Thursday, November 13, 2008

Johnson County Canvass Facts

Election 2008: Johnson County By The Numbers

The canvass is done and the 2008 election is in the books. Time to dig really deep into the Johnson County numbers. And we can dig deeper than ever before. Thanks to changes in the law, we now get the absentees broken out by precinct, and not just all lumped together. That makes a big difference when more voters in your county vote absentee than on Election Day.

Obama won the early vote in every single Johnson County precinct. You might have guessed from the party breakdown of the requests--58 percent Democratic to 15 percent GOP with the rest no party or third-- but we now officially know. The early vote was closest in tiny Monroe Township, which Obama carried by one vote.

In four precincts -- Coralville 6, Big Grove, Madison and Monroe -- Obama trailed on Election Day but won the combined, overall vote on the absentees. So if nothing else, the new law takes away bragging rights from Republicans who, in past years, could have claimed they "won" those precincts.

But McCain did win two precincts fair and square on the combined results. Sharon and Washington, in the southwest corner, saw big enough Election Day wins to offset Obama's early vote leads. Those two townships have long leaned Republican, but weren't enough to save Jarad Klein against Democrat Larry Marek in House District 89.

Looking at the combined vote, Obama ran at 75 percent in Iowa City and 64 outside, for an overall percentage of 69.9. Better than LBJ's 68.1-- but damn, I really wanted that 70. McCain ended up at 28.4--just below Dole, just above Bush 41 in 1992. But remember, those were three way races. (Trivia: Perot wasn't the strongest third party candidate ever in Johnson. That would be John Anderson in 1980.)

The most likely McCain voter was an Election Day voter in Washington Township, at 61 percent. The most likely Obama voter would be an early voter in Iowa City 21, which went -- wait for it -- 90 percent Obama, 9 percent McCain on the absentee. (This is the precinct where, on the Election Day vote in 2000, Bush ran third behind Nader.) Still, that's not the most insane absentee margin for Precinct 21; Mary Mascher was at 91, and Harkin was at 92. That's with opponents, but it's getting near the margin you see for unopposed candidates running against the write-in line.

Not much evidence of ticket splitting, especially on the Republican side where the top of the slate bunched tightly together. Miller-Meeks led Team GOP at 30 percent, with McCain at 28 and Reed at 25. Harkin ran about five points ahead of Obama. Loebsack ran about five points behind Obama, which roughly equals the five points that the third party candidates won.

The Election Day voter was more likely to choose the straight ticket (30.5 percent) than the early voter (23 percent). 24 percent of all Election Day voters marked Straight D, vs. 14 percent of early voters. Democratic straight tickets led Republicans 4 to 1 on the early vote and 1.5 to one on Election Day. That's roughly in proportion to the rest of the voting behavior.

But a lot of voters who don't mark the straight ticket line still vote mainly in one party. How else to explain the 55 percent that Rebecca Spears polled in House District 79 despite dropping out of the race months before and not even having the ambition to bother getting her name off the ballot?

None of that is really all that crucial, beyond the bragging rights of "Democrats won really big" vs. "Democrats won really, REALLY big." The breakdown is more interesting when you look at Johnson County's closest race, the conservation bond.

When the absentees went up at 70 percent Yes on Election Night, I thought: "It has to break even at the polls to win" the required 60 percent. It didn't quite happen, as Election Day was 51 percent no, but with five absentees for every four ballots at the polls, Yes made it with 60.8 percent. (The biggest loser on Election Day? No, not Chris "Not Tom Harkin" Reed. The jail.)

Opponents got a late start on their Flip No campaign, while supporters worried that the earliest early voters would "undervote," or skip the issue.

The problem with comparing early vote and Election Day is that the early voters were a heavily Democratic pool, so it's hard to figure out whether the margins are because the No campaign started late, or if the early voters were more inclined to support Yes in the first place. But it turns out the undervote was pretty much comparable across the board, ranging from 8.9 percent for rural Election Day voters to 13.5 percent for Iowa City absentee. The rurals were slightly more tuned in to the race, and significantly more opposed, but were outnumbered by Iowa City.

Even in the student precinct absentee vote, a lot of which was cast at satellites three weeks before Election Day, the undervote peaked at around 25 percent.

Overall, it was a little higher than the 10 percent undervote rate we saw in the 2000 jail vote, and just a little below the 12.6 percent undervote on the Idiot Amendment.

Way, way below the 47 percent undervote on the last judge on the ballot. Just anecdotally, the judge percentages seemed almost identical to four years ago, maybe slightly up. I'm seeing 79 percents where I was seeing 77s or 78s. Guess the Iowa Christian Alliance campaign--vote no on all judges till they answer our surveys the way we want with details on abortion and gay marriage--didn't have much traction in the People's Republic. (It also got announced late, which doesn't help in a 55 percent early vote county.)

One voter in 300 skipped the presidential race, which is comparable to past years. Weird, but it's a free country. One interesting thing: presidential write-ins were way up. The county had 60 or 80 of those each of the last four elections, but this year there were 342, more than any one of the third-party candidates. I haven't looked at them, but I suspect the Hillary PUMAs and the Ron Paul diehards are behind it.

The president-only vote is in the range of the 4 percent that skipped the two-way Senate race or the 5 percent who blew off the multiple-choice congressional contest. But there's no way to cross-reference that. Someone could have voted, say, for president, skipped the other high-on-the-ballot races, and jumped down to the conservation bond.

No particular geographic pattern to the write-ins or third parties, who all rounded down to 0 percent. Nader finished third, but waaay below the 6 percent he polled here in 2000. Almost the same exact number of votes as he got in 2004; 90 percent of the Nader vote evaporated after 2000 and didn't come back.

Libertarian Bob Barr was fourth, followed by Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party, with Cynthia McKinney at sixth. In fact, McKinney polled fewer votes than the Green straight ticket line. In Iowa, an individual ballot mark overrides the straight ticket. That means at least 23 people marked the Green straight ticket, and then crossed over to vote for someone else for president.

McKinney may have been hurt by the change in state law that gave the Greens and Libertarians a minor party, "political organization" status. Until this year the only way to get any sort of party status was to poll 2 percent for president (like Nader did in 2000) or governor. Now that there's a petition process, there's much less impetus to vote Green Party at top of the ticket. You don't have to choose between the presidency and the G on your voter card, and I'd guess that some Greens felt getting the Republicans out of the White House was a higher priority than McKinney's percentage in an obscure canvass book. Unless they were among the four people who read my world exclusive interview and voted for Gloria LaRiva.

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