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Don’t Blame Prop. 14 for Low Turnout

 

Admittedly I am picking a fight without reading the whole article (because it is behind a pay wall), but in today’s Ventura Star Timm Herdt lays out an argument that Prop. 14’s top-two system of elections is partly to blame for the incredibly low turnout (gated) that we saw in California on Tuesday. He calls the system a failure. While I am not a big fan of the top-two system as it has been implemented in California, I don’t think that you can blame it for just 18% of California’s registrants showing up to vote (or, again, more likely mailing their ballots in).

We are not the only state that uses the top-two system. Washington does as well. In fact, our system is explicitly modeled on Washington’s system. The following graph shows the percent of registrants voting in Washington’s elections from 1952 to 2012 (their first 2014 election will be in August). During the period up to 2002 (the first vertical line), Washington used the blanket primary. After the Supreme Court held the blanket primary unconstitutional, it switched to an open primary system (what they called “pick a primary”) for the 2004 and 2006 elections. In 2008 (the second vertical line), Washington adopted the top-two system, which it has used ever since.

Washington State Turnout

Note that turnout hasn’t cratered in Washington as it has in California. Indeed, turnout in the last three elections looks an awful lot like turnout in the prior elections. Admittedly, these numbers are for the November elections. If we look at the last five primaries (2004-2012), though, we see the same pattern. The turnout numbers are 45.1% (2004), 38.8% (2006), 42.6% (2008), 41.0% (2010), and 38.5% (2012). Again, there is no major drop-off in voter turnout once the top-two system was adopted in Washington.

So why the low turnout if it’s not the top-two system? There are lots of possibilities. Off the top of my head I would offer: The marginalization of the Republican Party in California politics, the fact that we have a popular governor running for re-election, the fact that there were no interesting ballot initiatives to vote on, the fact that there are no major controversies animating California politics right now, and the fact that more people think the state is headed in the right direction. As I said before, it was a boring, low-salience election. There was very little to get people excited about voting. Those are the places where I would look to explain low turnout, not the top-two system.

 

Updating Prop. 14 and the Death of Minor Parties

Last year I wrote a number of posts about the impact of Prop. 14 on California’s minor parties. These musings ultimately led to an article, which was published in the California Journal of Politics and Policy, about the minor parties’ experience post-Prop. 14  (gated versionrevised, ungated version). Since the June election is now just weeks away, I thought I would update some of the tables and figures with data from this election cycle.

Overall, 2014 is a continuation of the pattern observed in 2012–there are fewer minor party candidates contesting fewer districts this election cycle compared to prior cycles. The 2012 cycle saw a historically low number of minor party candidates–just 17 (compared with 77 in 2010). In 2014, there are only 14 minor party candidates contesting 12 districts. Table 1 shows the number of minor party candidates and the number of districts contested for each of the three types of legislative districts in California. In general, 2014 looks an awful lot like 2012.

2014 Update Table

In my article, I argue that the decline in minor party candidates principally comes from three factors (in order of increasing importance):

  1. Candidates, knowing they were likely not be one of the top two vote getters and therefore would not make the November election, chose not to run.
  2. The Legislature significantly increased the costs of filing for office for minor party candidates after Prop. 14, changing what had been an essentially costless act into a very costly one. As a result, fewer minor party candidates chose to file for office.
  3. Most importantly, party leaders–especially in the Libertarian Party–no longer recruited candidates as they once did in the face of (1) and (2).

I really want to emphasize the importance of #3 in understanding the impact of Prop. 14 on California’s minor parties. Most of the decline between 2010 and 2012, as shown below, was located in the Libertarian Party. (There was a little controversy over the following chart. See here then here.)

2014 UpdateUnlike the other minor parties (with the exception of the Natural Law Party when it existed) the Libertarian Party has historically relied on a centralized candidate recruitment effort. Moreover, as shown below, until the last two election cycles its number of candidates has largely tracked its statewide party registration numbers. In 2012, though, the person responsible for recruiting Libertarian candidates chose not to repeat the effort. In an email exchange with me, the person specifically identified #1 and #2 as reasons for no longer recruiting candidates. (While I haven’t talked with the person this year, I would be very surprised if there was a recruitment effort in 2014.) As a consequence, while the Libertarian Party’s registration numbers have been ticking upward in the state–reaching a modern high in 2014–the number of Libertarian candidates filing for office has collapsed. Only five candidates filed for office this year. The Libertarian Party now looks like the other minor parties in California.

LibUpdate

It wouldn’t be a post about Prop. 14 and minor parties if I didn’t speculate about what these numbers mean for California’s minor parties, so here goes:

There are two primary ways in which California’s minor parties maintain the ballot qualification status. First, one of their candidates receives at least 2 percent of the November vote for a statewide office (e.g., Governor, Lt. Governor, Insurance Commissioner, and Attorney General). Historically, this has been the principal way in which parties have maintained access to the ballot. Given that none of the parties’ candidates will make it to the November election for these offices, none of the parties will maintain their ballot status this way this cycle.

The second way to maintain ballot status is by having 1 percent of the total gubernatorial vote registered as party members. The minor parties are really lucky that the governor’s race is so very boring this year. Turnout is likely to be low, which will make it easier for the parties to stay on the ballot. The magic number after the 2010 contest (which had relatively high turnout–44%!–because of the Brown-Whitman contest) was 103,004 registrants. Given current registration numbers and an assumed turnout rate closer to 2006, the American Independent, Green, and Libertarian parties should be able to maintain their ballot status. The Americans Elect (a failed “third way” party organized for the 2012 presidential election) and the Peace & Freedom parties, however, will likely lose their ballot status.

(The parties can also gather petition signatures equal to 10 percent of the gubernatorial vote in order to stay on the ballot. Given the expense of doing so, though, I don’t see either party trying this route.)

Vote by Mail and Election Results

An emerging theme from the 2012 elections is the impact of vote by mail (VBM) and other convenience voting reforms, such as provisional ballots, on the speed with which we know the results. John Wildermouth, for example, argued yesterday that the prevalence of n0-fault, permanent VBM and early voting in California means that it’s taking longer than it should to know who won on November 6. He writes:

It’s taking longer and longer to get a final count of a statewide election and the problem only is going to get worse.

The growing number of vote-by-mail ballots turned in at the polls, combined with more and more provisional ballots that need to be hand-checked, means that election night is becoming election week. Or election month.

The relationship between the use of VBM and other convenience voting reforms and the speed with which we know the results of an election is an interesting question, but it is one that we do not have a lot of data on at this point.

As the following graph shows, voters in California’s counties vary in their use of VBM. The graph shows the percentage of voters casting their ballot through the mail in the June 2012 election. I did a quick and dirty analysis exploiting this variation to see if there is a relationship between the prevalence of VBM in a county and whether or not we know its results by now. If greater VBM usage leads to less certainty about the election outcomes, then counties at the top of the chart should be done with their counts while counties at the bottom should still be counting. The analysis calls into question this emerging theme.

There are two dependent variables for the analysis: First, has a county sent in its county canvass complete (CCC) numbers to the state, thereby signaling it has counted all its ballots? Second, and conversely, has a county still just reported its final election night update (FENU)? The data for county reporting status come from here. Since these are binary outcomes (yes or no), logistic regression is appropriate here.

I use three independent variables in each model: (1) The percentage of VBM ballots in a county in the June 2012 election, (2) the total number of registered voters in a county, and (3) the total number of ballots cast in the county. I use the prevalence of VBM in a county from the June election as the numbers are not yet available for the November election. VBM usage is generally higher in the June election, however, so it should give us a good idea of how many people were likely to use VBM.

The results (shown in Table 1) are suggestive of a relationship but not encouraging for the VBM causes delay hypothesis. The coefficient for the percentage of voters using VBM in the CCC status model is -0.052 with a z of -0.97 (p=0.334). While the estimated effect is negative, meaning that the greater the percentage of VBM ballots the less likely it is a county will have moved to CCC status, given the z-score we cannot conclude that the results is due to anything other than random chance. The coefficient for the percent VBM in the FENU model is 0.023 with a z of 0.89 (p=0.373). Again, the estimated effect is in the right direction–greater VBM usage leads to a higher likelihood of a county still being in FENU status–but the z-score is too small to let us conclude the relationship is real. Substantively the signs are in the right direction, but statistically we can’t say there is a relationship on the basis of these results.

Caveats: (1) The data are for this year only. There may a change due to VBM over time. (2) The data are for California only. There may be differences due to VBM across states. (3) The data are only to date. There may be differences due to VBM that emerge once all of the counties have reported their final counts.

Did Outside Money Matter in House Races?

In our local congressional contest, Jerry McNerney’s campaign was not only out raised and out spent by Ricky Gill’s campaign (at least through the third quarter), but Republican aligned outside groups also spent far more money on behave of Gill than Democratic aligned groups spent on behalf of McNerney. The Center for Responsive Politics data show a nearly 5:1 advantage for Gill in outside spending. (Outside groups spent $4.80 on behalf of Gill for every $1 spent on behalf of McNerney.) Despite this imbalance, Gill lost.

What about other House contests? Did outside spending make a difference across the country? In a word, no. The result we saw here, according to an analysis by Lee Drutman, Alexander Furnas, Amy Cesal and Alex Engler at the Sunlight Foundation, was repeated in House races across the country.

They write:

One of the emerging post-campaign narratives is that all the outside money (more than $1.3 billion) that poured into the 2012 election didn’t buy much in the way of victories. And as we dig through the results in detail (our extensive data visualizations and analysis are below), the story holds up: we can find no statistically observable relationship between the outside spending and the likelihood of victory.

The kicker in the analysis is this chart:

The vertical axis is the Republican’s vote share. The horizontal axis is the Republican’s advantage in outside spending. Can you spot a relationship? I can’t.

So why didn’t outside spending matter much in 2012? Drutman and his colleagues offer a handful of explanations:

  1. National factors were more important.
  2. Outside spending produced a backlash.
  3. Money has diminishing marginal returns.
  4. Outside spending is more about offense.
  5. Candidate spending matters more.

I’m not sure which of these I agree with most. What about you?

[h/t the Monkey Cage]

More on McNerney v. Gill

November 10, 2012 1 comment

In a previous post, I argued that Ricky Gill’s campaign made a strategic error in defining him as the San Joaquin candidate. (Here’s what I mean by that.) The argument got some blowback from Gill’s campaign consultant in the comments and Mike Fitzgerald at the Record. Since, admittedly, I oversold the argument in my first post I want to provide some context and elaborate on it a little more here.

It was always going to be hard for Ricky Gill to win his contest against Jerry McNerney. There were three primary strategic challenges facing Gill at the start of the contest:

1) Jerry McNerney was the incumbent. The maps below show McNerney’s old district (CD-11) and his new district (CD-9). Although the two differ in important ways, including the fact that McNerney’s old residence is not in CD-9, most of the new district overlaps the old one. Most voters in the new CD-9 previously saw McNerney’s name on their ballots.

CD-11 (McNerney's prior district)

McNerney’s old district, CD-11

McNerney’s new district (CD-9)

Read more…

The Vanishing California Republican Party?

November 7, 2012 4 comments

Buckle up California. The state Republican Party is flirting with complete irrelevancy this election. If the current returns hold, Democrats will control 2/3 of both the State Senate and the State Assembly, giving them complete freedom in Sacramento. The one lever that the Republican Party has held in California politics–especially after Prop. 25 (2010) lowered the threshold for passing a budget to a simple majority–is that a 2/3 vote is required to raise revenue. They may not have that lever any more.

There are 40 State Senators, and 27 votes (2/3*40=26.8) are required to pass a revenue increase. The Democrats already control 14 seats, and appear to be winning 14 more. There are no close contests here. Democrats should have the 2/3 supermajority required in the State Senate.

There are 80 Assembly members, and 54 votes (2/3*80=53.6) are required to pass a revenue increase. The Democrats appear to have won 54 seats. The two closest contests are AD-65 (Anaheim), where Sharon Quirk-Silva (D) leads Chris Norby (R) by just 1,004 votes, and AD-32 (Hanford), where Rudy Salas (D) leads Pedro Rios (R) by an even more minuscule 268 votes. Expect some lawsuits over the recount here, because right now 268 votes are all that stand between Republican relevance and Republican irrelevance.

Of course, all these numbers are provisional. That said, if the results hold after the various recounts, the Republican minority won’t even need to bother to show up in Sacramento. The Democrats won’t need them to do anything.

Update [11/8 at 5:00 PM]: Both Salas and Quirk Silva still lead. Salas’s margin is still at 268 votes. Quirk-Silva’s has gone up to 1,043 (up 39).

Update [11/13 at 11:30 AM]: Salas is now way ahead, having built a 2,500 vote lead. Given the low number of votes in the district, the difference is enough to move it off the Secretary of State’s “close contest” list. Quirk-Silva’s lead is now the smallest (at least in those contests where a Democrat is facing a Republican) at a little more than 2,200 votes.

“Primary” Election Results

And the results are in

Prop. 28 passed by a fairly wide margin (61-39), which means that legislators elected for the first time this fall will have twelve years total in the state legislature, divided however they see fit. People previously elected to the legislature still have to live by the old rules (6 yrs. max in the Assembly, 8 yrs. max in the Senate).

Prop. 29 narrowly lost (51-49). So no new cigarette taxes. As I noted before, I was ambivalent about this initiative, and it appears I wasn’t the only one.

Senator Dianne Feinstein cruised in her contest, winning 49% of the vote. She will face Elizabeth Emken (R), who got 12% of the vote, in the fall. The remaining 22 (!) candidates split (fairly evenly) the other 39% of the vote. Taily Orly did pretty well for a fringe candidate–she came in fifth with 3.1% of the vote.

In the local congressional race, as expected Jerry McNerney (D) will face off against Ricky Gill (R). The results highlight the challenges that Gill faces in this race as the challenger. Gill has blanketed the district with signs and media. He has been aggressive, as he has to be, in getting his name out in front of the voters. McNerney, by contrast, has done very little campaigning. Wandering around town, I would say I see 60-75 Gill signs for every one McNerney sign. I get email constantly from Gill and basically nothing from McNerney. That said, McNerney got 48% of the vote to Gill’s 39%. (In San Joaquin County, the results were much closer: 49% for McNerney and 46% for Gill. In Contra Costa County, they weren’t: 53% McNerney and 30% Gill.) Incumbents, even weak incumbents, are hard to beat.

In more local election news, my property taxes will be going up soon as a local school bond passed (59-41). The money will go to building maintenance and upgrading other student resources.

Also, incumbent Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston beat the field with 41% of the vote. Her next closest rival, Anthony Silva, received 21% of the vote. The two will face off in November since neither received a majority of votes in the initial election. The Democratic-Republican vote split in the race was 55% Democratic and 38% Republican. (I don’t know the affiliation of Stevens who received 5% of the vote.) On the basis of this information, and nothing else, I’d guess Johnston wins re-election. If the city declares bankruptcy, though, who knows?

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