Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Bellwether County

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Nicollet County has voted for the winning candidate in every Minnesota Gubernatorial and Senate race since 1998, it is the only county in Minnesota with such a distinction. Not only has Nicollet County consistently voted for the winning candidate, they have very closely predicted the final margin.


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And here is a graph of the difference in vote share between the DFL and GOP candidate.

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There are a couple of anomalies, but they are minor ones. In the 2000 Senate race Nicollet county had more Mark Dayton votes than Rod Grams votes, but they went for Dayton less than the rest of the state did and went for Rod Grams more. If that means anything ten years later in a race for a different office with multiple opponents remains to be seen.

In the 2002 Governor's race, as I've covered before, Tim Penny got the majority of his votes from southern Minnesota, the same region that Nicollet county is in. Additionally Nicollet county does have a tendency of supporting the IP candidate just a bit more than the rest of the state, even if you exclude the 2002 Governor's race.

In all the races since, Nicollet county has virtually mimicked the statewide numbers and I don't suspect that this is a fluke, rather there is a solid reason for it. Demographically Nicollet county is very similar to Minnesota as a whole, it's more white, but in other factors; income, education, urban population, they mirror the state pretty closely.

Getting election information from before 1998 is not super easy, so I didn't go back further than that, but in that time Nicollet is the only Minnesota county that has been right in every instance. In the more recent elections especially, Nicollet counties numbers have been a very good predictor of the final statewide results.

The thing about bellwethers though, is that eventually they will be wrong, take the case of Missouri. They voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1956 and everyone before that back to 1904. They were wrong again 2008, narrowly going for John McCain. So Missouri is wrong about once every 50 years. We'll find out shortly if Nicollet county can avoid that fate or if once again it proves to be an accurate bellwether.

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