I have been meaning to write this for a while. Apologizes to my adoring fans for the delay. The Idaho Statesmen’s Dan Popkey showed off an illuminating chart a week or so ago showcasing how thoroughly Romney dominated Idaho in 2012.
The chart shows Romney carried 31 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and winning well over 50% of the popular vote in 30 of them. Politico’s election map shows Romney only lost two counties in the entire state (Latah and Blaine) out of 44. But it is the four legislative districts Romney lost and their attributes that are interesting.
All four of the districts Romney lost were in Boise (though Romney did carry Ada County with 54%). Districts 16, 17, 18, and 19 all went for Obama with district 16 giving the President 51% of its vote, District 17 giving 55%, District 18 giving 51% and District 19 over 62%.
Not surprisingly this partisan voting pattern can be seen down-ballot. In the 1st Congressional District Raul Labrador (R) won with 63%. But in the areas where his district encompasses part of Boise his numbers were closer to 50%. Mike Simpson, longtime Republican Congressman of ID-2, won his district with 65% of the vote. He won every county in his district except Ada County. His opponent, liberal Nicole Lefavour won the parts of the district that include Boise (including her old stomping grounds District 19) 52%-47% (18% over her margin in the rest of the district).
Combine all this election data and you find that Boise truly is a different world politically than the rest of the state. Consider that urban based Boise Districts 16, 17, 18, and 19 all only have Democratic state Reps. and Senators. Overall, democrats only have 20 members in the entire legislature so doing the math shows these districts make up 60% of the entire party caucus (12/20=.60). It should be mentioned for a short time District 18 had a GOP state Rep. and Senator but they both lost their reelection bids in 2012.
So what has contributed to this phenomenon? One could chalk it up to Republican leaning voters flocking to the suburbs where work is plentiful and taxes are lower. One could say it has to do with a demographic trend nationwide where younger, more liberal voters are congregating in urban areas. Others could say it has to do with the fact that the state’s government and largest university is based in the city. None of these explanations are wrong. In fact, I think they hit the mark.
But I would like to posit another reason why Boise is different politically. Boise is different to be different. In other words, Boise voters value the different political culture that is encapsulated in the city and they want it to stay that way. Of course this culture only applies to Democratic voters. I sure would like at least one Republican representing my district. But I and fellow like-minded voters (45% at the Presidential level in District 18) are not the majority.
In the short-term this is unlikely to change. The GOP’s base in the state remains rural and increasingly suburban interests. These interests are starting to come into conflict but have yet to create fractures the Democrats can exploit. The state GOP is also divided between wings of the party: libertarians, Tea Party conservatives, convention conservatives, moderates, etc. Meanwhile, the Democratic Caucus because of its small size and minority status is largely opposed to any GOP efforts (and Democratic efforts are supported by their voters). This might change in time but for now, well, it looks like the norm.