Lloyd Omdahl, Published November 18 2012
Omdahl: No question about it: ND is more Republican
The 2012 election highlighted a growing Republican-ism while also identifying an east-west partisan divide. Back in the 1960s, there were pockets of Republican strength in the east while Democrats were able to elect legislators in the west. Today, Republicans are electing sizable legislative delegations in the east; Democrats are electing very few in the west.
Western counties such as Williams, Mountrail, Renville and McHenry used to be bastions of Democratic strength. At the same time, eastern counties such as Cass, Barnes, Traill, Ramsey and Grand Forks were Republican domains. This has changed dramatically.
It can now be generalized that we have a more Republican west and a less Republican east. At the same time, the whole state has become more Republican across the board.
According to an index of partisanship based on the six presidential elections including 1956-76, Democrats could claim dominance in 19 counties. An index of the four presidential elections including 2000-12 indicates that Democrats are now down to six counties.
A comparison of the 1956-76 index with the 2000-12 index suggests that North Dakota is 8 percent more Republican than it was in the 1956-76 period. All counties except Benson, Cass, McIntosh, Ransom, Sioux and Traill have become more Republican.
The most dramatic percentage growth in Republicanism has occurred in western counties. Increases of 15 percent or more were recorded for Billings (24 percent), Bowman (21 percent), Burke (16 percent), Dunn (16 percent), Emmons (15 percent), Golden Valley (21 percent), McKenzie (15 percent), Pierce (16 percent), Renville (18 percent), Slope (26 percent), Stark (18 percent) and Williams (22 percent).
The state’s four largest counties saw less shifting. Cass became 2 percent less Republican, standing at 54 percent; Grand Forks remained the same at 54 percent; Republicans gained 2 percent in Burleigh (66 percent) and Ward Republicanism grew by 9 percent to 64 percent.
(Readers should be warned that the criteria used for the two indices were not exactly similar. In the 1956-76 index, minor candidates were considered, while the 2000-12 index disregarded them. To academicians, it would seem like comparing apples and oranges. However, they were both round enough to approximate reality.)
Other evidence of Republican growth can be seen in races for the state House of Representatives. Republicans captured 65 percent of the seats for the 11 sessions in the 1956-76 period. In the seven sessions involved in the 2000-12 elections, Republicans increased their caucus to 70 percent of the seats.
The election of Democrat Heidi Heitkamp is even more remarkable considering the political climate in which she was forced to campaign. It attests to the independent thinking of many Republicans who must have voted for her.
So what are Democrats to do in the face of monolithic Republicanism? They are not only a very minority party at present, but 2014 is not going to be kind to them. As certain as the sun rises, the party holding the presidency in the off-year election loses state offices and legislative seats. With Democrat Barack Obama in Washington, 2014 will be uphill all the way.
If they can’t muster fighting strength in the government, Democrats may have to consider a larger role in state policy development and promotion outside of the government.
Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org