Per the data below, over the last several major election cycles Marion County has turned out a significant majority of voters who voted Democrat. With the exception of the 2008 gubernatorial election – and this largely due to the combination of a popular Republican candidate (Daniels) and a Democratic candidate who never got off the ground (Long Thompson) – Democratic votes in Marion County have tallied a double digit percentage margin over republican votes in every major, non-mayoral election since 2008.
Despite this fact, Indianapolis has elected a Republican mayor in the last two elections. It should be noted that voters who vote Democrat in a given election aren’t necessarily Democrats and won’t necessarily vote Democrat in the future. Yet the overwhelming majority of voters who voted Democrat in recent presidential and gubernatorial elections (2008 and 2012), as well as the recent off-year senate election (2010), seems to indicate that Marion County could reasonably be called a Democratic area. And while it isn’t necessarily an issue that a Republican candidate won twice in a row in a Democratic area, what’s shocking is the combination of how slim a margin the current mayor (Ballard) won by and how few people turned out to vote. Statistically it should be very improbable that a Republican candidate would win this seat, even if she or he is popular. The truth is in the turnout.
Since 2008 an average of 368,279 voters turn out in Marion County for presidential and gubernatorial elections. Since 2007 an average of 172,573 voters turn out in Marion County for mayoral elections. That means on average only 48.6% of the turnout for presidential elections shows up for mayoral elections.* This is certainly largely a result of the fact that mayoral elections are off-year elections, but consider the fact that the victor in the mayoral elections of 2007 and 2011 only won by an average margin of 6,422 votes.
If voters remain consistent, an assumption that should roughly hold across elections barring a major shift or an all star candidate, had only 15% more of the people who vote on average in presidential and gubernatorial elections shown up for the mayoral elections (53,292 votes, 56.3% of which on average have been for the Democratic candidate) the outcome would have been different. What might be even more surprising is that 33,882 more voters showed up for the 2010 senate election than the 2011 mayoral one. That amounts to nearly 20% of the entire average turnout for the 2007 and 2011 mayoral elections. Had only half of these people shown up, about 78% of whom voted for the Democrat, we’d have a different mayor.
Statistically there is no reason Indianapolis has a Republican mayor. All that is statistically necessary for the Democrats to have won the last two mayoral elections is the mobilization of 15% more of the people who vote in presidential and gubernatorial races. But that’s if you mobilize a random group of voters. Mobilize people who will vote Democrat and you’re talking just 2% more of the voters in the presidential and gubernatorial elections or just 1% more of the total eligible voters.** The numbers clearly reveal that Democratic defeat in the last two mayoral elections has been the result of two factors: organization and mobilization.
People don’t operate the same way numbers do, so this is a soft science. But it’s clear the numbers are there for the Democrats.
** Sadly, municipal elections in this country typically result in very low voter turnout. This is a very different problem because it doesn’t only consider active voters but rather all eligible ones. Still it’s worth noting: over the last two elections Indianapolis has turned out an average of 25.8% (172,573 of a possible 669,270) of eligible voters, the average for major cities during the last decade. Blindly raise that dismal number to 34%, up just 8%, and the Democrats also have a victory.
MAYORAL RESULTS FROM MARION COUNTY, INDIANA – 2007 and 2011
2007 mayoral election results in Marion County:
Ballard (R): 83,238 [50.5%]
B. Peterson (D): 77,926 [47.2%]
F. Peterson (L): 3,787 [2.3%]
Total Votes: 164,951
2011 mayoral election results in Marion County:
Ballard (R): 92,525 [51.3%]
Kennedy (D): 84,993 [47.2%]
Bowen (L): 2,677 [1.5%]
Total Votes: 180,195
PRESIDENTIAL, GUBERNATORIAL, AND SENATE RESULTS FROM MARION COUNTY, INDIANA – 2008, 2010, 2012
For practical reasons I only included the top three vote-getters at each election. I rounded each percentage to the nearest tenth and did not include in the total votes for each respective election the votes (which amounted to very little, if any) earned by a candidate not among the top three vote-getters.
(I’m beginning with 2008 because the senate elections before this featured two very popular candidates, one Democrat [Evan Bayh] and one Republican [Richard Lugar]. The widespread popularity of these candidates across political parties would skew the data.)
2008 gubernatorial election results (p. 62) in Marion County:
Daniels (R): 209,955 [55.6%]
Long Thompson (D): 160,318 [42.4%]
Horning (L): 7,375 [2.0%]
Total Votes: 377,648
2008 presidential election results (p. 57) in Marion County:
Obama (D): 241,987 [63.8%]
McCain (R): 134,313 [35.4%]
Barr (L): 2,968 [0.8%]
Total Votes: 379,268
2010 senate election results (p. 63) in Marion County:
Ellsworth (D): 113,634 [53.1%]
Coats (R): 88,564 [41.4%]
Sink-Burris (L): 11,879 [5.5%]
Total Votes: 214,077
2012 senate election results in Marion County:
Donnelly (D): 227,858 [64.1%]
Mourdock (R): 106,919 [30.1%]
Horning (L): 20,802 [6%]
Total Votes: 355,579
2012 gubernatorial election results in Marion County:
Gregg (D): 210,119 [58.8%]
Pence (R): 129,501 [36.3%]
Boneham (L): 17,573 [4.9%]
Total Votes: 357,192
2012 presidential election results in Marion County:
Obama (D): 216,336 [60.3%]
Romney (R): 136,509 [38%]
Johnson (L): 6,161 [1.7%]
Total Votes: 359,006