Sunday, November 29, 2009

Analysis of the 75th State House District

(This post is an abbreviated bit of analysis conducted for a Democratic State House campaign-PB)

75th State House District

The 75th State House District covers the eastern portion half of Grand Rapids. The district has existed in a slightly modified form since 1972, with modifications occurring after each census redistricting. Despite Grand Rapids’ image as a conservative bastion, Democrats represented the district until the mid-1980s, with Jelt Sietsma, Steven Monsma, and John Otterbacher serving state house districts that covered eastern Grand Rapids during this period. In the mid-1980s as Grand Rapids became increasingly conservative, Republican Vern Ehlers (1983-1985) and Richard Bandstra (1985-1995) successfully held the eastside Grand Rapids seat, which remained in the GOPs hands during the 1990s and early 2000s under William Byl (1995-2001) and Jerry Kooiman (2001-2007). The republicans who represented the 75th District were a largely different breed than the largely suburban Michigan Republican Party (MRP), claiming moderation in economic issues, promoting urban revitalization, and public education. This tradition ended with the 2006 election, in which the GOP ran social conservative Tim Doyle for the seat. Doyle, who in tandem with the MRP, ran a race-baiting campaign against Democratic candidate Robert Dean, was stunningly upset Doyle by a 51% to 46% margin. Dean handily won reelection in 2008 in a strongly Democratic year (see the 2008 Democratic Baseline in Map 1), besting Republican candidate Dan Tietema with 59% of the vote.

While the Democratic resurgence in recent years is in large part due to the changing political environment on the state and national level, the demographics of the district have also been changing. The growing Hispanic population on the southwest side of the city, the revitalization of Cherry Hill and Eastown, the slow decline of the 1st ring suburbs on the south side Grand Rapids and Wyoming, and the fading of the CRC political/religious presence in the Third Ward of the city has changed Grand Rapids over the past decade, and the full implications of this transformation will only be visible with the tabulation of the 2010 Census.

General Vote Analysis: 1998-2008

Using election data provided by the Michigan Secretary of State, we can see the overall number of registered voters and actual voters in the 75th District in Table 1 below:

Like the rest of the United States, voter turnout in the 75th is much higher on Presidential election years than in gubernatorial election years, with 71% and 70% of registered voters turning out in 2004 and 2008, respectively, while 52% and 58% turning out in 2002 and 2006. At the same time, the number of registered voters has increased steadily in the 75th district, with more than 6,000 new voters being added to the rolls between 2002 and 2008. While there is undoubtedly some amount of “deadwood” in the voter registration files, the increase in registered voters (especially in the urban core of the district) is strongly correlated with Democratic gains in the district.

Table 2 examines the two-party vote for the Presidential, Gubernatorial, State House, and Democratic Baseline from 1998 to 2008. The 1998, 2002, and 2006 elections results on the top, and the 2000, 2004, and 2008 results below to better distinguish between the presidential and gubernatorial year results. The Democratic and Republican baseline is determined by averaging the statewide Board of Education races for each party. From Table 2 we can see that the 75th has had a Democratic majority since 2004, although the Democratic State House percentage has lagged behind the Democratic baseline every year, with the exception of the 2002 election, a sign of candidate quality (or lack of) for each party. Even in the 1998 and 2002 elections, two years which were largely considered horrible for the Michigan Democratic Party, the district became increasingly competitive in each. The undervote for the State House candidate (where a vote selects a presidential or gubernatorial candidate but fails to cast a ballot for the State House candidate) remains remarkably consistent between 1998 and 2008, falling between 95% and 97% (with the exception of 1998, when many Democratic voters avoided voting for Geoffrey Fieger out of disgust). The drop off in the number of voters between presidential and gubernatorial election was 25% in 2002 (from 2000) and 19% in 2006, suggesting that the drop in 2010 will likely fall within this range. Thus, between 33,239 and 36,063 75th District voters will likely vote in the gubernatorial contest, and 31,577 to 35,341 will cast their ballots for the State House race. Therefore, while turnout will likely down compared to the 2008 presidential election, the number of voters will be higher than in 2002 and will probably be around the 2006 total.

The Changing Political Regions of the 75th District, 1998-2008

To better understand the potential 2010 electorate, it is best to understand the 75th State House District as having a distinct set of political regions. The six political regions of the district have been formed over time, and are motivated by different political ideologies. The regions are:

1. Urban Core (Precincts 3-2, 3-3, 3-4, 3-17, 3-21, 3-23, 3-32, 3-45)
These precincts are overwhelmingly African American in population, and largely are located in the 3rd Ward. In 2008 the Urban Core accounted for 21% of the registered voters in the 75th, and 18% of the actual voters.

2. City Core (Precincts 2-4, 2-5)
These two City Core precincts are upper class neighborhoods that are similar in many respects to the Heritage Hill neighborhood to the west, and are largely white ethnicity. Like the Urban Core, the City Core was largely built before the 1890s, and is relatively dense in population. The City Core accounts for 4% of registered voters, and 3% of actual voters.

3. North Streetcar (Precincts 2-20, 2-48)
The North Streetcar neighborhood dominates the 2nd Ward, although only two precincts fall in the 75th District. Built between 1890 and 1920, this neighborhood has historically been working-class and Catholic, remaining largely ethnic white in population. The North Streetcar neighborhood accounts for 3% of the registered voters and actual voters.

4. South Streetcar (Precincts 1-41, 1-42, 1-43, 1-44, 2-1, 2-2, 3-1, 3-2, 3-9, 3-10, 3-31, 3-42, 3-43, 3-44, 3-48)
Covering a large portion of the 75th District, the South Streetcar neighborhood accounted for 24% of registered and 25% of actual voters in the 2008 election. Like the North Streetcar neighborhood, it was largely built between 1890 and 1920, although portions of Alger Heights were developed up to 1940. Historically the heartland of the Christian Reformed Church, this neighborhood has experienced substantial ethnic resorting in the past twenty years, as neighborhoods such as Garfield Park and Oakdale have become increasingly diverse as many CRC residents have moved to the suburban portions of Grand Rapids and Kentwood. This portion of the 75th District provided much of the local Republican leadership after the 1970s until recent years.

5. 1st Ring Suburbs (Precincts 2-6, 2-34, 2-37, 2-38, 2-43, 3-5, 3-38, 3-51, 3-55, 3-57)
The first ring suburbs covering eastern Grand Rapids were largely built between 1945 and 1970, and exhibit many similarities to the suburbs built largely at the same time in Kentwood and Wyoming. This neighborhood provides 23% of registered and actual voters in the district.

6. 2nd Ring Suburbs (Precincts 2-44, 2-45, 2-46, 2-47, 2-48, 3-7, 3-8, 3-38, 2-53, 2-54, 2-56)
Like the 1st-ring suburbs, these neighborhoods were annexed into the city of Grand Rapids in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and remain the most Republican and affluent neighborhood within the city. This neighborhood remains overwhelmingly white, is high-income, and is low-density in land use. Consisting of 26% of the district’s registered voters, it accounts for 28% of the actual voters, a sign of high voter turnout.

See Map 2 for a better picture of these neighborhoods in the 75th District.
Map 2

While the Urban and City Core neighborhoods have been Democratic strongholds even in 1998, it was only in the 2004 Presidential election that a Presidential or State House candidate was able to carry other neighborhoods as well (North and South Streetcar). By 2008 the Democratic edge was so strong in the75th that Obama carried every neighborhood with the exception of the 2nd Ring Suburbs, a feat that Governor Granholm likewise accomplished in 2006. While the Democratic Baseline experienced a similar climb after 2004, Representative Dean has trailed behind, especially in 1st and 2nd Ring suburbs in the 2nd Ward. Indeed, Dean’s victory in 2006 came largely from his breakthrough in the South Streetcar neighborhood, in which he cut down the GOP vote total significantly. While Dean performed better in 2008 against a lackluster and underfunded GOP candidate, he trailed in the 2nd Ward Suburbs, while performing slightly better in the 3rd Ward. Still, in both 2006 and 2008 he ran behind the Democratic Baseline and behind Obama and Granholm significantly. The Google Table linked below shows the vote breakdown by region in the 75th:

The six regions of the 75th all experience a drop in voter turnout when comparing presidential versus gubernatorial election cycles. The drop in turnout is generally around 20%, with the exception of the Urban Core (38% in 2002 and 25% in 2006) and the City Core (54% in 2002 and 30% in 2006). While the decline in turnout occurs in all regions, turnout increased between 2002 and 2006 versus to a relatively unchanged turnout for the presidential elections of 2004 and 2008. The Area column in Appendix 2 shows what percentage of the electorate each region provided.

2010 Analysis: A Continued Democratic Edge

The Democratic strategy for wining the 75th quickly becomes apparent when examining the district by political region. Win the City and Urban Core with at least 75%-80% of the total vote, win a majority of the South and North Streetcar neighborhoods, hold at least 45% of 1st Ring Suburbs, and win at least 40% of the 2nd Ring Suburbs. In turn the Republican strategy is to win at least 65% of the vote in the 2nd Ring Suburbs and 55% of the vote in the 1st Ring Suburbs, keep the Democratic share of the City and Urban Core under 75%, and win a majority in the North and South Streetcar neighborhoods. Democratic candidates have won with this strategy since 2006, and even began inching close to success in 2004. In contrast, the GOP has been unable to replicate its winning strategy since the 2002 election, especially in the South Streetcar region, where they have been unable to win over 55% of the vote since 1998.

The addition of 6,000 voters since the 2002 election spells further problems for the GOP. While a number of these new voters are located in the 2nd Ring Suburbs (19%), 40% hail from the Urban Core, while another 20% come from the South Streetcar neighborhood that has swung solidly to the Democratic column since 2004. As the GOP base has declined in the 75th, the rapid growth of the Democratic voting population points to further difficulties in the GOP regaining this seat, even in an open seat contest.

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