Looking Under the Hood of the November Election in Knox County

Two student associates from the Center for the Study of American Democracy analyze the 2022 local elections.

By Joseph Ferrari '24 and Andrew Nguyen '23

A phrase commonly thrown around in American politics is "all politics is local." We at the Center for the Study of American Democracy have taken this saying to heart in our analysis of the most recent election in Knox County.

The county is solidly Republican. It has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 landslide victory. But when you look under the hood of local elections, you will find that while the party that will prevail in Knox County in major races has not been in question for more than a half century, some notable shifts occurred over the last two decades. Republicans lost the state but won the county in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections (by margins of 20% and 24%, respectively). In 2016 and 2020, Republicans won the state and their wins in the county grew to 38% and 44%, respectively. So Knox County has gotten even more Republican as of late, as Donald Trump nearly doubled the margins of previous Republican presidential nominees in the county.

A remarkable aspect of the 2022 midterm election was the amount of ticket-splitting that took place. This occurs when a voter supports a Democratic candidate for one office, and a Republican candidate for another. It is a practice that has become rarer in the current age of political polarization, but came back in 2022. Ticket-splitting was most evident in Ohio in the divergence between the races for governor and U.S. senator. Incumbent Republican governor Mike DeWine cruised to reelection by a margin of 25%, while Republican J.D.Vance only prevailed in the Senate contest by 6% points. Map 1 shows how the results of the two races differed in Knox County.

Map showing 2022 Ohio election results in Knox County

Of course all important races are not partisan, especially on the local level. In 2022, Knox County voters passed a tax levy to continue funding the county Board of Health for five years. The issue, whether to approve a small (0.2 mill) increase from the expiring levy, passed by a margin of 1,595 votes, or 8%. Map 2 shows the levy’s winning coalition.

Map showing 2022 Knox County Board of Health tax levy voter results

Interestingly, almost all of the county’s cities and towns voted for the tax levy, while most of the unincorporated areas voted against it. Every single precinct in the city of Mount Vernon (where the Board of Health is located) voted for it. While there is hardly a noticeable urban/rural divide in the county’s partisan elections, there is clearly a geographic cleavage in the results of this levy.

Another aspect of Knox County elections worth examining is voter turnout. The county is no exception to the national trend of turnout being higher in presidential elections than in midterms. In three out of the last four presidential elections, turnout in Knox County surpassed 70%. Turnout for midterm elections has been roughly 55%, except for the 2014 election, when turnout across the country was especially low. The plot below depicts how turnout in Knox County fluctuated over the elections from 2006 to 2022.

chart showing fluctuating voter turnout in Knox County, 2006-2022

Lastly, we examine Kenyon’s own participation in the 2022 election. At Kenyon, we study some of our country’s most pressing and persistent issues, but do students engage with the issues by turning out to vote? According to data from the Board of Elections, 470 student-aged people voted in Gambier in 2018. By dividing that number by 1,668, the number of non-international students enrolled that semester, we estimate that Kenyon saw a 28% campus turnout rate. Using the same method to measure turnout in 2022 shows that campus turnout increased to 30% (503 voters out of 1,652 students presumed eligible to vote). While these percentages may seem low, it is important to remember that many students vote in their home states via absentee ballot. We should celebrate this slight increase in turnout. Kenyon’s student body has a rich history of spirited participation in democracy, and it is good news that 2022 marked a continuation of that tradition.