Thursday, November 19, 2020

Notes on Undervotes

Johnson County Numbers Part 3

Despite having the best numbers in the district by 14% above any other county, and with the recount still in progress, Johnson County is getting blamed for Rita Hart's heartbreakingly close (47 votes prior to to the ongoing recount) apparent loss.

Two items have been noted: 1) That Johnson was the only county in the district where Hart ran behind Joe Biden and 2) the under votes in the congressional race.

I've already explained most of the presidential vote-shifting pattern in prior posts:

  • While Donald Trump gained percentage points in other Iowa counties over 2016, he pulled an almost identical share in Johnson County, dropping 0.01%. 
  • We had ballpark of 1000 Never Trump Republican votes
  • Joe Biden's percentage gains here were due to 3/4 of the 2016 third party and write in vote shifting his way.

I've waited on voters for 23 years and there are a certain number who loudly proclaim "I only want to vote for president." And as hard as it is for activists to comprehend, folks have got a right to do that. Many, many more ask with a slight embarrassment "do I have to vote for everything?" or "if I skip some races does My Vote still count?" with "My Vote" clearly meaning "For President." Other voters feel, in all good conscience, that they don't want to vote in races they know little about. This pattern is strongest in campus precincts and in our trailer court dominated precincts.

In general, the lower on the ballot you go, the fewer votes you see. I've been a down ballot candidate in a presidential year, and it is next to impossible, even for a major leaguer like a US Senator, to break through the noise of a presidential race. Square or cube that when you have an attention hound like Donald Trump in the mix.

But in a race this close, you need the Johnson County numbers - that's why you're reading this, right? Just exactly how many people are skipping contests here in the People's Republic? Let's look back at the last four presidential cycles. (For statistical purposes I'm including the much less common over-votes, where voters mark more than one target and cancel themselves out, in with the under votes. Either way, it's a vote not cast in the race.)

I've chosen six races: first, the three federal races (there was no 2012 Senate contest). I chose sheriff as an example of an uncontested county-wide one party contest in all four cycles (auditor had a Democrat vs. independent contest in 2008). Last, I looked at the first and last judicial retention vote each year. That was not always the bottom of the ballot due to public measures, but those higher profile contests tend to break the pattern and draw more votes.

What we see is a clear pattern that consistently repeats itself, with minor variation, over the years.

Votes Cast 2008 2012 2016 2020
Total Voters 73,231 76,199 77,476 84,198
President 72,989 75,977 76,940 83,851
Senate 70,413 - 74,833 82,633
US Rep 69,586 72,518 74,189 80,291
Sheriff 51,966 54,507 59,182 65,180
First Judge 41,929 51,194 50,240 58,878
Last Judge 39,109 47,879 47,827 53,663
Undervotes 2008 2012 2016 2020
President -242 -222 -536 -347
Senate -2818 - -2643 -1565
US Rep -3645 -3681 -3287 -3907
Sheriff -21,265 -21,692 -18,294 -19,018
First Judge -31,302 -25,005 -27,236 -25,320
Last Judge -34,122 -28,320 -29,649 -30,535
Undervote % 2008 2012 2016 2020
President -0.33% -0.29% -0.69% -0.41%
Senate -3.85% - -3.41% -1.86%
US Rep -4.98% -4.83% -4.24% -4.64%
Sheriff -29.04% -28.47% -23.61% -22.59%
First Judge -42.74% -32.82% -35.15% -30.07%
Last Judge -46.60% -37.17% -38.27% -36.27%

For whatever reason, several hundred people vote in a presidential election and do not vote for president. Some unknown share of this is error, some of it is blank ballots, and some is just the stubbornness of "I don't like either of them." 

(Either? There are generally 8 to 10 presidential candidates listed on Iowa's ballot, covering every niche from tankie to militia. Although this year, for the first time since 1956, we had no candidate on the ballot with the word "Socialist" in their party - since of course Joe Biden was the Socialist in the race 🤣) 

Note that the presidential under vote is highest in 2016, when both Trump and Clinton had high negatives; that year also saw by far the highest write-in vote for president at nearly 1000.

There's also some number of people who skip races where their party has no candidate, which is common in the Democrat-dominated courthouse races in Johnson County. The sheriff under vote looks slightly higher in 2008 and 2012, where Obama may have drawn more president-only voters who skipped the courthouse contests. The under vote is down a bit in 2020, as the seat was open and Democratic nominee Brad Kunkel had won a high profile primary campaign. In contrast, predecessor Lonny Pulkrabek had no opposition at all the previous three cycles, after winning a contested primary and general election in 2004.

One thing I see here: the end of straight ticket voting after 2016 does not seem to have had as big an impact as expected. People who were partisan enough to mark that straight ticket target, and it was close to a third of all Johnson County voters, are now just as inclined to work their way down the ballot and mark every contest. So eliminating the straight ticket merely serves as punishment for people who have physical difficulty marking the ballot.

You see a definite change in judicial voting patterns after the 2010 defeat of three supreme court justices who backed the marriage equality ruling. Under votes dropped from nearly half to closer to a third. Anecdotally, I hear many more voters saying they want to wait to return mailed ballots so they can "study" (read: "party ID") "the judges."

So that covers the low profile down ballot contests. Let's bounce back up to the top. 

The 2008 Senate race between Tom Harkin and Some Dude Christopher Reed saw a slightly higher under vote because it was seen as non-competitive. The 2016 Grassley-Judge race was not very competitive either, but Patty Judge was at least a well known former statewide official, and Johnson County was the one county she won.

But we see a definite drop in under votes in the Senate race this year. For a brief moment this looked like the pivotal Senate race for control, and Ernst and Greenfield dominated airwaves for months. In the end, all the money pushed maybe a couple thousand more people in our county to mark that race.

The open seat 2nd CD race is high profile NOW, now that it's the closest congressional race in the nation since 1994. But on the October airwaves, it was just a little less prominent than Ernst-Greenfield, and, crucially, it saw just a little less interest.

But that's normal.

What we see looking back over four presidential cycles is a remarkable consistency. In three cycles the under vote lands in a very narrow range between 4.64% and 4.98%. The fourth cycle, 2016, is barely an outlier at 4.24%. 

My theory there is that Christopher Peters, the 2016 libertarian-identified Republican challenger, picked up some Libertarian presidential voters who were under-voters in the other three cycles. In 2008, 2012 and 2020 the Republicans were seen as more mainstream, and there was no big-L Libertarian on the ballot in any of these four US House contests. Generally the Iowa Libertarians have a Senate candidate (alive or dead) and that explains part of the drop from Senate to US House over the years. Other third parties, in contrast, usually contest just the presidential race.

In short, Johnson County voted in the congressional race pretty much the same as it has for some time, with 4 to 5% of voters skipping the race. The professionals working this race would or should have seen these past patterns and accounted for them. I'm not sure what more could have been done to lower that under vote to the Senate race level, other than throwing several tens of millions more at us like Greenfield and Ernst and every interest group in the country did.

So if you're blaming the county that voted 13 to 14 points better for the Democrat in all the top three races than any other county in the state, like we do every cycle, you're throwing the blame in the wrong direction.

Friday, November 13, 2020

How Johnson County Went Democratic For The 15th Time In A Row Since LBJ

(Or: how many different ways can I say "Third Party To Democratic") 

Four years ago, Pat Rynard at Iowa Starting Line did an epic, precinct-level post,  "How Dubuque County Went Republican For The 1st Time Since Eisenhower," and I blatantly stole the format and applied it to Johnson County.

With Dubuque flipping red in 2016, and staying flipped this time, Johnson County is the place with the longest consecutive Democratic presidential streak in Iowa. Joe Biden's local record setting win extended that string to 15 in a row, dating back to LBJ in 1964. Yes, despite some Irish Catholic roots here, JFK was the last Democrat to lose Johnson County. Nixon won here while losing the nation, and then lost here while winning the nation.

Four years ago, even though Hillary Clinton's numbers dipped only slightly from Barack Obama's 2012 totals, there were a lot of counter-trends by precincts - from a 20 point swing to the Democrats in north Coralville's precinct 6 to a 30 point shift to Trump in Oxford - that coincidentally balanced out.

This year, the big picture totals change more - but as we'll see the trends changed less.

Johnson County 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 22925 27.34% 21044 27.35% 1,881 -0.01%
Biden/Clinton 59177 70.57% 50200 65.25% 8,977 5.33%
Green 213 0.25% 878 1.14% -665 -0.89%
Libertarian 964 1.15% 2758 3.58% -1,794 -2.43%
Other 572 0.68% 2060 2.68% -1,488 -2.00%
Total 84,198   77,476   6,722  
Net shift from Trump -7096 (-5.34%)

I shouldn't have promised a remake of that post because this cycle, things don't stand out as much. In fact, what stands out is that Donald Trump's Johnson County percentage stayed nearly identical - 27.35 last time, 27.34 this year. Trump was already about as low as a Republican can get; the only one ever to do worse here, by about 0.2%, was Poppy Bush in the Ross Perot 1992 cycle.

The over-simplified version of the numbers that I offered in part one was that roughly 3/4 of the Johnson County third party vote shifted to Biden. There's some variation by precinct, and there were no doubt some Trump to Biden changes that were counterbalanced by some Third Party to Trump. But I feel like I'm reaching harder for less significant differences than four years ago. 2020 feels more like it's consolidating the 2016 pattern, with the third party shift explaining most of the difference.

Four years ago I broke Johnson County up into nine parts - Coralville, North Liberty and Tiffin, two rural sections, and five parts of Iowa City. So rather than look at every single precinct as I did in 2016, we'll just look at the nine parts. We'll start with the two parts of Iowa City that people think of when they think "Iowa City."

Campus and Downtown

(Iowa City precincts 3, 5, 11, 13, 19, 20)

Precincts 3 and 5 are dorm-dominated; 3 also has a chunk of neighborhood and an apartment chunk of mostly med students. 19 is almost entirely student apartments. 11 and 20 are mainly student apartments though 11 has a chunk of working class neighborhood and 20 has a couple senior buildings. Those are the five traditional "student" precincts. 13 has trended student since the construction of the Hawks Ridge apartment complex. Placing 13 here felt a little off in 2016, but now they're following the student pattern more closely.

Campus Area 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 1,661 21.66% 2,330 24.48% -669 -2.82%
Biden/Clinton 5,824 75.94% 6,379 67.01% -555 8.93%
Green 34 0.44% 143 1.50% -109 -1.06%
Libertarian 93 1.21% 464 4.87% -371 -3.66%
Other 57 0.74% 203 2.13% -146 -1.39%
Total 7,681   9,687   -2,006  
Net shift from Trump -114 (-11.75%)

The biggest thing we see here is the COVID related drop in overall turnout. Some students simply aren't here - they're remoting into class from Back Home or they're taking a gap year. And with the big push for mailed ballots, some were sending ballots Back Home rather than voting here. There's also the voter ID factor, as the student population is the least likely to have the right ID materials (that's a feature of the voter ID law, not a bug).

Everyone lost votes here but Trump lost the most. We saw big percentage shifts to Biden in precinct 3, the west side dorms, where Clinton underperformed last time, and in the downtown apartments of precinct 19 which saw some of the highest third party totals in the county four years ago. Both those precincts also saw stronger Trump declines than the rest of campus, where his share stayed about the same.

The exception to the turnout decline is precinct 11, which has seen a lot of new large apartment buildings go up in the last four years.

As I so often note, it's not undergrads that make Iowa City, or any other college town, a liberal island of blue. Undergrads still tend to follow parental political cues. No, it's grad students and faculty and staff who make college towns liberal, and they live in...

The People's Republic 

(Iowa City precincts 17, 18, 21)

The three precincts north and east of downtown are historically the most Democratic in the county. It barely even makes sense to make a walking list, because you'll get a Democrat at every door. This is as blue as it gets outside of majority-minority areas of major cities.

In 2000, Ralph Nader edged George W. Bush for second place in north side precinct 21, and 21 usually fights with Longfellow neighborhood 18 for bragging rights. Precinct 17 usually has a slightly lower percentage but has the biggest Democratic vote totals. 

Peoples Republic 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 584 11.24% 677 12.59% -93 -1.35%
Biden/Clinton 4,513 86.87% 4,325 80.45% 188 6.42%
Green 26 0.50% 116 2.16% -90 -1.66%
Libertarian 44 0.85% 130 2.42% -86 -1.57%
Other 28 0.54% 128 2.38% -100 -1.84%
Total 5,207   5,657   -450  
Net shift from Trump -281 (-7.77%)

There wasn't much room for Trump to drop here, though he did lose a couple points in 17 and 18, dropping below 9% and losing by a ten to one margin in precinct 18 . Trump actually GAINS a point in 21 - though Biden more than makes it up with the shift from the third parties. These precincts include some student population, which explains turnout being slightly down from 2016. 

The South/Southeast side

(Iowa City precincts 10, 12, 14, 15; Scott and West Lucas)

Iowa City's southeast side is an odd mix: trailer courts and big non-student working class apartments, interlaced with empty nesters who are not happy about Those People From Chicago. Iowa City, especially this area, has seen a noticeable black in-migration in the past 20 years, and also has a growing Hispanic population centered in these precincts. Included for demographic sake are two trailer-dominated "rural" precincts, Scott and West Lucas townships.

That demographic combination is less of a fit this year, as the trailer court precinct hold about steady or even shift slightly to the Working Class Tory phenomenon that is Donald Trump.  

South/Southeast 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 1,740 22.64% 1,481 21.76% 259 0.88%
Biden/Clinton 5,779 75.19% 4,816 70.75% 963 4.44%
Green 24 0.31% 117 1.72% -93 -1.41%
Libertarian 94 1.22% 210 3.09% -116 -1.86%
Other 49 0.64% 183 2.69% -134 -2.05%
Total 7,721   6,857   864  
Net shift from Trump -704 (-3.56%)

Here we see again the shift away from the third parties, but Biden gains less here than he did in midtown. Biden does gain a bit more in precincts 14 and 15, impressive since there wasn't much TO gain in 14, yet somehow he goes up to 85% from Clinton's 77.

About half of the turnout jump is from precinct 15, an artifact of the "redevelopment" of a large apartment complex. Long called Lakeside, and later rebranded a couple times, finally as Rose Oaks, it was historically a low income area. The whole complex was empty during the 2016 cycle as developers renovated. It reopened in 2017, gentrified and re-named The Quarters, and marketed to students.  Trivia: Precinct 15 dropped from the highest Green Party share in the county in 2016 to literally zero Green votes this year.

East Side

(Iowa City precincts 1, 6, 16, 22, 23, 24)

Now we're starting to get into "townie" Iowa City. There are apartments here and there but most of these voters are homeowners in long-established neighborhoods. Precinct 6 has large senior complexes. Precinct 22 has some new homes in the Peninsula neighborhood and the only population of students here, at the Mayflower dorm.

These voters are not usually left wing in local elections, but are solidly Democratic at the top of the ticket.

East Side 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 2,391 19.90% 2,288 20.70% 103 -0.81%
Biden/Clinton 9,411 78.31% 8,039 72.74% 1,372 5.56%
Green 35 0.29% 120 1.09% -85 -0.79%
Libertarian 92 0.77% 288 2.61% -196 -1.84%
Other 89 0.74% 316 2.86% -227 -2.12%
Total 12,076   11,155   921  
Net shift from Trump -1269 (-6.37%)

The big shift here happened from 2012 to 2016, and this cycle the simplified "third party to Democrats" explanation covers most of the story. The one standout is precinct 22, with its student influence leading both to a turnout drop and a 10% jump for Biden.

Most of the turnout gain is population growth in precinct 24, which covers most of the city east of Scott Boulevard. 

West Side

(Iowa City precincts 2, 4, 7, 8, 9; University Heights)

There's a lot of similarity to the east side here, with Kennedy Parkway in precinct 7 taking the place of Windsor Ridge and Oaknoll in precinct 2 more than taking the place of the senior complexes in precinct 6. Precinct 4 is mostly the doctor/professor dominated very old neighborhood, Manville Heights; the enclaved speed trap University Heights has a similar feel.

But there's a few wild cards here. Precinct 4 also has a chunk of Frat Row, and there's a low income area split between 7 and 9 that includes a large and politically active Sudanese community.

West Side 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 1826 19.13% 1801 20.28% 25 -1.15%
Biden/Clinton 7524 78.83% 6467 72.82% 1,057 6.02%
Green 23 0.24% 87 0.98% -64 -0.74%
Libertarian 105 1.10% 286 3.22% -181 -2.12%
Other 66 0.69% 240 2.70% -174 -2.01%
Total 9601   8952   649  
Net shift from Trump -1032 (-7.16%)

Again, not much shift here and what shift there was is mainly third party to Biden. Turnout was up the most in precincts 7 and 8 where there's still some new development, and the swing to Biden was strongest in University Heights. 


(Coralville precincts 1-7; Penn township)

Demographically there's really two Coralvilles. South Coralville (precinct 1, 4, and 5) is mostly older homes and apartments. North Coralville (precincts 2, 6, 7 and the demographically similar Penn Township) has bigger and newer homes and more money. Precinct 3 doesn't quite fit either; it's dominated by the Coral Court apartment complex and the Western Hills trailer court (where registration has been in decline).

Coralville 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 3443 24.77% 3,048 25.75% 395 -0.99%
Biden/Clinton 10174 73.19% 7,927 66.98% 2,247 6.21%
Green 29 0.21% 105 0.88% -76 -0.67%
Libertarian 160 1.15% 409 3.46% -249 -2.30%
Other 95 0.68% 346 2.92% -251 -2.24%
Total 13977   11,935   2,042  
Net shift from Trump -1852 (-7.20%)

The biggest shift here is in Coralville 6, which was a little more Hillary skeptical in 2016 but turned away from Trump this time. There was also a turnout jump in Coralville 1 due to new apartments.

North Liberty and Tiffin

(North Liberty precincts 1-6; Clear Creek/Tiffin precinct)

This is some of the fastest growing turf in the state (and North Liberty finally got its HyVee during this four year cycle... though technically it's in Coralville.)

North Liberty/Tiffin 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 4,767 33.44% 3,684 32.84% 1,083 0.61%
Biden/Clinton 9,146 64.16% 6506 57.99% 2,640 6.17%
Green 22 0.15% 104 0.93% -82 -0.77%
Libertarian 224 1.57% 569 5.07% -345 -3.50%
Other 95 0.67% 356 3.17% -261 -2.51%
Total 14,292   11284   3,008  
Net shift from Trump -1557 (-5.57%)

North Liberty 3, with a lot of new high end development, topped 11 percent 3rd party in 2016, and that gave them more room for a 8.7% swing to Biden. North Liberty 6, the rapidly developing west side of town, also saw nearly a 9 point swing to Biden. But Tiffin, growing even faster, only saw about a 5 point shift. Trump's actual share stayed very steady in these precincts, with the shift coming entirely out of the third parties. 

Trivia: North Liberty 6 and Tiffin are now two of the three largest (by registration) precincts in the county. The other is Iowa City 24. None of that matters after next year, when we tear up the precinct map and start over.

Trump did even better at holding his own in the last two parts of the county.

The Greater Solon Metropolitan Area

(Big Grove, Cedar, Graham, Jefferson and Newport townships; cities of Shueyville, Swisher and Solon)

Even the most casual local observers have seen a GOP trend in northeast Johnson County. Retiring sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek only pulled 53% in the Johnson County part of House 73, not nearly enough to offset Bobby Kaufmann's big win in the rest of the district. (Swisher and Shueyville are in Amy Nielsen's House 77, not 73.)

Solon Area 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 4,160 47.21% 3,638 46.15% 522 1.06%
Biden/Clinton 4,507 51.15% 3,759 47.68% 748 3.47%
Green 11 0.12% 48 0.61% -37 -0.48%
Libertarian 85 0.96% 242 3.07% -157 -2.11%
Other 48 0.54% 196 2.49% -148 -1.94%
Total 8,849   7,933   916  
Net shift from Trump -226 (-2.40%)

Not as much shift away from Trump here, though Jefferson West (the Swisher precinct) flipped back from Trump in `16 to a narrow 5 vote Biden win. Trump carried Big Grove, Cedar, and Jefferson East (Shueyville), and Biden won the city of Solon, Newport, and by a larger margin Graham township, which has kept its ancestral Democratic voting pattern while the rest of the area has shifted. Graham (the smallest precinct in the county) is also the only precinct here to see very little turnout growth.

Rural Rural Johnson County

(Fremont, Hardin, Liberty, Lincoln, Oxford Pleasant Valley, Sharon, Union, and Washington townships; cites of Hills, Lone Tree, Oxford)

The North Corridor precincts we just looked at are mostly suburban, but the final chunk of the county is where the farms and true small towns are. Sharon and Washington townships have always voted like pieces of GOP leaning Washington County that were accidentally surveyed into the wrong county. Now, the rest of the precincts here are following those patterns. Most of the 11 precincts where Republican supervisor candidate Phil Hemingway led the three incumbent Democrats are here.

RURAL rural 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 2,353 49.30% 2,097 48.00% 256 1.30%
Biden/Clinton 2,299 48.17% 1,982 45.37% 317 2.80%
Green 9 0.19% 38 0.87% -29 -0.68%
Libertarian 67 1.40% 160 3.66% -93 -2.26%
Other 45 0.94% 92 2.11% -47 -1.16%
Total 4,794   4,411   383  

Net shift from Trump -61 (-1.50%) 

Last cycle we saw a massive 17 point shift from Obama to Trump here. That appears to be permanent as Biden only gained back 1.5%.  Oxford, which saw the biggest shift in the county last time (a net 30% swing to Trump) swung narrowly back to the blue column this time, though Obama's 63% from 2012 is only a dim memory.

Trump holds steady and even gains slightly here, while Biden gains just a little more. The only place where Trump sees a significant dip is Union township, which while still mostly Rural rural is close enough in to attract some subdivisions and commuters.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Johnson County Election Numbers, Part One

Joe Biden at the Hamburg Inn, 2007

For the second cycle in a row, election season in Johnson County is going into overtime. Two years ago it was the sudden death of supervisor Kurt Friese and the special election of Royceann Porter, and this year it's a near-certain recount in the de facto tied 2nd Congressional District race. 

This is part one of at least a two-parter; I'll be re-writing this deep-deep number cruncher next. For now, let's take a big picture look. 

I've been struggling with profoundly mixed feelings the past week - joy of course for Joe Biden's victory and for our local success. All sorts of records were smashed - overall turnout over 84,000, voter registration topping 100,000 for the first time, and Biden breaking the 70% barrier that Obama just barely missed. The joy and excitement and determination of those tens of thousands of voters lined up at our drive-thru voting and the countless buckets of ballots I emptied from the drop boxes - those things are built like tanks - made me proud of my community and proud of my career. 

But all of that is tempered by shock and sadness for our state results: the Senate race that was never supposed to be close, but for a few weeks was at center stage; the congressional race that at the moment is just beyond our reach - and worst of all, the strong re-endorsement by Iowans of the four years of cruelty - I'm lumping volumes into that one word - by Donald Trump, the least suited man ever to hold The Job. 

Well, I guess at least they can't just blame Hillary anymore, huh.

We couldn't campaign the way Democrats usually campaign. I think no doorknocking was the right and responsible thing in terms of public health and in terms of messaging. Trump never took COVID seriously, not even after he got it himself, and we needed to signal that we did. I wouldn't change that decision.

But it was a no-win either way. It's an unfortunate reality that many of the rural voters we couldn't reach, who are already mad that "Democrats never show up"... 

(I have a whole `nother post about that in my head which I may or may not ever post)

...many of the rural voters we couldn't reach, who are already mad that "Democrats never show up," largely think that COVID is Fake News. So we got no credit for the responsibility, we lost our most effective communication tools, and we got blamed Yet Again for Not Showing Up.


This map looks familiar.

There was one issue in this election, that issue was Trump (his mis-handling of COVID was a sidebar to that story), and it was nearly impossible for a candidate in a down ballot race to break through that noise. Voters, especially new or infrequent voters, are reluctant to make marks in races they know little about. That led to some under-voting. Not a lot more than in previous years, but enough to make a difference.

In Johnson County, Theresa Greenfield ran 2114 votes behind Biden, and Rita Hart was 3053 behind Biden. Some of that was anti-Trump voters who crossed back to the GOP down-ballot. Trump ran 848 votes behind Joni Ernst and 1174 behind Miller-Meeks. So let's say as a rough measure about 1000 Republicans, about 5% of their voters, were Never Trump.

But the most haunting numbers of the whole election, in light of the 40 vote margin as I write, are the 3907 under votes in the congressional race. That share was highest in the student precincts and in trailer court dominated West Lucas.

But it's wrong to blame undervoting in student precincts - some are already doing that - for the apparent loss, when Johnson County did more for the Democratic ticket than anyone else in the district or state. Johnson County was the top county in the state by 13 to 14 points across the board in all of the top of the ticket races. That same pattern and that same exact margin has been a pattern since the 2014 cycle. There used to be a little more variation, and we used to be more like five or six points ahead of the next best, but ever since 2014 it's been number one in every race and it's been in the ballpark of 13 to 15%.

Biden's 70.57% narrowly breaks the Johnson County all time presidential record set by Barack Obama in 2008 (69.91%), but Biden didn't hit 60 anywhere else. The closest was 57.19% in Story County, which in an era where education and partisanship are tightly linked seems to be emerging as the state's #2 Democratic county. 

Anybody else wonder if, in the context of a rural dominated Love The Hawkeyes And Cyclones Hate The Universities state, that the association of the Democrats with the college towns is part of the problem?

I'll dig into the long version of the Johnson County presidential numbers in a part two post. The short version is that the third party vote collapsed and nearly all of the switches were to the Democrats. The third parties, and nearly 1000 write ins, jumped to 7.4% in 2016, but collapsed to 2.1% this year.

Now, obviously, not every erstwhile Libertarian or Green switched to Joe this time, and there were no doubt some Republicans with regrets who left Trump this time. But remarkably, Trump's Johnson County percentage stayed nearly identical - 27.35 last time, 27.34 this year. So the simplistic "third parties switched to D"  works well enough to cover the math.

There's a lot of reasons for that. We saw a similar but stronger version of it from 2000 to 2004, when the Ralph Nader vote was literally decimated. Without getting into the Holy War of "vote shaming," razor close elections and dramatic unpleasant consequences do that to third party votes. 

Some other stuff happened too. We saw greater cooperation between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden than we saw between Sanders and Clinton. Still too little too late for me, but leaving that aside and looking at numbers, Sanders drew a lot of the write ins in 2016 and we only got about 1/4 as many write-ins this year.

Also, the third party candidates on the ballot were less well known than in past years. The exception is Kanye West, whose ego and mental health were cynically exploited but who willingly went along with it. In the end no one was fooled and his numbers were insignificant.

Yo Kanye, I'm really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but you had one of the worst campaigns of ALL TIME.

As for candidates that actually drew significant numbers:

In 2016, both Jill Stein and Gary Johnson were on their second consecutive campaigns, and both Johnson and his running mate were former (Republican) governors. In contrast, both the Libertarians and Greens nominated little known party activists this year. Quick, without Googling, name them.

And there wasn't a candidate in the Never Trump mainstream conservative niche that Evan McMullin filled four years ago. Based on the results from Utah, the one state where McMullin ran strong in 2016, his supporters split about evenly between Trump and Biden.

The voting process itself showed as intense a polarization in Johnson County as it did elsewhere. Donald Trump actually won the Election Day vote in Johnson County, 51-45%. So many Democrats voted early that there were hardly any left by Election Day, and Republicans made a point of waiting. Biden, meanwhile, carried the early vote by an incredible 80-18%.  Overall, 72.4% of the county's votes were cast before Election Day, just a little below the record pace set in the primary (before the post office scare put some people off mailed ballots - and as a side note our local post office did a fantastic job).

On the strictly local level, in the one seriously contested race in House 73 retiring sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek took on a tough mission and came up short. The Solon area continued its red shift as Pulkrabek's 435 vote edge out of Johnson was not enough to overcome Bobby Kaufmann's big margins in the Cedar and Muscatine county parts of the district. Kaufmann actually carried the city of Solon and surrounding Cedar and Big Grove townships, while Pulkrabek prevailed in the southern part of the Johnson County turf. Looks like redistricting (maybe) is the only way we'll get Kaufmann out of the county. 

It's a sad coda to Pulkrabek's career but at least there's the consolation of seeing his endorsed successor Brad Kunkel elected, a win Kunkel clinched in the June Democratic primary (he also got enough June write-ins that he could have claimed the Republican nomination if he had wanted). Trivia: Kunkel sets a new record for the most votes ever won by anyone in Johnson County, while Biden sets the new high water mark for a contested race.

The supervisor race was contested, sort of, with Republican Phil Hemingway arguing for the third time that he could best represent "rural interests." That argument let him finish first ahead of the three Democrats in 11 rural precincts, but there's a lot more votes in town and Hemingway was 19,000 votes behind the third Democrat, Porter.

That old "farm vote" that dominated the Supervisors for a century is now more or less a protest vote, a reflection of the ever increasing rural-urban split in America. There just aren't enough farm votes in this urban academic county to win, swing, or even be much influence except under solar-eclipse-rare circumstances like the March 2013 special election. With the spikes in June turnout we saw this year and in 2018, the farm vote isn't even enough to swing a primary, which is how Farm Bureau type conservative Democrats dominated the Board up to the 1990s.

Porter was about 3000 votes behind the second place Democrat, Rod Sullivan, and he was about 2500 behind the ticket leader, Lisa Green-Douglass. That's a shift in order from the primary where Porter was second and Sullivan third, but that only matters for bragging rights.

Porter did finish first in four precincts - the southeast side's precinct 15, the very liberal 18 and 21, and in Coralville 5. Sullivan carried eight, with no obvious pattern, and Green-Douglass topped the rest.

We're talking about narrow differences in many cases here. But it's hard not to notice Porter running just a little behind the white colleagues in most if not all places. Not so much in the rural places Hemingway won, where the pattern was Phil well ahead of the three Democrats in what looked like bullet voting. It was just 50 votes here, 100 votes there, not unlike Dierdre DeJear running just a little behind the rest of the ticket in 2018.

Anyway, a win is a win is a win for the three Democrats. Sullivan becomes just the second five-term supervisor in memory, joining Sally Stutsman (who left for the legislature two years into her last term). Hemingway is now 1-5 lifetime in elections and 0-3 for the Supervisors. But maybe he can try a fourth time - seems to have worked* for Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Some Of You May Die, But It's A Sacrifice I Am Willing To Make

Let's call it what it is.

Forcing Iowa schools open isn't about schools.

It's about Big Ag.

Agribusiness owns this state and has told its elected officials we're not closing. Their profits are literally more important than life and death. Big Ag wants everyone and everything to stay open and unmasked, and they're forcing their bought and paid for governor to deny local control, because they don't want any jurisdiction to set any precedent that could close a meat packing plant for a day.

Agribusiness doesn't really care what The People's Republic Of Johnson County does. But if we are allowed to issue closing orders and mask mandates, then Louisa and Muscatine counties are too, and they care a LOT about that.

See, if we shut down the stores because they're not safe, and we tele-commute to class because it's not safe, we're going to have to acknowledge that working jam-packed into a meat packing plant isn't safe, and we simply can't have that. Our bars and schools have to stay open so their meat packing plants can. I won't see my 85 year old parents in Wisconsin for a year because West Liberty Foods and Tyson in Columbus Junction can't close.

If we were able to issue mask mandates and closings, but had to make exemptions for agriculture and meat packing, that would be bad for those workers. But it would at least provide more protection for some of us. Instead, we are all lowered to the least common denominator of the slaughterhouse floor.

Iowa is literally the worst place in the world to be right now. America is handling COVID worse than any nation, and Iowa is handling it worse than any state.

We've long known agribusiness sees its workers as disposable.

Now it's clear they think the rest of us are expendable too.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

An election like no other

We passed a milestone yesterday in Johnson County: we have mailed out more ballots for the June 2 primary - 21,367 - that we have for any other election. That's ANY other election; the old record was 20,951 in the 2012 presidential. We've seen more total early votes, of course, once you add in satellites and voting at the office. But only 99 people (disproportionately county employees and people fixing mail problems) took advantage of drive-thru voting in the first two weeks.

The request total is also above the TOTAL primary vote of 18,675 that we saw in the record turnout 2018 primary. I'm not calling that record broken yet, not till we see what comes back. Personally, I expect a higher than average rate of unreturned ballots once people realize 1) the presidential race isn't on the ballot 2) there's only one contest on the Republican side, and 3) that contest is NOT the sheriff's race, which is on the Democratic side. To the rest of the state, this is a US Senate and congressional primary, but in Johnson County, where primaries are local, it's a sheriff primary.

Usually, gigantic vote by mail numbers like 2012 are racked up by months and months of Democratic doorknocking, but the June 2020 primary is being driven by making things easy: a postage paid absentee ballot request in every voter's hands. Not QUITE as easy as letting people sign up to automatically get a mailed ballot every election (a VERY popular item which I hear VERY often on the phones), but better than many other states and WAY better than most Republican run states. As you know I'm not the biggest Paul Pate fan, but in this case I believe he's sincerely motivated by safety and legit trying to do the right thing.

This sets a precedent, though. Having allowed the traditional 40 days of mail voting, instead of the 29 that the GOP legislature trimmed it to in 2018, and having mass mailed requests, it'll be very hard for Pate to back away from those measures in November.

Under normal circumstances, which the current plague is certainly not, I don't much care for voting by mail. It adds a third party, the post office, between the voter and the auditor.  The post office is rising to the occasion, but more people involved mean more mistakes, and delay is inherent. Handing someone a ballot takes seconds, mailing someone a ballot takes days. (Add another postal round trip and more days to that if the person also needs the request form mailed. Iowa's system of a separate request for each election is the most labor intensive way to do this.)

If you vote by mail you also don't have the helping hands of the office staff and pollworkers double checking the easy to forget stuff like signatures and seals. It's a process more prone to mistakes.

But once states go vote by mail, which Iowa de facto has for this election, they don't go back. The birth of All Vote By Mail was a statewide special election in Oregon in early 1996. Voters liked it so much that they passed a 1998 initiative to make ALL Oregon elections all mail.

I'm predicting that the 2020 cycle will be the last presidential election with any traditional, precinct based polling places. COVID is just the last straw in a trend that's been coming. It's getting harder to get workers and polling places. More and more locations don't want the chaos and the perceived security risk. This is especially true of schools, who would rather play security theater to parents than, well, actually do anything about guns.

The other issue is an accessibility standard that is above and beyond ADA and a mindset that everyone will be DRIVING to the polls. You can't vote at a dorm because there's not parking or a circle drive for Grandma to drop Grandpa off at the door to go vote - at a COLLEGE DORM. So the 1000 students who would be taking stairs or the elevator to the polls have to go several blocks away instead in order to accommodate Hypothetical Grandpa.

All these things combined mean that the future of elections is mail and vote centers. I'm also expecting President Biden to put an end to caucuses and to kill off New Hampshire along with us. Why reward two states that blew him off?

Iowa is in the bizarre position of not only having a bizarre virtual convention cycle - hey, DNC, I though Virtual Caucus was a BAD thing! - but having district and state conventions where the presumptive nominee is not viable. As a district/state delegate I am not allowed to switch, and I have to keep voting for my dropped out candidate, Elizabeth Warren, until the second ballot of the national convention. If there is one.

Why would I want to go to the national convention, even if it is in my native state?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, says she has floated the idea to DNC Chairman Tom Perez of hosting the party convention in a "gigantic" stadium.

“Get a gigantic stadium, and put people six feet apart," Pelosi said. "Then maybe instead of having 80,000 people there you would have 16,000 people there, and just do it all in one day.”

Miller Park does have more than twice the capacity of Fiserv Forum at nearly 42,000, but the type of stadium Pelosi suggested does not exist in Milwaukee. Lambeau Field and Camp Randall exist as in-state possibilities for this type of a move.
Oh, THAT'S why. National delegate is highly competitive, but I stand a better chance of that than I do of getting Packers tickets. This may be my only way into the Frozen Tundra. Someone has to DIE for you to get Packers tickets.

It would be a fun last hurrah for the last caucus season. South Carolina, which was the whole ball game in 2020 (Iowa's result, when we finally got it, was completely irrelevant), will be first in 2024. That should help Vice President Harris get off to a good start. As for me, I'm just glad COVID didn't hit a month earlier in my 750 body caucus room.

Back to the June primary, the unprecedented turnout makes gaming out the winners especially hard. There are going to be many, many more infrequent voters and de facto No Party (WHY do people love the word "independent" so much? WHY are we taught that?) voters than you usually see in a primary.

Personally, I'd like to see much stricter timelines and laws on party changes. The deadline should be before candidates file, so you have to actually choose your party based on its overall principles, rather than crossing over for one specific candidate. I'm on the wrong side of history there, with all the trends being toward open primaries and the even worse Top Two, but it's a hill I'll die on. If you're so proud of being an "independent" (sic), let us partisans choose our party nominees, and go vote in the general election.

That's another thing we're seeing in part because of the COVID driven vote by mail election: dramatic shifts in party affiliation in my county. In Johnson County it's been a triple whammy, with each stage leading to Democratic gains.

Normal party registration trends between elections are a slow steady shift away from parties and toward No Party, driven mainly by registrations from the DOT. When parties gain, it's big and all at once, from primaries, caucuses, and list maintenance mailings (which inactivate voters who are on average younger, more mobile, and No Party - in short, students who moved away).

In mid-September Democratic registration sat at 46.55% in Johnson County. At that point big pre-caucus registration drives started, culminating in caucus night itself with 21,436 attendance and a net plus of 4000 Democratic registrations (new or changed) in one night. When that was done, Democratic registration had shot past the old record of 49.24% (at the June 2016 primary) all the way up to 51.04%.

After a brief backslide to 50.74% caused by cards coming back from caucus attendees with bad addresses (read: missing apartment numbers), the countywide list maintenance mailing kicked in, and long-departed students started moving to Inactive status (my best catch this time was a sorority girl who last voted in 1994). The Democratic share passed the caucus peak and climbed to 51.69%.

The Republicans were dropping through all this, part of a trend that saw them dropping steadily ever since the 2016 caucuses. They were at 21.92% in April 2016, but bottomed out at 17.71% on March 23 - their lowest level in the county since 1976.

The third whammy, the primary mailing, reversed this trend for Republicans, and even further accelerated Democratic registration. Through yesterday, Democrats were up to a whopping 53.69%, while Republicans have recovered to 18.46%. The registration trends from the mailing have coincidentally mirrored the changes from the countywide mailing, with a ratio of 2.9 registered Democrats for each Republican, up from the historic, anecdotal two to one ratio long seen in Johnson County. (Third parties are less than 1% and have been slipping through all three waves of registration activity.)

In fact, Democrats are now for the first time nearly doubling the No Party voters. No Party last led the Democrats for about three years from the 2000 presidential election till the 2004 caucuses. As recently as mid-December they were at 33.85% - well behind the Democrats, but incrementally climbing each week with those apolitical registrations from the DOT.

Then the caucus wave kicked in, with people starting to get affiliated before the mid-January list printing deadline. After the caucuses No Party had slipped to 30.32%. They briefly recovered to 30.58% by March, with the inactivations from bad caucus addresses coming 100% out of the Democrats and with the usual share of people immediately switching back (if you do that, I don't think you should vote in the June primary, but that's just my opinion...)

The countywide mailing reversed that trend and pushed No Party down to 29.83%, and before they had a chance to recover the primary absentee mailing hit. A normal primary mailing would just go to known primary voters or to party members, but this went to everyone, in effect actively encouraging people to affiliate with a party.

And many have. No Party slipped below their old record low (28.61% at the 2016 primary) ten days ago and now are at just 27.13% of county registration. Johnson County is now close to a point where Democrats have a three to one  lead over Republicans and a two to one lead over No Party.

Despite all this registration activity, actual new registrations have been very flat. Total active status registration bottomed out at the end of processing the countywide mailing on April 17 at 90,370. A month later, despite Democrats jumping two full points in registration share and Republicans gaining 0.6%, with corresponding No Party and third party losses, total registration is up just 55 people at 90,425. New registrations are almost immediately balanced by other counties taking voters away from us - many of those from the Dorm Diaspora. (Under-discussed issue: the census impact of COVID, and vacant campuses on April 1, on college towns.)

That shows that just about EVERYTHING about this election is being driven by that statewide mailing. It's been an election like no other, but it feels like the future.

Oh, as for my own ballot? Brad Kunkel, of course, for sheriff, the three incumbent supervisors, and Greenfield.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

An Unconventional Situation and An Unconventional Brain

My initial reaction to the Iowa Democratic Party's decision to postpone county conventions hasn't been good. In part that's because locally, our local decision was pushed by the venue cancelling our site reservation before we could consider what we wanted to do on our own.
I had some negative feelings about the convention site host because of some caucus issues. (The caucus chair in that precinct made it work in a not as good site, but I still think the Iowa code section that says tax-supported facilities "shall provide the space required" means "SHALL," not "unless there's a ball game." If we ever have a caucus again, which I doubt, we need to press that point or strengthen that law.)

In part my bad reaction is because of some other pre-existing conflicts with some other people and, now that I'm out of the closet about it, because of my place on the autistic spectrum and the impractical obsessions I get as a result.
I reject advice, sometimes even good advice, if I have rejected the person. And then I can't apologize, even if I should, because I'm still mad about the initial conflict. I don't know if I can find a way to sincerely apologize to the person I privately told to 🤬 off this week without some action on their part to make good the original thing I was angry with them about. I know that's wrong of me... but that's the kind of thing I struggle with.

I feel like I was treated unfairly on something a very long time ago, and that everyone else who has done the same thing I did since then has been treated differently. The backstory:

I'm the only person in our local organization who has ever been sanctioned for not supporting a nominee. I was removed as first vice chair in 2000 for refusing to support Al Gore, even though I did not violate any formal rules by publicly endorsing a non-Democratic candidate. All I did was loudly, but privately, express my opposition.

Yet every person since then in our county party who has done what I did, or even more, has been given a pass. Yeah, that still makes me bitter. Why is it OK to refuse to support Hillary Clinton or Fred Hubbell or Terry Dahms, but not Al Gore? Why is it OK to not back the nominee unless you're Deeth? My brain needs to have a WHY and it needs to have fairness, and I react badly when I don't get that. I'm asking for the same that was asked of me, which I was unable to do, and then I resent when others who can't or won't do it don't suffer the consequences I did.

Us Bill Bradley supporters were told, in almost these words, "you lost, 🤬 you, get on board." Which was exactly the wrong way to handle me, and so was belittling the issue I had with Gore. But nowdays, we are expected to kiss up to the supporters of the losers and listen to their "demands." That may be smarter politics, but I'm still mad that I didn't get the same respect in 2000 (or, for that matter, in 2004). Which makes me less inclined to extend that same courtesy. That's not smart politics for me, but that's the struggle in my head. Holding grudges sucks but my brain can't let some of them go.

Maybe this disclosure just makes me look foolish. 

The funny thing is, I now realize that my bitter opposition to Al Gore was a case of an autistic obsession of mine outweighing practical politics. That's not to say that, if I had it to do over again, I would do something different. The PMRC was wrong and those hearings, during my college radio days, were too formative a part of my political DNA. I never got over it, and I understand my brain well enough now to know that I never will, even though time has passed the underlying issue by. All I can do is try to laugh about it.

Anyway, I am trying hard to wrap my head around this whole virus thing in my own way, and it's hard work. I understand all the facts but something about this crisis is pushing all my oppositional defiant buttons and I don't understand why which makes it more frustrating. My weird on the spectrum brain lets me accomplish some amazing things, but sometimes it's a real barrier as well. 🤯

Thursday, March 05, 2020

The End Of Persistence

Thank you to Elizabeth Warren and all her organizers, volunteers, and supporters. I was proud to caucus for her and I am proud to support Joe Biden now. Since Warren is not going to be president, I hope to see her not on the ticket or in the cabinet, but where she is: in the Senate, nudging the Biden Administration in a more progressive direction.

More important thoughts for Iowa Democrats:

It is critically important for supporters of Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigeig to attend county, district, and state conventions. Not just for national delegates (which are locked in at the CD level, even for the dropped-out candidates), but for state central committee and other important offices. (And platform, if you care about that, which I don't.)

With Biden's poor showing in Iowa, if the supporters of the dropouts abandon the conventions, the Sanders faction will take over all those critical offices. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for the Sanders faction in the Democratic Party. But it should not be a disproportionately large or loud place. I welcome anyone who is willing to join the party and follow the rules (which Sanders himself is not). 
Some of those rules are: support the nominee, the national convention is not a deliberative body or place to protest, and end your campaign when the writing is on the wall.

If everyone shows up, the Sanders faction is weaker (26% of the Iowa state convention) than it was in 2016 (roughly 1/2 of state convention). But if only Biden and Sanders state delegates show up, it's 62% Sanders.

And since most of the mainstream team-player 2016 Sanders supporters abandoned him for other candidates, the remaining core of Sanders delegates is even more likely to act out in negative ways. There are good Sanders people - but at each level of convention in 2016, the supporters got more and more hard core and more and more difficult, culminating in Jill Stein signs at the national convention. Some states chose Bernie Or Busters as presidential electors who refused to support Hillary in the Electoral in College. We can't afford that kind of stupidity. A Biden win is going to be very, very narrow.

It will be a challenge, motivating the supporters of the former candidates to spend all day at a dull convention. The new no-re-align rules make it harder. But it is absolutely essential to a united party and a successful year. We need an actual effort to make this happen.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Vegas, Baby: A Series Of Tweets That Aged Badly

I looked at the Nevada crosstabs. 2/3 with voters under 40 and 50% with Hispanics in a field with six people seriously contesting the state. Unless something radically changes in the next week, which I hope, Sanders gets a too big to fail lead on Super Tuesday.

(UPDATE: Something radically changed. Continuing on with my thoughts at that brief moment:)

Trying to imagine how a CCI-Occupy style "coordinated campaign" with a non-Democrat leading the ticket is going to work for a agribusiness rural Democratic Iowa House challenger, when the alternative is not a Green New Deal Democrat but a home school Republican.

I'm not assuming there would BE a coordinated campaign. I assume there would be a Sanders campaign and that any down-ballot candidates who were not affiliated with Our Revolution would be on their own. Result would be a whole lot of ballots with only president marked. I can totally see Sanders hitting 75% in Johnson County and not winning a single other county in Iowa

I'm not even assuming that were he to win the nomination Sanders would even condescend to appearing on the ballot with "Democratic Party" under his name. He can pledge to appear on the ballot in the general as a Democrat and he can get rid of the (I-VT) today, if he wants. He won't. Hostility to the party is too big a part of the brand. 

If Sanders wins nomination (more likely than not) and if he cares about reaching out (less likely than not), respect for the Democratic Party as an institution matters to a lot of us who have been in the trenches fighting to make it better for a long time (30 years for me).  There's a lot of wise and experienced people within the Democratic Party who should not be thrown away simply because we prefer a different approach and don't salivate at the words "revolution" and "oligarchy."

I've long said losers don't get to make demands - but candidates who reach out to supporters of defeated rivals (Obama, Bill Clinton) tend to do better than those who say "F*** you, we won, get on board" (Gore, Kerry). But as noted, hostility to the Democratic Party as an institution is a core part of the Sanders brand, so I don't expect it. I think that's a net negative for him, but I hope I'm wrong.
Other thoughts on Nevada: I thought I was silly for giving all the caucus chairs a flipping coin, until Nevada gave everyone a deck of cards.
Cannot stop laughing at these big empty Nevada caucus rooms. Heard MSNBC saying early vote was 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 over caucus attendance. Not sure if that was that precinct or overall. But explains empty rooms. My bet is NSDP underestimated how popular early vote would be. Also, NSDP is a terrible acronym because, well, NSDAP.