Analyzing the 2010 Utah Senate and Gubernatorial Elections

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze some interesting tidbits of the 2010 Utah Senate and Gubernatorial elections. Specifically it will look at some hints of increasing Democratic strength in this blood-red state.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Salt Lake County, 2004

Utah is commonly considered as one of the most conservative states in America, and for good reason; Democrats are essentially nonexistent in the state. Some Southern states will occasionally vote (or used to occasionally vote) for a conservative Democrat. Not Utah; its Republicans are rock-hard Republicans.

Here is how Utah looked like in the 2004 presidential election:

President George W. Bush dominated the state; he got almost three times as many votes as Senator John Kerry did. Bush did quite well in the mountainous west of the United States; normally Utah is still very Republican, but not quite this much.

Take a look at Salt Lake County, the most populous part of the state. Almost four in ten voters in 2004 lived in Salt Lake County.

Bush got a pretty powerful number of votes from the area, taking 59.4% of the vote. The margin wasn’t quite as good as elsewhere in the state (where he won more than 71.4% of the vote); the rest of Utah was much more conservative than Salt Lake County in 2004. Nevertheless, Bush had no reason to complain; getting three-fifths of the vote in a major metropolitan area is something Republicans rarely do.

Salt Lake County, 2008

In 2008 Senator Barack Obama did much better than Senator John Kerry in 2004. Naturally he also did better in Utah. Indeed, Utah moved quite a bit more to the left in 2008 than the rest of the nation.

Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain still won a very comfortable victory in this very conservative state:

Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain still won a very comfortable victory in this very conservative state:

The most noticeable difference here is what happened to Salt Lake County; the county turned from a Republican fortress into Obama territory. Republicans fell from 59.4% of the vote to 48.1% of the vote. Salt Lake County’s enormous shift Democratic accounted for much of Obama’s improvement in Utah.

Salt Lake County, 2010

It’s the 2010 midterm elections where things get really interesting. 2010 was the best Republican year in a generation; Republicans won up and down the map. Democratic areas turned Republican; Republican areas turned blood-red.

In a situation such as this, one would expect Salt Lake County to revert back to its strongly Republican voting patterns in 2004 (or vote even more Republican, given that 2010 was a more Republican year than 2004).

In fact, this is very much what didn’t happen. Let’s take a look at the two most important statewide Utah elections in 2010.

Here is the 2010 Utah gubernatorial election:

Republican candidate Gary Herbert took a bare majority – 51.0% of the vote – of Salt Lake County.

Republicans did even worse in the statewide senate election:

Republican candidate Mike Lee got 49.0% of the vote in the county; he failed to win a majority of voters.

All in all, it seems that things are moving the Democrat’s way in the most populous county of Utah.

There is also something else very interesting about Utah: the state moved very little to the right in 2010, despite the huge Republican wave. Republican candidates didn’t win more than 70% of the vote in 2010, unlike Bush in 2004. Their performance was very similar to that of McCain’s. The Senate race is particularly remarkable; Senator Mike Lee only improved 0.8% upon McCain’s performance, despite a double-digit shift in the national vote towards the Republican Party.

Conclusions

It’s always hard-to-say that a particular area is trending one way or another. Salt Lake County moved strongly leftwards in 2008, and resisted the 2010 Republican wave. One the other hand, Republicans have lost Salt Lake County in the past (although very rarely while winning more than 60% of the vote). One could argue that this phenomenon is not anything really new, although I am less than convinced.

The evidence is less strong that Utah as a whole is shifting Democratic. While the state as a whole also resisted the 2010 Republican wave, one could argue that Bush overperformed. Republicans have often in the past won Utah with around 60-65% of the vote; on the other hand, they have relatively rarely taken more than 70% of the vote in the state. The evidence is more mixed that Utah as a whole is trending Democratic, compared to the evidence that Salt Lake County is trending Democratic.

What does this all mean?

Probably very little. Even if Democrats regularly won Salt Lake County by double-digits, Utah would still be a solidly Republican state. Democrats would still lose statewide elections. They might regularly be guaranteed a Democratic congressman from Utah coming from Salt Lake City, but on the other hand Republicans could still fairly easily gerrymander the state so that they controlled all the seats. And Democrats already improbably hold a seat in Utah, so in real life they would actually gain no seats in Utah.

All in all, a Utah in which Republicans went from winning by 30 points to winning by 15 points would still be pretty impossible for Democrats do win.

But it does say something about the state of American politics when Republicans are having trouble winning an urban city in the most conservative part of America.

--inoljt

 

 

Analyzing the 2010 Utah Senate and Gubernatorial Elections

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze some interesting tidbits of the 2010 Utah Senate and Gubernatorial elections. Specifically it will look at some hints of increasing Democratic strength in this blood-red state.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Salt Lake County, 2004

Utah is commonly considered as one of the most conservative states in America, and for good reason; Democrats are essentially nonexistent in the state. Some Southern states will occasionally vote (or used to occasionally vote) for a conservative Democrat. Not Utah; its Republicans are rock-hard Republicans.

Here is how Utah looked like in the 2004 presidential election:

President George W. Bush dominated the state; he got almost three times as many votes as Senator John Kerry did. Bush did quite well in the mountainous west of the United States; normally Utah is still very Republican, but not quite this much.

Take a look at Salt Lake County, the most populous part of the state. Almost four in ten voters in 2004 lived in Salt Lake County.

Bush got a pretty powerful number of votes from the area, taking 59.4% of the vote. The margin wasn’t quite as good as elsewhere in the state (where he won more than 71.4% of the vote); the rest of Utah was much more conservative than Salt Lake County in 2004. Nevertheless, Bush had no reason to complain; getting three-fifths of the vote in a major metropolitan area is something Republicans rarely do.

Salt Lake County, 2008

In 2008 Senator Barack Obama did much better than Senator John Kerry in 2004. Naturally he also did better in Utah. Indeed, Utah moved quite a bit more to the left in 2008 than the rest of the nation.

Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain still won a very comfortable victory in this very conservative state:

Nevertheless, Republican Senator John McCain still won a very comfortable victory in this very conservative state:

The most noticeable difference here is what happened to Salt Lake County; the county turned from a Republican fortress into Obama territory. Republicans fell from 59.4% of the vote to 48.1% of the vote. Salt Lake County’s enormous shift Democratic accounted for much of Obama’s improvement in Utah.

Salt Lake County, 2010

It’s the 2010 midterm elections where things get really interesting. 2010 was the best Republican year in a generation; Republicans won up and down the map. Democratic areas turned Republican; Republican areas turned blood-red.

In a situation such as this, one would expect Salt Lake County to revert back to its strongly Republican voting patterns in 2004 (or vote even more Republican, given that 2010 was a more Republican year than 2004).

In fact, this is very much what didn’t happen. Let’s take a look at the two most important statewide Utah elections in 2010.

Here is the 2010 Utah gubernatorial election:

Republican candidate Gary Herbert took a bare majority – 51.0% of the vote – of Salt Lake County.

Republicans did even worse in the statewide senate election:

Republican candidate Mike Lee got 49.0% of the vote in the county; he failed to win a majority of voters.

All in all, it seems that things are moving the Democrat’s way in the most populous county of Utah.

There is also something else very interesting about Utah: the state moved very little to the right in 2010, despite the huge Republican wave. Republican candidates didn’t win more than 70% of the vote in 2010, unlike Bush in 2004. Their performance was very similar to that of McCain’s. The Senate race is particularly remarkable; Senator Mike Lee only improved 0.8% upon McCain’s performance, despite a double-digit shift in the national vote towards the Republican Party.

Conclusions

It’s always hard-to-say that a particular area is trending one way or another. Salt Lake County moved strongly leftwards in 2008, and resisted the 2010 Republican wave. One the other hand, Republicans have lost Salt Lake County in the past (although very rarely while winning more than 60% of the vote). One could argue that this phenomenon is not anything really new, although I am less than convinced.

The evidence is less strong that Utah as a whole is shifting Democratic. While the state as a whole also resisted the 2010 Republican wave, one could argue that Bush overperformed. Republicans have often in the past won Utah with around 60-65% of the vote; on the other hand, they have relatively rarely taken more than 70% of the vote in the state. The evidence is more mixed that Utah as a whole is trending Democratic, compared to the evidence that Salt Lake County is trending Democratic.

What does this all mean?

Probably very little. Even if Democrats regularly won Salt Lake County by double-digits, Utah would still be a solidly Republican state. Democrats would still lose statewide elections. They might regularly be guaranteed a Democratic congressman from Utah coming from Salt Lake City, but on the other hand Republicans could still fairly easily gerrymander the state so that they controlled all the seats. And Democrats already improbably hold a seat in Utah, so in real life they would actually gain no seats in Utah.

All in all, a Utah in which Republicans went from winning by 30 points to winning by 15 points would still be pretty impossible for Democrats do win.

But it does say something about the state of American politics when Republicans are having trouble winning an urban city in the most conservative part of America.

--inoljt

 

 

Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Colorado Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze the Colorado Senate election, one of the few Democratic victories that night. In this election,  Democrat Michael Bennett narrowly defeated Republican Ken Buck.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Colorado’s Senate Election

The results of the Colorado Senate election, like many other elections throughout 2010, closely matched the results of President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election. In fact, this senate election may have followed Mr. Obama’s performance more closely than any other election in 2010:

Only one county switched hands from 2008 to 2010: rural Chaffee County, which Senator Bennet won by a mere 44 votes.

This indicates that Colorado is a fairly polarized state. Its Republican parts go heavily Republican; its Democratic parts go heavily Democratic. Democratic candidate Michael Bennett did a full 7.3 percentage points worse than Mr. Obama, yet didn’t lose a single county that Mr. Obama won.

Notice too that both Mr. Bennett and Mr. Obama carve out a “C” of counties that they win in the middle of the state. When Democrats are able to do this, they generally win. When Republicans make inroads into the “C,” Republicans generally win. Republican candidate Ken Buck failed to make the necessary inroads into this territory, which is why he lost.

The Suburbs

Why did Mr. Bennett do so much worse than Mr. Obama?

Let's take a look at Mr. Obama's coalition first:

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

In 2008, Mr. Obama won Colorado by 9.0%. Interestingly, Colorado was the most important swing state that year. If Mr. Obama had lost all the states he did worse in than Colorado, he would have still won the election. But if he had lost all those states and Colorado, Senator John McCain would be president.

As this map shows, the Democrats get their votes from Boulder and Denver. Republicans get their votes from Colorado Springs and the rural areas. Take a particular look at the smaller blue circles around Denver. These are Denver’s suburbs, swing territory which Mr. Obama does quite well in. Also note the smaller red circle to the upper-left of Colorado Springs (Douglas County). Although it doesn’t look like it in this map, Douglas County is a Republican stronghold. Mr. Obama does remarkably well there, which is why the Republican margin of victory is so small.

Now let's move to the 2010 Senate election

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

In 2010 Mr. Bennett does a bit worse than Mr. Obama in the Denver suburbs; his margins are much smaller. Republican Ken Buck also is able to win Douglas County by a more normal margin for a Republican. The reason why Mr. Bennett does worse than Mr. Obama is mainly because of his weaker performance in the Denver suburbs.

Crucially, however, Democratic candidate Michael Bennett still wins the suburbs. Had he lost them, Colorado would today have a Republican senator.

Rural Colorado

A very interesting fact is revealed if one compares the shift of Colorado from 2008 to 2010:

This map illustrates that shift. Red counties became more Republican from 2008 to 2010; blue counties became more Democratic. This does not necessarily mean that a county which shifted Republican voted for the Republican (or vice versa). For instance, Denver shifted Republican from 2008 to 2010, but it still voted strongly Democratic in both elections.

Curiously, Democratic candidate Michael Bennett did better than Mr. Obama in a lot of Colorado’s most Republican areas. He improved substantially in the sparsely populated, strongly Republican rural counties – in particular the eastern part of the state. Mr. Bennett was involved in education in Denver before the election, so he has no local connection to rural Colorado.

There are several possibilities on why this happened. It seems that in presidential elections Republican areas vote more strongly Republican, and vice versa for Democratic areas. The map above could have been due to Republican and Democratic strongholds being less partisan during mid-term elections.

Another possibility is that the third-party vote had something to do with it. Neither candidate in 2010 was able to reach 50% of the vote, meaning that the third-party vote was relatively strong. If a third-party candidate takes a significant share of the vote, then mathematically Democrat margins will decrease in Democratic areas, and Republican margins will decrease in Republican areas.

Then there is the hypothesis that the president was a bad fit for rural Republican Colorado. He might have therefore have done worse than the average Democrat. Intuitively this explanation makes sense; Mr. Obama is not the type of person who appeals to rural Republicans.

Conclusions

One always must be careful to say that a particular state is trending for one party or the other. Nevertheless, the result of the 2010 senate election does seem to indicate that Colorado is moving Democratic.

2010 was the worst year in a generation for Democrats; Democrats throughout the country lost elections. In Colorado, a state that Bill Clinton lost in 1996, one would have expected Republican candidate Ken Buck to win.

Mr. Buck was admittedly a weaker-than-average candidate; he made some mistakes on abortion and the 17th Amendment. Yet, on the other hand, Mr. Buck was relatively untainted by scandal. He wasn’t obviously crazy, and he didn’t do stupid things like tell a bunch of Latino students that they looked Asian. In addition, the Democratic candidate Michael Bennett wasn’t a very exciting candidate. He doesn’t inspire passion amongst Democrats; most people still have no idea who he is.

Yet Mr. Buck didn’t win – he lost to an unexciting Democratic in the best Republican year in a generation. Republicans should have won the suburbs around Denver in 2010; they were doing so everywhere else in the country. The fact that they failed to do so is a very powerful indicator of Colorado’s Democratic trend.

--inoljt

 

Analyzing the 2010 Midterm Elections – the Colorado Senate Election

This is a part of a series of posts analyzing the 2010 midterm elections. This post will analyze the Colorado Senate election, one of the few Democratic victories that night. In this election,  Democrat Michael Bennett narrowly defeated Republican Ken Buck.

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Colorado’s Senate Election

The results of the Colorado Senate election, like many other elections throughout 2010, closely matched the results of President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election. In fact, this senate election may have followed Mr. Obama’s performance more closely than any other election in 2010:

Only one county switched hands from 2008 to 2010: rural Chaffee County, which Senator Bennet won by a mere 44 votes.

This indicates that Colorado is a fairly polarized state. Its Republican parts go heavily Republican; its Democratic parts go heavily Democratic. Democratic candidate Michael Bennett did a full 7.3 percentage points worse than Mr. Obama, yet didn’t lose a single county that Mr. Obama won.

Notice too that both Mr. Bennett and Mr. Obama carve out a “C” of counties that they win in the middle of the state. When Democrats are able to do this, they generally win. When Republicans make inroads into the “C,” Republicans generally win. Republican candidate Ken Buck failed to make the necessary inroads into this territory, which is why he lost.

The Suburbs

Why did Mr. Bennett do so much worse than Mr. Obama?

Let's take a look at Mr. Obama's coalition first:

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

In 2008, Mr. Obama won Colorado by 9.0%. Interestingly, Colorado was the most important swing state that year. If Mr. Obama had lost all the states he did worse in than Colorado, he would have still won the election. But if he had lost all those states and Colorado, Senator John McCain would be president.

As this map shows, the Democrats get their votes from Boulder and Denver. Republicans get their votes from Colorado Springs and the rural areas. Take a particular look at the smaller blue circles around Denver. These are Denver’s suburbs, swing territory which Mr. Obama does quite well in. Also note the smaller red circle to the upper-left of Colorado Springs (Douglas County). Although it doesn’t look like it in this map, Douglas County is a Republican stronghold. Mr. Obama does remarkably well there, which is why the Republican margin of victory is so small.

Now let's move to the 2010 Senate election

(Note: Because the Times stopped updating before all absentee/provisional ballots were counted, this map does not fully reflect the actual results. I have corrected the discrepancy.)

In 2010 Mr. Bennett does a bit worse than Mr. Obama in the Denver suburbs; his margins are much smaller. Republican Ken Buck also is able to win Douglas County by a more normal margin for a Republican. The reason why Mr. Bennett does worse than Mr. Obama is mainly because of his weaker performance in the Denver suburbs.

Crucially, however, Democratic candidate Michael Bennett still wins the suburbs. Had he lost them, Colorado would today have a Republican senator.

Rural Colorado

A very interesting fact is revealed if one compares the shift of Colorado from 2008 to 2010:

This map illustrates that shift. Red counties became more Republican from 2008 to 2010; blue counties became more Democratic. This does not necessarily mean that a county which shifted Republican voted for the Republican (or vice versa). For instance, Denver shifted Republican from 2008 to 2010, but it still voted strongly Democratic in both elections.

Curiously, Democratic candidate Michael Bennett did better than Mr. Obama in a lot of Colorado’s most Republican areas. He improved substantially in the sparsely populated, strongly Republican rural counties – in particular the eastern part of the state. Mr. Bennett was involved in education in Denver before the election, so he has no local connection to rural Colorado.

There are several possibilities on why this happened. It seems that in presidential elections Republican areas vote more strongly Republican, and vice versa for Democratic areas. The map above could have been due to Republican and Democratic strongholds being less partisan during mid-term elections.

Another possibility is that the third-party vote had something to do with it. Neither candidate in 2010 was able to reach 50% of the vote, meaning that the third-party vote was relatively strong. If a third-party candidate takes a significant share of the vote, then mathematically Democrat margins will decrease in Democratic areas, and Republican margins will decrease in Republican areas.

Then there is the hypothesis that the president was a bad fit for rural Republican Colorado. He might have therefore have done worse than the average Democrat. Intuitively this explanation makes sense; Mr. Obama is not the type of person who appeals to rural Republicans.

Conclusions

One always must be careful to say that a particular state is trending for one party or the other. Nevertheless, the result of the 2010 senate election does seem to indicate that Colorado is moving Democratic.

2010 was the worst year in a generation for Democrats; Democrats throughout the country lost elections. In Colorado, a state that Bill Clinton lost in 1996, one would have expected Republican candidate Ken Buck to win.

Mr. Buck was admittedly a weaker-than-average candidate; he made some mistakes on abortion and the 17th Amendment. Yet, on the other hand, Mr. Buck was relatively untainted by scandal. He wasn’t obviously crazy, and he didn’t do stupid things like tell a bunch of Latino students that they looked Asian. In addition, the Democratic candidate Michael Bennett wasn’t a very exciting candidate. He doesn’t inspire passion amongst Democrats; most people still have no idea who he is.

Yet Mr. Buck didn’t win – he lost to an unexciting Democratic in the best Republican year in a generation. Republicans should have won the suburbs around Denver in 2010; they were doing so everywhere else in the country. The fact that they failed to do so is a very powerful indicator of Colorado’s Democratic trend.

--inoljt

 

“They Vote Against Their Own Self-Interest”

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/ 

There’s a common refrain among both parties of the American political system. Members of Group X always vote for the opposing party. But it doesn’t make sense for Group X to be so antagonistic against us. Our party’s policies are actually much more in line with what members of Group X believe. They’re voting against their own self-interest. If only members of Group X woke up and saw the light, they’d be voting for our party all the time.

For Democrats, Group X is generally the working class white southern vote. Poor white southerners, the line goes, benefit much more from Democratic economic policies than from Republican economic policies. Yet they vote strongly Republican. Why, Democrats lament, do poor white southerners continually vote against their own self-interest? If only they realized this, they would start voting Democratic.

For Republicans, Group X is the black (and, to a lesser extent, Latino) vote. I recently listened to a conservative radio host talk extensively about how it just didn’t make sense for the African-American community to be so Democratic. Black churches, for instance, are bastions of Democratic strength, yet their social policies are much more in line with Republican social policies than Democratic ones. African-Americans and Hispanics in general hold very socially conservative views on things such as religion and gay marriage; it doesn’t make sense for them to be voting Democratic when those beliefs are so opposed to Democratic ones. I’m not asking for much, the radio host said, just 30% of the black vote. It’s ridiculous to be losing African-Americans 10-to-90.

In my opinion, these arguments are less valid than they seem. Both poor white southerners and African-Americans have very good reasons to vote for the parties that they do. In both the Democratic and Republican Party there are a subtle (and sometimes not very subtle) currents of hostility towards white southerners and African-Americans, respectively. You don’t have to be in politics very long to be aware of this. White southerners and African-Americans will naturally be reluctant to vote for a party whose fundamental narrative, in many ways, paints themselves as antagonists. Voters aren’t stupid, unlike what many people say.

 

 

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