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Yet again, late-arriving mail ballots are trending conservative

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Aug. 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
August 20, 2010 1:22 pm

This is a phenomena that has interested me for several election cycles – the count of ballots in the days after Election Day trend toward Republican candidates and conservative positions on issues.

For some reason, which I explored in 2008 in a column attached below, the ballots that arrive after election day are more conservative than the votes received by and counted on Tuesday.

It is happening again. In the closest legislative races – the ones I’m watching for signs of a GOP takeover come November – most of the struggling Democrats have seen their vote percentage erode. Sen. Chris Marr of Spokane won 49 percent on election night and now stands at 47 percent. Federal Way’s Tracey Eide dropped from 53 percent to 51 percent.

Over in the House, Spokane’s John Driscoll fell from 42 percent to 41 percent. Also dropping a full percentage point were Tim Probst, Marko Lilas, Larry Seaquist, Kathy Haigh, Hans Dunshee and Geoff Simpson.

In the past, analysts have looked at events of each election _ late ad campaigns, get out the vote efforts. But the trend has carried over each election, regardless of the campaign. That suggests that there is something structural in how certain types of voters time the mailing of their ballot.

So, do conservative-leaning voters hang onto their ballots longer? Or do liberal voters vote early, therefore having more than a regular share of the election night ballots. Or even this: do hardcore liberals and hardcare conservatives vote early because they are so sure and there are more liberals in that category than conservatives.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the answer is. Feel free to weigh in.

Here’s the column I wrote after the 2008 primary:

How to explain why late voters go conservative?

Sunday,September 7, 2008
Edition: SOUTH SOUND, Section: South Sound & Local, Page B01
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An interesting thing happened in the closing days of the Aug. 19 primary.

Voters grew more conservative.

At least, the votes that came in to county auditors in the days after the election – presumably those mailed Monday and Tuesday – were slightly more favorable to Republicans than votes received earlier.

Take the governor’s race. On the day after the election, Gov. Chris Gregoire held a 4.1 percentage-point lead over Republican challenger Dino Rossi. But when the final county tallies were in, Gregoire’s advantage had narrowed to just 1.9 percent.

Attorney General Rob McKenna’s lead over Democratic challenger John Ladenburg grew from 12 points to 14; U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert’s lead over Democrat Darcy Burner went from 3 points to 4 points. Even Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland’s thin lead over Democrat Peter Goldmark went up a tick to 2.2 percent.

The school superintendent race followed a similar pattern, even though the race is officially nonpartisan. Incumbent Terry Bergeson saw her day-after-the-election lead of 11.2 percent fall to 5.8 percent. And while challenger Randy Dorn is a fellow Democrat, his campaign is based on his kinda-sorta opposition to the WASL, and Bergeson is perceived as the liberal.

So what happened? I asked a few folks to speculate.

Tim Zenk, who managed Gregoire’s 2004 effort, said he had access to polling that suggested the primary electorate would be weighted toward 45-plus-year-old women of both parties. “Women don’t respond well to negative advertising, and I think it’s possible (an anti-Rossi independent expenditure campaign) did more harm than good for the governor,” he said.

Zenk ran an independent expenditure campaign for Dorn. He thinks online advertising – more than the radio – late in the campaign made the schools race closer.

J. Vander Stoep, a Rossi campaign adviser, thinks Rossi benefits when voters get to know him better.

“Most voters had not seen Dino Rossi for three-plus years,” Vander Stoep wrote. “Meanwhile, the other team had been calling him a bad guy for four weeks. With that, it’s not surprising that the first ballots were not so good for Rossi and then they improved the more they saw Dino.”

“The last weekend we did spend some money on Dino Robo Calls with him saying, ‘I need you to fill out your ballots,’ ” he added. That might have affected the late-mailed votes.

Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political science professor, gives credit to Rossi’s TV campaign and the fact that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was vacationing in the days leading up to our primary, while Republican John McCain was still campaigning.

Also this: “As a general rule, the late votes that come in are not only late deciders in terms of Dem vs. Rep, but late deciders in terms of ‘should I vote.’ The late votes are people who get picked up in the last weekend rush of voter mobilization.”

Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts noted that while late-deciding voters broke for Rossi, King County had a lower turnout percentage than other counties, and Gregoire will benefit by the higher turnout in November.

Still, he expects it to remain close.

“Given how set voters are on these two candidates, it is hard to see how either candidate is going to get more than 52 percent or so, unless someone makes a big error that breaks the race open,” Hibbitts wrote.

Seattle pollster Stuart Elway noticed the same late-vote swing and had theories, but no conclusions.

“Do GOP party voters wait longer? Are they older” (more history with voting on actual election day)?

Perhaps it’s less complicated. Peter Jackson, a writer and sometime Democratic campaign worker, explained it this way.

“Maybe Tuesday voters are too hung over from the weekend and know not what they do.”

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