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In Search of Minnesota's Bellwether House District(s)

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For better or for worse, during the past decade Minnesota has developed a national reputation for being a bit of an 'oddball' state - politically, that is. And, at first blush, the Gopher State is an easy target for even easier punchlines for having elected a former pro-wrestler to the Governor's office and now a former Saturday Night Live alum to the U.S. Senate.

But Minnesota has spun an interesting political narrative by several other measures that may not be so obvious to the casual political observer, particularly one from outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

· For example, over the last three election cycles, there has been a 70-seat swing in the State House - from +30 Republican in 2002 to +40 DFL in 2008, giving Minnesota the most dominant Democratic legislature in the 12-state Midwest region.

· Although political control of the State House has changed six times since partisan legislative ballots were introduced in 1974 (in 1979 from the DFL to the GOP, in 1979 back to the DFL, in 1985 to the GOP, in 1987 to the DFL, in 1999 to the GOP, and in 2007 back to the DFL), the DFL has remained in control of the State Senate continuously during this 35-year period.

· And while Minnesotans have opted for the Democratic presidential nominee in nine consecutive elections dating back to 1976, the DFL has failed to win the governor's mansion in six of eight races during that span.

With such a topsy-turvy political climate, it is difficult for pundits to find a reliable political compass by which to guide them in their search for the direction in which the Gopher State electorate is heading in 2010.

With next year's election campaigns already gearing up, Smart Politics set out to find just such a compass.

An analysis was conducted of election data returns for the 536 general election House matchups held between 2002 and 2008 to determine which of the state's 134 House districts are 'bellwether' districts for what is happening statewide.

In order to reach 'bellwether status,' a search was conducted to find those districts that have:

a) Elected Representatives of the same political party as the statewide winner of the top-of-the-ticket race (i.e. Top-of-the-Ticket Bellwether Districts), or

b) Elected Representatives of the majority party controlling the State House (i.e. House Majority Party Control Bellwether Districts)

Top-of-the-Ticket Bellwether Districts

Minnesota, as a 'purple state,' finds its electorate is frequently engaged in split-ticket voting, causing many districts to vote one way at the top of the ticket, and another way down below.

As such, Smart Politics first looked for districts whose elected Representative to the State House was also a member of the winning party for the top-of-the-ticket race that election year. Top of the ticket races are as follows: 2002 - Governor (GOP), 2004 - President (DFL), 2006 - Governor (GOP), 2008 - President (DFL).

Unfortunately, for those fellow compass-seekers, there has not been a single house district among the 134 in the Gopher State that has voted into office a Representative of the same political party as all four statewide top-of-the-ticket winners since 2002.

In fact, only 20 House districts have voted into office Representatives of the same party as the top-of-the-ticket winner in 3 of these 4 general elections:

· Ten districts are located in the greater metro region: HD 37B, 38B, 41B, 42A, 44A, 45A, 47A, 47B, 49B, 54B.
· Five districts are located in southeastern Minnesota: HD 26A, 26B, 27B, 30A, 30B.
· Four districts are in the central regions of the state: HD 04A, 14B, 16A, 23A.
· One district is located in northwestern Minnesota: HD 02B.

Fourteen of these districts elected Representatives from the same party as the top-of-the-ticket statewide winner in 2002, 2004, and 2008: HD 02B, 04A, 14B, 23A, 26B, 27B 30A, 30B, 42A, 44A, 45A, 47A, 47B, 54B.

Another six districts were so aligned in 2002, 2006, and 2008: HD 16A, 26A, 37B, 38B, 41B, 49B.

Minnesota House Districts Electing State Representatives with Same Party ID as Top-of-the-Ticket Statewide Winners in Three Election Cycles, 2002-2008

District
Location
Region
2002
2004
2006
2008
02B
Park Rapids
Northwest
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
04A
Bemidji
North central
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
14B
St. Joseph
Central
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
16A
Princeton
Central
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
23A
North Mankato
South central
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
26A
Owatonna
Southeast
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
26B
Faribault
Southeast
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
27B
Austin
Southeast
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
30A
Rochester
Southeast
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
30B
Plainview
Southeast
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
37B
Apple Valley
South metro
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
38B
Eagan
South metro
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
41B
Bloomington
South metro
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
42A
Minnetonka
West metro
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
44A
St. Louis Park
West metro
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
45A
New Hope
West metro
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
47A
Champlin
North metro
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
47B
Brooklyn Park
North metro
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
49B
Coon Rapids
North metro
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
54B
Vadnais Heights
NE metro
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

But within this subset of 20 districts, only one has consistently had a margin of victory in elections for State Representative that is within single digits of the statewide margin of victory for the top-of-the-ticket race: HD 02B out of Park Rapids.

The margin of victory for State House contests in this district, currently represented by DFLer Brita Sailer, have averaged just 4.4 points off the margin of victories in gubernatorial and presidential races during the last four general elections: 5.0 points in 2002 (tilted towards the DFL), 1.8 points in 2004 (towards the GOP), 9.0 points in 2006 (towards the DFL), and 1.9 points in 2008 (towards the GOP).

Only three other districts in the state (HD 08B out of Mora, 25B in Northfield, and 56A in Woodbury) have also had single-digit differentials between the margin of victories for State Representative and the top-of-the-ticket contests during these four election cycles. However, these house districts elected representatives that matched up with the political party of the top-of-the-ticket statewide winners in just two elections during this period.

Difference Between Margin of Victory for State Representative and Statewide Margin of Victory for Top-of-the-Ticket Race, 2002-2008

District
Area
Current Rep.
'02
'04
'06
'08
Ave.
02B
Park Rapids
Brita Sailer
5.0
1.8
9.0
1.9
4.4
08B
Mora
Tim Faust
2.7
3.8
5.6
8.7
4.6
25B
Northfield
David Bly
7.6
6.1
1.3
3.4
5.1
56A
Woodbury
Julie Bunn
4.0
9.4
2.3
4.6
5.2
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

House Majority Party Control Bellwether Districts

But what are the bellwether districts that indicate which political party will control the Minnesota House of Representatives? Which house districts have consistently voted into office Representatives from the majority party?

Only 15 districts have elected a Representative who was the a member of the majority caucus in St. Paul in all four election cycles: districts that elected Republicans in 2002 and 2004 and DFLers in 2006 and 2008.

· Six of these districts are located in the central or east central regions of the state: HD 08B, 12A, 12B, 17B, 56A, 56B.
· Five districts are located in the greater metro region: HD 38A, 40A, 43B, 50B, 53A.
· Three districts are located in southeastern Minnesota: HD 25B, 27A, 29B.
· One district is located in northwestern Minnesota: HD 01A.

House Districts Electing Majority Party Representative in Each Election Cycle, 2002-2008

District
Location
Region
Current Rep.
01A
Thief River Falls
Northwest
Dave Olin
08B
Mora
East central
Tim Faust
12A
Brainerd
Central
John Ward
12B
Little Falls
Central
Al Doty
17B
North Branch
East central
Jeremy Kalin
25B
Northfield
Southeast
David Bly
27A
Albert Lea
Southeast
Robin Brown
29B
Rochester
Southeast
Kim Norton
38A
Eagan
South metro
Sandra Masin
40A
Burnsville
South metro
Will Morgan
43B
Minnetonka
West metro
John Benson
50B
New Brighton
North metro
Kate Knuth
53A
Shoreview
NE metro
Paul Gardner
56A
Woodbury
East central
Julie Bunn
56B
Woodbury
East central
Marsha Swails
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

While District 02B did not make this list (electing DFLer Sailer in 2004 while Republicans were still the majority party), this district out of Park Rapids once again holds the unique distinction for most closely mirroring the statewide vote advantage for all house races.

Smart Politics tabulated the total statewide vote by political party for all 534 State House races for the 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008 general elections.

· In 2002, Republicans had a 1.3-point edge on the DFLers statewide (49.1 to 47.8 percent).
· In 2004, although they fell two seats shy of winning control of the House, DFLers had a 4.4-point advantage over the GOP (51.4 to 47.0 percent).
· In 2006 and 2008 the DFL dominated the Republican Party, winning by 10.5 points in 2006 (54.9 to 44.4 percent) and 11.1 points last November (54.9 to 43.8 percent).

Meanwhile, the vote for State Representative in HD 02B averaged just 2.4 points off this statewide partisan split for House races, or 9.6 points cumulatively across the four general election cycles.

House Vote by Party Statewide and in HD 02B, 2002-2008

Year
DFL
GOP
Difference
HD 02B
2002
47.8
49.1
1.3 GOP
2.9 GOP
2004
51.4
47.0
4.4 DFL
1.7 DFL
2006
54.9
44.4
10.5 DFL
8.0 DFL
2008
54.9
43.8
11.1 DFL
8.3 DFL
Note: Data compiled by Smart Politics.

Only three other house districts had a cumulative margin of victory differential of less than 20 points between their respective House race and the total statewide vote advantage in House races across the four election cycles: HD 47B in Brooklyn Park (12.1 points), 54B in Vadnais Heights (15.3 points), and 26B in Faribault (16.8 points).

By contrast, Minneapolis's House districts 58B, 59A, 60B, 61A, 61B, and 62A, each had a cumulative margin of victory differential of more than 220 points off the statewide total (with HD 61A at 276.5 points).

In sum, Smart Politics finds HD 02B out of Park Rapids to be the best compass by which to gauge the direction Minnesota is headed in its elections statewide. Its electorate most closely tracks both the statewide House vote and the statewide top-of-the-ticket margin of victory, and is one of only 20 districts that has elected State Representatives from the same political party as the top-of-the- ticket winner three times since 2002.

While HD 02B voted for Tim Pawlenty only once (in 2002), the district's 44 percent vote for the Governor in 2002 and 2006 nearly matched his statewide totals in both elections (44 and 46 percent respectively).

Other bellwether districts to watch are HD 08B in Mora, 54B in Vadnais Heights, 26B in Faribault, 56A in Woodbury.

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1 Comment


  • This is the best column I have ever read on MN politics. I want to get on a list to get more.

    Thanks...

  • Leave a comment


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