State and local candidates may be the key to Democratic gains in 2024 and beyond. Learn how down-ballot candidates can help push the top of the ticket across the finish line.
Most people are familiar with the idea that the top-of-the-ticket candidate has “coattails” – that the biggest flashy elections bring people to the polls who also vote for the rest of the ticket.
What we’ve found is that the reverse is also true: New research by BlueLabs, commissioned by Run for Something and For Our Future, shows that Democrats contesting state legislative seats induces a meaningful increase in top-of-the-ticket Democratic vote-share.
This is a phenomenon that we refer to as “reverse coattails.” Essentially, it means that the folks running for state and local offices were responsible for increasing turnout for statewide or national candidates. Across states and cycles, we found an estimated 0.4% – 2.3% bump in top-of-ticket vote share when every local state legislature seat within a precinct is challenged.
The Two Key Findings of our Research
DEMOCRATS CONTESTING STATE LEGISLATIVE SEATS INDUCES MEANINGFUL INCREASE IN TOP-OF-THE-TICKET DEMOCRATIC VOTE-SHARE.
In the states we examined, we see small increases in the statewide Democrat’s vote share within precincts where every state legislative seat on the ballot was contested by both parties.
Analysis of the 2020 implications of this effect suggests that the effect could have a meaningful impact on net votes, and we believe this may have been the case in GA in 2020. Further research into the turnout vs. support implications of contesting state legislative races could clarify this finding.
DEMOCRATS SHOULD RUN EVERYWHERE
Across states and cycles, we estimate that the size of the effect ranges between a 0.4% and a 2.3% bump in top-of-ticket vote share. In no state or election cycle did we find a statistically significant effect that running Democrats in state legislative seats negatively impacted top-of-the-ticket performance. While Democratic candidates running in districts that would be otherwise uncontested Republican races may not win those seats, they may provide an important vote share bump in close statewide contests like Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General or even president.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE 2024 AND BEYOND?
The key to winning in 2024 and beyond cannot depend on hoping that a Congressional or statewide candidate will carry everyone else to victory, or betting on a national ad campaign or gimmicky messaging.
Holding existing seats, gaining new ones and protecting democracy at every level means remembering the old adage that “all politics is local.”
This research is counter to conventional wisdom – which assumes that the top of the ticket will do all the work and that national narratives and partisanship scores carry the day – and at the same time, deeply intuitive.
While voters may be turned off by unfulfilled campaign promises and mud-slinging in top-of- ticket races, they do care, intimately, about issues close to home, including and especially education, criminal justice and the environment. These are issues whose outcomes are shaped at the state and local level. Our research shows when trusted local candidates run on platforms with a community focus, turnout goes up, and not just for their races, but for every race –all the way to the top of the ticket.
THE LOGIC BEHIND “RUN LOCAL AND RUN EVERYWHERE”
Local races are personal – the candidates themselves knock doors, make calls, and meet voters where they’re at. These folks are able to have conversations that the top of the ticket simply doesn’t have the capacity for.
More practically, the maps don’t always overlap. The counties or precincts where the top of the ticket needs to turn out voters and the counties/precincts where a state legislative or school board candidate needs to win are not always the same. The organizing and communicating a local candidate does can make up for a lack of top-of-ticket investment in that community.
This is why it matters to run in every race, no matter how long the odds. The dollars spent locally go further because they directly reach and educate voters through community based organizing in ways ad-buys and big campaigns can’t. They also build political infrastructure and talent, allowing for us to take a deep red district and over many years, turn it competitive. No race goes from 70/30 to 50/50 overnight!
Capitalizing on the research and reasoning around reverse coattails is a sure-fire approach to building momentum and gaining power in 2024 and beyond.