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Why Republicans Should Keep Expectations Modest for Winning Weiner’s Seat

I’m on a brief vacation through early next week, so a more prolonged analysis of the upcoming special election in New York’s Ninth Congressional District — made necessary by Representative Anthony D. Weiner’s resignation on Thursday — will have to wait. But there are a couple of pieces of data to bring to bear.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the district has moved from being very strongly Democratic in its voting at the presidential to level to only modestly so. Whereas Al Gore won 67 percent of the presidential vote there in 2000, Barack Obama won just 55 percent in 2008 — only a couple of points better than the 53 percent he received nationally. Only a few other districts throughout the country have shown a stronger shift toward Republicans over the past decade:

On the other hand, New York State maintains extensive statistics on party registration in each district — and by this measure, the shift toward Republicans has been considerably more modest. In fact, there hasn’t really been one at all.

In November 2000, 59 percent of the district’s voters were registered as Democrats and 19 percent as Republicans. Those figures are barely changed now: 57 percent are registered as Democrats, and 18 percent as Republicans (the remaining 25 percent are nonpartisan voters or are registered with minor parties).

Presidential voting tends to be a pretty useful predictor of Congressional voting — we use it extensively in our models — whereas party registration is sometimes a lagging indicator. But, there may be also be outlying cases in which presidential voting doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s plausible, for instance, that John Kerry’s disappointing results in the district in 2004 had something to do with the political after-effects of the Sept. 11 attacks, and that Mr. Obama did not “click” there for some reason in 2008, such as because of the district’s ethnic makeup.

So, while the special election is probably winnable for Republicans, they ought to keep expectations modest: Democrats constitute a clear and outright majority of registered voters there, whereas Republicans are just 18 percent of the constituents. In order to have a fighting chance, Republicans will need both a very strong candidate and depressed Democratic turnout.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.