Cochise County, Arizona’s, 2006 election

1.  In the November 2006 election, the hottest issue in Cochise County, Arizona, was Smith Ranch, a proposed bedroom suburb for Tucson.  Smith Ranch would have held about 12,000 people — about 10% of the county’s entire population, in about 1/40 of 1% of the county’s area.

Urbanization is booming south from Tucson along I-10, and inside Cochise County, south from I-10 towards the county’s largest urban area, in and around the town of Sierra Vista.  Housing projects are filling relatively cheap land near already built-up housing.  County government has generally favored such spread-out urbanization, and followed such maxims as “you can’t stop growth.”  The vote on Smith Ranch was a major referendum on how county residents felt about this process.

Smith Ranch aroused much grassroots opposition.  One grassroots group, Voters For Rural Values, collected enough signatures to obtain a popular referendum on Smith Ranch after the county Board Of Supervisors approved it.  All the grassroots groups combined spent less than $20,000 to oppose Smith Ranch; the developer spent roughly 20 times that in favor of Smith Ranch.  The grassroots opposition felt confident of winning — but still, being outspent 20 to 1 could not make winning easy.

The result lived up to the most optimistic predictions:  a 2 to 1 defeat of Smith Ranch, which may mark a drastic change in Cochise County politics.  Any movement which is outspent 20 to 1, yet prevails 2 to 1, is powerful.  The grassroots movements are aware of this, and are continuing to organize.

What explains this massive rejection of urbanization?

2.  This examination considers voting patterns by precinct.

Cochise County has about 120,000 residents, in 64 voting precincts.  The precincts do not have any independent importance, but are merely for voting, so are not required to be uniform in size or population.

Not only did the county as a whole vote 2-1 against Smith Ranch, but also every one of the county’s 64 precincts voted against Smith Ranch, by anywhere between 52 and 82%.

One precinct causes problems in analyzing the 2006 election data.  Precinct 45, “Sierra Vista – Fort,” is Fort Huachuca, the major economic support of Sierra Vista.

Many if not all of the voters in Precinct 45 are military personnel, and for whatever reason — an increase in personnel assigned to the fort, a project by the fort’s commander, or something else — the number of registered voters in Precinct 45 was 242% of the number in the 2002 election, making Precinct 45’s rate of growth almost double that of the next precinct.

There was another peculiarity about Precinct 45:  only 9% of the actual voters in Precinct 45 voted on Smith Ranch.  Smith Ranch was the last item on the ballot, so some fall-off in voter interest was natural, but in other precincts, between 38% and 75% of the actual voters voted on Smith Ranch.  Precinct 45’s 9% voting rate on Smith Ranch is truly exceptional.

Precinct 45 was not at the extreme of any other measures, and there is no reason to think that Precinct 45’s voters were less than honest and independent in their voting.  Perhaps the extreme increase in voters, and extreme disinterest in Smith Ranch, reveal pressure from above for military personnel to vote, and their passive resistance once inside the voting booth; but that is speculation.  Statistically, Precinct 45 should be excluded from any measure of voting behavior which depends on the percentage change in number of voters.

3.  Precinct results were analyzed for several factors (all numbers were rounded to the nearest percent):

a, “Republicanism,” the number of registered Republicans, divided by the number of registered voters in both major parties.  Cochise County is generally Republican.  Independent voters are numerous, but few voters are registered to minor parties, so Republicanism is a fairly good measure of general political alignment.  Republicanism varied from 9 to 75%.

b, Population Trend, the change in registered voters per year since 2002.  Population Trend varied from -5 to +19% (omitting Precinct 45 for the reasons stated above).

c, Opposition, the percentage of actual voters voting No on Smith Ranch.  Opposition varied from 52 to 82%.

Two other items were measured, but are of no concern here:

d, the percentage of actual voters who voted on Smith Ranch, the last item on the ballot, at all.  There is no correlation between this percentage and voter preferences.

e, the number of registered voters in each precinct.

4.  Correlations between Republicanism, Population Trend, and Opposition.

a.  Republicanism versus Population Trend

A strong correlation exists:  a 1% increase in Population Trend translates into about a 5% increase in Republicanism.  In short, the higher the growth of an area, the more likely it is to be Republican.

An area with zero growth would be about 30% Republican; an area with 4% growth, about 50% Republican; an area with 8% growth, about 70% Republican.

41 precincts are increasing, with a positive Population Trend; 36 are Republican.  19 precincts are declining, with a negative Population Trend; 17 are Democratic.

Ethnicity may play a role in population trends.  Of 17 precincts where Republicans number 53% or less than Democrats, 16 are on or near the Mexican border, and of these 16, 15 had fewer registered voters in 2006 than 2002.  It has been suggested that Democrats may “weed” their active membership more stringently than Republicans, but this has not been verified and could not explain the growth of Republican precincts.  It has also been suggested that registered Democrats are leaving the border area, and that illegal aliens, who do not register to vote, are replacing them.

b.  Republicanism versus Opposition

The 64 precincts fall into two clusters as far as major party membership.  In 46 precincts, Republicans number 93% or more of Democrats.  In 17 precincts, Republicans number only 53% or less of Democrats.  In only one precinct is the percentage of Republicans between 53 and 93:  #30, Portal, 71% Republican.

In the 46 precincts where Republicans number 93% or more of Democrats, Republicans outnumber Democrats in 41.  In these 46, there is no significant correlation between Republicanism and Opposition.

In the 17 precincts where Republicans number only 53% or less of Democrats, the average Opposition vote is about 3 or 4 percentage points above the county average.  These precincts are Bisbee (all precincts); Bowie; Douglas (all precincts); Naco; and Pirtleville — all but Bowie on or near the Mexican border (although Precinct 26, Palominas, is also on the border, yet Republicans are 163% of Democrats there.)  In these 17 precincts, there is no significant correlation between Republicanism and Opposition.

c.  Population Trend versus Opposition votes.

No correlation was found between these two measures.

5.  Implications

The trends in voter registration favor Republicans; assuming that voter registration is proportional to population, and that population will grow, Republicans will be able to keep power by urging people to vote on party lines.

Democrats, however, cannot obtain power by emphasizing party, and must handle ethnicity carefully.

6.  Conclusion

Cochise County Republicans have a political reason to favor urbanization, although urbanization drains Cochise County’s water; and the drain on water gives Democrats a virtuous reason to oppose Republican policies that favor urbanization.

It has been suggested that Cochise County Democrats could support town housing instead of sprawling housing tracts, but even town housing must increase the drain on county water, which would be inconsistent with virtuous opposition to urbanization.

Finally, Cochise County Democrats cannot succeed by opposing policies merely for being Republican.  Democrats require causes that are nonpartisan and popular, like the grassroots movement against urbanization.

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