Friday, July 22, 2011

Analysis Reveals Ballard's 2007 Election Victory Was Result of Perfect Electoral Storm Unlikely to Be Repeated

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard
I spent some time this morning pouring over township results in the 2003 and 2007 mayoral election.  I was interested in finding out township-by-township where Mayor Bart Peterson's re-election went off the tracks in 2007.  Then I looked at the 2010 - a good Republican year - numbers for a hint on what they might reveal for Indianapolis Mayor Ballard's election chances in 2011.  The results were revealing.

In 2003, Mayor Peterson won re-election by over 37,000 votes.  He lost only the three southern townships of Franklin, Perry and Decatur.  In 2007, Peterson lost to now Mayor Greg Ballard by 5,312 votes.  Peterson won only Center, Washington and Pike townships. 

While a lot of people probably think the 2007 election just involved Democrats staying home, it is more complicated than that.  After all, approximately 17,000 more people voted for Mayor in 2007 than 2003, 165,002 compared to 148,130.

Comparing the townships, I was able to determine how much each township switched from Democrat to Republican from 2003 to 2007 in the Mayor's race.  Below is a listing of the net Republican gain as well as the individual breakdown.

Center:  5,024  (-2,983 D votes, picked up 2,041 R votes)
Decatur:  1,408 (-223 D votes, picked up 1,185 R votes)
Franklin:  3,521 (-186 D votes, picked up 3,335 R votes)
Lawrence: 6,096 (-1,777 D votes, picked up 4,319 R votes)
Perry:  5,130  (-470 D votes, picked up 4,660 R votes)
Pike:  2,858 (-1,086 D votes, picked up 1,772 R votes)
Warren: 1,663 (-1,663 D votes, picked up 3,180 R votes)
Washington: 7,034 (-2,715 D votes, picked up 4,399 R votes)
Wayne:  5,505 (-2,502 D votes, picked up 3,003 R votes)

Note:  The gain in Franklin, the second smallest township population wise, is significant.  I double checked the numbers and they are correct.

It appears from reviewing this data, the 2007 Indianapolis municipal election featured the perfect storm of three factors: 
  • Democrats staying home
  • Democrats crossing over to vote Republican
  • Republicans turning out in higher numbers to vote
This perfect storm not only put Ballard over the top, but also resulted in Republicans electing 3 of 4 at-large candidates and winning control of the council.

Democratic Mayoral Candidate
Melina Kennedy
Despite the perfect storm in 2007, Ballard won by only 5,312 votes.  If any of the 2007 factors aren't present in the 2011 election, Democratic candidate Melina Kennedy wins.  Or if Kennedy gets any significant portion of the Marion County Republican base to defect from Ballard, she wins. It doesn't take much to make up 5,312 votes.

But could it be the 2007 election wasn't an aberration, but rather a long-term trend of the county becoming more Republican?   I looked at the township results for the 2010 Election.  2010 was an excellent year for Republicans nationwide and in Indiana.  Contrary to popular belief, it was also a good year for Republicans in Marion County.  In 2008, the baseline spread between the county wide candidates was about 60-40, 20 points.  In 2010, that gap narrowed to about 55-45, 10 points.  Republicans in 2010 won races in Lawrence and Wayne Township, two townships that were thought to have trended permanently Democratic.  Republicans also knocked off an incumbent state legislator, John Barnes, on the east side of the City.

But even though the nationwide Republican tide lifted the Marion County GOP's boat in 2010, the numbers compared to 2007 show a startling problem for Republicans.  The 2010 Democratic baseline numbers were better than the 2007 election results in 8 of 9 townships.  Only Franklin bucked the trend:

2010 D-R vote % compared to 2007
Center:  D gain 7.17%
Decatur:  D gain 3.3%
Franklin:  R gain 2.35%
Lawrence: D gain 2.02%
Perry:  D gain .78%
Pike:  D gain 5.28%
Warren:  D gain 14.6%
Washington:  D gain 5.1%
Wayne:  D gain 8.12%

Marion County Republican leadership should have treated the 2007 election more as Peterson losing than Ballard winning.  That honest approach would have allowed Ballard's election to be treated as an opportunity to recast the Marion County GOP into a party that that reaches out to working class men and woman, a populist party that is capable of winning races in a county that has become one of the most Democratic in the state.

Instead of taking that approach, Ballard and the county GOP leadership treated the 2007 election as if were a referendum on the past GOP leadership in the county.  On Election Night, Goldsmith-era advisers cornered Ballard and have not let him out of their sight since.  Those advisers have used Ballard's upset victory to skillfully cash in for themselves and their friends.  The cost of their profiteering is Ballard's re-election and the Marion County GOP's future.  It will be 20 years before Indianapolis voters trust another Republican to occupy the Mayor's Office.


Flipper said...

If the Mayor wants to win this election he must get rid of the Public Safety director.
Frank Straub has upset the police along with the firefighters. Those two groups along with family and friends are worth as much as 10,000 votes.

Paul K. Ogden said...


You are correct that public safety officers are a solid voting bloc. It's not only police officers and firefighters but their relatives. They tend to all vote as a bloc 10,000 is a good estimate.

Cato said...

It's disgusting that cops are a large enough welfare-case voting bloc to influence an election.

Cops want in your pocket, and they'll vote for whomever will steal from you the most.

How's that collection of cop gas money going?

Gary R. Welsh said...

The Daniels' 2-1 margin of victory in Marion Co. in 2008 demonstrates that a good Republican candidate can still prevail despite a big Democratic turnout. Turnout in municipal elections is generally much lower than presidential and statewide elections and the outcome depends largely on which party turns out its voters. The main thing Ballard has going for him has been Kennedy's misfiring on the issues despite her being a well-funded challenger. She's out there campaigning a lot and people generally have a favorable reaction to her, but she isn't resonating with voters on the issues--at least yet. Still, if there is a low turnout of Republican voters compared to what we saw in 2007, it may not make any difference because she will have an edge.

Paul K. Ogden said...


You're right it's always hard to compare regular election years to municipal years because the turnout is so different. I hesitate to use the Daniels example because it was such an aberration. He was a very high profile candidate, running against someone who turned out to be a very weak candidate.

I think Kennedy could be stronger on the issues than she's been thus far. Part of her discussion about the utility sale stuff was right on the mark. But then when she talks about putting the money in something like early childhood education, that loses me. It's going to be too late to reverse what was done. But the money could be put aside for long term capital improvements that will last 30 plus years and the rest should be banked and used only for long term improvements.

Downtown Indy said...

Perfect storm? No, it was the perfect sham. Nobody realized it until election night. said...

Mayoral Elections in Indianapolis Since Unigov

It was Lugar's fault he won the first time in 1967. The Unigov fix was not yet in—that came in 1969. The fix holds in 1971. But was it Hudnut's fault he won the first time in 1975? The demographics of the city had changed enough to make it a contest but his opponent caught a late campaign DUI. It certainly wasn’t Hudnut’s fault he won the other times, 1979 [Cantwell]; 1983 [Sullivan] and 1987 [Senden]. Nor was it’s Goldsmith's fault he won in 1991 [beating Mahern by an unsurprisingly large margin] and 1995 [Jimison by a surprisingly small margin] because of the long term degrading of the Democratic Party capability and credibility, intended and achieved by Unigov, had been achieved. It took about a generation to washout skilled political Democratic operatives willing to engage in hopeless ventures.

If Peterson had lost the first time [1999] it would have been his fault because the underlying demographics had changed and even if there hadn’t been fundamental demographic change, the long-term degradation of one political party ultimately results in a trailing generational degradation in the other. There is truth in the old saw that competition keeps you sharp.

It wasn't Peterson's fault he won in 2003. But it was partially his fault he lost in 2007 by failing to recognize that the lawyerly objection of “relevance” doesn’t work in politics. But it wasn't Ballard's fault he won since the Peterson disappointed his deep base [African-Americans, the most loyally progressive voting nation, and poor and middle-class urban whites] and Bart did a “deer in the headlights” on the property tax issue. He could have said something like “It’s terrible. I had nothing to do with it. If re-elected I will camp at the other end of Market Street until the fools in the General Assembly fix it.” But that sort of populism is against his nature as he doesn’t believe in it. On a dark evening he could be mistaken for a progressive but he’s a corporate boardroom Demublican.

It won't be Ballard's fault when he loses in 2011. Race still being a huge motivator should Kennedy not get the nomination it won't be Ballard's fault he wins in 2011. Should Kennedy get the nomination it won't be her fault she wins and won't be Ballard's fault he loses.

All political commentators since Harrison Ullmann have failed to comprehend the power of the baseline and none are intellectually honest enough discuss race as a political factor. Until Marion County Republicans address the concerns of the poor, and the poor are largely though not completely, African-American, they have no future in Marion County even if the Republicans are regularly successful fooling poor whites into voting against their own interests. You can't demonize 25% of the electorate and have a prayer of winning unless someone [as Peterson did] neglects that population and there is a huge external factor [which there was, property tax reform that had been delayed for a half century manifested in huge jumps in just a year or two] that drops out of the sky like an asteroid.