The Stennis Institute has provided a recap with some visualizations to help those interested learn a little more about the election results.
General Election Overview
The special election resulted in a near-even vote for Hyde-Smith and Espy, with each receiving approximately 41% of the vote. McDaniel received 16.5%, and Bartee wrapped up the field with the remaining 1.5%. The lack of any candidate reaching the 50% threshold signaled the need for a runoff election between the top two finishers, Hyde-Smith and Espy.
Based on Mississippi statute, the election was to be held on November 26, 2018, just 3 weeks from the general election and a mere 5 days after the Thanksgiving holiday. Scholars note that turnout for runoff elections is generally lower than that of general elections, and this difference is exacerbated during midterm elections. With a virtual dead-even result from the general election, many wondered whether either candidate could mobilize their bases and rejuvenate the desire to vote from the voting population. While political parties were not listed on the ballot, the analyses from this point forward are based on the understanding that most were aware of the party differences between the candidates and that this did play a role in the votes in the general election and the following runoff. This point could be contended on a number of fronts as altering the turnout and vote, but none would generate enough foundational support to impact the analyses at this stage.
Examining some key items from the general election, one can gain an understanding of what transpired in the runoff election. Below, the graphics show county-level vote totals, in a party color-coded manner. The general election saw a 41/41/17 (rounding) result for each candidate. However, if we look at the two candidates representing the Republican Party, Hyde-Smith and McDaniel combined, we see that the vote more closely resembles a 58/41 vote along party lines. When plotted, the county-level results bear close resemblance to those of Senator Wicker’s Senate election versus challenger David Baria, which resulted in a 59/39 victory for Senator Wicker. In terms of raw vote tallies by party, the Democratic challenger, Mike Espy, was looking at overcoming a vote deficit of approximately 150,000 votes
to beat incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith in a runoff election.
2018 Special Election Runoff
With the general election vote resulting in a virtual deadlock between Espy and Hyde-Smith, the inevitable response from a number of outlets became “turnout matters”. In this particular race, turnout was particularly important due to the timing of the election. With approximately three weeks between the general election and runoff, little time was available for either campaign to mount a widespread get-out-the-vote effort that would overcome the geographical limitations posed by a rural state. Mississippi is only one of four states to hold a runoff less than six weeks from the general election. The limited timeframe between the two elections meant that a challenger hopeful of overcoming a deficit would have to hope for lightning in a bottle, or a significant event that caused a shift in voter turnout, similar to what was seen in Alabama during the Jones/Moore raceiv. However, there did not appear to be any truly landscape-altering events during this election.
The center map shows the combined turnout for Hyde-Smith and McDaniel, as both are widely recognized as candidates representing the Republican Party. Of significant importance in this figure is the overall Republican and Democratic divided vote by county, as it provides context for the runoff election. Particularly interesting from the general election was the vote difference between the two runoff candidates, with many disregarding the approximately 160,000 votes cast for McDaniel, a relatively popular third party candidate. This meant crossover votes would be hard to come by for Espy, the democratic challenger, in the upcoming election. Espy’s best opportunities for success in the runoff were to get voters to the polls who did not vote in the general election, and/or to hope those that voted for McDaniel would choose to stay at home rather than vote along party lines for Hyde-Smith in the runoff. Some have speculated the potential of crossover votes from McDaniel to Espy, however measuring those would be difficult and would likely not be of statistical significance to the overall result.
This narrow election timeframe produced heightened turnout in areas where each of the campaigns centralized efforts, such as Lee County, Hinds County, and the coastal counties of Mississippi. The final map of the state above details county vote differences between the general and runoff elections through the use of depth, or height effects. The taller the county polygon, the greater the increase (or decrease if the county outline dips under the graphic) in votes from general election to runoff. Important in this demonstration is the context of get-out-the-vote, as the reader will undoubtedly notice the fairly equal distribution of vote strength with a few caveats. The first, anticipated lack of turnout by voters choosing other candidates from the general election, did take place. However, this drop in votes, presumptively from voters choosing the other Republican candidate, State Senator Chris McDaniel, was countered by a significant increase of votes in a number of counties and a strengthening of the Republican percentage vote.
Turnout in the general and runoff elections were unprecedented for the state of Mississippi.