Iowa HD #89 Special Election – January 31, 2017

There is a special election today in Iowa State House District #89, in Davenport.  This race is to fill the seat formerly held by Democrat Jim Lykam, who won a December 27th Special Election to become the new State Senator in Iowa Senate District #45.

Iowa divides each State Senate district into two State House districts, meaning that all of Iowa HD #89’s voters were eligible to vote in the SD #45 special held two days after Christmas.  The Republican candidate who ran against State Sen. Lykam last month, police officer Michael Gonzales, is also the GOP candidate for this seat; local Democrats nominated college instructor Monica Kurth to be their nominee.

To analyze this race, I examined the party affiliation of the voters in the district as compared with those who voted in last month’s special election in SD #45.  The plurality of voters in SD #45 are not affiliated with either party, but registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about two-to-one.  However, the breakdown of special election voters by party was even more heavily skewed.  Voters in the December 27th contest were 58% Democrats and 25% Republicans.

This advantage in party affiliation was one of two reasons why State Sen. Lykam won so decisively.  The other reason was that unaffiliated voters seemed to support him overwhelmingly, as seen by the chart below:

Mr. Gonzales received only about as many votes as there were registered Republicans who voted; all other voters seemed to support Sen. Lykam.  Obviously, it can’t be assumed that all of the registered members of a political party only vote for their party’s nominee, but studies nationally suggest the correlation between voting preference and party affiliation is very strong, and getting stronger each year.

So, what does that tell us about Iowa HD #89, which holds its election today?  To analyze that race, I performed a similar analysis looking at just the voters in that district who participated in last month’s SD #45 special.

As can be seen in the table below, HD #89 is slightly less Democratic than SD #45.  Based on the total number of registered voters in the district, the percentage of unaffiliated voters is about the same as SD #45, and they still represent a plurality.  And registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans, but by only just over 1.5 to one.  However, the strong Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in the SD #45 election was just as evident here.  Those who cast ballots in the December 27th special were more likely to be Democrats, by a two-to-one advantage.

Analyzing the actual results from the SD #45 special election, but only for those voters in HD #89, is a bit more difficult.  This is because the results don’t include those voters who cast absentee ballots with the precinct in which the voter resides – they are all just lumped together as one line item.  However, the unofficial results from Election Night reported by Scott County, Iowa, do break down votes cast in person by precinct.  Using this data gives us a similar insight.

While this only shows those voters who cast a ballot at their polling place on Election Day, the relationship still holds.  Mr. Gonzales (R) received only slightly more votes than the number of registered Republicans who voted.  However, support for State Sen. Lykam (D) was very close to the total number of registered Democrats plus unaffiliated voters.

Although the precision of these voter splits is remarkable, the underlying behavior is not.  In December, local Democrats placed a strong emphasis on retaining this seat after losing control of the Iowa State Senate in November.  Also, State Senator Lykam had served as a legislator in the Davenport area for over ten years, and had won re-election multiple times.  It is not surprising that he would have wide support for a promotion to the State Senate based on his experience and name recognition.

In today’s election, however, the Democratic candidate, Ms. Kurth, does not have such an advantage in either name recognition or experience.  In fact, Mr. Gonzales will be better known simply due to his presence on last month’s special election ballot.   I therefore expect that unaffiliated voters today will likely, a) turn out in fewer numbers, and b) probably be more evenly split between the two candidates.  On the other hand, Democrats still enjoy a significant registration edge in the district, and we already have a pretty good idea about what the turnout is likely to be in a mid-winter special election in this area.

I’m going to forecast that the total number of ballots cast today will be about 3,000, or slightly less than what this district cast in the SD #45 race last month.  I also expect the margin to be closer – I see Ms. Kurth winning with just over 60% or so.  And if local Democrats have become distracted by all the craziness going on in Washington, it could be even closer than that, but I just don’t see the GOP winning.

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