GOP House candidates swept rural Minnesota. Does that mean voters there are monolithically Republican?

The Minnesota Republican Party won back control of the state House in last week’s election by taking 11 seats formerly held by DFLers — all of which, save one, were in districts outside the Twin Cities metro region.

But while it’s true that Republicans captured the House by winning a lot of votes in rural Minnesota, it would be a mistake to conclude from the results that Greater Minnesota is monolithically Republican.

Why? Because GOP candidates won their seats by a smaller margin, on average, than Democrats did. In other words, while rural districts certainly lean Republican in Minnesota, they’re far less reliably Republican than the urban, Democratic-leaning districts in Minnesota are reliably Democratic. 

To illustrate the phenomenon, lets look at this chart showing the margin of victory for each of Minnesota’s 134 House races:

Margins are calculated by subtracting the vote percentage of the DFL candidate from the vote percentage of the GOP candidate. So, for example, if DFLer got 100% of votes to a Republican’s 0, the margin would be -100 (0 – 100); if a GOPer gets 55% of the votes and a Democrat 45%, the margin would be +10 (55 – 45). Each bar represents a 5 point bucket: 0-5, 5-10, 10-15, etc.

The horizontal axis represents the various margins of victory for Minnesota House races, with the right side (the red bars) being those seats won by Republicans. With the exception of the eight seats on the far right side, which represent candidates who ran unopposed, Republican margins are grouped pretty tightly, and relatively close to the center. All were by less than 40 points, and the median (meaning half of Republicans won by less, half by more) was 18 points. 

Democrat margins are more spaced out, with a number of seats that were won in blowouts of 50 points or more. Many of these extremely safe DFL seats are located inside the Twin Cities, and they help push the median DFL margin of victory up much higher than the GOP’s median, to 29 points.

This dynamic is not isolated to this election, but rather a pattern that has repeated over the last couple cycles of Minnesota House elections. Take a look at a similar chart showing margins of victory in the 2012 election, when the DFL won the House 73-61. The distribution looked like this:

Again, the Republicans, on average, tend to win by smaller margins than Democrats. The median GOP margin of victory in 2012 was 15 points; for the DFL it was 28 points.

And in 2010, another year in which Republicans took control of the House 72-62:

Here the median Republican margin of victory was 19 points (with quite a few races won by 0-5 points) and the median Democratic margin was 21 points.

So while Republicans gained control of the House by winning more votes in more districts, the races they won tended to be closer. And while those heavily DFL districts might make for easy re-election campaigns, they also pile up a lot of votes that don’t do much for the ability of the DFL to win control of the House.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Hal Davis on 11/11/2014 - 11:49 am.

    First pas the post

    “…while those heavily DFL districts might make for easy re-election campaigns, they also pile up a lot of votes that don’t do much for the ability of the DFL to win control of the House.”

    As Ed Black has pointed out in his recent series, this is a consequence of the first-past-the-post electoral system. Winning many districts by a few votes gives you control of the legislature.

  2. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/11/2014 - 01:09 pm.

    Total Vote

    State-wide, how did the total vote breakdown D vs. R?

    In 2010, the DFL senators collected 20,000 more votes than the GOP. But the GOP took the senate majority.

    • Submitted by Tom Nehil on 11/11/2014 - 01:21 pm.

      Statewide votes

      GOP candidates for the House received 958,214 votes, which is just over 50% of all the votes cast for House candidates, or 50.4% of votes cast for either Republicans or Democrats.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/11/2014 - 05:33 pm.

        Now THAT”S interesting

        Republicans got .4% more votes than democrats? Hardly a mandate eh?

      • Submitted by Mark Iezek on 11/12/2014 - 02:34 pm.

        All due to unopposed candidates

        All of the GOP House statewide margin and more was due to Republicans running eight unopposed candidates and the Democrats running one. If all of those unopposed races had been contested races, even at a 75-25% 50% winning margin each, the statewide margin would have been a few percent for the Democrats.

        If you look at Kurt Daudt’s district, for example, his unopposed margin was 93%, while the margin for the Republican federal and statewide candidates in that district were between 20% and 32%.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/11/2014 - 05:53 pm.

    Some suggestions and a question

    Tom, you should pull those 4-5 races where republicans ran un-apposed (and the one where a democrat un-apposed) out of the data set, they’re outliers that skew your curves. I think these graphs are confusing. I wonder what it would look like if you put the margins on the y axis and count on the x axis instead?

    What was the actual number of total votes for democrat and republican house candidates?

  4. Submitted by David Broden on 11/12/2014 - 05:56 am.

    Rural Voters- Thoughtful and Wise

    There seems to be a bit of theme being expressed that outstate voters/citizens are different from metro citizens. Before this expression gets out of control perhaps those expressing that postion should ask themselves when the last time they were outside the metro area- met with outstate citizens and obtained a bit of understanding of how thoughtful and in depth consideration these people reflect each day. As one who grew up in very rural Swift County- worked in a family business– worked with the agriculuture community- participated in the real community life that exists outstate- this growing metro vs. outstate expression needs to be expressed in a positive way or the festering will become a real issue — we are all ONE MINNESOTA and that is how we became a well educated and quality of life state. If you have negative view of outstate take a trip- have a cup of coffee — visit and purchase from local business and then rethink your view.

    Dave Broden

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