Sunday, May 21, 2006

Taking A Look Behind The Numbers

33% is more than enough to win an election – if you look at it right.

In a Poll Smoking segment on The Daily Show with John Stewart, fake analyst Dave Gorman humoeoualy showed how 34% is more than enough to win an election - and this is a frighteningly true point. Gorman's use of statistics to make his points is definitely humorous - but extremely serious. It's a must see routine so be sure to click through and watch the segment.

Before I explain the numbers, consider what I call the down-ballot drop-off phenomena. Look at the results from this Texas precinct:
Votes cast for US Senate: 190
Votes cast for US Congress: 190
Votes cast for State Senate: 135
Votes cast for State Representative: 132
Votes cast for Judge: 30
Votes cast for Issue: 74
That’s the effect in a nutshell. Top of the ticket candidates receive more votes because their offices and candidacies are more well known and publicized. Their campaigns have spent more money and the media has given them more coverage.

In that precinct, 190 people came out and voted but didn’t vote for all the candidates and issues on the ballot. Why not? Because they didn’t want to vote for what they didn’t know about and they didn’t invest enough time and energy to find out so they could vote intelligently.

This is how pundits can say – correctly – that a small percentage of the vote is the majority.

This down-ballot drop-off phenomena is well known in the industry and has been used by religious and conservative grassroots activists since the early '80s to great effect. These groups have invested in inserting candidates that reflect their views. The groups then fund very tightly targeted informational and get-out-the-vote campaigns to get their selected voters to vote for these down-ballot candidates and issues - and to not encourage others to vote otherwise.

The results -- in the red states particularly -- has been a dramatic increase in down-ballot voting and an equally dramatic increase in the election of a more conservative cadre of school board members and other low-vote local officeholders, commission members and school boards. These offices affect the lives of our children on a day to day basis.

Majority wins in these elections and the effect of this down-ballot syndrome is that a very few energized people that vote can make a majority.

If 190 people are available to vote but only 30 vote for judge, 16 is a majority. 16 out of 190 is 8%. So, in this Texas precinct, 8% is a majority that can elect a judge. 38 out of 75 (20% of 190) can win an issue (although sometimes two-thirds are required).

What I get from these numbers is a need to study the candidates and issues and vote for them all. This is truly an area where one vote can make a difference.

Make your one vote count too.