Dem 51
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GOP 49
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No More Ticket Splitting

It used to be the case that people often voted for one party for president and the other party for senator. Sometimes that resulted in huge differences, with the Senate candidate occasionally running 20, 30, or even more points ahead of the party's presidential candidate. For example, in 2012, Joe Manchin got 60.6% of the vote at the same time that Barack Obama got 35.5%. In other words, Manchin ran 25 points ahead of his party's presidential candidate.

The ability to run way ahead of the presidential nominee will be crucial in some of the 2024 Senate races. In particular, in 2020, in Montana, Joe Biden got 40.5%, in Ohio he got 45.2%, and in West Virginia he got 29.7%. That means to win in 2024, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) probably has to run 10 points ahead of Biden, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has to run 5 points ahead of Biden, and Sen Joe Manchin has to run 21 points ahead of Biden. That means there will have to be many crossover votes for the Democrats to win. How often do Senate candidates run so far ahead of their presidential candidate? Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has taken a look at how much ticket splitting is going on now.

For starters, in 2016. no Senate candidate won where his or her party's presidential candidate lost. In other words, there were no split decisions at all. In 2020, Maine was the only state in which the Senate race went to one party and the electoral votes went to the other party. Together in 2016 and 2020 combined there were 69 Senate races. In 68 of them (98.6%), then, the same party won both races. Sen. Susan Collins' (R) win in Maine in 2020 was the only exception. Split tickets are close to dead.

Ticket splitting's demise has been somewhat recent. Here are the top three overperforming Senate candidates for each party since 2008:

Overperformance of Senate candidates has declined since 2008

Suppose we take a 15% overperformance as a job well done. In 2020, only two candidates, Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME), beat 15%. In 2016, at least six candidates beat that. Also at least six in 2012 and 2008. In 2008, three candidates overperformed by over 40% and in 2012 one candidate (Manchin) overperformed by 52%. We don't see that anymore. In other words, very few people split their tickets now.

One thing that could help Manchin and Tester, if they run for reelection, is that senators from low-population states do better than senators from big states. Since 2000, among the top three overperformers, 27 were from states with fewer than 10 EVs and 8 were from more populous states. It is possible that in less populous (and usually smaller) states, people know their senators better and have a personal connection with them. (V) knows someone in Vermont who has personally met Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) over 20 times. That doesn't happen in Texas or California, which is a relief to Ted Cruz's constituents.

On account of the near-death of ticket splitting, the Crystal Ball is rating West Virginia as "leans Republican" because to win, Manchin would have to overperform the Democratic presidential candidate by at least 20 points. That's tough. The Ball rates Montana and Ohio as toss-ups due to the personal popularity of Tester and Brown, even in tough environments. (V)

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