Idaho Democrats have not enjoyed statewide success since 1990 (former Governor Cecil Andrus’s last election) and this year looks no different. GOP Governor Butch Otter looks like a lock for reelection amid a stagnant economy, struggling public schools and a deeply divided GOP. Democrats have fielded strong challengers against Otter in both of his prior election bids. In 2006, Democrats fielded Jerry Brady (a tad liberal for the state) and in 2010 ran centrist Keith Allred. This cycle, Democrats are running Boise School Board President A.J. Balukoff, likely in a bid to batter Otter on the sorry state of public school funding.
A new CBS/NYT/YouGov survey highlights that strong nominees are not nearly enough to fix what ails the Idaho Democratic Party. The survey encompassed dozens of competitive and non-competitive House, Senatorial and Gubernatorial races across the country. Idaho was one of the states surveyed. The results were not pretty for the minority party.
Otter leads Balukoff 49%-31% among all voters. When leaners are included Otter’s lead jumps to 56%-34%. But it is the cross-tabs that should most concern Democrats. Nationally the Democratic Party dominates the young and minorities. Not so much in Idaho. When leaners are included Otter wins the youth vote 50%-38%. Among Hispanics (admittedly an extremely small sample is used) Otter hits 60% support while Balukoff garners a mere 18%. Democrats also dominate self identified moderates nationally but Balukoff captures a mere 42% compared to Otter’s 39%.
The survey also explored voters preferences for the US Senate race and generic Congressional ballot. Neither of those questions results find Democrats in a better position. Senator Jim Risch leads Nels Mitchell 62%-30% and holds commanding leads among all age groups. Republicans lead on the Congressional ballot 59%-34% and also win all age groups.
Democrats certainly have a dedicated core of support in Sun Valley and Boise but have struggled to expand it. I have written in the past that Democratic positions appeal to their base but few others. Gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws are just not that high on the priority list of most Idaho voters. This poll is simply further validation of past writings. But beyond this the poll indicates Democrats strength (if it can be called that) in the state is truly geographical and little else.
Consider that Idaho’s legislature only has 20 Democrats out of 105 members. A total of twelve (4 senators and 8 reps) of these members come from urban Boise (Districts 16, 17, 18 and 19). Another six of these members come from districts situated around Bannock County (Sun Valley). This leaves the Caucus only six members that do not come from reliably Democratic districts. The CBS/NYT/YouGov survey indicates that outside of these areas Democratic support is slim to none (among all age groups). Put more simply, while young voters in Sun Valley and urban Boise are liberal and Democratic the young elsewhere across the state are either conservative or moderate and Republicans or Independents.
Democrats might be able to comfort themselves with the fact that a majority of voters in Idaho identify as Independents. The survey’s partisan identification bears this out. But Independents are not exactly flocking to Democrats. Otter leads among them 48%-38%, Risch wins 57% of their support and 53% prefer the generic Republican to 36% for a generic Democrat.
Democratic attempts to branch out their support are likely to continue to fail as long as the national party supports policy positions further to the left than the state party. Demographic and socio-economic trends have already hurt Democrats as some of the strongest GOP support in the state comes from Southwest Idaho’s suburbs. Until Democrats can find a way to appeal to their base and win over moderates and conservatives the party will continue to struggle. Sure, they might win a legislative seat or two, but they will be locked out of powerful statewide Constitutional offices indefinitely and they will never see one of their own elected to our Congressional delegation.
Addendum: Some Democrats have pointed out that Balukoff’s and Mitchell’s numbers will go up as they become better known statewide. I don’t disagree. But Balukoff and Mitchell are both underfunded compared to the Republican incumbents. This means that they will become better known statewide not because of their efforts but because their opponents negatively define them. Further, the GOP elected a new Chairman last Saturday and will be far more united this November than the it had been prior.