Monday, November 3, 2014

A Look Back: Marion County 2010 Election Analysis

With the 2014 "midterm" election just a few days away, I wanted to dive back and look at what happened four years ago in 2010. While I'm only looking over what happened in Marion County, Indiana and limiting myself to only the races all Marion County voters could vote in, I'm also taking into consideration events happening throughout the state and nation that could influence the outcome. In addition to looking at a candidate's vote total and vote percentage, I'll also be looking at the vote total for each office on the ballot. I'll also look into why candidate's of the same party may receive different vote totals or percentages of the vote. Finally, if there is no Libertarian candidate on the ballot, where do those Libertarian voters go?

At the top of the ballot was a United States Senate race, followed by three state-wide elections for Secretary of State, Auditor of State, and Treasurer of State. Following any state legislative races, the county wide offices were listed in the order of Prosecutor, Clerk, Auditor, Recorder, Sheriff, and Assessor. I initially planned on analyzing each race, but the US Senate and the state-wide races actually provide perfect examples of how votes shift based on circumstances of a race, availability of a specific political party's candidate to vote for, the "protest vote", and how people change their votes even when a candidate from a specific political party isn't available.

My source for these statistics are from the Marion County Clerk's certified election results.

Nationally, Democrats had victories across the nation in 2006 and 2008. With the national Tea Party movement arguably at the peak of its power, Republicans swept elections across the United States, gaining a majority in the United States House of Representatives and strengthening their minority within the United States Senate. Within the states, 29 Governorships ended up in the hands of Republicans and a majority of the state legislatures had GOP majorities as well, including our state of Indiana. It was a good year for Republicans. And even though Marion County is a Democratic county, the votes still reflect a strong Republican year even though no Republican won a majority in any contest that all Marion County voters could participate in.

The top of the ballot was a United States Senate race that was won by a former GOP US Senator, Dan Coats. Even though the total number of votes for the race was 214,077, neither Coats nor his Democratic challenger, then-US Rep Brad Ellsworth, received the most votes among their party's candidates eligible for a county wide vote. Coats finished last among all Republican candidates in Marion County, while Ellsworth trailed Democratic candidates in the much lower profile races of County Sheriff, Clerk, and Recorder. Ellsworth's campaign had a late start when US Senator Evan Bayh opted not to run for re-election, announcing the decision only days before the filing deadline to run in the Democratic primary closed. With no candidate on the primary ballot, the state Democratic Party had to vote and the Indiana Stonewall Democrats abstained from voting. He also skipped out on Indy Pride that year, though staffers were present. Looking back, it would be hard for any Democrat to win a US Senate Race in Indiana in 2010.

Coats ran honestly a boring race in the general, but his campaign wasn't a perfect campaign either. He won a GOP primary only because the Tea Party vote was split between four candidates and only rented a home and gathered enough signatures just before the deadline to be in the primary. Throughout the campaign, he was surrounded on questions of where he lived and why he didn't run for re-election back in 1998.

For disgruntled Republicans, Democrats, and actual Libertarians, the Libertarian candidate Rebecca-Sink Burris benefited receiving 11,879 votes, the most votes any LP candidate received that qualified for a county wide vote.

The Secretary of State race is special because a party that wins at least 2% of the vote in this contest gains automatic ballot access for the next four years. The Libertarian Party makes a special effort in this race so as to maintain automatic ballot access. On a county-by-county basis, the party that wins the SOS race also gets placed first on the ballot, so even if a party knows it is going to win or lose the race state wide, they'll still put in an effort in their strongholds to get the best ballot placement in general elections.

Two outside factors played an important part in this race. Democratic candidate Vop Osili is an Indianapolis native and campaigned heavily within Marion County. GOP candidate Charlie White, who won, was eventually forced out of office due to a series of felony convictions, including voter fraud. While the criminal charges and eventual conviction didn't occur until after he took office, the blogosphere started to pick up on the story as the election played out. At the time, sources told me that the White campaign effectively stopped campaigning in the final days of the campaign. Generally, the state-wide non-gubernatorial races are fairly low profile and people vote for the party they feel most aligned with, and White underperformed compared to the GOP candidates for Auditor of State and Treasurer of State.

Mike Wherry, the LP candidate for Secretary of State, seemed to gather some protest votes for Republicans who couldn't vote for White. Independents seemed also to break for Osili, perhaps due to the campaigning he did or having the home court advantage. He very well may have gotten some disgruntled Republican votes as well.

The difference in vote totals between Secretary of State and Auditor of State, 1780, can mostly be attributed to the drop off in the Libertarian candidate no longer being used as a protest vote. The Libertarian candidate only had 1510 less votes in the Auditor's race but the Republican candidate, incumbent Tim Berry, performed very well in the race getting nearly 47% of the vote while the Democrat didn't even crack 50% in Marion County. In these lower profile races, with no extenuating circumstances, people tend to go with their party identity and vote that candidate since they aren't familiar with the issues surrounding the race or the candidates. The Democratic candidate for Auditor of State also gets the honor of the lowest vote total for any Democrat running in 2010 that all Marion County voters were able to vote for.

Treasurer of State only had 603 less votes than Auditor but no Libertarian candidate. The vast majority of voters who chose Libertarian candidates elsewhere on the ballot simply chose one of the two major party candidates, Democrat Pete Buttigieg or Republican incumbent Richard Mourdock. Mourdock received 5754 more votes than the GOP candidate for Auditor did, while Buttigieg received  2195 more votes than the Democratic candidate for Auditor. If we had those two vote differences together and add the 603 less votes cast in this race, we get 8552, which is the same number of votes the Libertarian candidate received in the Auditor race. Mourdock had already been making the rounds at Tea Party meetings, so it is likely that self-identified Libertarians were already familiar with him and that's why they broke for him in such strong numbers.

Races for Treasurer and Auditor are important because, to the average voter, they have no idea who these people even are, and might not even know what the office of Auditor or Treasurer even does. In that case, voters are more likely to default to their standard political affiliation. Even more important in Indiana politics is that for a Democrat to win a state-wide seat, they really need to drive up the margins within Marion County and Lake County and not do horrible elsewhere. So if a Democrat candidate is only going to win Marion County by a slim margin, such as in the Treasurer of State's race, things don't bode well for Democrats.

And a brief note on the county races: Discounting the Prosecutor's race, which received the bulk of campaign money and media attention, they all heavily re-enforce that Marion County is a Democratic county. There are some interesting disparity in the numbers each Democrat candidate received, but that likely has to do with who really worked with grassroots party activist and who just decided to coast on the Democratic baseline. Also of note that even though the state-wide races had a decent showing for their GOP candidates within Marion County, that didn't translate into votes for Republicans lower on the ballot.

What does this have to do with the 2014 race tomorrow? Probably nothing. But it is interesting to see how voters We'll of course have fun analyzing the 2014 results later this week.