It's hard to draw firm conclusions from a “poll” that lets small children vote. But with a decade long track record, the mock election at the Johnson County fair has at least been an indicator of which way the wind is blowing.
The Johnson County Auditor's office started running the mock vote in 1999, and has only missed one year since. If the patterns of the past hold, the mock results indicate a good year for Democrats.
Barack Obama's 66.5 percent at the fair was well ahead of John Kerry's 56.5 percent in 2004. Granted, this is the heavily Democratic People's Republic of Johnson County. But comparing results from past July mock votes to the final November tally shows that the fair crowd leans a bit more rural and Republican than the county as a whole. Kerry improved to 64.1 percent in Johnson County in the fall, but that big Johnson County margin wasn't enough to make up the deficit for Kerry elsewhere in Iowa as George Bush carried the state.
|Barack Obama (Dem)||482||66.5%|
|John McCain (Rep)||191||26.3%|
|Bob Barr (Libt)||16||2.2%|
|Cynthia McKinney (Green)||14||1.9%|
|Ralph Nader (Nom. Pet.)||12||1.7%|
|Chuck Baldwin (Const)||4||0.6%|
|Brian Moore (Soc)||3||0.4%|
|Roger Calero (Soc Work)||3||0.4%|
|Tom Harkin (Dem)||486||68.5%|
|Christopher Reed (Rep)||175||24.6%|
|Diana Newberry (Soc. Work)||49||6.9%|
|Dave Loebsack (Dem)||456||64.8%|
|Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Rep)||188||26.7%|
|Brian White (Nom. Pet.)||60||8.5%|
|Constitutional Amendment (50% required)|
|Conservation Bond (60% required)|
Just as notable as the Democratic gain was Republican slippage at the fair this year, as John McCain managed only 26 percent. Bush's totals at the fair, and in the real election, were stable between 2000 and 2004 in Johnson County, with Bush taking about 42 percent in the mock election and 34 percent in the real election both times, with the difference in Democratic margins being due to shifts in third party totals.
Third party votes have been bigger at the fair than in the fall, for a couple reasons. Any poll is a snapshot in time, and historically, third parties have lost support as election day gets closer. And since the mock vote doesn't really count, it's easier to get a protest vote out of your system at the fair.
Yet the county fair was an early indicator in 2004 that the Ralph Nader vote had largely collapsed. Nader took 8 percent of the fair vote in 2000, on his way to 6 percent in Johnson County in the real election. But in 2004, Nader slipped to less than 1 percent at the fair, and was down to 0.5 percent in the real vote. This year, Nader was at 1.7 percent at the fair.
In some sense, the third party tallies at the fair can be considered a none of the above or undecided vote. County fairs, even in Iowa City, are not known as hotbeds of Marxism, so how else to explain the 7 percent that the Socialist Workers candidate for U.S. Senate, Diana Newberry, picked up? That closely matches the 8.5 percent that independent moderate Brian White got in the U.S. House race, and the 7 percent for all the third party presidential candidates together.
The Senate race indicates smooth sailing for Tom Harkin, who won the fair with 68.5 percent to Republican Christopher Reed's 25 percent. That's better than Harkin did in 2002, when he won 60.5 percent at the fair on the way to 65 percent in the real election. The Greens lost two-thirds of their Senate vote between the fair and the fall in 2002, and the math indicates that it shifted to Harkin. The fair exactly predicted Greg Ganske's 32 percent of the fall vote.
The fair predicted bad news for Democrats in the 2002 2nd District congressional race, when highly touted challenger Julie Thomas lost to Jim Leach even as Harkin and Tom Vilsack were winning their mock contests. The 51 percent to 45 percent margin was within two percent off the real election result in the county.
But this year, Dave Loebsack ran about even with Obama and Harkin, at 65 percent to 27 percent for Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and the aforementioned 8.5 percent for White. (2006 was the one year the auditor's office missed the fair, making the mock election just one more source that didn't see Loebsack's win coming.)
Supporters of a local conservation bond referendum got good news at the fair. The bond will need a 60 percent supermajority to pass, and it carried the fair with 76 percent. But one in eight skipped the measure. Bond supporters are pushing the phrase “turn the ballot over” to remind voters not to forget the $20 million measure.
And, in what may be the only poll of any sort between now and November on the “Idiot Amendment,” fair voters overwhemlingly supported changing the language of the Iowa Constitution from the 19th century term to the more politically correct “mentally incompetent.”
Other mock elections involving children, like the Kids Vote program in schools, show a pattern of younger children following the lead so parents, so maybe that doesn't invalidate the numbers as much as one would think. The Secretary of State will also be running a student mock election on October 30. Last winter, the Secretary of State's mock caucus program for students correctly predicted the finishing order of Obama-Edwards-Clinton on the Democratic side and Huckabee-Romney for the Republicans, though Obama's margin with the students was well above his actual caucus result.