Sunday, November 08, 2020

The semi-rural breakwater in Thurston County politics

 I've oftentimes described the geographic nature of (mostly) partisan politics in Thurston County. 

If you are a Democrat or left of center, you try to drive up your margins in the areas close to downtown Olympia. Then you drive outwards in all directions and try to win as many other precincts as possible until you run out of time and money.

If you are a Republican or right of center, you start in South county and push in towards Olympia. 

There are exceptions to this rule. But these are usually non-partisan races where the typical left/right politics get subverted. Sue Gunn when she ran for port commission springs to mind.

In this simpler out from Olympia, in towards Olympia model, I have always wondered where the meeting point actually is. Where are the places where a normal liberal and Olympia-centered candidate could hope to win before they run out of steam?

It turns out, it is the corner of College and Yelm Highway in Lacey that acts as the lynch-pin to a series of dozens of precincts that are our true battleground. I came up with this by looking at how the two county commission races are finishing with such disparate results. Carolina Mejia is leading C Davis by a much larger lead than the difference in the Michael Steadman and Gary Edwards race. So, there are precincts that both Mejia (on the left and Olympia-centered) that Edwards (on the right and south county centered) are winning.

Below are the places they both won:

I also did a map showing the precincts that were both won by Republican Dusty Pierpoint and won by the two other Democratic legislative candidates, Sam Hunt and Laurie Dolan. There was about an eight-point difference between Pierpoint's loss and how the Republicans running against Hunt and Dolan.

So, starting from the Yelm Highway and College Street intersection, there is a wide band of precincts heading north all the way to Puget Sound. Then, along the south side of Yelm Highway, there is another line of precincts that stretch all the way to the Black Hills.

On first blush, these are largely incorporated precincts but are either close to or are in the cities' urban growth boundaries. They're also within the school district boundaries of the three large north county school districts. So culturally, these are not true rural "South County" areas. There are a couple (South Scott Lake and South Union) that probably qualify as South County.


Gordon White said...

This is really helpful to see the voting trends by precincts mapped out like this. Thank you for taking the time to do the data crunching and map it out. Fun to walk and bike through these "battle ground" precincts and figure out what each neighbor may be swayed into voting.
Here is an idea to consider for a thought experiment using geographic tools. What if Washington state voted for it's executive the same way as the nation--an electoral college scheme, where each county gets two electoral college votes, and then 538 electoral college votes are distributed proportionally by county population. Would a system like this result in a different governor over the last six elections?

Gordon White said...

In researching my question, I found this interesting application using Pennsylvania:
It shows that in that state, the GOP candidate would have a the odds in their favor to win the county based electoral college, yet lose the statewide vote by several percentage points. What might happen in Washington?

Emmett said...

Hey Gordon,

I took a crack at what it might look like, but this is only a back of the napkin look right now:

I didn't use the 538 number that Fair Vote did, but I tried to keep with the spirit of the Washington system: 100 Reps and using each county as a "state," 39 senators. So the available electoral votes was 239. Anyway, you can see the results.

What I need to do is to use an appointment method, which looks to be fairly daunting:

Steve S. said...

I live in one of Thurston’s swing precincts. Is it a coincidence that our homeowner’s association has been dominated by highly polarized psychodrama?

Gordon White’s thought experiment is both interesting and troubling. If Washington had an electoral college in place beginning six elections ago, it is likely that a Republican candidate would have won at least one close race (depending on the specific algorithm used by the system). However, the GOP governor(s) would not have had the legitimacy of receiving the most number of votes.

An additional problem is that each party would likely write off those counties that regularly vote for the opposing party. Some votes would invariably be worth more than others. Might this lead to more political polarization?

The FairVote article Gordon links to concludes that “imposing a winner-take-all Electoral College-like system on statewide elections would have bizarre and undemocratic effects.”

That’s similar to arguments made against a national electoral college. For example, the Washington Post recently stated that they “see no particular reason voters in purple states such as Wisconsin should be valued more than voters in red states such as Mississippi or blue states such as Washington.”