Friday, November 13, 2020

How Johnson County Went Democratic For The 15th Time In A Row Since LBJ

(Or: how many different ways can I say "Third Party To Democratic") 

Four years ago, Pat Rynard at Iowa Starting Line did an epic, precinct-level post,  "How Dubuque County Went Republican For The 1st Time Since Eisenhower," and I blatantly stole the format and applied it to Johnson County.

With Dubuque flipping red in 2016, and staying flipped this time, Johnson County is the place with the longest consecutive Democratic presidential streak in Iowa. Joe Biden's local record setting win extended that string to 15 in a row, dating back to LBJ in 1964. Yes, despite some Irish Catholic roots here, JFK was the last Democrat to lose Johnson County. Nixon won here while losing the nation, and then lost here while winning the nation.

Four years ago, even though Hillary Clinton's numbers dipped only slightly from Barack Obama's 2012 totals, there were a lot of counter-trends by precincts - from a 20 point swing to the Democrats in north Coralville's precinct 6 to a 30 point shift to Trump in Oxford - that coincidentally balanced out.

This year, the big picture totals change more - but as we'll see the trends changed less.

Johnson County 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 22925 27.34% 21044 27.35% 1,881 -0.01%
Biden/Clinton 59177 70.57% 50200 65.25% 8,977 5.33%
Green 213 0.25% 878 1.14% -665 -0.89%
Libertarian 964 1.15% 2758 3.58% -1,794 -2.43%
Other 572 0.68% 2060 2.68% -1,488 -2.00%
Total 84,198   77,476   6,722  
Net shift from Trump -7096 (-5.34%)

I shouldn't have promised a remake of that post because this cycle, things don't stand out as much. In fact, what stands out is that Donald Trump's Johnson County percentage stayed nearly identical - 27.35 last time, 27.34 this year. Trump was already about as low as a Republican can get; the only one ever to do worse here, by about 0.2%, was Poppy Bush in the Ross Perot 1992 cycle.

The over-simplified version of the numbers that I offered in part one was that roughly 3/4 of the Johnson County third party vote shifted to Biden. There's some variation by precinct, and there were no doubt some Trump to Biden changes that were counterbalanced by some Third Party to Trump. But I feel like I'm reaching harder for less significant differences than four years ago. 2020 feels more like it's consolidating the 2016 pattern, with the third party shift explaining most of the difference.

Four years ago I broke Johnson County up into nine parts - Coralville, North Liberty and Tiffin, two rural sections, and five parts of Iowa City. So rather than look at every single precinct as I did in 2016, we'll just look at the nine parts. We'll start with the two parts of Iowa City that people think of when they think "Iowa City."

Campus and Downtown

(Iowa City precincts 3, 5, 11, 13, 19, 20)

Precincts 3 and 5 are dorm-dominated; 3 also has a chunk of neighborhood and an apartment chunk of mostly med students. 19 is almost entirely student apartments. 11 and 20 are mainly student apartments though 11 has a chunk of working class neighborhood and 20 has a couple senior buildings. Those are the five traditional "student" precincts. 13 has trended student since the construction of the Hawks Ridge apartment complex. Placing 13 here felt a little off in 2016, but now they're following the student pattern more closely.

Campus Area 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 1,661 21.66% 2,330 24.48% -669 -2.82%
Biden/Clinton 5,824 75.94% 6,379 67.01% -555 8.93%
Green 34 0.44% 143 1.50% -109 -1.06%
Libertarian 93 1.21% 464 4.87% -371 -3.66%
Other 57 0.74% 203 2.13% -146 -1.39%
Total 7,681   9,687   -2,006  
Net shift from Trump -114 (-11.75%)

The biggest thing we see here is the COVID related drop in overall turnout. Some students simply aren't here - they're remoting into class from Back Home or they're taking a gap year. And with the big push for mailed ballots, some were sending ballots Back Home rather than voting here. There's also the voter ID factor, as the student population is the least likely to have the right ID materials (that's a feature of the voter ID law, not a bug).

Everyone lost votes here but Trump lost the most. We saw big percentage shifts to Biden in precinct 3, the west side dorms, where Clinton underperformed last time, and in the downtown apartments of precinct 19 which saw some of the highest third party totals in the county four years ago. Both those precincts also saw stronger Trump declines than the rest of campus, where his share stayed about the same.

The exception to the turnout decline is precinct 11, which has seen a lot of new large apartment buildings go up in the last four years.

As I so often note, it's not undergrads that make Iowa City, or any other college town, a liberal island of blue. Undergrads still tend to follow parental political cues. No, it's grad students and faculty and staff who make college towns liberal, and they live in...

The People's Republic 

(Iowa City precincts 17, 18, 21)

The three precincts north and east of downtown are historically the most Democratic in the county. It barely even makes sense to make a walking list, because you'll get a Democrat at every door. This is as blue as it gets outside of majority-minority areas of major cities.

In 2000, Ralph Nader edged George W. Bush for second place in north side precinct 21, and 21 usually fights with Longfellow neighborhood 18 for bragging rights. Precinct 17 usually has a slightly lower percentage but has the biggest Democratic vote totals. 

Peoples Republic 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 584 11.24% 677 12.59% -93 -1.35%
Biden/Clinton 4,513 86.87% 4,325 80.45% 188 6.42%
Green 26 0.50% 116 2.16% -90 -1.66%
Libertarian 44 0.85% 130 2.42% -86 -1.57%
Other 28 0.54% 128 2.38% -100 -1.84%
Total 5,207   5,657   -450  
Net shift from Trump -281 (-7.77%)

There wasn't much room for Trump to drop here, though he did lose a couple points in 17 and 18, dropping below 9% and losing by a ten to one margin in precinct 18 . Trump actually GAINS a point in 21 - though Biden more than makes it up with the shift from the third parties. These precincts include some student population, which explains turnout being slightly down from 2016. 

The South/Southeast side

(Iowa City precincts 10, 12, 14, 15; Scott and West Lucas)

Iowa City's southeast side is an odd mix: trailer courts and big non-student working class apartments, interlaced with empty nesters who are not happy about Those People From Chicago. Iowa City, especially this area, has seen a noticeable black in-migration in the past 20 years, and also has a growing Hispanic population centered in these precincts. Included for demographic sake are two trailer-dominated "rural" precincts, Scott and West Lucas townships.

That demographic combination is less of a fit this year, as the trailer court precinct hold about steady or even shift slightly to the Working Class Tory phenomenon that is Donald Trump.  

South/Southeast 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 1,740 22.64% 1,481 21.76% 259 0.88%
Biden/Clinton 5,779 75.19% 4,816 70.75% 963 4.44%
Green 24 0.31% 117 1.72% -93 -1.41%
Libertarian 94 1.22% 210 3.09% -116 -1.86%
Other 49 0.64% 183 2.69% -134 -2.05%
Total 7,721   6,857   864  
Net shift from Trump -704 (-3.56%)

Here we see again the shift away from the third parties, but Biden gains less here than he did in midtown. Biden does gain a bit more in precincts 14 and 15, impressive since there wasn't much TO gain in 14, yet somehow he goes up to 85% from Clinton's 77.

About half of the turnout jump is from precinct 15, an artifact of the "redevelopment" of a large apartment complex. Long called Lakeside, and later rebranded a couple times, finally as Rose Oaks, it was historically a low income area. The whole complex was empty during the 2016 cycle as developers renovated. It reopened in 2017, gentrified and re-named The Quarters, and marketed to students.  Trivia: Precinct 15 dropped from the highest Green Party share in the county in 2016 to literally zero Green votes this year.

East Side

(Iowa City precincts 1, 6, 16, 22, 23, 24)

Now we're starting to get into "townie" Iowa City. There are apartments here and there but most of these voters are homeowners in long-established neighborhoods. Precinct 6 has large senior complexes. Precinct 22 has some new homes in the Peninsula neighborhood and the only population of students here, at the Mayflower dorm.

These voters are not usually left wing in local elections, but are solidly Democratic at the top of the ticket.

East Side 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 2,391 19.90% 2,288 20.70% 103 -0.81%
Biden/Clinton 9,411 78.31% 8,039 72.74% 1,372 5.56%
Green 35 0.29% 120 1.09% -85 -0.79%
Libertarian 92 0.77% 288 2.61% -196 -1.84%
Other 89 0.74% 316 2.86% -227 -2.12%
Total 12,076   11,155   921  
Net shift from Trump -1269 (-6.37%)

The big shift here happened from 2012 to 2016, and this cycle the simplified "third party to Democrats" explanation covers most of the story. The one standout is precinct 22, with its student influence leading both to a turnout drop and a 10% jump for Biden.

Most of the turnout gain is population growth in precinct 24, which covers most of the city east of Scott Boulevard. 

West Side

(Iowa City precincts 2, 4, 7, 8, 9; University Heights)

There's a lot of similarity to the east side here, with Kennedy Parkway in precinct 7 taking the place of Windsor Ridge and Oaknoll in precinct 2 more than taking the place of the senior complexes in precinct 6. Precinct 4 is mostly the doctor/professor dominated very old neighborhood, Manville Heights; the enclaved speed trap University Heights has a similar feel.

But there's a few wild cards here. Precinct 4 also has a chunk of Frat Row, and there's a low income area split between 7 and 9 that includes a large and politically active Sudanese community.

West Side 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 1826 19.13% 1801 20.28% 25 -1.15%
Biden/Clinton 7524 78.83% 6467 72.82% 1,057 6.02%
Green 23 0.24% 87 0.98% -64 -0.74%
Libertarian 105 1.10% 286 3.22% -181 -2.12%
Other 66 0.69% 240 2.70% -174 -2.01%
Total 9601   8952   649  
Net shift from Trump -1032 (-7.16%)

Again, not much shift here and what shift there was is mainly third party to Biden. Turnout was up the most in precincts 7 and 8 where there's still some new development, and the swing to Biden was strongest in University Heights. 


(Coralville precincts 1-7; Penn township)

Demographically there's really two Coralvilles. South Coralville (precinct 1, 4, and 5) is mostly older homes and apartments. North Coralville (precincts 2, 6, 7 and the demographically similar Penn Township) has bigger and newer homes and more money. Precinct 3 doesn't quite fit either; it's dominated by the Coral Court apartment complex and the Western Hills trailer court (where registration has been in decline).

Coralville 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 3443 24.77% 3,048 25.75% 395 -0.99%
Biden/Clinton 10174 73.19% 7,927 66.98% 2,247 6.21%
Green 29 0.21% 105 0.88% -76 -0.67%
Libertarian 160 1.15% 409 3.46% -249 -2.30%
Other 95 0.68% 346 2.92% -251 -2.24%
Total 13977   11,935   2,042  
Net shift from Trump -1852 (-7.20%)

The biggest shift here is in Coralville 6, which was a little more Hillary skeptical in 2016 but turned away from Trump this time. There was also a turnout jump in Coralville 1 due to new apartments.

North Liberty and Tiffin

(North Liberty precincts 1-6; Clear Creek/Tiffin precinct)

This is some of the fastest growing turf in the state (and North Liberty finally got its HyVee during this four year cycle... though technically it's in Coralville.)

North Liberty/Tiffin 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 4,767 33.44% 3,684 32.84% 1,083 0.61%
Biden/Clinton 9,146 64.16% 6506 57.99% 2,640 6.17%
Green 22 0.15% 104 0.93% -82 -0.77%
Libertarian 224 1.57% 569 5.07% -345 -3.50%
Other 95 0.67% 356 3.17% -261 -2.51%
Total 14,292   11284   3,008  
Net shift from Trump -1557 (-5.57%)

North Liberty 3, with a lot of new high end development, topped 11 percent 3rd party in 2016, and that gave them more room for a 8.7% swing to Biden. North Liberty 6, the rapidly developing west side of town, also saw nearly a 9 point swing to Biden. But Tiffin, growing even faster, only saw about a 5 point shift. Trump's actual share stayed very steady in these precincts, with the shift coming entirely out of the third parties. 

Trivia: North Liberty 6 and Tiffin are now two of the three largest (by registration) precincts in the county. The other is Iowa City 24. None of that matters after next year, when we tear up the precinct map and start over.

Trump did even better at holding his own in the last two parts of the county.

The Greater Solon Metropolitan Area

(Big Grove, Cedar, Graham, Jefferson and Newport townships; cities of Shueyville, Swisher and Solon)

Even the most casual local observers have seen a GOP trend in northeast Johnson County. Retiring sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek only pulled 53% in the Johnson County part of House 73, not nearly enough to offset Bobby Kaufmann's big win in the rest of the district. (Swisher and Shueyville are in Amy Nielsen's House 77, not 73.)

Solon Area 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 4,160 47.21% 3,638 46.15% 522 1.06%
Biden/Clinton 4,507 51.15% 3,759 47.68% 748 3.47%
Green 11 0.12% 48 0.61% -37 -0.48%
Libertarian 85 0.96% 242 3.07% -157 -2.11%
Other 48 0.54% 196 2.49% -148 -1.94%
Total 8,849   7,933   916  
Net shift from Trump -226 (-2.40%)

Not as much shift away from Trump here, though Jefferson West (the Swisher precinct) flipped back from Trump in `16 to a narrow 5 vote Biden win. Trump carried Big Grove, Cedar, and Jefferson East (Shueyville), and Biden won the city of Solon, Newport, and by a larger margin Graham township, which has kept its ancestral Democratic voting pattern while the rest of the area has shifted. Graham (the smallest precinct in the county) is also the only precinct here to see very little turnout growth.

Rural Rural Johnson County

(Fremont, Hardin, Liberty, Lincoln, Oxford Pleasant Valley, Sharon, Union, and Washington townships; cites of Hills, Lone Tree, Oxford)

The North Corridor precincts we just looked at are mostly suburban, but the final chunk of the county is where the farms and true small towns are. Sharon and Washington townships have always voted like pieces of GOP leaning Washington County that were accidentally surveyed into the wrong county. Now, the rest of the precincts here are following those patterns. Most of the 11 precincts where Republican supervisor candidate Phil Hemingway led the three incumbent Democrats are here.

RURAL rural 2020 2020% 2016 2016% Vote Diff % Diff
Trump 2,353 49.30% 2,097 48.00% 256 1.30%
Biden/Clinton 2,299 48.17% 1,982 45.37% 317 2.80%
Green 9 0.19% 38 0.87% -29 -0.68%
Libertarian 67 1.40% 160 3.66% -93 -2.26%
Other 45 0.94% 92 2.11% -47 -1.16%
Total 4,794   4,411   383  

Net shift from Trump -61 (-1.50%) 

Last cycle we saw a massive 17 point shift from Obama to Trump here. That appears to be permanent as Biden only gained back 1.5%.  Oxford, which saw the biggest shift in the county last time (a net 30% swing to Trump) swung narrowly back to the blue column this time, though Obama's 63% from 2012 is only a dim memory.

Trump holds steady and even gains slightly here, while Biden gains just a little more. The only place where Trump sees a significant dip is Union township, which while still mostly Rural rural is close enough in to attract some subdivisions and commuters.

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