Monday, June 02, 2014

Johnson County Early Voting: Strong Opinions, Normal Voters

All the early votes are in the box waiting to get counted and Johnson County saw high early turnout - but not as high as it looked early on.  What do the numbers tell us?

The Dems were the draw.  2875 Democrats cast early ballots, ahead of the 2467 from 2006, the party's record turnout year here. In contrast, Republicans saw 584 early voters, down from the 955 in the 2010 governor primary, their second biggest primary here trailing only the epic 1994 "Gopher" primary between Terry Branstad and Fred Grandy. Mark Jacobs did an absentee mailing but the response paled compared to Terry Branstad's 2010 effort.

The Democratic courthouse primaries for supervisor and especially county attorney were a bigger crossover temptation than the GOP's top ticket races. 327 no party voters crossed over to the Democrats vs. just 55 voting Republican ballots.

Strong Opinions = Early Voting Earlier. Early on in the 40 day absentee window, Democratic early turnout was running at more than double the 2006 pace, even if you exclude the first-day satellite site (more on that below.) But by the end, the pace had dropped off to just above the 2006 level.

Opinions were strong, especially in the county attorney race, and my pet theory is that voters who used to vote, say, the week before the election were voting three and four weeks early.

Republican turnout started extremely slow; voters kept their powder dry till a couple weeks ago when the Senate race started to take shape with Joni Ernst as the likely frontrunner. (I saw my first Ernst sign in Johnson County only this weekend).

Normal Demographics. The other precincts showing high turnout were mainly in the usual places on Iowa City's east side: precincts 6, 16, 17, and 23. Progressive mothership precinct 18 (Longfellow) also voted heavily, as did the near west side areas of precinct 2 (includes Oaknoll) and University Heights. There was also a spike in Union Township, likely driven by Kevin Kinney in the State Senate 39 race. (That district is more likely to vote Election Day than early.)

County attorney challenger John Zimmerman heavily targeted students and other non-traditional voters, If he pulls off an unlikely upset over Janet Lyness, it won't be because of that strategy.

The Zimmerman campaign focused a weeks long effort on a first-day early voting site at the Old Capitol Mall. They drew 200 Democratic voters (padded by a specific effort to vote all their core supporters at that one site that one day.)  Not bad numbers for a campus oriented site 40 days before election day, compared to 32 voters at a 2006 primary site at the pre-flood IMU.

But not winning numbers. The only local election that's ever been won on the student vote was the 2007 21 Bar vote (2010 came close). That election saw 444 at the UI Library (instead of the 35 who showed up this year), 524 at Hillcrest, and 945 voters at Burge. That's what winning numbers look like, and the opportunity to catch those votes is past. Granted, June 3 is an awful election date for students, but the state sets that.

The southeast side didn't show up either, with just 10 voters at a Broadway Neighborhood Center site. Early voting turnout was 7 percent on the southeast side precinct 15, compared to 12 to 15 percent in the east side precincts. Both in the normal range for those areas.

Newport spike smaller. That 2006 record Democratic primary was, like this year, driven by county attorney and supervisor races (and boosted a little by the less significant post of governor). Development in the Newport Road area, then as now, was an issue in the 2006 supervisor race, where Larry Meyers defeated incumbent Mike Lehman.  Newport Township had 153 Democratic early voters that year.

This year, that dropped to 95. In terms of percentage turnout, Newport is still on the top tier, but not leading the pack by a wide margin like in 2006. And the absolute numbers aren't big. The bigger question is: how many urban allies do they have, and how important is that one issue in the big picture?

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