Idaho politics isn’t just the story of politicians: It is also the story of the people whose votes puts them into office. The Idaho Political Field Guide, the first book-length independent and current review of Idaho politics in a generation, focuses hard on those voters: Who they are and how they vote, with analysis from the statewide to the precinct level.
If you track Idaho politics as participant, a professional or an interested citizen, the Political Field Guide belongs on your book shelf.
The first edition of the Idaho Political Almanac, from Ridenbaugh Press, came out in 1990 – now 22 years ago. It was intended then as an update and expansion on the Idaho history Paradox Politics, which had come out two years before. Almanacs continued for a while, every two years through 1996. In 1998 we tried a different approach, the Idaho Yearbook/Directory, intended to be an annual publication covering of the same material and more besides. We continued it through 1991, but it began to be a lot of work. After a couple subsidiary projects in early 2002, on influential Idaho people and organizations, we called a halt.
We’re back now, more or less, with what we’re calling the Idaho Political Field Guide (one of three, alongside Oregon and Washington editions), for a few reasons. One is that with the passage of a decade, the time seems right for a look back and a prospective look ahead. Another is technology: The availability of printing on demand, as opposed to printing in large quantities at once, makes it possible to keep these books precisely up to date without accumulating boxes of outdated editions. Our intent is to update this edition periodically, the idea being that whenever you order, you’ll be getting a current edition. That’s simply an option never available before, and attractive in coping with rapidly changing material like politics. Even Idaho politics.
My intent here is to cover some of this same territory, bringing it up to date, and rebalancing a bit the statistical and analytical sides.This book, as you can tell from quickly leafing through the pages, is heavily numbers-driven. I don’t lack for opinions on politics, policy and politicians, and I write about them in various other places, but not this one: This book is about wins, losses and numbers, and some very direct extrapolations from those.
A few general conclusions, some affecting the structure and content of the book, are worth noting up front.
Party membership is critical, and party identification has become ever more important. The numbers bear this out.
This isn’t a conclusion that would have been especially obvious, or maybe even reasonable, a generation ago. One other political book on my shelf is called The Ticket Splitter: A New Force in American Politics, a 1972 book by Walter De Vries and Lance Tarrance, who argued – with strong reasoning – that parties were becoming less important, and voters increasingly were splitting their tickets, ever less loyal to parties. That was then.
One omission here of what would seem to be an obvious factor is, well, money: Campaign contributions by candidate. In a future edition of this book (if there is one), we may get into that. But not initially, at least, not because financing isn’t important in political races (obviously it often is) but because it’s only occasionally very enlightening without a close microscope. Incumbents tend to be well-funded, even when they’re lightly challenged; challengers (or candidates for open seats) who have for reasons apart from funding a strong case for why they might might win, tend to be well-funded too. Other candidates, typically, not so much. Money tends to follow probability, or at least strong possibility, of winning. But we may revisit this.
Beyond that … here’s the data and the background. We hope it’s useful. Let us know what you think.