Tea Party Beats the Average in Competitive Races.

In the wake of last Tuesday’s election there has been much debate on the effect that the Tea Party label had on candidates for office.

Last week, MSNBC’s First Read came out with an analysis of Tea Party candidates showing they only managed to win 32% of their races. Unfortunately, the approach taken by MSNBC, by looking at all races without regard to the competitiveness of the district, has the potential to misrepresent the impact of attaching one’s candidacy to the Tea Party movement.


In order to get a better handle on the true impact of the Tea Party label it is useful to restrict our discussion to a list of Tea Party candidates in races that were considered competitive leading up to the election. The following analysis is based on the list of 138 Tea Party affiliated candidates from the New York Times. In the interest of leaving out sure winners and sure losers, races rated as “Solid Democrat” or “Solid Republican” were excluded from the analysis (67 solid ‘D’ races were dropped and 8 solid ‘R’). This leaves 30 races rated as “Leaning Democrat,” 23 races rated as “Tossup” and 10 races rated as “Leaning Republican”.

In order to get at the central question of whether Tea Partiers were underperforming what a “normal” Republican would have done in the district their performance, it is then useful to compare the performance of the Tea Partiers on the ballot with the Cook Partisan Voting Index of the district.

One final note, due to the uniqueness of what went on in Florida and Alaska they have been excluded from the analysis. The data in full:

State CookPVI Party Tea Party Candidate Win/Loss Open or Challenger Performance vs. PVI
Kentucky R+10 Republican Rand Paul W O 2
Colorado EVEN Democratic Ken Buck L C -1
Nevada D+1 Both Sharron Angle L C -4
Pennsylvania D+2 Democratic Pat Toomey W O 4
Wisconsin D+2 Democratic Ron Johnson W C 7
Delaware D+7 Democratic Christine O’Donnell L O -10


Cook PVI Party Tea Party Candidate Win/Loss Open or Challenger Performance vs. PVI
Arizona 7th D+6 Democratic Ruth McClung L C 2
Arizona 8th R+4 Democratic Jesse Kelly L C -6
Arizona 5th R+5 Democratic David Schweikert W C 5
Arizona 1st R+6 Democratic Paul Gosar W C 0
Arkansas 4th R+7 Democratic Beth Rankin L C -25
Arkansas 1st R+8 Democratic Rick Crawford W O -4
California 18th D+4 Democratic Michael Berryhill L C -12
California 11th R+1 Democratic David Harmer L C 0
Delaware At-large D+7 Republican Glen Urquhart L O -9
Florida 22nd D+1 Democratic Allen West W C 9
Florida 24th R+4 Democratic Sandy Adams W C 16
Florida 2nd R+6 Democratic Steve Southerland W C 7
Hawaii 1st D+11 Republican Charles Djou L I 5
Idaho 1st R+18 Democratic Raul Labrador W C -8
Illinois 17th D+3 Democratic Robert Schilling W C 9
Illinois 8th R+1 Democratic Joe Walsh W C -1
Illinois 11th R+1 Democratic Adam Kinzinger W C 14
Illinois 14th R+1 Democratic Randy Hultgren W C 1
Illinois 10th D+6 Republican Robert Dold W O 8
Indiana 2nd R+2 Democratic Jackie Walorski L C -3
Indiana 9th R+6 Democratic Todd Young W C -2
Kentucky 3rd D+2 Democratic Todd Lally L C -9
Maine 2nd D+3 Democratic Jason Levesque L C -7
Massachusetts 4th D+14 Democratic Sean Bielat L C 3
Massachusetts 10th D+5 Democratic Jeff Perry L O -9
Michigan 15th D+13 Democratic Rob Steele L C -4
Michigan 9th D+2 Democratic Rocky Raczkowski L C -1
Michigan 7th R+2 Democratic Tim Walberg W C 3
Michigan 1st R+3 Democratic Dan Benishek W O 5
Missouri 4th R+14 Democratic Vicky Hartzler W C -9
Nevada 3rd D+2 Democratic Joe Heck W C 3
New Hampshire 1st EVEN Democratic Frank Guinta W C 11
New Mexico 1st D+5 Democratic Jonathan Barela L C 1
New York 22nd D+6 Democratic George Phillips L C 2
New York 25th D+3 Democratic Ann Marie Buerkle W C 3
New York 20th R+2 Democratic Chris Gibson W C 8
New York 13th R+4 Democratic Michael Grimm W C 0
North Carolina 8th R+2 Democratic Harold Johnson L C -11
Ohio 13th D+5 Democratic Tom Ganley L C -5
Ohio 1st D+1 Democratic Steve Chabot W C 8
Ohio 15th D+1 Democratic Steven Stivers W C 15
Ohio 6th R+2 Democratic Bill Johnson W C 3
Ohio 16th R+4 Democratic Jim Renacci W C 0
Pennsylvania 12th R+1 Democratic Tim Burns L C -3
Pennsylvania 4th R+6 Democratic Keith Rothfus L C -8
South Carolina 5th R+7 Democratic Mick Mulvaney W C 3
Tennessee 4th R+13 Democratic Scott DesJarias W C 6
Texas 27th R+2 Democratic Blake Farenthold W C -1
Texas 17th R+20 Democratic Bill Flores W C 5
Virginia 11th D+2 Democratic Keith Femian L C 2
Virginia 9th R+11 Democratic Morgan Griffith W C -6
Washington 2nd D+3 Democratic John Koster L C 2
West Virginia 1st R+9 Democratic David McKinley W O -8
Wisconsin 8th R+2 Democratic Reid Ribble W C 8
Wisconsin 7th D+3 Democratic Sean Duffy W O 10

A few observations “worth reading”:

  • Tea Party candidates in the Senate races performed pretty well but not quite as well as their counterparts in the House.
    • Tea Partiers in Senate races end up with an overall average of -.33 vs. PVI, basically performing on average as you would expect a Republican to in the Senate races.
    • Tea Party candidates in competitive races in the House won 60% of the time. Overall Tea Party candidates in the House outperformed the PVI of their district by +.47%.
  • In the Senate races there is a difference in Tea Party win rate between challengers and those running for open seats.
    • Challengers won one and lost two against incumbents as the incumbents really did a pretty good job of defending their seats.
    • In the open races though, Tea Party candidates had success. They picked up three out of the four races for open Senate seats.
  • Tea Partiers in House Races fared better against incumbents.
    • Eighty-five percent of the Tea Party races in the House were against an incumbent. Of that group Tea Partiers outperformed the PVI of the district by +.60%.
The bottom line is that despite the current media narrative, and the loss of three high profile races by Tea Party backed candidates (Colorado, Nevada and Delaware Senate Races), being the “Tea Party” candidate was not the detriment to a campaign that some would have you believe.

In fact, by looking only at races that were truly competitive,  we find that Tea Party candidates actually perform better than one would expect the generic Republican candidate to perform.

Going into 2012, that is a fact that pundits and politicians ignore at their peril.



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