First, some assumptions:
- More recent data will be more valuable in prediction of future outcomes than data older than, say, fifteen years. There are at least two bases for this assumption. First, all things change with time and usually the more time passes the less predictive are older factors affecting voting patterns. Second, Lee Hamilton’s extended tenure colored the 9th well into the 1990s.
- The voters of the 9th District, subset of Indiana voters, subset of United States voters, have become increasingly partisan in two respects. Restated, a declining percentage of voters are actually independent in the sense that their votes are not predictable as Republican or Democratic.
- Both Republican and Democratic voters are more entrenched/solidified within their respective party’s positions regarding current issues.
- Presidential election years draw a higher percentage of registered voters to the polls than do non-presidential election years.
- Republican voters are more likely to vote in any given election than Democratic voters.
- In spite of Republican redistricting in 2010, the 9th District registered voters remain nearly equally divided between Republican and Democratic.
If the above assumptions are correct what should be the expected outcomes for 9th District elections?
- No independent or minor party candidate, even if he or she was able to obtain the number of signatures required to be listed on the fall 2018 ballot, has any reasonable chance of election.
- The Republican and Democratic candidates, regardless of any meaningful qualifications or lack of qualifications, will garner a significant proportion of the votes.
- Republican candidates should be more likely to win in non-Presidential election years because of lower overall voter turnout, Democratic candidates should be more likely than normal (but “normal” in the more recent elections is not too good) to win in Presidential election years because of higher voter turn out.
Let’s look at the 9th District election data for every election from 1998 through 2016 on an Excel spreadsheet with four worksheets: Indiana 9th District D vs R vote proportion 1998 through 2018 elections
Excel Worksheet 1 consolidates data, showing actual numbers of votes cast overall with the Republican and Democratic breakdown for each election. Associated percentages are number of votes cast compared to number of registered voters, number of Democratic votes compared to total votes cast, number of Republican votes compared to total votes cast (Dem + GOP may not = 100% due to independent candidates in some elections), and winning margin expressed as a percent of total votes cast. Winning margin percentages are positive (+) for Democratic wins, negative (-) for Republican wins.
Worksheet 2 displays the 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018 elections; those within the current boundaries of the 9th District. Columns display the number of registered voters for each county, an extra column following each partial county in the District (e.g., Morgan) showing an ‘adjusted’ number of registered voters (The adjustment factor was subjectively determined based on district maps. Only entire county registered voter data was available from the Indiana Election Division.) and a final column for the total number of registered voters in the District for that election. Registered voter data is unavoidably approximate, as it is in any state. Actual votes cast data is official, having been used to determine the victor.
Worksheet 3 displays the corresponding data for the 1998 through 2010 elections for the previous boundaries of the 9th District. While direct comparison between election data from the previous 9th District to those of the current, redistricted 9th would be misleading to some degree, the previous 9th data is sufficient to outline trends.
Worksheet 4a (on the left of the worksheet) displays the percent of voter turnout, percent of votes cast which were Democratic, percent of votes cast which were Republican, and margin of victory expressed as a percent of votes cast, + for Democratic and – for Republican. 4b (on the right of the worksheet) shows the 4a data in a line graph .
Data used in the Excel spreadsheet is from only two sources: registered voters by county from the Indiana Election Division and votes cast in the Indiana 9th District from the Office of the Clerk, United States House of Representatives. (Unfortunately, the “by county” Indiana Election Division registered voters data is exactly that, by entire counties; whereas the 9th District currently has three partial counties; Crawford, Morgan, and Scott. I have tried to account for this disparity by adding an estimated proportion factor to the spreadsheet entries for 9th District registered voters of the three counties.)
Readily visible are the voter turn out percentages from 1998 through 2018. Confirming our third assumption, the peaks are on a presidential election years, the valleys on the “off years”. The differences between the peaks and valleys are progressively larger in the more recent elections, e.g., from 29% voter turn out in 2014 to 57% in 2016. 2018 was an exception, voter turn out not dropping off as much as normal, probably because 2016 was not a normal election to follow.
Four elections stand out as notable: 2004 and 2012 because of variance from expectations. 2014 was a record-setter because of its extremes. Although most 2016 data returned to more normal ranges the margin of 9th District Democratic loss in a presidential election year set a new record.
In 2004 incumbent Democrat Hill lost to Republican challenger Sodrel in spite of the increase in voter turn out associated with the presidential election. However, the election was so close a recount was conducted resulting in an approximately 1,500 vote margin of victory for Sodrel. “Approximately” due to the lack of confidence in electronic voting machine results which could not be verified. The half of one percent difference in this one election does not conclusively refute the “Democrat candidates typically win in the 9th District during presidential election years” third expected outcome. However, see the 2016 election results below.
In 2012, a presidential election year, the margin of Yoder’s loss to Young was the largest Democratic loss at that time in recent history, a result in direct contradiction to what would be expected for the largest voter turn out between 1998 (and almost assuredly much further back, but I did not get into the Hamilton years as discussed above) and 2014: 56%. In absolute numbers, her -10.89% losing margin represented 32,472 votes. Yoder ran a vigorous campaign, well-managed, based on a “Strong voice for the middle class!” theme which should have resonated. Young was a first-termer in the House who had accomplished little of note in the legislative arena. His voting record was described as being over 97% in agreement with the recommendations of the Republican National Committee, prompting the question as to whether the 9th District really needed an incumbent at all: money could be saved by having the RNC cast votes on behalf of the 9th. (Constituent support could be contracted out?)
In 2014, a non-presidential election only two years later, Bailey lost to Young by even greater margins, -28.8% and 47,144 votes. The 47K votes were not that many more than Yoder’s 32K in spite of the much higher percentage losing margin because the voter turnout in 2014 was 47% less than that of 2012. One could say catastrophically less from a Democratic standpoint and certainly embarrassingly less from a viable representative government standpoint. Barely over half as many votes were cast. The 29% of registered 9th District voters actually voting established a recent history low. Restated, 71% of eligible voters did not bother to vote. The 2014 national election results were the worst for the Democratic party since 1994, the Newt’s Contract with America/Rush Limbaugh election. Both 1994 and 2014 elections followed the rebound pattern of the not-in-the-Whitehouse party – just to an extreme degree. 2014, in fact, was worse in many respects for the Democratic party than 1994. Bailey also had minimal support from the Democratic party in the 9th District, the leaders of which seemed to have largely written off the US House seat in the 2014 election. One might say they chose to “keep their heads down” to avoid personal embarrassment.
The Democratic party, especially in Monroe County, expected improvement in 2018. Liz Watson had experience with legislative work in Washington, D.C.; credentials appropriate for a US House of Representatives member; and campaigned vigorously and widely. Only one point often made during her campaign seemed less than impressive to this analyst: the doubtless true statement Watson had written language for Congressional bills. To do so one needs only to search for bills regarding similar issues through the Library of Congress “Congress.gov” website at https://www.congress.gov/ or alternatively through “govtrack” at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/browse. When the format and text of similar bills, past and current, are available it is a simple matter to copy, paste, and tailor to fit the author’s wishes. Remember the language will be reviewed and edited if accepted by a House committee and, if passed by the House and a parallel bill passes in the Senate, in conference committee before the bill becomes law.
What of our second expected outcome? Is there a base level of votes for candidates from either of the major parties regardless of any other factor other than the ‘R’ or ‘D’ by their names on the ballot? I certainly think so, and neglecting this factor distorts analysis of elections such as in 2012. Here’s an anecdotal case which I find persuasive because almost all other factors were absent: in the 1998 election with all Democratic candidates drug down by the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Indiana 7th District Democratic candidate Samuel Hillenburg decisively lost to popular Republican incumbent Edward Pease with 44,823 votes to Pease’s 109,712. Hillenburg had never run for elected office before in his life; had no name recognition; had no significant financial assets; was not especially handsome, baritone-voiced, articulate, or charismatic; and I had discovered his fraudulent employment application and processed his removal from federal service five years earlier. (Mr. Hillenburg’s removal was sustained after appeal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Mr. Hillenburg hired two lawyers. I testified. The removal was also sustained at the United States District Court level. His court appeal was dismissed with prejudice. I had submitted a brief. Mr. Hillenburg claimed three years of active duty military service on his Standard Form 171 application in order to use 10-point disabled veteran hiring preference. He did have a service connected disability but had no active duty, no active duty military separation form DD-214, and no Title 10 mobilization service from the Guard or Reserve forces. His selection based on the fraudulent application cheated three genuinely eligible disabled veterans from an opportunity for federal employment.) BUT, he was a Democratic candidate challenging a highly-favored Republican incumbent in a Republican district. 44,823 people voted for Samuel Hillenburg. With one or two additional supporting factors such as a presidential year candidacy – and in this hypothetical discussion one might as well throw in a Joel Deckard-like Republican incumbent’s automobile accident and DUI days before Democratic challenger Frank McCloskey’s victory – a non-descript, no significant background or qualifications Samuel Hillenburg might have been a United States Congressman. He had a ‘D’ by his name. Yes, I’d say there is a substantial baseline vote regardless of any other factors for both the Republican and Democratic candidates.
2004 was an aberration. Democratic incumbent Hill should have won. He defeated Sodrel in 2006 in spite of the non-presidential election year.
2012 was an example of only the “Partisan Base Level” of votes for a losing Democratic candidate in spite of the the three positive factors of a presidential election year, the greatest eligible voter participation in recent history, and a one-term incumbent at his most vulnerable.
2014 was a perfect storm of negative factors against Bill Bailey, a good man with a fine record of public service. He carried the Democratic flag when others would not and he received minimal party support, most conspicuous by its absence in Democratic-dominated Monroe County.
2016 saw a new record losing margin for a 9th District Democratic candidate in spite of being a presidential election year and having the highest voter turn out in modern times, 57%. The losing margin was -13.7% or 44,164 votes.
2018 was more of the same with Liz Watson losing by 13.0% of the votes cast. Interestingly, the voter turn out only dropped in this non-presidential election year from 57% in 2016 to 51% in 2018. The larger than usual off-year voter turn out nationally – in evident reaction to Trump’s election – did result in the Democratic party decisively taking back the US House, but the 9th remained firmly in the grasp of the Republican party and a reelected Hollingsworth.
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The author was a losing Democratic primary candidate in the 2012 election, instructed Political Science at Ivy Tech Community College, and was a senior Political/Military intelligence analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.