I am going to take a break from promoting my just released book, The Catholic Tide Continues to Turn to write about another interest of mine; election polling and demographics in my home state of Ohio. Lately my dander has been raised more than once by polls which are totally inept in their sampling rational. This article will attempt to explain why at this point Governor Mitt Romney is in the driver’s seat in my home state. Full disclosure; I did not vote for Governor Romney in the GOP primary, my vote went to Senator Rick Santorum. Also until the mid 1990s I was a conservative Democrat; my political work began in the 1980s as in intern in the Ohio State House and then continued for the Democratic Leadership Council on Capitol Hill in 1994-95. I saw no hope for conservative Democrats like myself after my stint in Washington DC. I view myself not as a Republican, but a conservative.
The 2008 General Election was a perfect storm for Democrats across the country and Ohio was no exception. By 2010, the gains the Democrats made had evaporated and the GOP returned to the levels it had enjoyed in the 1980s. However, political polling across the country has not reflected this change. Obviously this makes a huge difference in Midwestern swing areas, especially suburban locations, the area of most states that continue to grow, even if that state’s total growth is stagnant.
For example in Ohio the area surrounding Franklin County (Columbus) and the area surrounding Hamilton County (Cincinnati) are the fastest growing areas of the state. These areas generally go GOP 65%-35%. Conversely, the Democratic strongholds of Lucas (Toledo,) Cuyahoga (Cleveland,) Summit (Akron,) and Mahoning (Youngstown) are the areas of the state that have seen a freefall in residents since the late 1970s.
While many people are aware of this statistic, one area few seem to realize is the age demographic, Democratic voters are dying off faster than the younger (40 and 50 something) Reagan era GOP voters of the fast growing GOP strongholds of suburban Columbus and Cincinnati.
Now let’s take a look at raw voter counts in Ohio and what we can expect after the polls close at 7:30 PM on November 6. A cursory glance of the 2004 and 2008 election results in the Democratic strongholds in the northern part of the state might make one reason that a serious error had occurred. How could Massachusetts Senator John Kerry possibly get more votes than the first African American standard bearer, then Illinois Senator Barack Obama in areas like Cuyahoga County which is over 30% African-American, the highest percentage in the state?
The answer is simple, thousands of voters had died or moved from that area of the state in those four years, and many more thousands have done so since the economic meltdown of 2008. For example in 1980 Cuyahoga County had 1,500,000 residents compared to 1,280,000 in 2010, Lucas County had 471,000 in 1980 compared to 441.000 in 2010 and Mahoning County had 290,000 residents in 1980, compared to 239,000 in 2010. Many left for southern and western states. As recent as a few days ago (early October 2012) election officials had reported a huge drop off in eligible voters for this Democratic rich area of the state. Let’s give the President the benefit of the doubt and say his numbers in Cleveland, Toledo and Youngstown only drop 5% (due to shifting demographics) this is still a nightmare scenario for the Obama-Biden ticket when one realizes that Romney-Ryan ticket will certainly gain at least 5% in the Columbus and Cincinnati fast growing suburban areas.
Now let’s take a look at the GOP strongholds of suburban Columbus and Cincinnati. In 1980 Butler County (outside of Cincinnati) had 258, 000 voters compared to 368,000 in 2010 and Warren County directly north of Cincinnati had 99,000 residents in 1980 versus 212,000 in 2010. Let’s look at Columbus, Delaware County which for years was the fastest growing county in the Midwest had 53,000 residents in 1980 compared to 174,000 in 2010 and Fairfield County had 93,000 residents in 1980 versus 146,000 in 2010.
Still not convinced; let’s look’s at the vote totals. The suburban counties that ring Columbus (Franklin County) saw them go 59-41 for Senator John McCain in 2008. This was a drop off of six percent compared to vote totals received by President George W Bush in 2004. GOP officials with access to data have assured me that internal polls show Governor Romney at least getting the percentages that President Bush won in 2004, if not higher.
Let’s take a look at the Cincinnati area; in 2008 Senator McCain won the suburban counties that surround Cincinnati 63-37, again like Columbus a six percentage drop off from 2004. In 2004 President Bush won Warren County (still the second fastest growing county in the state) 72-28. In addition, President Bush won Hamilton County (Cincinnati) while Senator McCain lost Hamilton County. Again, I have been assured by those who know that Hamilton County will not go for President Obama this time.
Let’s take a look at the eastern part of Ohio, coal country. With the exception of Athens County home of my alma mater Ohio University, every county is expected to be in the Romney column. Some counties like Monroe, Belmont and Jefferson have only been in the GOP column a couple of times since the inception of the Republican Party. While these are not huge vote rich areas, they certainly will help Governor Romney.
Now some knowledgeable observers will say, wait a minute. What about Franklin County (Columbus) a one time GOP sure thing. Won’t that help the President’s re-election chances? True, Franklin County was once the epitome of the establishmentarian, button down Mr. Thurston Howell III GOP politics. While Franklin County only gave 40% of her vote to Senator McCain, it is growing at a much smaller rate of growth than the suburbs who ring her. So even if Governor Romney gets the same totals, he will still win the vote rich suburban counties that ring Columbus (mentioned in raw numbers above) 2-1 and then some.
Franklin County reflects a growing trend in Midwest vote demographics; liberal voters, who are often single, moving into the city center (often lofts in converted old warehouses) and her near-by environs full of university and alternative lifestyle neighborhoods, areas that a few decades ago were once blight ridden but now have been gentrified. Some of these stately old homes can easily sell for hundreds of thusands of dollars. This all seems lost on many conservative oriented voters who often want larger spaces for their families. They are moving to the faster growing suburban counties that ring the county in question.
Now let’s not so much look at political poll results as much as we look at sampling data in a state that is the epitome of middle of the road partisan support. Before Governor Romney’s debate performance which was nearly universally acclaimed, he trailed in the Buckeye state from anywhere between 2 and 10 points. Yet, the CBS poll which had him down nearly 10 points weighted the poll with a +10 Democratic statistical advantage. The sampling method appeared for all intents and purposes to be outrageous. Even Scott Rasmussen dubbed by many to be GOP friendly in his surveys gives Democrats a statistical advantage of sampling in a state where one could argue that Ohio is as close to parity as anyone in the nation. In addition, poll after poll shows the GOP voters more motivated to get the polls than Democratic voters.
A couple more points before I conclude; the religious vote in Ohio will be very interesting. Catholics and Evangelicals who go to church regularly will go Romney 2-1, though the mainstream media will certainly concentrate on self identified Catholics who perhaps haven’t been to Mass since the Ford Administration. Catholics make up an interesting religious dynamic, while a Baptist or Methodist who hasn’t been to church in a long time will probably just identify themselves as Christian, a Catholic because of cultural identity will almost always say Catholic. This leaves us with an interesting question regarding Jewish voters. Normally, one would expect Jewish voters to vote overwhelming for President Obama, perhaps 3-1 or 4-1.
However, the candidacy of 34 year old Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, for the United States Senate seat currently held by US Senator Sherrod Brown may bring an interesting dynamic to the race. About 75-80% of Jewish residents in Ohio live in the greater Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati areas. Many in Cleveland live in the eastern areas of Solon, Shaker Heights and University Heights, while in Cincinnati many live in the Montgomery/Blue Ash area. In the Columbus area the highest numbers live in Bexley and New Albany.
A Mandel victory would bring certainly launch him to the most promising GOP conservative Jewish elected official outside of Majority leader Eric Cantor. Mandel would be the biggest Jewish rising star in Ohio since the late US Senator Howard Metzenbaum. Though President Obama will certainly win the Jewish vote, his numbers may be diminished by first the candidacy of Treasurer Mandel, and secondly the controversial Middle East policy of President Obama who has hardly had what anyone would call a cozy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Any drop in the Jewish vote for President Obama will not help his cause in Ohio.
Finally, these Ohio demographics of industrial Democratic areas losing voters, while suburban areas are gaining GOP voters are not unique to Ohio. They are indicative of the entire Midwest. One only needs to look at the tremendous loss of population in Detroit. The city has lost 250,000 residents just from 2000-2010. It is now smaller than Columbus. Again like Northeast Ohio, many of those residents left the state. Governor Romney, who was born in Michigan and whose father casts a long positive shadow in the state, may not be behind as much as the polls indicate. He certainly will do much better in the Detroit suburbs than did Senator McCain. I will leave that analysis up for someone in the state up north to extrapolate. Now anything can happen from today until election day, bad debate performances (though that seems a little less likely after the first debate) or some sort of scandal. However, using the data I have outlined, it is easy to see that not only will Ohio go for Governor Romney, but so could a host of upper Midwest states.