Lying (to ourselves) with statistics: “PVI” and the “DFL Index”…

If you’ve been hacking about politics long, no doubt you’ve heard about the “Index” of a district. On the federal level, the “Cook Political Report” has been cranking these out for years, essentially averaging out the presidential vote by party for the past couple elections, as explained here. Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer-Labor (DFL) party does something similar, but tries to keep it’s recipe secret just because they’ve added a few herbs and spices like the vote for statewide offices in the district. For those of us that don’t have access to the party’s innermost secrets like the “DFL Index”, Tony Petrangelo has produced a pretty damn good substitute here.

So the Cook PVI tells me that my congressional district, Minnesota’s 7th, is a hopeless R12, predicting that a republican should defeat a democrat by a 62% to 38% margin.  My legislative district, 22A, rates an R+8 by Tony’s calculations, but he hasn’t updated after the disastrous 2016 elections. Sounds like I should throw away my campaign stuff and find a new hobby!

But apparently several DFL candidates didn’t get the memo on how hopeless MN CD7 was and ran anyways… Like Congressman Colin Peterson who has held the seat for two decades now. Or Senator Amy Klobuchar, who won with 61% of the vote in 2012, or Senator Al Franken and Attorney General Lori Swanson who squeaked out victories in 2014 in CD7 despite the democratic debacle around them. What the…?

The problem is that we’re melting down a rich data set of election results into an average “Index” that tells us almost nothing. In so doing we let one candidate who dragged down the whole ticket label a district hopeless for democrats, despite strong evidence to the contrary. And following the DNC and DFL’s mythology that the voters fall into vast camps on the left and right and victory goes to the party who best gets their camp to the polls, we ignore the nearly as large camp of “swing voters” who usually decide elections in MN CD7 and other rural districts.

So let’s look at the real numbers:

MN CD7 has about 509 thousand folks 18 and older, per the Census 2015 estimates. There’s only around 20 thousand foreign born adults in the district, and many of them are now citizens. There are around 40 thousand felons barred from voting in Minnesota, but most of them reside in the metro districts… So we have around 500 thousand voters in MN CD7. In the three elections since redistricting, the base GOP vote was sounded by Torry Westrum at around 110 thousand, barely lowing the bar below Kurt Bills 112 thousand tally of the GOP loyalists. On the DFL side Hillary Clinton lowered the bar defining the DFL base to 105 thousand. So the GOP and DFL bases are each barely 20% of the voters… Damn, gonna have to redefine the whole field operation!

DFL, meet the swing voter… In 2012 69 thousand voters cast a vote for Romney, then crossed over to give Klobuchar a total of over 200 thousand votes. The GOP district wide slate was weak in 2014, but 5 thousand voters gave the GOP U.S. Senate candidate their vote, then crossed over and voted for DFLer Peterson.  In 2016 208 thousand voters gambled on Trump, then 51 thousand crossed over to hedge their votes on DFLer Peterson. So truth be told, up to 71 thousand voters, a slice of the electorate almost as big as the DFL and GOP bases, are deciding the elections in CD7.

About now some grizzled DFL field organizer interjects “But turnout still wins elections”. But turning out a DFL voter only wins us one vote, swing a swing voter to the DFL and they count twice, because you’ve denied the GOP a vote. But the “base strategy” is half right… Of those 500 thousand or so eligible to vote, only 334 thousand bothered in 2012, 242 thousand in 2014, and 338 thousand in 2016. Yup, there are over 160 thousand votes up for grabs in MN CD7, even more in a non presidential election year, and other that we know who didn’t vote, we have no idea who or what would get them to vote!

DFL and DNC, delete that failed “Index” software off your computers. Just to be safe, crush the hard drive, then throw it in an acid bath then irradiate it just to be sure! We need to quit trying to distill the rich landscape of voting data points into simplistic indexes and instead use these mountains of data to pick which candidates and strategies will win over swing voters and non voters to our party. Our DFL candidates are more than the party’s “index”, and no longer should Hillary’s dragging the “index” down be used as an unscientific excuse to deny them the state and national party’s support!



(found this unpublipublished story while “cleaning out the closets” of the blog, the issue is still timely…) Problem Pipelines: Time to Call Out the Democrats (Again)…

You’d think the democratic parties of the Dakotas, Minnesota, and all the downriver states where native americans frequently provide the margin of victory in elections would be all over this, but Noooo. Let the shaming begin…


All But Losing a Rural District: MN CD7, 2016…

Our district is pretty much the western half of Minnesota, and per the census one of our country’s most rural. It’s rated R+6, and fortunately democrat Colin Peterson has been able to hold the seat for a couple decades now, and usually by a good margin. But in 2016, Colin was one of the few rural democratic incumbents surviving, and by a mere 6% margin while Hillary barely won 30% of the district’s votes. What the heck happened?

We usually look at election results as percentages, but in this case it’s more instructive to use raw vote numbers, which I’ll round to thousands, as in “100k”. Let’s use the first election after redistricting, 2012, as a baseline. Total vote was around 328k, with Romney getting 180k to Obama’s 148k. The U.S. Senate race saw a forgettable GOP challenger garner 116k votes to Klobuchar’s 200k. In the Congressional Race, another forgettable GOPer got 114k votes to Peterson’s 198k. Do the math and you’ll find that over 60k voters or about 20% voted republican for president then crossed over and voted democratic for senator and congress. The base GOP vote was 114k, and the base democratic vote was 147k.

Come 2014 and total vote was down to around 240k, with the usual forgetable GOPer scraping up 148k votes to Senator Franken’s 116k. GOPer Westrom provided a better (financed) challenge than usual, winning 110k votes to Peterson’s 131k. We had statewide races for governor, etc. in 2014, with the GOP challenger winning 122k votes to incumbent democrat Dayton’s 106k. The base GOP vote was 107k, down a mere 7k from 2012. The base democratic vote was a disaster, down 54k to 94k for our Secretary of State candidate who fortunately won statewide. We lost several downballot state house seats and the majority with them.

2016 saw votes cast slightly surpass 2012 by 2k to 330k. But Trump was the top GOP vote getter with 208k, 28k better than Romney got. We had no statewide races, and an underfunded as well as forgetable GOP congressional challenger got 157k votes to Peterson’s 174k. The base GOP vote was up again by 49k to 157k , while the base democratic vote was by only 11k to 105k. Downballot we lost more legislative seats and the senate majority too.

So what the hell happened?

Conventional 21st century Democratic campaign “wisdom” is that elections turn on turnout. That explanation might account for our 2014 defeats, But 2016 turnout exceeded 2012 turnout by around  a percent in a rural district that is probably losing population, and Minnesota’s turnout was a tops in the nation 75%. Looking at the one candidate who ran district wide in all three elections, Colin Peterson’s winning vote dropped 67k from 198k in 2012 to 131k in 2014, in line with the acknowledged 30% or so drop in democratic turnout in Minnesota in 2014. Peterson gained 43k votes between 2014 and 2016, still managing to win against a more poorly prepared and funded GOP opponent. At the top of the ticket, Hillary got 43k votes less than Obama got in 2012, about a 13% shift of the total vote from Democratic to GOP.

So while we can maybe attribute a couple percent of Hillary’s loss and Colin’s close call to improved GOP turnout, it appears our real problem was a candidate at the top of the ballot who simply dragged the whole democratic slate down in this rural district. Credit must also be given to the state Democratic party and it’s House and Senate caucuses who after promising increased help for rural candidates went back to their habitual metrocentric campaign prioritization. Not that they helped much anyway- They poured massive spending and hordes of doorknockers into state house district 17B, only to lose by just about exactly the same 20% margin as the candidate they largely ignored in neighboring and politically similar district 17B.

Want to win back rural districts and become a majority party again? Put candidates at the top of the ballot that at least don’t turn off rural voters!


Are Progressives Capable of Long Term Planning?

Been barely a week since Trump and his GOP worked the system to take over the White House and both houses of Congress. You’d think progressives would be taking stock of their defeat and coming up with a long term plan to retake rightful control of our government. but instead, my facebook page is full of invites to the latest demonstration or at least mass meeting, and candidates announcing their candidacy for elections nearly two years hence. But facts are, we’re stuck with Trump and his GOP for at least 2 years and probably 4 or more, given that the democrats have way more senate seats to defend than win over, and the house is near hopelessly gerrymandered. So nothing in politics is going to change soon, and in the meantime we’re got to survive a long political winter.

Our current political drought is sorta like an old time crop failure- We worked hard all year to plant and nurture a crop, and now we have little to harvest. Old school farmers prepared for such crop failures and pestilences, growing a broad array of crops and raising a variety of livestock as well to tide them over in lean years. Heck, there was always mature wood available to warm the house over the long cold winter, livestock to spare, canned vegies and fruits, and ‘taters in the root cellar to make it ’til next harvest. With commodity prices low best to leave the crops in the bins and forget about that new tractor we’d dreamed of, and spend the winter rebuilding the old one and maybe a few other things too…

They say here in Minnesota that everyone is at most only two  generations removed from the farm, and I’m part of that second generation. My grandparents survived the depression remodeling an old house and worked the family connections to barter with relations still on the farm. Heck, in the 60s when grandpa took us hunting in western Hennepin County, you’d swear he had worked perpetual hunting rights into the deals to sell the family’s last acreage and all the neighbors too. They passed this resilience onto my parents and me, to the point I have to force myself to spend money even though I’m financially secure.

So knowing that we’re in for a long political winter, I’m shielding my savings from Trump and the GOP’s upcoming disasters, financial and otherwise. Stocked up on food and other basics for when Trump chases off all the immigrant farm and packing plant workers, and tooled up to rebuild anything and everything in the house and garage. Made sure I maintained dual eligibility for health insurance in case Trump takes one program down, and spread the investments around to where Trump can’t reach them. My Farmer-Labor grandparents would have done the same… Other than the fact that their arsenal consisted of but a rifle and a shotgun, they were preppers before prepping was cool.

Meanwhile, seems like my urban progressive friends are marching in the streets instead putting away the overtime pay for an unemployed day. While they should be pouring over all their options this “health care hunting season” and picking the most survivable, they’re sharing their righteous indignation over Trump on social media… Lotta good that’ll do. Yup, here we have a president about to take office that has ‘fessed up to wanting to register Moslems, deport immigrants, destroy jobs and american agriculture with a trade war, all while giving so many tax breaks to his big business buddies that he’ll bankrupt America. And you think you’re gonna stop that today with another march or Facebook thread?

It’s time to dig in like our Farmer-Laborite forebears did and prepare to take back our government, and our next chance to do that is nearly two years away… ‘Til then, let’s make good use of this long political winter!



How Trump Could Cause Food Shortages Before He’s Even Inaugurated…

Who really plants, milks, harvests, feeds, and processes our food? Immigrants, many of whom don’t have legal status and will flee our country as soon as Trump is elected!

Immigration Positions Reflect Food Choices, Access