State GOP chair Tony Sutton’s faulty logic

“Something doesn’t smell right when you take control of the state house; you take control of the state senate; you win in the 8th Congressional District, and yet, somehow we don’t win the governor’s race.”

—Minnesota Republican Party chairman Tony Sutton*

I was planning to avoid much commentary on this year’s election, but I’m even more of a math/logic nerd than I am a liberal/progressive, and while I can (almost) shut my mouth about the Tea Party movement, I can’t let this glaringly erroneous logic go uncorrected.

First, Sutton makes two unfounded assumptions:

1. Supporters of Republican state house and senate candidates couldn’t possibly — possibly! — also vote for Mark Dayton.

2. Those same supporters of Republican state house and senate candidates couldn’t possibly — possibly!!!! — vote for Independence Party candidate Tom Horner for governor rather than Tom Emmer.

Let’s just talk math. Let’s go with that unfounded assumption that anyone who voted for a Republican for the state house would also necessarily vote for Tom Emmer, and anyone who voted for a Democrat for the state house would likewise necessarily vote for Mark Dayton. We’ll ignore the state senate and third-party candidates for now.

Let’s assume three house districts, each with 10,000 voters. And let’s assume the vote breakdown went something like this:

District GOP House DFL House Tom Emmer Mark Dayton
District 1 5,500 (55%) 4,500 (45%) 5,500 (55%) 4,500 (45%)
District 2 5,100 (51%) 4,900 (49%) 5,100 (51%) 4,900 (49%)
District 3 1,500 (15%) 8,500 (85%) 1,500 (15%) 8,500 (85%)
Statewide Total 12,100 (40.3%) 17,900 (59.7%)

In this scenario, the GOP house candidates narrowly won districts 1 and 2, while the DFL house candidate overwhelmingly won district 3. Still, the GOP outnumbers the DFL in this fictional 3-seat house by 2 to 1. And yet, the citizens in these three districts, all voting straight party tickets, handed Mark Dayton a decisive 59.7% majority victory in the statewide governor’s race.

This is fictional, simplified, and exaggerated, but it proves my point. And yes, I do believe that there’s some accuracy to this kind of breakdown. There are a few “deep red” districts in the state and a few very “deep blue” ones (mostly in the metro area), but most are fairly close to the middle.

In the actual vote, for instance, let’s compare two counties with roughly equal populations: St. Louis (home of Duluth) and Olmsted (home of Rochester). In St. Louis County, Mark Dayton received 61.8% of the vote; Tom Emmer, 28.6%. In Olmsted County, Tom Emmer received 45.9% of the vote; Mark Dayton 37.9%. So Mark Dayton “won” St. Louis County and Tom Emmer “won” Olmsted County. But saying either candidate “won” a particular county is irrelevant; this is a statewide office, and statewide totals are all that matters.

All it takes is a few districts with a very high proportion of Democrats to Republicans, and a lack of correspondingly skewed districts to compensate, and it’s quite easy, even imagining all voters voting a straight party ticket, to arrive at a scenario where the Republicans score a decisive takeover of the state legislature while still electing a Democratic governor (a statewide office).