Douglas and Klamath County Votes Deliver Race to Kitzhaber

Evan Manvel

Douglas and Klamath County Votes Deliver Race to Kitzhaber

Image courtesy MEJ Newman

Throughout the reporting on this extremely close election, and in comments here on BlueOregon, we’ve read that Multnomah County voters delivered the election to Governor Kitzhaber. True enough – to a point.

Kitzhaber wouldn’t be headed to Mahonia Hall if not for the 19,000-plus voters in Douglas and Klamath counties who supported him, even as those counties went for Dudley overall. And Chris Dudley got over 74,000 votes in Multnomah County.

In the newspaper, we’ve seen graphics that portray the state in bright red and blue counties, with no gradations of purple (graphics department: read Edward Tufte). We’ve heard the Metro race was Portland vs. the suburbs.

While these all hold an element of truth, they hide a greater truth: in every county in Oregon, there are people of all persuasions. There are a whole lot of rural Democrats, and a bunch of urban Republicans, and a hoard of independents.

Choose three average voters in almost any county, and you'll find one supported Kitzhaber, one Dudley, and one was a toss-up.

In the Metro President race, it was even closer. The undervote - those who voted but skipped the race - ran from roughly 30 to 50%. Let’s call them three of every eight. Of the five remaining, in each county two people went for Hughes, two went for Stacey, and the fifth vote was a toss-up. Hardly strong evidence that Portland and the suburbs are worlds apart.

But, instead of remembering the two-of-three or seven-of-eight voters in each county who are similar, we focus on the marginal voter who is different.

We do this for several reasons.

First, our elections are winner-takes-all, not proportional representation. Whether the vote is 80 to 20% or 51 to 49%, our elections are about putting a single person in office. Second, elections are conducted by counties, so geographic data are the easiest and most verifiable way of reporting the results. That doesn’t excuse using red vs. blue instead of shades of purple on maps, but helps explain why reporting highlights specific counties as opposed to gender, race, age, income, and soforth. Third, the media are tasked with explaining things and making sense of them, and readers and viewers seem to be drawn to contrast and conflict rather than complex shades of gray.

Yet there are compelling reasons to shift how we report and think about the results. When we’re reminded of our similarities, we’re more likely to succeed in working together. When we think of those who disagree with us as our neighbors instead of far-away strangers, we can have conversations we might not otherwise have.

I urge the news outlets to run some shades-of-purple maps to remind us that despite our differences, voters across the state supported Kitzhaber and Dudley. And I’d urge all of us all to think about how the words describing voters and outcomes could include gradations of agreement, and descriptions other than the county designations that may fuel the urban vs. rural mindset.

While our disagreements in the policies we want may be significant, we share most values. In the end, we’re Oregonians who all want the best for our future. Here's to having a beer with the Klamath County Democrat, and the Multnomah County Republican.

MEJ's Newman's graphic from 2008 and its explanation.

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    A couple of notes that didn’t quite fit in the article:

    • Just because our counties are relatively evenly divided doesn’t mean that our neighborhoods are. We’ve seen increased geographic clustering, as we try to live next to people who share our beliefs.

    • And yes, election result maps based on population instead of physical land mass may help decrease hostility towards urban voters, as it reinforces the one-person one-vote idea. The sample image above does this with the U.S., and doing it for Oregon would probably be useful.

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      How long till we see gated communities where the only prerequisite is the same political party? ;)

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      While Oregon appears to have divided itself fairly evenly in this race, it's also true that even on a macro county-level basis, America has divided itself by party. Over the last 40 years, we've gone from a nation of "purple counties" to a nation of "red counties" and "blue counties."

      I strongly recommend reading the book (and website) "The Big Sort"

      That said, Evan, thank you for your post. I was contemplating something very similar.

      The only reason anybody says, "Multnomah County decided it for the rest of the state" is because MultCo came in last. If, instead, the metro area had come in first, we'd have spent election night thinking it was a landslide for Kitzhaber, rather than a win for Dudley.

      As for population-based maps, well, those will be coming very soon. As with most elections, I'll have my population-based Oregon cartograms very shortly.

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    Evan- Quick note on the "undervote" in the Metro race- that includes voters in the county who are not part of Metro. It looks like they skipped the race, but Metro wasn't on their ballots.

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      Thanks for that correction, Stacey - and preliminary congratulations on the likely Hughes victory. Despite our differences, I'm looking forward to finding common ground.

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    Nicely written. I appreciate your perspective on this, and I absolutely agree with you.

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    Well said, Evan. Important thoughts for a diverse, yet ultimately united, state and nation.

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    I would urge you to submit this to the Oregonian as an OpEd. They and the rest of the state need to heed your comments. There is no reason other than lazy and sloppy journalism not to show the shades of purple today; the technology makes it just as easy as bright red and bright blue. As you mentioned in your addendum, doing the coloring by precinct is also possible which gives a much more meaningful message. People in Gilliam County might then appreciate that there are precincts in Portland that agree with them and everyone in Portland is not a latte-sipping liberal.

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      Meant to add "a precinct in Portland with as many people as Gilliam County that agree with them"

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      Unfortunately, precinct-level results won't be available for several weeks. They usually release them AFTER the final count is certified.

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    Oh here we go again- Multnomah Co. is the big dog in Oregon politics and it has been for decades and decades- get over it.

    Most campaigns need to go "hunting where the ducks are" that's a fact of life. In 1972 our McGovern campaign in Eugene registered enough voters in the UO Dorms alone to out vote five combined Eastern Oregon counties in the primary.

    However, a lot of these results can be explained by the campaigns themselves.

    For example, abot 10 days before the ballots went out I drove from my home in Southern Wasco County to Eugene and on the way I counted lawn signs in the Governor's race- excluding my Kithaber signs, on the drive to Eugene there were 15 Dudley signs, primarily large signs, and ZERO for Kitzhaber.

    I wonder how many full-time Kitzhaber staffers were even in place on the east side vs. Portland? It would surprise me if there were any. Even the staffers that get sent over here seem to get the heebie geebies if they step outside the urban zones with no Starbucks in sight.

    There are a lot of ways Democrats can appeal to the rural voters but you never even see anyone try. People come over the divide and think they have landed in Deliverance.

    People's attitudes east of the Cascades aren't determined by what kind of graphs the draw in the Oregonian- especially anymore people barely read the Oregonian anyway.

    In my little tow you mostly have a lot of poor under educated people screaming about the government- the scream the loudest when there Social Security, Disability, SSI, Foster Child, Day Care and other checks are late of course. And they do cling to their guns. Can you blame them? If we have to call the police we are likely to experience a two hour wait.

    We have a State Senator I doubt he has ever been here and more than a few people even know who he is- I've watched for decades how the Rs con the Salem crowd with the notion these people are so popular at home- what a joke- you all want some rural votes come on out and campaign.

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      Oh well in the last paragraph if anybody gets to it I meant to say: "NO more than a few people know who he (the State Sen.) is."

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      I think that Chuck Butcher might have something to say about "Democrats don't try" to win in Eastern Oregon. He certainly did when trying to run against Walden. Wyden and Merkley both campaigned heavily in Eastern Oregon. Wyden won easily, of course. For Merkley, it was much harder, but he was unseating an entrenched incumbent.

      I agree that Dems need to campaign in Eastern and Central Oregon, and they have--with mixed results.

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    I was quite amazed to hear that Measure 76 passed in all counties. Sure it is easy to for Oregonians to support parks, clean water and wildlife with what amounts to an tax on other people who are bad at math (to quote the bumper sticker), but when is the last time a ballot measure passed with 68% of the vote and majorities in every county?

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    Domgraphics reign supreme in low population states. Look no further than the vots of Jefferson County KY and King County WA. Rather than demonize the highly populated city votes, both parties should (and are) out there trying to sway voters.

    This round went to the liberal democrats at the state level, while in many counties, individual races went to republicans becaue the NAV shifted allegiance (again) and the under 30 vote stayed away.

    It will be interesting to watch the new/old boss play with the same type of legislative make up that he declared "ungovernable" just 8 short years ago. Will we get fooled again?

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    Carla, are you saying that the democrats at the state level will have net additions in the house and senate in 2012?

    I'll take that bet right now :-)

    If you are correct I'll donate $25 to your charity of choice in November 2012.

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    The purple metaphor was intended to illustrate the relatively even split in many counties and states in 2004 and 2008.

    Kari's map in the next post, and any "purple" map is not going to disguise Oregons political geography. I appreciate the feel good approach of this post but the reality us that we are very divided. A large number of counties went 60-70% GOP or Dem. The "purple" map in Oregon will end up showing a lot of red and blue.

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    Evan, great post. The political polarization in the US and Oregon is real in the sense Paul points out, but it's also a very false frame. In an election, we have two choices. From those two choices, we can then artificially describe places as divided or unified. But it's the reductionist nature of a binary choice that creates the situation.

    From that single, necessarily binary data point, many people then begin to amplify to create a sense of division. Candidates do it to distinguish themselves. Parties do it to establish control. Media--perhaps the worst offenders--do it because polarization makes good copy.

    We may or may not be divided, but looking at the results of an election is no way to make that determination.

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    I think Multno deserves some credit given the unusual surge of votes on the last day, even for the last day. 91k votes! They didnt just materialize; they were delivered by GOTV. Absent that, does kitz win? Maybe.

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