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Thursday, March 5, 2020

Mapping the 2020 Minnesota primary results

Minnesota's presidential primary was held March 3rd on ‘Super Tuesday’, which was contested by Democratic candidates and in every practical sense, uncontested for Republican incumbent Donald Trump. A big surprise was Democratic candidate Joe Biden receiving the largest share of votes (38.6%), even though an earlier poll found him at a distant 4th place.

Biden’s vote share was followed by Bernie Sanders (29.9%), Elizabeth Warren (15.4%), Mike Bloomberg (8.3%) and Amy Klobuchar (5.6%). Klobuchar dropped out of the race a day before the election, giving her endorsement to Biden amid a slow showing in other states and criticism by Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ leaders for her past actions relating to civil rights issues. Being the former state frontrunner, Klobuchar's endorsement of Biden undoubtedly fueled his stronger performance in the state.

The Leading Candidates

As the below maps show, Biden gained large vote shares throughout the state, including in rural areas and middle and outer suburban areas in the Twin Cities metro, places where Klobuchar gained a foothold in the 2018 General Election.

Sanders and Warren’s vote gains were strongest in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, with Sanders also gaining large shares of votes in precincts near Indian Reservations in the state. Bloomberg, who has since also dropped out, tended to have larger vote shares scattered in outstate precincts. Of the 27 precincts where he gained over 30% of the vote, none were in the 11-county metro area.

And although Klobuchar dropped out the race before the election, she still gained large shares of votes in rural areas, often in precincts adjacent to where Biden gained large vote shares. Beyond those locations there were insufficient numbers of persons voting for Democratic candidates—rural precincts that were strongly Republican in the last general election.

The primary results suggest that the metro-outstate divide appears to be widening even more. A significant fact is that nearly three-quarters of the votes for Democratic candidates (73%) came from precincts in the 11-county metro area (544,334 of 744,291 of the votes). By comparison, in the last (gubernatorial) primary in 2018, 69% of the vote for Democratic candidates came from the metro.

Party Ideology

It is hard to discern a general pattern about how the results reflect the ideological makeup of voters, due to the large number of candidates in the primary race, among other measurement and validity issues. Although an imperfect method, by grouping progressive-leaning and moderate-leaning candidates according to their perceived ideologies, we can show a clearer pattern of where voters selected such candidates.

The below maps show that progressive candidates performed best in the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul (36% of all of their votes came from these cities) while moderate candidates had better results in Outstate Minnesota, outside of highly populated municipalities, and scattered across several outer suburban jurisdictions in the Twin Cities metro. 

These results suggest that the fight over the ideological viewpoint of the Democratic Party is occurring mostly in inner and middle ring suburbs in the Twin Cities, and to some extent in smaller outstate Minnesota cities.

Growth and Decline of Democratic Primary Votes

There have also been changing vote patterns over the last two primary elections, following a 2018 general election where turnout rates were high across the state, and historically high for the state’s central cities, which surpassed rural turnout rates for the first time in 20 years. 

Although data is not available to calculate turnout rates for the state’s precincts, we are able to map out percentage changes in the number of votes cast for democratic candidates over the last two elections: the 2018 gubernatorial primary and the 2020 presidential primary. We did not make comparisons to the last presidential primary in 2016, because votes were made in the party’s caucus system that year rather than the state’s primary system, as is done now in 2020. Incidentally the 2016 caucus gained only 28% of the votes counted in this year’s primary.

When comparing the voting change between the last two Democratic primaries, there are clear spatial patterns in the growth and decline of votes submitted between the primaries. Growth rates are highest in the Twin Cities particularly in growing outer suburban areas, but also in many central city and first-and second-ring suburbs.  

The fact that the current 2020 primary is for a presidential election, while the 2018 election was non-presidential makes it somewhat unsurprising that there are growing numbers of persons casting a vote in precincts for the current primary—an overall growth rate of 27.6% since 2018.

What is more surprising is that Outstate precincts are about as likely to have declining rates of votes for the Democratic primary as they are to have growing rates. Could this be an indication of further declining support for Democratic candidates outstate? It is notable that there are several exceptions to this, with strong growth in the Democratic vote rates in and around the Rochester area in Southeastern Minnesota, in Northwestern Minnesota around Moorhead and in Becker and Beltrami counties as well in the Duluth area.

Candidate Vote Results in Growing and Declining Precincts

The location where the candidates draw votes could have implications for how well they fare in a general election. While moderates gained more votes than progressives statewide, they narrowly won in the metro area, where progressive candidates performed more strongly. Yet if a progressive candidate is to win the general election they would clearly need to gain more support outside of their base in the central cities. 

On the other hand, moderate candidates should not ignore the fact that in the last general election central cities had turnout rates only outmatched by Twin Cities’ suburban areas. Furthermore, progressive candidates received larger shares of their votes from precincts that had the largest increases in votes for the Democratic primary. The chart below shows that moderate candidates Klobuchar, Bloomberg and Biden tended to fare worse in gaining votes from precincts with primary growth rates of 15% or more than their progressive counterparts, Sanders and Warren. 

On the Road to November

Diverse inner and middle-ring suburbs are places where the Democratic Party is competing the most to determine its ideological viewpoint and where many general election races have been settled with Republican candidates over the last decade. Whether there is an ideological split in the party that hampers success in the general election remains to be seen. In the last election, both moderate and progressive candidates won at the state-level, although progressives like Keith Ellison won by smaller margins. 

Another concern for the party is the emerging urban and rural divide that appears to be further widening in the latest primary. Yet again there are some positive outstate results for Democrats from this primary, which showed large growth rates in the Democratic vote in Southeastern and Northwestern Minnesota, as well as in the Duluth area. 

While the presidential primary was largely uncontested for Donald Trump, Republican candidates can look favorably toward the decline in the Democratic vote across large sections of outstate Minnesota, while looking less favorably at gains in the Democratic vote across the developed portion of the large and growing Twin Cities metro area.


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