Despite it all, Trump is almost exactly as popular in Kansas — and Douglas County — as he was 4 years ago

photo by: Associated Press

A live broadcast of President Donald Trump speaking from the White House is shown on screens at an election night party, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

When it comes to Donald Trump and Kansas, not much has changed in four years — even to a tenth of a point.

As I started going through the unofficial election results from last night, I noticed a statistical coincidence that seems worth passing along. According to the unofficial statewide vote totals, Trump received 56.7% of the total vote in Kansas. When I went back to look at the 2016 statewide election results, guess what number I found? 56.7%.

I’m pretty certain four years have passed since the last presidential election, and the world has changed some since then. (I vaguely recall a time when I routinely grabbed a person’s hand and moved it up and down.) But in the world of presidential politics, not much has changed in Kansas.

Actually, my Republican friends would quickly ask for a correction on that. They are in good position to argue that a little more than 67,000 things have changed. As it stands now, 67,840 additional people voted for Trump in Kansas than did in 2016.

The president’s percentage of the total vote remained the same because voter turnout was much higher than four years ago. That’s one of the big changes from 2016 to 2020. There were about 1.3 million Kansas voters in the presidential election this year, compared with about 1.1 million in 2016.

photo by: Courtesy: Kansas Secretary of State

You have to do a little math, but when the president’s vote percentage is calculated to a tenth of a decimal point, it equals 56.7%, the same total to a tenth of a percent that he won in 2016 in Kansas.

photo by: Courtesy: Ballotpedia

This screenshot from Ballotpedia’s 2016 Kansas election results show Donald Trump won 56.7% of the Kansas vote during that election.

If you are a Democrat and looking for some good news — and you still may get it nationally — it is that Joe Biden won 41% of the Kansas vote, according to unofficial totals. That is better than the 36.1% of the vote that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won from Kansas voters in 2016. Biden won 534,478 votes in Kansas compared with Clinton’s 427,005. That is over 107,000 votes, which is way more than what the president added in Kansas.

It is just that not many of those votes ended up being from people who previously supported Trump, or so it appears. Instead, the other big change in the race from four years ago is that far fewer people voted for a third-party candidate. In 2016, 4.9% of Kansas voters supported either the Libertarian or Green Party candidate. This year, only 2% did.

It is a reasonable analysis that many of those previous third-party voters supported Biden, and certainly some new voters did too. Clearly, some people who voted for Trump also decided to not vote for him this time, but clearly some new voters broke his way also.

The statistical coincidence of the president receiving 56.7% of the vote in both elections likely won’t last. The 2020 vote totals will change as more mail ballots and provisional ballots are counted and added to the statewide total. But it was a striking reminder that the passage of time and the boiling of emotions are not necessarily a recipe for changing public opinion.

Here is a look at some other figures from across the state and from Douglas County:

• Lawrence residents — living in one of the most Democratic cities in the state — may have a hard time believing the president’s level of support didn’t fall. Surely it did in Douglas County, though. Actually, no. And, I warn you, this is eerie.

Unofficial results at the end of Tuesday night showed Trump with 28.88% of the vote in Douglas County. In 2016, the official results for Trump were 28.78%. As we’ve reported, vote totals set new records in Douglas County, and these numbers show the president got his share of them. The president grew his vote total in Douglas County by 1,590 votes from 2016.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Biden got an even greater number of new votes compared with Clinton. He outperformed Clinton by just under 7,200 votes in Douglas County. Biden won 68% of the vote while Clinton won 61% in 2016. Just like the state as a whole, the percentage of voters supporting a third-party candidate or write-in candidate declined significantly this year, from a whopping 10% in 2016 to 3% in this election. That 7% difference basically equals the difference between Biden’s and Clinton’s share of the vote.

Again, the numbers will change as mail and provisional ballots are added, but the numbers show not that much changed with the president’s overall standing, even in Douglas County.

• Being a Republican before being a Democrat maybe has some advantages in Kansas — just not enough to win a U.S. Senate seat. Democratic Senate candidate Barbara Bollier, who previously had served as a Republican state legislator, did actually receive more votes statewide than Biden. She won about 536,000 votes compared with Biden’s approximately 534,000.

• If Democrats ever hope to get another congressional district to turn blue, it almost certainly will have to be the 2nd District, which is home to Lawrence and a fair number of Democratic voters in Topeka. The 3rd District, which is in the Kansas City area, remained in Democratic hands for the second straight election. But the largely western Kansas 1st District saw Democrats lose by 44 points, and the Wichita-based 4th District produced a 30-point win for Republicans.

But we are still far from needing extra blue paint in the 2nd District. Republican Jake LaTurner bested Democrat Michelle De La Isla by 16 points. That’s obviously not great news for Democrats, but the worse news is that it represented a backward step from two years ago. If you remember, the 2018 Democratic nominee, Paul Davis, a Lawrence resident, lost by about 0.8%.

Of course, the Republican candidates also were different in those two races. But that’s little comfort to Democrats. LaTurner, the Republican winner, is only 32, meaning he could be running for that 2nd District seat for a long, long time.

• Most of the numbers from the truly local Douglas County races aren’t worth looking at. There was so little competition in the general election. All the battles were waged in the primary season. One exception, though, is the race for Kansas Senate District No. 3, held by Baldwin City Democrat Tom Holland.

Holland is in decent shape to hold that seat, with a little more than a 600-vote lead over conservative Republican lawmaker Willie Dove from Bonner Springs. But it is worth noting that the district has been trending more Republican in recent years. Holland won his election in 2012 by a little more than 6 percentage points, but then won in 2016 by a little more than 3 percentage points. If the results hold, Holland will win this election by less than 1 percentage point.

As redistricting happens following the 2020 Census, it certainly will be worth keeping an eye on whether a Republican-controlled Statehouse will attempt to draw the lines in a way to push that district into the GOP category. It could probably be done by taking some territory from Lawrence and adding some territory in Leavenworth County, which produces a lot of Republican votes for the district. More population growth in Lawrence over the last decade would have helped prevent that scenario, but that is now a moot point for another decade.

However, in the near term, Holland may be playing a bigger role in Democratic leadership at the Kansas Statehouse. One of the biggest upsets of the night is that Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley appears to have lost his race by about 850 votes to Topeka Republican Rick Kloos, who is in the real estate business and also is the founder of the thrift store God’s Storehouse. Hensley has been a state senator since 1993, but served as a state representative dating back to 1977.

Hensley’s Kansas Senate District 19 includes large parts of rural Douglas County and technically includes a very small part of the Lawrence city limits. More significantly, though, it includes parts of Clinton, Kanwaka, Lecompton, Marion, Wakarusa and Willow Springs townships in western Douglas County. Topeka and Osage County also are big parts of the district.

Douglas County voters played a role in the upset. In 2016, Hensley won the Douglas County portion of the district by 185 votes. This year, he lost Douglas County by 22 votes. Obviously his losses were bigger elsewhere, but it is another small sign that Republicans had some successes in a very Democratic county this year.

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