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Denver’s Demography and the Case of the Anglo Dems

In my earliest iteration of local political map-making (2007 to be precise), I came up with 5-group definition of Harris County political groups. These are voter targets that everyone tends to acknowledge and agree on, but I sought to define the geographic boundaries of where the core of these voters were.

Traditional African-American neighborhoods are obviously the most solid pool of Democratic leaning voters. Traditional Hispanic neighborhood are another that lean toward Democratic candidates. And among Anglos, there tends to be a small carve-out of what I classify as "Anglo Dem", leaving the rest as "Anglo GOP". The reason I felt compelled to spend some time on the project in 2007, however, was because our shop's experience in southwest Houston led us to believe that the "no majority" or "multicultural" areas in the county were growing in importance. So I went through and defined a "Multicultural" core where there was generally no majority present and the votes tended to reflect that.

Now, I hadn't worked with any extensive GIS software prior to then and the Census data was barely relevant late in the decade. So the whole exercise took a bit of creativity, some heavy abuse of Photoshop to create the rough drafts of maps, and some generosity of a local engineering firm's GIS resources to help us add some more layers to the research. But, all in all, that exercise was the launch pad of a great deal of what you see in the way of the more recent cartography. The results, based on the 2006 election cycle and a ton of guesstimating based on HCAD queries looked like this ...

Briefly, the biggest things to jump out of this were the following:

- The notion that "Multicultural" parts of the county played a big role was certainly substantiated by seeing 20% of the vote come from areas where nobody held a majority.

- The share of vote to come out of Traditional Afr-Am and Traditional Hispanic areas was not sufficient enough to warrant the typical approach of doing field work in those areas and considering the job "done" for Hispanic or Afr-Am targeting and outreach.

- A closer look at the Hispanic numbers indicated that there is a similar amount of Hispanic vote to be had in the Traditional Hispanic precincts was there was in either the Multicultural OR the Anglo GOP area. While the first comparison might not have served as much of a surprise, the latter one was very attention-getting. It was also something that I think was borne out in some of the results for Adrian Garcia in 2008.

- In looking at historical election returns for each of these areas, the Anglo Dem cluster proved rather fickle, actually voting GOP in the most competitive contest we looked at in that year. The Multicultural cluster also voted slightly in favor of the GOP that year, though part of that was because what was "multicultural" or "transitional" in 2006/07 wasn't necessarily the case in 1994. But for a "base" area such as the Anglo Dems, the swing was more noticeable.

As a first order of business, I probably should go through and see how this same Anglo Dem cluster performed in 2010 with regard to Bill White and any other downballot races. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see a similar swing to the GOP below Bill White's showing. While I stand by my working theory that 2010 was a turnout phenomenon rather than a "mind-changing" one, I think it stands to reason that the canary in the proverbial coal mine is to see a re-coloration of the map in Anglo Dem areas.

While the rise of multicultural areas in Harris/Ft Bend counties has been through the roof (feel free to compare the 1980-2010 maps), the definition of Anglo Dem clusters is worth exploring in a bit more detail. This is basically another thread I'm pulling from the sweater of Friday's Lanier Public Policy Conference. Ron Brownstein's point was that successful Democratic constituencies of the future are going to have to be created from minority voters and those Anglos comfortable with diversity. Unfortunately, Houston's Anglo Dem area seems relatively small to draw too many conclusions with.

This is what sent me to Denver. While there are some notable differences between the two states that aren't good comparisons - namely Colorado's lack of racial conflict compared to southern states - the pool is big enough in Denver to start milling about and exploring how big the difference is once you account for some of the more traditional reasons that influence Democratic support among Anglo voters.

For starters, there's the Jewish community and the GLBT community that tend to be supportive. In most major urban areas, there should be a common parallel even if it's hard to derive good, solid numbers for each. A bit easier to get good data on is the presence of multi-degreed individuals. College towns have young students who may vote more liberally than the adults in town (ie - Austin). More the case outside of Houston, there are also the occasional union hotbeds. I'm not sure how much of a presence unions have in the Denver area, but I'm starting off with the assumption that it's on the low side compared to midwestern metros. Beyond those factors, it starts to get fairly thin. So the hope is that by spending some time in Denver, there's enough of a pool of Anglo Dems to do some more digging.

First up, the raw demographics of the area. I look at the Denver area two ways: Denver county (it's actually a city-county, so I'm just going to call it Denver and leave it at that) and the four-county area that includes the three other counties that surround Denver. In each case, they are all majority-Anglo, with Denver at a slim Anglo majority on it's own. The math for the aggregate and just Denver is as follows:

The Denver Four   
           TOTAL         ANGLO            HISPANIC         AFR-AM        ASIAN
Total  .. 2,148,307  1,336,889 (62.2%) 540,810 (25.2%) 131,253 ( 6.1%) 77,633 (3.6%)
18+  .... 1,627,004  1,091,306 (67.1%) 344,649 (21.2%)  95,461 ( 5.9%) 59,158 (3.6%)
CVAP .... 1,392,465  1,045,065 (75.1%) 204,347 (14.7%)  79,995 ( 5.7%) 34,983 (2.5%)

Denver County
           TOTAL         ANGLO            HISPANIC         AFR-AM        ASIAN
Total ..   600,158    313,012 (52.2%) 190,965 (31.8%)  58,388 ( 9.7%) 19,925 (3.3%)
18+ ....   471,392    274,874 (58.3%) 125,111 (26.5%)  43,709 ( 9.3%) 15,941 (3.4%)
CVAP ...   384,850    250,265 (65.0%)  78,092 (20.3%)  38,843 (10.1%)  9,096 (2.4%)

The pattern of Hispanic population shares going south as you go from Total Population to CVAP is certainly familiar. And, to me, it also raises doubt on whether there's really a "sleeping giant" there to be awoken.

What's interesting is that in each individual county, Michael Bennett carried the total vote for the 2010 US Senate contest and John Hickenlooper did the same in the 2010 Governor's race. Each won statewide as well. It was as if 2010 just didn't happen in those contests, although the GOP did perform better for downballot state contests. Hickenlooper's contest was an oddity in that Tom Tancredo ran as a third-party candidate, which had the effect of taking votes away from the GOP nominee and making the race more hyperpartisan. The impact in terms of which precincts went blue vs red (or whatever color for a third party) did not change terribly much on the scale that I'm used to working with. That's not to say that the percentages in each precinct were close to identical. But merely to point out that deep red areas didn't suddenly swing toward Hickenlooper. The map basically stayed the same. Going back to my point about wanting to see some amount of re-coloration before concluding that minds are changing on the ground, it just didn't look like it was on display here.

One of the post-election comments heard about both Colorado and Nevada was that it was Hispanic voters that "saved" Bennett and Harry Reid. In some preliminary views of the returns, what struck me was that while it was impressive that the share of vote among Hispanics did not tail off like a lot of other midterms do, the showing in Anglo-majority areas was impressive. To me, all that says collectively is that each campaign had impressive field teams. This is even more impressive in Reid's case considering how far behind he was at the start of the cycle. Likewise, that the field teams placed enough importance on multiple segments of voters is my starting point. And in an election where Anglo voters should have proven more fickle (and hence, more Republican), the showing among Anglo Dems strikes me as more impressive.

Furthermore, the sheer number of Hispanic voters in each state, based on some assumptions about how CVAP translates to SSVR, isn't substantive enough to suggest that a "sleeping giant" has been awaken. Those voters are certainly a key component to a successful Democratic coaltion, but the biggest question I see on the board is explaining how the Anglo Dem areas held up while they usually start breaking out some red in pendulum swing elections like 1994 or 2010.

And just to start coloring in the lines, here's an overview of the Denver area itself. First with demographic majorities shaded in. As always, click 'em to big 'em ...

Total Population

Voting Age Population

Citizen Voting Age Population

And then for the 2010 Senate election ...

2010 Senate Election Results

There should be some obvious and fairly large Anglo Dem areas that jump out when you go through these. If you want one particular highlight, there's this ...

SE Denver Anglo Dem Cluster
2010 Senate results in Majority-Anglo region

This area of Denver is majority-Anglo at each population count: total population, voting age population and CVAP. And the voting precincts are solidly in favor of Michael Bennett in the US Senate race. Over the remainder of the week - possibly more - I'll be diving into these areas of Denver to see what parallels there are to Houston and what makes Denver unique. In the spirit of crowdsourcing the research, if there's anything you know first-hand about Denver that might help along these lines, feel free to drop a comment or an email my way. Feel free to download the Google Earth file for all of this and flip through the layers of it for everything shown here, plus the 2010 Governor's election (with yellow for Third Party sum > Dem or Third Party sum > GOP results).

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  1. 1) Urban Planning – Look at the street layout of that last “SE Denver Anglo Dem Cluster” satellite pic. What do you see? A more or less standard traditional city block layout. For whatever socialogical reasons you want to ascribe to it, that correlates with Democratic voting (for white people – for minorities it doesn’t matter so much). You may also note that the Anglo Dem areas of Houston have much more of this traditional city block type layout. This is not a coincidence. Even in the Denver suburbs, most parts have something relatively close to the City block structure (“Curvilinear Loop Design“). Compare and contrast to the Houston suburbs.

    2) Sprawl – Denver is hemmed in on the West (and to an extent on the south) by the rocky mountains. In addition, there are other obstacles like the Rock Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Houston, by contrast, has tons of room to expand (except, I guess the water). Yes, there is sprawl in Denver, but not to the same extent. Even on the eastern side of Denver, there is a limited amount of sprawl. There are a lot of suburban developments, and then, fairly suddenly, it all stops and turns into unpopulated farm land (not so much exurbs). By contrast, in Houston, growth continues out into places like Tomball.

    3) Religion/Social Issues/North vs. South – Houston is culturally largely southern, whereas Denver is not. I don’t know if Denver is really culturally “Northern,” but it’s certainly more so than somewhere like Houston or Dallas. Maybe more people move to from Boston or San Francisco to Denver than move from Boston or San Francisco to Houston. White people in Denver are less religious than white people in Houston, and this correlates with Democratic voting. It also correlates with being more liberal on social issues, which is why Democrats like Bennet had success winning votes from white voters by emphasizing being pro-choice, for example. Can you imagine a Democratic politician trying to win votes from White voters in Houston by running on being pro-choice?

  2. Well, having had to sort through the Census Bureau’s PCT-15 table, I notice that the northern part of the area I’m looking at (immediately to the southeast of downtown) has the highest % of same-sex households. And just to the south of that cluster shows a pretty dense concentration of searches for “synagogue” in Google Earth. No surprise that I’d find those two and I suspect that a check on multi-degreed folk will turn up another nearby section. But it looks like there’s still substantial geography for folks that don’t necessarily fit those patterns.

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