Obama: top percentage ever in Johnson County
Barack Obama fell just short of my personal goal of 70 percent in Johnson County-- 69.91 to be exact. It rounds up, so I'll take it. Obama broke the LBJ 1964 mark of 68.08 percent--but was it the best presidential result ever in the People's Republic?
The answer, I've found, is a qualified yes.
You can really only compare results back to 1920. For one thing, before that, only men were allowed to vote. For another, those men weren't voting for president. Iowa listed the individual electors on the ballot, and you had to cast a separate vote on each elector. (Alabama did it that way as late as 1960.) Tickets got split, intentionally or accidentally. Woodrow Wilson's 13 candidates for elector in 1916 won between 3,623 and 3,650 votes in Johnson County. So which of those is Wilson's "vote total?"
Iowa was traditionally a Republican state back before Harold Hughes, with a couple brief Democratic interregnums in the Panic of 1893 and the Depression. (Such polarized terms to describe the same phenomenon: Panic and Depression.) But even that far back, Johnson County was a Democratic area and Wilson won twice. Harding and Coolidge coasted through the Republican `20s, but Al Smith made it close as two forces collided: Iowa City's Irish-Czech Catholic heritage vs. hometown boy Hoover. Hoover won the county by less than a point, our closest result ever.
The FDR era was where I though Obama might have been topped. But Roosevelt peaked at 60.5 in 1932. Johnson County stayed with FDR all four times, even as Willkie and Dewey won Iowa in `40 and `44. Harry Truman held on, too (the famous whistle stop tour included a stop in Oxford) as Iowa was one of the farm states that flipped between 1944 and 1948.
Ike set the county's Republican record in 1952 at 58.04, and slipped about a point in `56. And the one that really stands out: Nixon beat JFK, the last time the GOP carried the county for President and the only time we ever backed a losing Republican. The two times Nixon won, he lost Johnson County. When 18 year olds got the vote we luuuuved McGovern with 57.8 percent of our love.
Republicans generally won at least 40 percent through Jerry Ford, but the last to top 40, or even 35, was Reagan in `84. Jimmy Carter dropped below 50 percent in 1980 but still won the county, as John Anderson (NOT Perot) set the modern third party peak at almost 19 percent (Fighting Bob LaFollette was a wee bit higher in 1924).
Interestingly, the third highest Democratic percentage, below Obama and LBJ, was of all people Michael Dukakis. Perot cut into Clinton's percentages and Nader cut into Gore's, but 1988 was a weak third party year (sorry, Ron Paul).
As for Nader, he was at 6 percent in 2000 but 90 percent of that support vanished after Florida as he was at near-identical levels in `04 and `08.
The GOP low water mark was HW's 27.1 in 1992, with Perot at almost exactly one vote in six. But McCain was second worst, in an essentially two-way race, at 28.4. In fact, if you look just at two-party percentages, and ignore the 1964 spike, there's a more or less steady Republican decline from Eisenhower to the present.
So that leaves Obama on top. There were no national landslides bigger than 1920 before 1920, so it's reasonably safe to call it Biggest Ever. Unless, that is, you want to calculate percentages on Abe Lincoln's individual electors.