Monday, June 11, 2018

Post-Primary Number Cruncher 2018

When you ask someone in Johnson County, "what's the turnout gonna be?" they say "I don't know. Ask Deeth."

The problem with that is I have no one to ask, and once the projections get beyond past records, I have nothing to go on.

It is literally my job to project turnout and I had predicted close to record turnout on the Democratic side - ballpark of 11,000 voters in Johnson County, tying the past record set in 2006. It was a similar political scenario - contested governor primary and a hot supervisor race (in 2006 as in 2018, an incumbent supervisor got knocked off).

But when the absentee numbers passed the 2014 final absentee number a week before the election, I started to fret.

Were people just voting earlier? Or was it a Great Leap Forward scenario like we've seen in other states where turnout breaks projections and records dramatically rather than incrementally? And if so, would it be across the board or would there be hot spots?

As it turned out with the turnout, it WAS a Great Leap Forward. Which is why they call us the People's Republic. And we saw some unusual hot spots.

For the first time in a very long time, it appears that a legislative race played a big role in boosting turnout - as percentages were noticeably higher in the precincts in Senate District 37. Given the outcome, it looks like non-typical primary voters were drawn to the polls by Zach Wahls. Throughout the election there were many questions about the district lines and many voters looking at their ballots and wondering where Wahls was (and to a much lesser extent his opponents). Late in the day I told Joe Bolkcom, the senator representing most of Iowa City, "a lot of people are really disappointed to be voting for you." He was amused.

Other hot spots included high-growth precincts in North Liberty, Tiffin, and Iowa City 24 on the east side - which is not surprising. More surprising was a spike on the southeast side at precincts 12, 14, and 15, and in the downtown precincts that included off-campus and non-student housing (11, 13, 20 and to a lesser extent 3). My bet is the governor's race drove those.

Interestingly, the places that usually turn out in high numbers for a Johnson County primary, the townie east side precincts, did NOT see a turnout spike. Rather, the rest of the county increased toward the usual east side levels.

We do turnout update calls at 9, 11, 3 and 6, and our rule of thumb built up over many years is: Turnout usually doubles from 9 to 11, from 11 to 3, and from 3 to close. (The 6 PM update is relatively new.) Usually, I start to worry at the 3 PM if a precinct has used more than 40% of its ballot supply.

At 3 PM Tuesday, 38 of the 57 precincts had used over 40% of their ballots.

From noon to about 8 PM it was one long game of Whack-A-Mole as we ran ballots around town and tried to stay a step ahead. We ran out of the standard pre-printed ballots briefly in a couple places but no one was delayed or turned away; a couple people had to vote on the "Express Vote" machine, the handicap-assistance device that prints a ballot. Luckily, we did not have a line of people all waiting to use the one Express Vote per precinct at the 9 PM close.

We ended up with 17,144 Democrats, about 6000 above my projections. Even the Republicans saw a spike with 1438 voters, almost twice my projection. For the first time in several low-key GOP primaries we did NOT have a precinct with zero Republican voters. We had little trouble running out of ballots on the GOP side, though; we had sent every precinct one pack of 50 Republican ballots and only one precinct (Shueyville) topped that.

Even the Libertarians, in their first primary, set records. Their 82 voters topped the Green's 48 voters from their lone primary in 2002. I REALLY had nothing to go on for projecting Libertarian turnout, but we didn't have more than four Libertarians in any one precinct. And does anyone know why, even though they had an actual contested two candidate primary, 7% of the Libertarian governor vote was write-in?

As for the Democratic governor's race, I had long predicted that, as in the multi-cornered 2014 Republican Senate primary, one candidate would get hot at the end. I had hoped that would be MY candidate, but we all know what happened there. (Nate Boulton winning his native Louisa County despite dropping out was the saddest and most bizarre factoid of the night.)

The candidate who got hot at the end, Fred Hubbell, seemed to benefit from Boulton's implosion. He was far enough ahead of the rest of the field that the dropout of the second-place contender seemed to be a catalyst for consensus. While normal voters are not especially aware of the 35% rule, most of the activist class was relieved to avoid the drama of a nominating convention - even if their candidate lost.

A lot of the party-regular activist class (as opposed to the Sanders-wing activist class) had come out for John Norris late in the game. I was surprised that the late boom for Norris did not seem to translate into support from rank and file voters, as he finished a poor third with just 11%.

In second with 20% was Cathy Glasson, and that figure illustrates the limits of the Bold Progressive rhetorical style and reinforces my argument that half of Bernie Sander's 2016 support, in Iowa and nationwide,  was simply opposition to Hillary Clinton in a two way race (or, as I usually put it, "I Hate That Bitch") and that the "язvolutioи" style alienates more voters than it attracts.  Boulton was polling better than Glasson with a similar platform presented in a less confrontational manner. The trick for Democrats is how to appeal to the hipster niche who are turned on by this style and who seem to be turned on by nothing but this style, without actually making their case in this style.

Glasson's one county level win in small Mills County was more of a statistical quirk than anything. Andy McGuire, thanks to Mike Gronstal's backing, had a relative hot spot in and around Council Bluffs, and her vote seemed to come almost entirely out of Hubbell's. John Norris also performed above average in Mills, as it's next door to his native Montgomery which he won with a whopping 69%. The split let Glasson carry Mills with just over 30%.

Glasson did NOT win here in her home county, the most progressive in the state, losing to Hubbell 44-30%. In fact, Hubbell won 96 counties, all but the three exceptions mentioned above.

Precinct-level results are hard to analyze since the absentee vote (28% of the Johnson County total but much higher in some precincts) is not broken out by precinct. Hubbell had a strong absentee ballot program that included multiple mailers (expect more of that in the fall) and he led the early vote over Glasson 50-24%.

Glasson managed a near-tie in the election day vote in Iowa City proper, losing just 38-37% and by less than 100 votes. But Hubbell won by about a dozen points in Coralville and North Liberty, and ran even stronger in rural areas.

John Norris ran ahead of Hubbell (but behind Glasson) in a couple of the more lefty Iowa City precincts but was below average in student areas. It seems older activists who caucused for Jesse Jackson in `88 remembered Norris fondly, but he did not reach younger voters. His hot spot was in Cedar Township at 37%. Ross Wilburn ran fourth in the county where he was once Iowa City's Biking Mayor, with his hot spot on the southeast side near his old neighborhood.

What might have been: The Des Moines Register ran its Boulton "me too" story the afternoon of May 23. Through the close of business that day 1520 Johnson County Democratic ballots were turned in. Boulton ended up with 339 absentee votes - which is 22% of 1520. (However, he also got 216 Election Day votes, so no assumption is going to be perfect.)
My vote DID count for something, though, as Andy McGuire finished dead last in the county.  She did run (barely) ahead of Boulton statewide.

Me and Zach on Caucus Night
Time and time again I have emotionally invested in young candidates, only to get my heart broken by the voters. Despite our massive young population, Johnson County did not have an Anesa Kajtazovic or a Stacey Walker or an Abby Finkenauer or a Chris Hall to call our own.

Until now.

On Tuesday, a 20something finally got a win in Johnson County, but it took someone so extraordinary that he's already an Iowa City and generational icon to do it.

Zach Wahls, who at age 19 passionately defended his two-mom family in front of a hostile legislative committee and shot to overnight viral video fame, is now near-certain to return to the capitol at age 27 (next month) as my state senator.

Wahls' landslide (60-35%) win indicates that voters were ready and eager to support him, and merely needed a little reassurance that he was ready for the job.

If he wasn't, there was a good backup plan. Retired diplomat Janice Weiner ran a much stronger race than expected in terms of fundraising and message, and in the process made Wahls a stronger candidate. Her only mistake was choosing the wrong race at the wrong time, a mistake she also made when she joined the 2016 special school board election late, after everyone had already chosen sides.

In a way, running the wrong race at the wrong time was also Jim Mowrer's mistake in the secretary of state's race. And like Weiner, Mowrer faced an opponent in Deidre DeJear who excited the activist base. There needs to be a place in the system for Jim, and there needs to be a place in the system for Janice. It'll be harder for Mowrer, who now has his third loss in a row.

The issue differences between Wahls and Weiner were minimal and this was a race about biography: rising star vs. resume.  Retiring incumbent Bob Dvorsky and ex-Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky did not formally endorse in the race, but virtually their entire network of local support (of which I'm a small part) was with Wahls, as was the core of an increasingly organized Solon activist base. Wahls also had an unusually high number of high school volunteers, cutting their teeth on their first campaign.

Weiner kept the race positive and there was a positive core to her coalition: old friends from the neighborhood and the synagogue, veterans of the 2016 Democratic HQ where she staffed, and assorted Women's March/League types.

But Weiner also drew some negative support -  though she didn't ask for it and it had little to do with her. Some supporters hurt Weiner more than they helped. A few Iowa City old guard types were anxious to shoot Wahls down now, before he becomes a threat for higher office. Other people attacked "insiders" and "machines" and nursed grudges against the Dvorskys over who they supported in races past and present. And the far left was mad about Wahls' very prominent 2016 support of Hillary Clinton - because no one gets forgiven for endorsing Hillary except Cathy Glasson.

For various combinations of these reasons, the No To Everything faction (who editorialized that Wahls should drop out simply because he is male) was with Weiner.  But they may have helped Weiner a little in Newport Township, which she almost carried - Wahls was in the 60%+ range in the rest of northeast Johnson County.

Wahls won the Coralville core of the district with 66%, and his best showing was 75% in Iowa City 8, where Weiner now lives (her roots are Coralville) but also where Wahls grew up and where The Moms still live. (One of the best parts of Zach's campaign for me was getting to know Jackie Reger and Terry Wahls.)  Weiner won Cedar County and Scott Township in Johnson; Wahls won the city of Wilton, the one Muscatine County precinct.

There were two other candidates in the race and both ended up as asterisks. Eric Dirth got some positive reviews for his forum answers but there wasn't a lane for a second 26 year old man, one who didn't have magic internet money and a life story that is literally a best seller. As for Imad Youssif, he ran an even weaker race than his last place run for Coralville city council last year, and he seems well on his way to perennial candidate status.

After disposing with token opposition from the Libertarians (Republicans may just let this one go), Wahls will go to the Senate with a high profile and high expectations, and if Fred Hubbell falls short Wahls will be the most prominent new face in the Capitol period. Zach has been an in-demand stump speaker for three cycles already, and has proven that he is a fund-raising magnet. In his new role as de facto senator-elect you can expect to see a lot of Wahls on the trail this year.

It's a big deal when an incumbent loses a primary in Johnson County. The last supervisor to lose a primary was Mike Lehman in 2006, and the last incumbent period was auditor Tom Slockett in 2012. (I still like saying that.)  Now Mike Carberry is out after one term. A story that resurfaced exactly when voting started about Carberry's dismissal from a prior job may have played a role.

There was a lot of grumbling about dissatisfaction with the Board, but it seems not to have affected Janelle Rettig, who finished in a strong first. With the high turnout, Rettig set a new record for most votes in a contested primary at 10,826.

That was about 1900 votes ahead of second place Pat Heiden, who had been about 300 votes short of the third and final nomination in 2016. The former Oaknoll director had never really stopped running and had worked hard to build her Democratic Party bona fides in the intervening two years. She'd been attacked as a "stealth Republican" in 2016 even though her Democratic donor record dates back to 2006.

Heiden's win sets up the first-ever female majority Johnson County Board of Supervisors, with Heiden and Rettig joining holdover Lisa Green-Douglass. It's not a first in state history, but it's believed to be the only one now. (While this was just the primary, the Republicans have no candidates, and no Republican has won a general election for supervisor since 1958.)

Rettig finished first in every precinct in Iowa City and Coralville and in most of North Liberty. Heiden won high growth North Liberty 6, the west part of the city, and carried most of the rural-rural precincts (Rettig carried some of the small towns and the suburban-rural precincts). Carberry's strongest showings were second places in the core Iowa City lefty precincts, 18 and 21, on the southeast side in 12 and 15, and in scattered rural precincts.

Going into the election it seemed like each of the three candidates had their own unique coalitions, and there was a lot of thought that voters would cast strategic "bullet" votes, using only one of the two available votes.

Using my patented Votes Per Voter statistic, we see that the average voter cast 1.58 votes for supervisor. That means on average 42% of voters cast only one vote in this race - and even more among people who voted for supervisor at all, because X number of people skipped the race entirely and just voted for governor or in the state senate race.

That tells me that this contest was not a concerted effort to get rid of any one person. You need to vote for two to do that. Rather. people voted for their first choice but held off on a second choice, worrying that their second choice might push their first choice into third place.

Greg Morris, a Hawkeye football equipment manager, had made some noise about getting into the race in March but didn't file. Days before the election, he announced a write-in effort. A total of just 249 write-ins were cast, and even if they were all for Morris (they weren't - I was told I got one vote) that would be below the 5% that would require his name to be included in the canvass. There was a noticeable bump in write-ins for supervisor in greater metro Solon, where Morris lives.

The biggest dud of the night would have to be Ginny Caligiuri's write-in campaign for the Republican congressional nomination. Caligiuri filed in March but was knocked off the ballot by a challenge.

I honestly thought that that Caligiuri might be able to pull off a write-in win. The circumstances were perfect for it: low Republican turnout, an actual campaign with money and stuff, and a Republican base not in love with 2016 candidate Christopher Peters, a small-l libertarian who has run in the past as a big-L Libertarian.

But the message must not have gotten out beyond the inner circle, as only 12.5% of the vote was for write-ins period. So instead of a social conservative with full party backing and the enthusiastic support of a governor from the same home town, Dave Loebsack faces the same opponent he bested in the bad 2016 cycle.

Now the biggest question I have left is: What's turnout gonna be in the fall?