Vote to win

For 30 years I've tracked voter-registration migration in Jackson County. In that time I've watched Ashland, Talent and Jacksonville get bluer and communities in the upper Rogue region of the county get redder.

And, when you think about it, it makes sense: People want to live next door to those who share similar core values; whether it is a willingness to tax themselves for better schools, longer library hours, more open space or an unwillingness to do the same.

We are not unique. Bill Bishop's book "The Big Sort" studies this same phenomenon nationwide. It's happening here, across Oregon and across the U.S.

Where it gets interesting is how each of the zones within Jackson County pattern in partisan voting. For example, eight out of every 10 voters in Ashland will predictably cast a Democratic ballot while two in 10 will cast a Republican ballot. In the upper Rogue, seven in 10 will vote Republican while three in 10 will be cast to a Democrat. In both of these zones, base solely on voter turnout and before the clerk's office tallies the votes, a predictable percent of votes cast can be accurately ascribed to each of the partisan contenders in any given general election, almost irrespective of the quality of candidates. There is virtually no swing in either of these areas.

So, how can we find or predict swing?

After years of observing that non-affiliated voters (NAVs) tracked partisans by the same percentages as the overall party registration, I designed a formula to study that observed patterning. The formula simply collapsed all NAVs and third-party registrants into the partisan percentages, precinct by precinct. I then applied this to election outcomes dating back to the 1970s and found the formula held consistently across Jackson County for three decades, with one exception.

Further study and polling turned up the following: Swing happens within non-affiliated voters (independents) by the exact same percentage as swing occurs within partisan voters, precinct by precinct. Turns out that independents are merely closet partisans.

Equally interesting is that I applied my formula to different counties in the state and different states in the nation and found it holds nearly everywhere. Where it deviates — that is, where the election percentage outcome does not mirror registration — is where the true swing lies.

In Jackson County there are only five precincts that consistently fall outside of the pattern, only five. And all of them are located in east Medford. Outside of east Medford there is virtually no swing in Jackson County. So when Democrats struggle with a decision in the primary about who to "serve up" for a general election, only one question should be in their minds: Which Democratic primary candidate can win the moderate Republican vote in east Medford? The answer to that question is the answer to who will win the general election.

Cathy Shaw, former three-term mayor of Ashland, is the author of the textbook: "The Campaign Manager, Running and Winning Local Elections," currently in fourth edition, and serves as a Democratic political consultant in Oregon.

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