Native Americans: Why Heidi Heitkamp won & Nate Silver was wrong?

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been hearing my friends from Turtle Mountain and Spirit Lake talk about the election in North Dakota. I was particularly interested because this was the one election that Nate Silver predicted incorrectly. He had Heitkamp down by 3.9 percent, and yet she won.

I have no idea how Silver’s model is coded and I doubt he’ll be telling me any time soon. On top of that, most of the research I do is on education, social services and demographics, not politics. However, one of the variables I would definitely include would be ethnicity, what percentage of registered voters are a particular ethnic group, what percentage usually vote and in which direction.

So, if, as in California, 16% of likely voters in the state are Latino, and they vote overwhelmingly Democrat, I would factor that in. In fact, the Latino vote was one factor in turning what was supposed to be a close race for governor in 2010. With Latinos supporting Jerry Brown by over a 40 point margin, this group contributed significantly to his 11 point victory in the overall vote.

So, let’s go back to Native Americans. I’m not the first to point out that even though Native Americans are a small percentage of the voting population in North Dakota, in victories that are claimed by a margin of a few thousand votes, that small percentage matters.

It would not surprise me if Nate Silver did not have enough data on Native Americans to include them in his model. Often, in our own research, we will find polling data has an asterisk in the Native American column when reporting by ethnicity. Down in the footnote you will see, “Not enough data to estimate”. Even if they do provide estimates, with small sample sizes, you’ll see very large margins of error.

Dr. Carol Davis, at the Turtle Mountain Reservation, which is located in Rollette County, which Heitkamp carried with 80% of the vote, commented , “Heidi came here seven times. We didn’t see Berg once. At least ACT like you want our votes!”

Dr. Erich Longie, one of the collaborators on our Spirit Lake game, not only went to vote but rounded up his younger relatives and told them to get out and do their civic duty as well. The Spirit Lake Nation is located next to Benson County, which Heitkamp also carried.

In fact, without the four counties where the state’s American Indian reservations are located, Heitkamp would in fact have lost the election.

So … for the next election, American Indians certainly ought to be in the model, especially in North Dakota.


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One Comment

  1. You got it right, AnnMaria. This proves that the NA vote counted big time for Heidi. Berg sent a spy to the “Get Out the Native Vote” event at Turtle Mountain when Heidi visited the reservation. He taped the whole event. It was a packed house. You would think that this would have alarmed Berg into making an effort. He did nothing. He didn’t even send a letter to the editor of the tribal paper. With the Republicans on the opposite side of our issues, it was no surprise that we voted for a Democrat!

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