Election Analysis: Few Voters Veer From Party Preference

Despite heavy spending, most voters remain predictable in partisan races

Election 2012

Election 2012


Businesses, unions and special interest groups spent heavily to influence the election — including a gush of outside money in the bitterly contested state Senate and House seats representing Rim Country.

Turns out, they needn’t have bothered.

Most of the state election results came out almost exactly as the Independent Redistricting Commission predicted when it drew boundary lines intended to create as many competitive districts as possible.

Overall, Democrats did just slightly better than the party registration and voting pattern history would have predicted — but the final vote in most districts came out within a few percentage points of the Redistricting Commission’s “competitive index” — based on voting patterns by precinct in past elections.

The outcome proves that consultants with a computer free to draw boundary lines have a lot more to do with how elections turn out than candidates and donors. Voters took the job of drawing district lines out of the hands of lawmakers and entrusted the task to an Independent Redistricting Commission, with the admonition to create as many competitive seats as possible.

Republicans continue to fight in court to overturn the Redistricting Commission’s work in hopes they can draw new, more favorable lines before the next election. The Republican challenge is slated for a trial in March, although the Redistricting Commission has asked for a delay in the trial.

The outcome of the November election underscores the importance of controlling the line-drawing process when so few voters depart from their established party preference.

The rush of outside money into the state legislative District 6 race provides a perfect case in point, according to an analysis based on figures published by the Arizona Secretary of State.

The contest for the Flagstaff-based Senate seat that includes Northern Gila County pitted Democratic Rep. Tom Chabin (Flagstaff) against Republican Rep. Chester Crandell, as both men tried to move to the upper chamber after redistricting dramatically changed their districts.

Crandell and Chabin both opted to run as Clean Elections candidates, which means they accepted public funding and agreed to spend no more than about $21,000 each.

However, outside groups poured money into the election when the Democrats saw a chance to make significant gains in the state Senate.

Those outside groups contributed $423,000 into the race, with Chabin benefiting most from the outside spending. The result?

The Independent Redistricting Commission calculated that the Republicans had a 53.8 percent to 46.2 percent advantage over the Democrats in District 6 — a 7.1 percent advantage. When the smoke cleared, Crandell had an 8.7 percent margin.

The pattern held across the state. Although Democrats actually gained seats in both the House and Senate and wound up with five of the state’s nine congressional seats, they only beat the Redistricting Commission’s competitive index calculations by a couple of percentage points.

The results suggest that the state’s voters have become deeply entrenched, supporting the same party year after year; no matter how much money candidates and outside groups spend trying to change their minds. The generalization seems to apply even to the 30 percent of Arizonans who have registered as Independents, since the Independents in each precinct seem to line up reliably with one party or the other in each election.

The Capitol Times published an analysis of the results statewide and also found little deviation from party registration and past voting patterns.

The results of the 19 contested Senate races differed from the competitive index by just 4 percent on average.

The pattern held in even the most hotly contested Senate contests, including the district representing Southern Gila County —which now has Democratic lawmakers.

The redrawn lines seemed to have the biggest impact on the congressional races, where Democrats pulled something of an upset by taking a majority the nine seats in the state — two of them by razor thin margins that left the outcome in doubt for nearly a week after the election.

Even so, the outcomes mostly came out within 5 percent of the commission’s competitiveness index. Few of the candidates did much better than you would have predicted from knowing the Republican versus Democrat voter registration numbers.

However, those small deviations from the partisan projections mostly favored Democrats. In congressional districts 1, 2 and 9 — Democrats won narrow victories by doing a little better than the party number projections.

That includes Ann Kirkpatrick, ousted two years ago by Rep. Paul Gosar, but returned in a redrawn District 1 that includes Southern Gila County. She won by about 4 percentage points in a hard-fought race.

The only Republican to do much better than the registration and voting pattern results would predict was Gosar, who switched from District 1 to District 4 rather than face Kirkpatrick in a rematch.

The redistricting commission’s competitive index gave Republicans a 27 to 30 point advantage in the district that now includes Payson, Pine, Strawberry, Prescott and the whole western third of the state. He ended up with a 38 percent advantage, running against an unknown challenger who barely campaigned or raised any money.


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