Gainesville Votes! is an organization that is proposing “following the model successfully used by the Alachua County School Board: Non-partisan elections occurring in August (alongside county, state and federal primaries) of every even year. When a run-off is necessary, it would be held on the first Tuesday in November along with county, state and federal elections.” Harvey Ward.
This is being proposed in the vein of promoting higher turnout in Gainesville City Elections.
This goal and organization is enjoying support from the Gainesville Sun Editorial Board with Editorial Page Editor, Nathan Crabbe, promoting the goal in a series of articles and laying out his reasoning in an editorial in March 25, 2015 “Doing our part to boost turnout.”
There appears to be opinions implicit in the Gainesville Sun’s and Democratic activists of Gainesville Votes activities: a ‘belief’ that higher rates of voter participation are desirable, and an expectation that variation in voter turnout will have electoral consequences.
I will leave the exploration of whether higher voter participation is desirable to others, and I will focus this analysis on potential electoral consequences of ‘higher’ participation.
I aim to explore the differences in voters between an election held in Gainesville for Mayor and a potential election held in the context of a statewide primary. To do so, we examine the Gainesville Mayor election held in 2013 and primaries held in 2016 and 2014.
While this analysis is not precise and done quickly, it will roughly examine the differences in the composition of the electorate in the different campaigns.
The City of Gainesville is unique in that it holds within its city limits a major university filled with young voters. For the most part, these young voters stay on the periphery and do not have a history of engaging in Gainesville City Elections. This is a primary driver of ‘low’ voter turnout.
We also begin our analysis with the critical assumption that party affiliation is the most important and meaningful cue to voters in terms of what candidate they should support.
While Gainesville does officially have non-partisan elections, I would agree with Bonneau and Cann when they find “results based on the experimental and observational data are consistent and show that voters’ decisions are influenced strongly by party identification in both partisan and nonpartisan elections.” By the way, they studied judicial races and concluded, “voters are able to successfully bring partisan and/or ideological information to bear on their voting decisions in both partisan and nonpartisan ballot formats, rendering nonpartisan elections ineffective at removing the partisan element from elections.” (Bonneau & Cann 2013)
Continuing with critical assumptions, voters not as engaged in city politics have less of an attachment to ideological grounds, are less predictable, and more influenced by communications from campaigns. However, these peripheral voters may also – because of their lower involvement – be more likely to utilize partisan cue as a shortcut in making a voting decision.
Campaigns are held in a political context. The races at the top of the ticket (Governor, President) drive not only overall turnout but also the composition of the electorate. A competitive Republican primary at the top of the ticket will drive Republican turn out and vice versa; a presidential primary will drive higher turnout than a gubernatorial primary.
When comparing the 2013 Gainesville City Election to an elections held in conjunction with statewide primary ballot campaigns, we observe an increase in the % of democrats comprising the electorate. An increase of minority voters and young voters is also observed (when held with PPP) – both traditionally democrat leaning groups.
Interestingly, turnout between the 2014 Primary and the 2013 Gainesville Mayor campaigns showed a small decrease in overall turnout, but the composition of the electorate changes.
This could be explained by Republican enthusiasm for a competitive race in 2013, but this 2013 campaign should also be considered as a potential high-water mark for Republican participation in the city.
When the 2013 GNV race is compared to the PPP, turnout jumps substantially – by over 100% with same trends observed but to a greater magnitude – higher % of Democrats, higher minority %, and higher % of young voters.
While outside the scope of this quick review, my instincts tell me that if we compare a Gainesville NONmayor city-wide electorate, we will see the same trends but to a larger magnitude.
While an election’s specific factors will have a higher influence on outcomes, variation in turnout will have significant effects.
In a quick review of the last two statewide primaries, the effect observed of holding city elections to coincide with other state-wide primaries is the electorate becomes comprised of a higher percentage of Democrats, a higher percentage of minority voters, and a higher % of young voters.
The Democrats understand these trends, and this proposed manipulation is another example of them attempting to ‘rig the game’ and tilt the odds forever in their favor.
Turnout for 2013 GNV Mayor’s Race, 2014 Primary, 2016 Presidential Preference Primary by Party, Race, and Age