Wednesday, January 23, 2008

postscript on the mayoral election

One of the biggest stories in the presidential primaries thus far is the big spike in turnout in several states. Which brings up one last thought on the mayoral election.

The fall election was just 2 months ago. Think back to the coverage of the mayoral campaign here in the city of Pittsburgh. Descriptions in the media like "most interest being generated in decades" were commonplace. Those statements beg the question of whether that sparked any atypical interest on the part of voters.

Soooo. Here is what I get if you break down the actual voters who showed up at the polls in the city in November (around 70K in total) broken down by how long it had been since their original voter registration. Note that their original registration may not be their first time they voted. People who move into the county from elsewhere need to register with the county to vote here... and not all new registrants are 'young people' either... plenty of people only register for the first time later on.

But when you break it out you get this pie chart:

Voters in Fall 2007 City of Pittsburgh General Election -
By Years Since Original Registration in Allegheny County

So people who registered heading into the election and who showed up to vote can't possibly have exceeded 1% of everyone who voted. That includes everyone who had registered over the previous 12 full months, so some may have been more interested in the primary election. You have to figure some (most?) of that 1% was just natural steady state new voter registration flow, not people motivated by the fall election in any particular way.

Note that there were many more people who registered to vote over the previous year, things like motor voter and other registration processes ensure that, but those who recently registered and actually voted gets you nothing more than that 1%. I tried to find some pattern in the new registrants who made up that 1%, but nothing stood out. They are pretty diffuse by age, by area of the city, and spread out across the year in terms of when they registered.

So did either of the mayoral campaigns include any new registration efforts at all? I doubt it because if they did they failed pretty completely. Even without explicit efforts to seek out new voters you would think the media attention itself would have spurred greater interest than that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris - With your continued brilliant analysis of this race, you are exposing the fact that the DeSantis campaign was all smoke and mirrors. There was no ground game or any plan to make an effort to win the race. No effort to register voters, no effort to hit the neighborhoods (other than for a photo op), no coverage at the polls. It's a shame.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 5:41:00 PM  
Blogger EdHeath said...

So where did your data come from? You usually give us a link.

I think, on the one hand, you have to grant that the media was right, this mayoral election was one of the most interesting in decades. DeSantis is an adult, someone who has spent years in government public service as well as in business. At the same time, this was DeSantis' first campaign, and Ravestahl's first city wide campaign. Both men made big mistakes, and Ravenstahl simply lucked out that the city is so overwhelmingly, and Desantis stubbornly refused to capitalize on Ravenstahl's errors. Also, Desantis started late and simply didn't have enough time to accomplish much, especially given the limitations he set for himself (no negative ads).

The funny thing about your hypothesis is that some people were thinking the opposite might occur; that democrats, unable to bring themselves to vote for Ravenstahl because of his behavior but also unable to vote for DeSantis because of his party, simply stayed away. There’s no real way of knowing, and in fact the attention focused on the election might have brought some people who normally don’t vote out even while others stayed home. It seemed to me that a lot of people in the media thought this was a very informative campaign. Personally, I disagree. Perhaps the election was more informative than usual because there was a serious republican in the running and thus there was a dialogue in the debates and in the media. But neither candidate exactly dazzled us with information. Ravenstahl’s campaign website was a disgrace, ignored and not updated by his campaign staff after Peduto dropped out in the primary, I think it was late October before anyone updated anything there. And Desantis’ site was not a whole lot better. It had a baffling menu structure that only led to short, meaningless paragraphs on broad topics. DeSantis’ press release section had all the meat, but after a policy was released, it disappeared as new policies or releases appeared, and there was no meaningful search function. You could find things again if you knew the URL, but that is too many hoops for the average voter to jump through.

Obviously the election was of great interest to bloggers. Its possible the media mistook all the blogosphere interest for public interest. Really, outside of Squirrel Hill I don’t think the average voter cared. It wasn’t so much “give the kid a chance” as “I’ve never voted for a republican in my life, why should I start now”.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 10:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously the election was of great interest to bloggers. Its possible the media mistook all the blogosphere interest for public interest.

I doubt it, although DeSantis is on record in my paper saying that he reached out to bloggers in hopes that this would take place.

Story here:

(You'll probably have to triple-click the above line and paste it into your browser.)

City Paper, at least, gave DeSantis more attention than previous Republican candidates for other reasons. And while I can't speak for other media, I suspect the explanation for DeSantis' coverage lies elsewhere -- on a much more basic level.

Put simply (and I can already hear Mark Rauterkus sharpening his knives) DeSantis was the first GOP contender in years to run a legitimate campaign ... "legitimate," that is, as reporters understand it. I go back to the days of Harry Frost, who in 1997 was essentially sleeping on his mom's couch while touting the GOP line of "financial responsibility." DeSantis, by contrast, had political experience on the local and national level, connections, access to money, etc.

DeSantis also ran an aggressive campaign, and knew enough to "feed the beast" with regular press conferences, position papers, etc. I don't have a strong opinion on the quality of his Web site, but he did a lot of the conventional, no-shit-Sherlock campaign stuff some of his predecessors barely did at all.

Bottom line: My guess is people covered him because they thought he was a legitimate contender ... not because they thought it was going to be a legitimate race.

-- potter

Thursday, January 24, 2008 9:01:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I still remain a bit flabbergasted at the difference between how the race was portrayed in the media and what resulted. If you watched or listened to the news you would surely have thought the reporters were finding evidence from the person on the street that the race was going to be close. That then echoed in the ears of those who wanted to hear just that. Contrast that with the honest quote direct from Delano in what should have been the heart of the fall campaign. He said "The news media and the blogosphere, of course, will enjoy reporting a good old-fashioned slugfest between these two, but I'm not convinced that the vast majority of Pittsburgh residents are tuned in to any of this. ". ( Which tells me that the astute polticial reporters knew the coverage of the race did not match the sentiment on the ground in so many ways.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 9:27:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

sorry ed. forgot your question. The numbers are my calculations from the county's voter records. Will gladly explain more if you want to pop me a note.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 9:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still remain a bit flabbergasted at the difference between how the race was portrayed in the media and what resulted. If you watched or listened to the news you would surely have thought the reporters were finding evidence from the person on the street that the race was going to be close.

It's hard for me to respond to this, since I don't know what cues led you to have this reaction. You may think that media coverage telegraphed an "upset in the making." But I can tell you that DeSantis and his backers griped (more or less good-naturedly) about how the "doesn't have a chance" meme was so often attached to coverage of his campaign.

I do think the coverage treated his campaign more seriously than voters did. But I'm not sure it would be right to fault the media for that.

I will say that one of the most surprising criticisms I heard from the blogosphere was "why won't the MSM do a poll in this race?" As if it would show some huge groundswell of support for DeSantis that would then snowball into a GOP win.

It surprised me for a couple reasons: First, it was the first time I've heard people demand MORE horse-race type coverage in an election campaign. Second, I think one of the best things that DeSantis had going for him was that such a poll WASN'T conducted. I'm sure that a 30- or 35-percent pro-DeSantis showing in such a poll would be touted in SOME circles as a positive sign. But I think in the wider world, it would just confirm people's skepticism about the race.

-- potter

Thursday, January 24, 2008 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

What campaign thinks it is getting all the coverage it wants? But I’m not commenting at all about the amount of coverage either campaign received, or didn’t. Without a doubt the campaign deserved to be treated seriously. I am not even thinking much of the print media either. It was the tone of the coverage. At least my memory is that all the tv and especially radio that I heard would always be saying ‘it’s going to be real close’. Where was that coming from? In a broader context, does the media have a vested interest in close races? The debate has been coming up at a national level of late I think.

The polling question is different. I know some dispute this statement but it is a small world and I know enough people close to both campaigns that there is no doubt there were polls on both sides. I know some say there were no DeSantis polls but if you read their statements on the record they just say they didn’t pay for any polls which I don’t dispute. Whoever paid, and however they were commissioned, there were poll numbers on both sides. Why were they not public is another question. The numbers I heard were remarkably consistent between each other and at least before Yukongate were in a range that would have been a far wider blowout than actually happened. My speculation is that on the LR side there was a fear that putting 80-20 numbers out there would have potentially lead large number of people to stay home and open up all sort of unknowns. While the MD people had a big incentive to keep such numbers closely guarded even (especially) within the campaign because they could be demoralizing.

The poll thing really is the key point on the groupthink that emerged. I pointed out the lack of publicly released poll data long ago.. before anyone was talking about it I think. The collective response I heard from every MD supporter was that it was because LR’s campaign was running scared and didn’t want it known how low his support was. It was at the same exact time I swear I was hearing the 80-20 numbers from both sides give or take a few points. It was very odd.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 3:39:00 PM  
Blogger Bram Reichbaum said...

Sorry, I only skimmed the above comments, except for Ed's which appeared yesterday.

I generally agree with Ed, I think, that voter turnout (let alone voter turnout of new voters) is an especially good indicator of interest in an election. At least not in all it's facets. What if the election interested those who are frequently interested in elections, only much more? What if it interested people, but led to the result that they stayed home? At any rate, interest is fundamentally subjective, but I think there was a decent amount of intersubjective agreement.

And as to Potter's comment (which I raced through), the "demand for more horserace coverage" was something I was engaging in almost like sleepwalking, or falling into quicksand. The intent was to instigate much moe *issue-oriented* coverage of the election, but obviously the circle was never completed to anybody's satisfaction.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 4:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not even thinking much of the print media either. It was the tone of the coverage. At least my memory is that all the tv and especially radio that I heard would always be saying ‘it’s going to be real close’. Where was that coming from?

You have the advantage when it comes to radio and TV coverage -- I confess I paid very little attention to it, and can't speak to what tone it may have struck or why. And I'm guessing this is our disconnect here: I'm mostly thinking about print coverage, and you're mostly talking about broadcast.

There's probably a cautionary tale here about referring to "the media" as if it were a monolith. Not that you need to be told this, but I think the MSM rubric is always kind of amusing ... especially when I'm lumped in with it. Can't say who should be more insulted when that happens -- me or them.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 5:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing we can ALL agree on, though, is that young people just don't vote.

(And yes, I'm trying to goad Pat Clark into responding to your post.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008 5:22:00 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

Well you know there's one possibility that hasn't been considered and almost certainly will be rejected by the true believers that might explain the difference between what appeared to being happening and the final result...


As someone who has personally witnessed two episodes of what I consider to be blatant vote fraud taking place within the city elections in my lifetime, combined with all the other abuses of office I've witnessed, I became convinced beyond any doubt many years ago that city elections are so tainted that it is hopeless for anyone to run against the machine candidate.

Before the first vote was cast in the race I warned on Antirust, The Burgh Report and in other places that anyone expecting a different result in the Desantis/Ravensthal race was simply in denial and that even if every voter registered in the city turned out and voted for Desantis those counting the votes would turn in a similar result as every other race before.

Choose to believe what you want, look for big complicated explanations, be flabbergasted, scratch your head... whatever. I'm not doing any of those things because I'm convinced just as I was before the election that the final totals were fixed from the outset and Pittsburghers have a loooooong way to go in coming to grips with how corrupted their city government and politics are.

Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed were pikers compared to these system in place on Grant St IMO.

Friday, January 25, 2008 9:08:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

that would be quite a conspiracy. City elections are run by the county. County for at least Roddey and Dunn administrations were run by Republicans. Republican poll watchers can be at most locations and there have been quite a number of Republican US Attorneys over the years who I suspect would be happy to have a nice juicy voter fraud case on their docket.

and now that conspiracy would have to extend to the programming in the voting machines and the contractor who maintain them.

Friday, January 25, 2008 10:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul, I hear Jim Burn has your phone tapped.

Friday, January 25, 2008 4:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Chris, in a district such as the one I lived in which there were a total 14 Republicans registered, and I knew each and every one yet never saw one of them at the polls working, in those district with even fewer that 14 or even no Republicans are registered ... where do these alleged minority poll watchers come from? How many fingers do you think I'd need to count the number of legitimate registered Republicans working in the county election office in any capacity?

You assume a functioning system of checks in place where none exists. None can exist when one party so utterly controls every aspect of the process from top to bottom. Like I said, be my guest and chose to believe that everything you saw leading up to election day was simply a mirage and the election process isn't where the disconnect occurred. I for one gave up on believing in the integrity of city elections, Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and other such myths a very long time ago.

Sunday, January 27, 2008 4:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Paul, I hear Jim Burn has your phone tapped."

*pffth* I wish Burn had my phone tapped if only for the opportunity it would create for him to hear some opinions and views of those living in his district to challenge his short-sighted, small minded one party to rule them view of the world.

Tapping phones would require him to hear more than the sounds being utter by Ron Burkle's puckered anus that he has his lips so firmly attached to.

Sunday, January 27, 2008 4:12:00 PM  

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