In search of the political shift in the east metro

Washington County, east of the Twin Cities, got a little attention Tuesday when NPR cited it in its analysis of several suburban areas which are purportedly shifting left.

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics, so caution is advised in trying to prove the existence of the shift, particularly when NPR cited only votes for House races.

Here’s what NPR said about Washington County:

Minneapolis-St. Paul
Washington County, east of St. Paul, cast 53 percent of its House votes for Democrats this year — up from 45 percent in 2016. The county is part of the state’s 2nd Congressional District, where Democrat Angie Craig beat Republican incumbent Jason Lewis.

It’s true that it’s part of the 2nd District, but only a very small part of it is. Most of it lies in the 4th and 6th congressional districts.

Only Cottage Grove, Denmark Township a precinct in Hastings, and three in St. Paul Park are in the 2nd. The bulk of the votes are in the 4th District, and the northern end of the county is in the 6th District

It’s true that Angie Craig, the DFLer, expanded her vote in Washington County from almost 47 percent in 2016, to a little more than 54.1 percent in the latest election.

But it doesn’t show a swing left for two reasons. One: Jason Lewis didn’t lose any support in the county; he actually did better in the latest election, going from 44 percent of the vote in 2016 to nearly 46 percent in 2018.

What NPR didn’t note was that two years ago, there were three candidates on the ballot. This year there were just two. In 2016, Independence Party candidate Paula Overby got 9 percent of the vote in Washington County. With no third-party candidate this year, almost all of that Washington County vote went to Craig.

So at least where the 2nd District is concerned in Washington County, there hasn’t been any discernible shift to the left, which is pretty remarkable. The area that lies in the 2nd has grown by leaps and bounds, but it’s pretty set in its political ways. It’s also worth noting that nearly 2,000 fewer were cast in the 2nd District race in the county this year than 2016.

In evaluating a shift, it’s difficult to use races involving incumbents to prove it and the county’s other two U.S. House members are in some of the safest seats in the country.

This year, DFL Rep. Betty McCollum beat Greg Ryan in Washington County 56 percent to 44 percent. Republican Tom Emmer easily handled Ian Todd 58 percent to 42 percent in the county, which mostly consists of votes from Forest Lake and Hugo.

The bulk of the perceived shift is almost exclusively in McCollum’s district — Woodbury, Stillwater, Oakdale. She barely beat Ryan there in 2016 50.3 percent to 49.6 percent, probably because of Trump’s strong headwinds.

A 6 percentage point swing is significant, and it’s tempting to pin that on Donald Trump not being at the top of the ballot, but almost the same number of people voted in this race in 2018 as in 2016.

That “shift” also showed in Emmer’s part of the county, with his vote total falling about 5 percent.

  • Erik Petersen

    I’m in McCollum’s district in the little village across from Hudson.

    The vibe was pretty Trumpy in 2016, and pretty DFL in 2018 – surprisingly so I’d say. DFL won the yard sign war this year for sure, and our state rep was replaced by a DFLer.

  • AL287

    The saying is “All politics is local.”

    I’d like to see the results for Washington County for Minnesota House and Senate races.

    • Erik Petersen

      In Stillwater the house seat went from multi-term GOPer Kathy Lohmer to DFLer Shelly Christenson. The last time this seat was held by a DFLer may precede my adult memory going back 25 years. Christenson was a strong, quality candidate.

      • Erik Petersen

        nevermind, its been 12 years

    • DFLers swept a few Republicans out — Woodbury dumped Kelly Fenton, the majority whip in the house. That seat — Woodbury has two — had been in DFL hands since Marsha Swails took it some years ago. So the blueness of those districts has been around for awhile. I don’t know about the others .

      In the Senate race, I think there are really only two Woodbury precincts that are red — 15 and 16 — that’s the Wedgewood and Settler’s Ridge area — basically the McMansion neighborhoods. Those might be changing too since those precincts both include the area south of Bailey Road, which has been opened up for development. How that skews politically, I guess we’ll see.

      That’s the situation in the biggest city in the county.

      • 212944

        Fenton held 53B since 2014. 53B is eastern Woodbury, which includes precincts 15 and 16 (in 2016, Trump took 15 while Clinton took 16, but neither took more than 50%).

        We were getting mailings at the house for her even before the DFL primaries, notably without the word “Republican” nor the color red on the mailings (her campaign and the PACs sending on her behalf suddenly adopted the color pink). These were early and frequent. So were yard signs.

        Once the DFL primaries were held, the pro-Fenton mailings were averaging one-a-day for multiple weeks in September and October – then there were days in the weeks prior to the election when two or three pro-Fenton mailings arrived. And the pro-Fenton mailings went into attack campaign mode quickly after there was a named opponent.

        Pro-Sandell (the DFL candidate) mailings did not start appearing in our mail box until at least a month after the DFL primaries, perhaps six weeks.

        • I got more opposition mailings on the Fenton-Sandell race than at any other time since we moved here in ’93. It’s like someone finally realized that 15 and 16 do not Woodbury make.

          • 212944

            More mailings than any other race I can recall as well … on any level … living in any state.

  • theoacme

    Given both the Democrats and the Republicans are completely concupiscent to the rich and the corporations, and that Hillary Clinton is a left-handed Trump analogue in a digital world, I would rather be executed than vote for any Republican or any Democrat ever again…

    …and, with so many people saying for me to vote DFL as the “lesser evil”, and condemning Jill Stein for merely exercising her Constitutional right to run for President, I have no doubt all those “lesser evil” mavens will lustily cheer my public execution next year or in 2020…

    …and I wish them ample enjoyment.

  • MrE85

    I have also looked at the election results in my neighborhood, but on a much more micro level than you did. In the precinct where I live, I did see what looks like a political shift. In 2016, my neighbors narrowly favored Trump over Clinton. This year, not a single Republican on the ballot won a majority in my precinct, not even Rep. Emmer, who easily beat Ian Todd in other parts of the 6th.

    Frankly, I was a bit surprised.

    • What was the turnout compared to ’16. That part I’ve found interesting. What is worth pursuing, I think, is the notion that there are now three political parties — Republicans, DFLers, and Trump.

      • MrE85

        2016: 89% turnout
        2018: 74% turnout

        When I said Trump “won narrowly” in my precinct, I wasn’t kidding. Only 4 votes difference between the two candidates.

        One could attribute the apparent shift to an “enthusiasm gap” among conservatives, who were less likely to vote in the midterm w/o Trump on the ballot, but I don’t think that’s it. Our MN House race, 37A, had the highest outside spending and was picked by most pundits as a “race to watch.” The incumbent DFLer Erin Koegel won pretty handily.

        My precinct was always a “little island of blue” in a sea of red — until Trump. This year, it returned to a dark blue, as did many other precincts in my area.

  • MikeB

    A great post and another example of the value in local analysis vs a big national operation that conducts a 15 minute look-in

  • Al

    WashCo resident here. This is really awesome–thanks for your analysis.