason that Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and Rand Paul and Tim Scott and Paul LePage have the R as their branding. During the 2016 primaries, there will be at least one tea / liberTea / similar candidate. My hope is that there will be a large handful of such folks, on the repub stage during the televised debates, who then — all but one of them — drop out immediately prior to the Iowa caucus, ideally all endorsing the last Constitutionalist standing. It seems likely that Rand Paul will run in 2016, and will get considerably more than 2m votes during even a compressed-primary-season. Even if he fails to win in 2016, a brokered repub convention in Cleveland is a serious possibility, for the first time in this millenium. There will not be any uppercase Libertarian folks there, but I want to see hundreds and hundreds of liberTea repubs in Ohio.

    But for that to happen, we need presidential delegates from the state conventions, which means we need state delegates from the county conventions, which means we need county delegates from the precinct conventions. Those won’t happen all by themselves; we will have to work hard between now and 2016. If we spend the time between now and then working on new voting-systems, working on founding new political parties, working on revisions to the jury system, or otherwise doing important-but-non-urgent work, there is a good possibility that the estab will *really* crush the tea party in 2016. Ed Martin ousted, for starters. Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey beaten. Just when the age-group factor was turning our way, too… Reagan hit the demographic sweet spot in 1980, when he was 69, very old but still going strong. Rand will hit the demographic sweet spot in 2020, when he is 61, just about the sweet spot for a repub nominee. He will also have a shot in 2016, at age 57. Cruz will be in his 50s during the ’24 ’28 ’32 elections. As of the 2020 election, voting-age to retirement-age adults are those born between 1955 and 2002. That is *not* an estab-repub demographic; that is a liberTea-repub demographic.

    Anyways, as usual I have written you a small book. In a nutshell, you can label yourself whatever you want, but please help retake the repub party. It is the only way we can do this thing, according to the math of the election-system. That doesn’t mean we cannot pressure the estab-candidates with undervoting, when they are egregiously awful. But we must be surgical in our scorched-earth, and have marine-like discipline in our terminology. Letting the estab-repubs disgust us, so that we give up, plays right into their hands. Instead we should stand pat, call for reinforcements, and then move forward despite their sneering laughter; it will turn to powerless gasping rage, if we sing and smile as we lock arms and advance. Like a good low-pressure salesman, per your good advice, I will not keep badgering you about this topic. As you said in one of your pieces, from time to time, tuning out is a perfectly normal and healthy thing to do. But please think over the points I brought up here; if they work for you, great, if they don’t, you will still be a-okay in my book. (You’d be even more a-okay with a pet goat, but that is another comment for another time!)

Comments are closed.