For those living and breathing politics, the 2023 November election was filled with divisive insider politics, record-breaking campaign spending and intrigue on election night anticipating the winners. However, based on low voter turnout (except in Duluth), it’s not readily apparent that most Minnesotans knew there were elections for local governments, school boards and ballot initiatives. Of course, that won’t stop politicos from trying to make sense out of the results. Here are a few things we noticed and will be watching in the year ahead.
Turnout matters: While voters in the Twin Cities moved their councils to the left amid low turnout, voters in Duluth sent a very different message electing more moderate candidates to the council and mayor’s office in high turnout. In the core cities and Duluth, massive special interest spending occurred. Despite well over $1 million being spent across the Minneapolis and Saint Paul races, voter turnout still hovered around a measly 30%.
Case in point: The new 1% sales tax for roads and parks in Saint Paul passed by a wide margin with roughly 60% voting yes and 40% voting no. However, only 18% of the city’s registered voters (29,000 people) turned out to support the measure.
Traditional tactics of bombarding voters with literature, phone calls and door knocking didn’t seem to work in the core cities, but they did in Duluth. Why? Why not? Those looking to turn out voters in 2024 will need to dive into the effectiveness of these tactics and analyze what is actually motivating voters to turn out or stay home.
The DFL’s identity: With the electoral success of progressive candidates endorsed by both the traditional DFL and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), state legislators and Democrats seeking statewide office should be evaluating what this might mean for satisfying increasingly divergent factions within “the left.”
The traditional DFL has a rocky road ahead as it seeks to balance defense of DFL seats in greater Minnesota, pursuit of additional suburban seats that rely on moderate voter support and activation of core city progressives to turn out to vote.