This election season, all eyes have turned towards the re-election contest of County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who is facing off against challengers Stephen Whitburn, Shelia Jackson, Juan del Rio and Margaret Moody in the seemingly competitive 4th Supervisorial District. As of May 27, the County Registrar of Voters counted 127,658 Democrats, 67,528 Republicans, and 66,554 Decline to State voters in Robert’s district, which stretches from the UTC area to Paradise Hills. Though the 4th District voted 67.7 percent in favor of Barack Obama in 2008, and Republican voters only comprise 24.6 percent of the district electorate, my voter data analysis shows that Roberts is still heavily favored to win outright this Election Day.
I tabulated the results of the June 2006 race between Roberts and challengers Richard Barrera and Jim Hart, mapping polling booth data into GIS precinct maps of the 4th District. The 2006 election (which was won by Roberts with 60.3 percent of the vote) is a particularly good year to examine optimal Democratic voter strength.
I developed a 4th District precinct turn-out map (in golden brown) and a vote share map (in red/blue) using data files obtained from the Registrar of Voters’ website, and shapefiles obtained from the SanGIS public website. An analysis of these maps shows a clear dynamic that may be lost on some political pundits -– that the election results will not be determined by the blue stronghold on University Avenue, but by the silent majority on Genesee Avenue.
Three factors to consider:
Roberts’s voter base is high-propensity. The incumbent has strong support among precincts that consistently vote in numbers that are higher than the district average. His support is concentrated in the large residential suburban neighborhoods that are populated by mostly Caucasian, senior, long-standing home-owning residents – South University City, Clairemont, and Mission Hills. The majority of these precincts are bisected or within a short drive of Genesee Avenue.
Democratic registration dominance doesn’t measure up. Heavily Democratic precincts are split between the mostly younger, dynamic urbanized areas bisected by University Avenue and/or surrounding Balboa Park (Hillcrest, North Park and South Park), college-centric communities (UCSD and SDSU) and the ethnically diverse communities in southeastern San Diego (Paradise Hills). Compared to Roberts’ base, voters in these neighborhoods tend to be renters, younger and more transient – characteristics of low-propensity voters that only cast ballots in large numbers for presidential elections or general gubernatorial elections.
Whitburn and Jackson have unique challenges to face in forcing a run-off in November. Whitburn is expected to do well among Hillcrest, North Park and South Park voters, but these precincts already oppose the incumbent, and have a somewhat high voter turnout. The question then for Whitburn’s campaign is: what other neighborhoods will he pick up? Jackson is the favored candidate in southeastern precincts, yet these voters are significantly low-propensity. What is her plan to effectively turn them out to the polls?
If the Democratic candidates are successful in pushing this race towards a run-off in the general election, it will more likely be because they’ve cut into Roberts’ core base North of Interstate 8. However, absent significantly more campaign dollars, good campaign issues, or large mistakes by Roberts, it’s difficult to see how this scenario would occur.
NOTE: the voter data used in this analysis does not include absentee ballots, which are tabulated separately by the Registrar of Voters. The precinct map used is also a revised version, which has small differences in the number of total precincts in the 4th District than those listed in the 2006 results.