Today in Bad Election Analysis

Let's not get overly dramatic about special elections.

The temptation to start over-analyzing special elections is real, especially in the political press. Note this headline from Axios: 2021 elections are 2022 bellwethers for both parties. An intriguing (and IMHO overly dramatic) headline for what amounts to a list of pending gubernatorial and special elections and semi-analysis such as:

These off-year results will give Republicans a measure of Trump’s staying power, and they’ll assess the Democrats’ favorability heading into a year in which they’d historically lose congressional seats.

I mean, maybe? Special elections and off-year contests tend to draw turnout patterns that are hard to map on to mid-terms and presidential years. They can, in some cases provide us with potentially interesting clues about national politics and, taken in totality, might provide useful information. But, let’s not get carried away.

The simple fact is that most of these contests aren’t going to tell us much. For example, take the race to replace the late Representative-elect of Louisiana’s 5th District, Luke Letlow, who died from Covid-19 before he could assume office.

Yesterday, his widow, Julia Letlow, won the seat. Letlow was endorsed by Trump.

So, does this tell us anything about the GOP or Trump?

Well, Julia won the seat with 64.9% of the vote, according to Ballotpedia.

Luke won the seat back in November with 62% of the vote.

In 2018, incumbent Republican Ralph Abraham won re-election with 66.5% of the vote. In 2016, he did so by 81.6% and he first won the seat in 2014 with 64.2% of the vote.

Abraham’s immediate predecessor, Vance McAllister, won the seat in the 2013 special election with 59.6% of the vote (beating another Republican, due to LA’s election system that allows all-comers, who won 40.4% of the vote).

(All data from Ballotpedia).

I could go on, but surely the point is clear: LA’s 5th is no bellwether and it is no test of Trump’s influence. It is just a heavily Republican district that not surprisingly just replaced the guy they elected in November with someone with the exact same last name.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2021, Campaign 2022, US Politics, , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Kylopod says:

    Might I remind people how many pundits in 2017 waxed that Jon Ossoff’s loss in a House special election boded poorly for the Dems in 2018?

  2. @Kylopod: I agree with you on this, I remember when Karen Handel won that Georgia Election.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    And the outcome isn’t unique, either. When Sonny Bono (and how many of us even remember that he was a Congresscritter?) died in skiing accident, he was replaced in a special election by…

    his wife, Mary Bono, who went on to serve the district for about a decade.

  4. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    I recall Bono saying to Barney Frank: “…the best Shecky Greene I’ve ever heard. I haven’t figured out what the hell you do, but it’s good.”

  5. Kylopod says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Historically, some of the first women ever to serve in Congress were the widows of Congressmen who died in office.

  6. JohnMcC says:

    And in the home state of our gracious host (and me), Alabama, there’s Gov Lurleen Wallace. Her campaign slogan? ‘Let George Do It’.