Monday, April 03, 2006

Retrospective: Broken Election Strategies

I have been staring at the numbers for the past few weeks trying to understand what happened. Some have speculated that 2006 favors women citing Laura Salina’s and Carla Vela’s narrow victories. Others are hypothesizing a Kinky/Strayhorn affect because of the abysmal 7% turnout. The most recent critique is the “old guard” effect—the idea that long time consultants are losing because of a failure to change with the times.

The answer to what is going on is, this a new era of elections and the old guard doesn't realize how to win in this tech savy, low turnout, republican era. How do I know this?

Let’s start with the Kinky/Strayhorn effect, but let’s call it what it is, voters are disenfranchised by both parties. If the Republicans weren’t screwing up the state and nation, Strayhorn wouldn’t be running as an Independent, and if Democrats were more responsive to their base and vocal about their stance, Kinky wouldn’t be breaking 10% in the polls.

Strayhorn didn’t effect the primary results the same way Kinky did, and that is only because those that Strayhorn appeals to are Republican, conservative moderates, and swing non-primary voters. She has been a Republican too long to have the same effects Kinky had.

Kinky on the other hand did shape the outcome of the elections. He kept first time voters like students away from the polls. He kept angry Democrats away because of his “maverick” appeal, and because he is charismatic. This is a problem obviously. In races were Kazen lost by a mere 7 votes and Vela won by a few hundred, his contribution to the 7% turnout can’t go unnoticed, but in 2002 Bexar county saw a 7% voter turnout with the high profile Sanchez/Morales Gov race and the Ron Kirk vs. Victor Morales Senate race.

So Kinky hasn’t had the overwhelming affect people are giving him credit for.

The other prevailing sentiment is that women are winning this cycle. I laugh at this. There are no polls, no statistics, and no studies that support any claim that women or men have an electoral advantage based on gender alone. There are countless studies saying that female speakers are more credible on particular issues like reproductive rights, but these same studies show that teachers are more credible on education and veterans on veteran’s issues and war. Laura Salinas won because she made a better pitch and the same is true for Carla Vela.

The “female advantage” doesn’t even hold up in the numbers. Maria Alvarado won 53% of the vote in early vote and Election Day, but Salinas only had 50% and Vela had 51%. While there is only a 3% spread, this verifies that races had there own particular dynamic. To further support this look at other women in the Democratic primary: Barbara Radnofsky – 53%, Karen Crouch—72%, and Linda Penn— 63%. With only 5 women with primary opponents (not including precinct chairs), there is no way to make the claim that a female had an advantage based on gender alone.

Finally, there is the old guard. The old guard, especially in judicial races, runs campaigns through direct mail only. Most of these pieces failed to activate voters that either didn’t care, didn’t see a difference, or wanted to vote 3rd party. There were either no or very little elements of field or general outreach, and zero effort in voter registration.

Most of these candidates did not have websites (one reason I think Peter Sakai won over Ralph Lopez), and most focused on the south side of the city because that is were most of the San Antonio “consultants” are.

Looking outside the box and strategically, countless things could have been done to dramatically change the outcome of March 7th-- simply implementing technology and basic field infrastructure, developing a minor campus or university presence or talking to more than the people that have voted in the past three primaries.

The reason for the outcome cannot and should not be blamed on Independent candidates, gender, or a lack of a statewide democratic message. All local campaigns have to do with one thing, talking to voters, and the old guard doesn’t focus on that. That is why our political landscape looks like it does now.


At 2:06 PM, Blogger CouldBeTrue said...

You said "All local campaigns have to do with one thing, talking to voters, and the old guard doesn’t focus on that. That is why our political landscape looks like it does now."

As noted over at South Texas Chisme, the old guard blockwalks. In addition, they hold meet-and-greets, go to endless forums and club meetings. But you can only reach so many with a blockwalk - that sort of personal contact doesn't scale well.

I want to know how you get the electorate's attention. Why do people do stupid things like vote for Gene Kelly? They're trying to do the right thing by going out to vote. Why don't they do the right thing and pay attention to the issues and the candidates?

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Matt Glazer said...

The "old guard" I am refering to are the campaign consultants, not the activists and faithfuls.

The consultants here will work on multiple campaigns in the same field which can either be a gross conflict of interests or a burden.

They tend to take a check and run and they tend to do things the same way, because is the way it has always been done.

They do not re-train and they do not explore new technologies or voters.

The old guard I am refering to might set up coffees and blockwalkers, but they will hardly walk or call and almost never donate money.

Sadly, the broken consultants are teaching the young campaigners the same tired and broken tactics.

We are in a cycle and we need fresh ideas and blood to break out of it.

I am glad to hear that South Texas is different, but things are broken in San Antonio, and it has a lot to do with our consultants.

At 7:40 PM, Blogger CouldBeTrue said...

Oh, we're broken here in South Texas, too. We have lots of people who take money and do not really deliver value.

Technology can only be part of the solution, though.

First, we need to get the electorate to pay attention. Voters need to care about issues of importance to them, to be motivated and to be informed.

In other words, how do we get democracy to work?


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