Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Two weeks out and a world away

Judging from the non-stop political commericals on TV and the blanket coverage in the papers, there must be an election coming up. Wait... the tv screen is fading to static.. I think I was catching signals delayed a couple years by bouncing back off of Pluto.

Who will show up for the election now indeed two weeks out?  Allegheny County Executive is a hard race to predict turnout wise since there has not been a lot of history for the office.  Created not so long ago there has only been 3 general elections for the position, the first one was obviously unique at the time, and the last one of those was an uncontested re-election. Not much to infer a pattern from.

Generally speaking, county-wide elections in Allegheny County vary a lot in who casts a ballot.  Some elections are big draws, others are not.  In recent memory the most votes cast across the county was over 658K votes cast in the presidential general election of 2008.   Excluding judicial elections the lowest was likely the 209K or so votes cast for County Sheriff in 2005.  For the 3 general elections for Allegheny County Executive, you get this.

What to expect this time??   It isn't a relection and it is notionally a contested race.. so would you expect the low result from 4 years ago?  You think not, yet there is so little draw this cycle that you have to wonder a bit. 

It you take 2007 as a starting point, 219K  votes were cast for Allegheny County Executive.  Might be our over/under going in.  Yet in 2007 there were 259K who showed up to vote and cast a ballot.  So some latent anti incumbent vote.  Dan Onorato was unopposed in the election with the Republican Party running nobody at all for the office.  So 40K nonvotes out there.   It works out that that year 29% of the registered voters in the county showed up to vote which then makes it 24% who chose to vote for County Executive.  

So for me it is a toss up as to what the turnout will be this year.  A contested election vice a uncontested reelection for county executive should push up the turnout a bit, yet I just don't feel any interest in the race at all from either party.  Whether because it has a forgone conclusion or other distractions I can't say.   So lets say it balances out and we get pretty much what we got in 2007 with a 29% turnout.   There will be more more than one candidate on the ballot so you would expect fewer nonvotes in the executive race.  I'll parse and say some sheer demographic effects (a few less supervoters aging out) will put us at 26% turnout and maybe 240K votes cast race for chief executive. Any further parsing will depend on the weather that day and if some unanticpated criminal indictment lands on either candidate in the next few days.   

As for who will win.  Well. Likely there will be 20-30% straight ticket Democratic Party votes.  So to counter that someone would need what?? 62-72% of everyone else? I'm not sure David Lawrence pulled those margins in general.   Those who like to refer back to the 1999 race where Jim Roddey beat Cyril Wecht tend to completely ignore the real political dynamic at the time.  Most ignore, forget, or just don't know the political infighting in the Democratic Party over the previous decades that lead up to the result that the the Democratic nominee Wecht lost to Republican nominee Roddey.  There was this historic ax to grind on both sides from a segments of the party loyal to former and late Mayor Caligiuri and the ubiquitous and former County Democratic Party chariman Wecht.  The result was that Roddey got this huge chunk of clearly anti-Wecht Democrats that more than turned the race which was decided 49.4% to 50.6%. 

Some also point to the lingering impact of the primary that year where it is said Mike Dawida alienated a large part of African American voters.  While there might.. just might, have been a turnout impact that impacted the numbers. It was not a huge impact no matter and it certainly isn't true that of those African Americans who came out that very many voted for Jim Roddey.  He got about 2.5% of the African American vote that year.  That history comes up on occassion and folks really will dispute that last factoid.. some myth out there that Roddey had a big chunk of support in minority districts.  I just don't see it at all.. there just isn't anything to even argue over in the numbers, but still people will believe what they believe.

4 years later was the most telling since without the Cyril Wecht in the race, the fissures within the Democratic party were not there and Jim Roddey lost by 58-42. Some will quibble over the role of reassessments in that fight, but I think they overinterpret given the more fundamental history of what happened in 1999.  Reassessment issues likely didn't help Jim Roddey mind you.. but absent that he was a pretty popular guy in lots of ways with some crossover support in general.  I actually think that crossover support is the only thing that kept Roddey that close.

Nonetheless, it is hard to see any analogies in any of that history to the election in two weeks.  I recently quizzed a friend if they were aware of this race for County Executive.  They did know there was an election coming up.  I was curious if they could identify the candidates.  They could... kind of.  It was the Indian guy vs. the fellow with all the kids.  The names were not on the tip of their tongues.   I didn't press, but it is funny to think about that if that is how the candidates are known, who would you guess is the D and who is the R?


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