MPR’s Curtis Gilbert has a fascinating look at an old theory — that people in the city are DFLers, and people in the ‘burbs are Republican to varying degrees depending on where they live.
The claim appears to be supported by a map lifted from the Institute for Race and Poverty at the U of M.
The story is accompanied by a blizzard of maps showing “election results” for a number of years, ranging from “safe Democrat” to “safe Republican.”
“It’s as if the Republicans are a tribe and they’re living in one part of Minnesota, and Democrats are another tribe living elsewhere,” Humphrey Institute political scientist Larry Jacobs marvels. “It is one of the most striking manifestations of the polarization in our political world today. We are literally living apart.”
The question “what’s wrong with this picture?” can only be answered by first asking another question, “what election are we talking about?” The maps don’t say.
Check the 2006 election results on the MPR Campaign 2006 section.
Here’s the map of the governor’s race, which appears to support the story’s conclusion:
And here is the result of the race for U.S. Senate, which appears to turn the theory on its head:
The political party identification comes from a U of M/MPR poll (pdf) earlier this month in which those surveyed were asked to state which party they most closely identify with. But the survey appeared to find it difficult to correlate that self-identification with other factors:
The inner ring suburbs, which lean Democratic, strongly approve of Governor Pawlenty’s performance (58%). Another surprise is Senator Amy Klobuchar’s 65 percent approval rating in the Republican dominated outer ring suburbs.
At the end of the story, Jacobs acknowledges that people in the suburbs seem more likely to “split the ticket,” meaning they may be as likely to support a DFLer as a Republican (a truism that should make claims that someone is a Republican or a Democrat suspect), just as the maps above show. Why would they do it? Because the issues are different. In the governor’s race, for example, the issues were primarily economic. In the Senate race, the issue was foreign policy, which overshadowed economic concerns. Moreover, these concerns shift over time. The poll, for example, touts that the center city voter is more likely to consider “education” as the top priority, while people in the suburbs lean more to naming the economy.
But you have to be careful with that sort of statement because it’s far too easy to read it as “city voter more likely to be concerned about education than the suburban voter” and there’s really no evidence to support that. The ranking of voter concerns is fraught with peril when it comes to making sweeping judgments based on the rank.
A look at the 2006 District 56 (Woodbury-Lake Elmo) results (here, here, and here)shows the danger of such conclusions. Three DFLers, who ran very strong campaigns that focused on education, knocked off three Republican incumbents, who all ran on economic issues. If you want a lab rat for really understanding the suburban voter, that’s the district to use.
There’s also the danger of using election results as a mirror of what issues are involved. If there’s one thing the cumulative results of Select A Candidate have shown us over the years, it’s that votes for a candidate often stem from factors beyond the issues (and to the extent that it is about issues, it’s interesting to note that Iraq is the #1 issue in the race for president, but health care is the #1 issue in the race for U.S. Senate).
Just as easily, the conclusion could have been: City residents are more likely to be in lockstep with a political party than residents of the suburbs. And woe to the candidate who takes the suburban vote for granted, or attempts to reach a single conclusion on the nature of that voter.