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Drilling for voters

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Part of the research process is figuring out where to focus your attention.  As much as any campaign would prefer otherwise, it’s time, money and other resources are limited.  That’s why you need to have a plan; to determine the best way to use the people and funds in the way that gets you the most return on investment.

The primary purpose of a campaign is to persuade people to vote for your candidate.  It sounds a little cold, but it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of effort trying to convince folks who will tend to vote either for or against you.  Of course, you can’t just ignore them, but it’s also a waste of resources to focus on them.   What you need to find are those folks who sometimes vote conservative and other times vote with a more liberal bent.  Because ballots are secret, you can’t find these “swing” voters (as they’re called) on an individual basis, but you can figure out where they are on a precinct by precinct basis and focus your efforts there.

The first step of this process is to figure out how many people you need to persuade.   That, of course, is how many votes you need to get to win, which is usually just over half of the votes cast but can be a plurality (more than anyone else running) in some cases.  By having researched the election rules (see my article, “The key to a successful campaign” https://whitestickpapers.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/the-key-to-a-successful-campaign/) you know what’s true in your case.  Now, you need to find out just how many people you need to reach out to and convince you’re their candidate.

In Oregon, you should visit the Elections Division on the Secretary of State’s website (http://www.oregonvotes.org/other.info/stelec.htm) and find out the voter turnout in past elections that are similar to the one you’re facing.  The site may be different in other states but there is a central archive of election results in each state, going back several years.  A recent election can tell you approximately how many are currently registered so you can figure out how many you need to get behind you.  Since the average household has two people in it and, by persuading one you’ll usually convince both, you can generally cut the number of targeted voters in half to decide how many doors you need to knock on.  This, of course, is a much more reasonable number than trying to reach and persuade everyone in the district.

I’m going to use Oregon House District 32 as an example.  This, like many of our Legislative Districts, was gerrymandered after the 2000 census and is made up of precincts in four different counties.  This makes it harder to research when we get down to the precinct-by-precinct part of this process, so it’s probably more difficult than the average non-partisan race is going to face.  But what works for it will work on anything from a water district or city council race up to a statewide or federal contest.  First, let’s look at the overall results for the last several elections:

2002
D R NAV OTHER Total
13920 12331 7320 1012 34,583
Meyer * Hepburn Misc
County Joe  (R ) Elaine M. (D) Turnout
Clatsop 3,567 4,778 26 8,371
Columbia 265 234 1 500
Tillamook 5,165 4,028 33 9,226
Washington 2,048 1,638 1 3,687
TOTAL 11,045 10,678 61 21,784 63.0%
2004
D R NAV OTHER Total
15,051 13,584 8,514 1,192 38,341
Olson Snodgrass *Boone Misc.
County Douglas S. (R) Ben (C) Deborah (D) Turnout
Clatsop 4,767 336 6,505 42 11,650
Columbia 351 20 312 3 686
Tillamook 6,388 352 6,487 33 13,260
Washington 2,972 210 2,122 11 5,315
TOTAL 14,478 918 15,426 89 30,911 80.6%
2006
D R NAV OTHER Total
13,870 12,516 7,887 1,081 35,354
**Boone Myers Misc.
County Deborah (D) Norm (R) Turnout
Clatsop 6,127 2,907 15 9,049
Columbia 287 244 5 536
Tillamook 6,456 3,902 33 10,391
Washington 2,006 2,059 8 4,073
TOTAL 14,876 9,112 61 24,049 68.0%
2008
D R NAV OTHER Total
15,342 12,299 7,668 1,487 36,796
Bero **Boone Misc.
County Tim (R) Deborah (D) Turnout
Clatsop 3,075 7,526 40 10,641
Columbia 257 328 6 591
Tillamook 3,637 8,315 27 11,979
Washington 2,191 2,433 19 4,643
TOTAL 9,160 18,602 92 27,854 75.7%

These charts are based on what you’ll find on the Oregon Election Division website and show the total voter registration by political party (NAV means “Not Affiliated” and “Other” means the total of minor parties such as Libertarian, Constitution, Independent, Socialist and Pacific Green).  Under those registration numbers you’ll find the vote breakdown for each candidate in each of the election cycles this past decade.  It’s pretty easy to see the Democrat incumbent’s strength is in Clatsop and Tillamook counties, which would imply that’s where a Republican candidate will need to put most of their effort.

Since 2010 is a non-Presidential election year, the ones that most closely match it are the 2002 and 2006 elections, so we’d estimate the turnout for this year will be close to what was the case then.  It’s best to be conservative when estimating votes, so we’d project a 70% voter turnout in the 2010 General Election.

Oregon had a special election in January 2010, which gives us the most recent voter registration numbers for the district.  When we have our Primary Election in May, we may want to revise the estimate but, since the population has stayed fairly stable over the past ten years, that probably won’t be necessary.  Taking the registration levels noted in January, we come up with the following:

2010 (As of 26 January) 70% 24,637
D R NAV OTHER Total 50% 12,319
14,607 11,812 7,195 1,582 35,196 plus 25% 15,399
households 7,500

With this information, we can take the 70% voter turnout expected and divide it by two (50%) to come up with the approximate number of votes needed to win.  We’ve added 25% to give us a buffer and then divided that by two (50%) to come up with the number of households.  No matter who you are, 7,500 is a lot less daunting than 35,000 plus.

So, the next thing to do is figure out where to direct our attention.  As mentioned, the Democrat incumbent has been elected largely due to the votes she’s gotten from the coast counties so that’s where we’ll probably need to direct most of our attention.  But, while we can do some general media efforts throughout the district (signs, mailers and radio, for the most part), you want to do candidate walks, coffees, meet and greets and other personal contacts in those precincts which sometimes vote Republican and other times vote Democrat.  To find them, you need to go to the county websites and find the abstracts for the precincts in your district.  You can get as detailed as you want, checking every election, including those for ballot measures and other candidates but, for our example, we’re limiting it to those for the years most like this one and the recent special election, which had to do with taxes.

Some of the precincts will tend to vote heavily Democrat:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Clatsop Precincts Meyer Hopson Calc Myers Boone Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/-
26 – HAMLET 59 92 -21.9% 29 119 -60.8% -39.0% 53 99 -30.3% 8.4% 56 93 -24.8% 3.0%
47 – WARRENTON 478 629 -13.6% 454 783 -26.6% -13.0% 506 674 -14.2% 0.6% 510 673 -13.8% 0.1%

Some of the precincts tend to go more Republican:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Tillamook Precincts Meyer Hopson Calc Myers Boone Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/- No Yes Calc +/-
3 BEAVER 253 194 13.2% 211 263 -11.0% -24.2% 261 186 16.8% 3.6% 260 187 16.3% 3.1%
14KILCHIS 203 133 20.8% 118 207 -27.4% -48.2% 150 163 -4.2% 25.0% 148 164 -5.1% 26.0%

While most will sometimes go one way and other times go another:

2002 2006 2010 – M66 2010 – M67
Clatsop Precincts Meyer Hopson Favorable Myers Boone Favorable +/- No Yes Favorable +/- No Yes Favorable +/-
21 – CHADWELL 159 227 -17.6% 141 293 -35.0% -17.4% 231 186 10.8% 28.4% 233 182 12.3% 29.9%
31 – LEWIS & CLARK 199 285 -17.8% 181 314 -26.9% -9.1% 254 194 13.4% 31.2% 257 191 14.7% 32.5%
36 – OLNEY 113 119 -2.6% 96 165 -26.4% -23.9% 145 110 13.7% 16.3% 152 103 19.2% 21.8%
46 – WALLUSKI 75 130 -26.8% 81 169 -35.2% -8.4% 148 123 9.2% 36.1% 152 120 11.8% 38.6%
52 – HILLCREST 88 147 -25.1% 61 202 -53.6% -28.5% 134 128 2.3% 27.4% 135 125 3.8% 29.0%
Tillamook Precincts
8 FAIRVIEW 496 287 26.7% 337 471 -16.6% -43.3% 414 387 3.4% 23.3% 418 382 4.5% 22.2%

In these examples, “Calc” is the percent difference between the Republican and Democrat positions in terms of favorable and unfavorable (a positive number is favorable) and the “+/-“ column shows that number compared to the 2002 baseline so trends are easy to spot.  Even though the Republican lost the precincts in 2006, these are considered more or less favorable because they trended that way.  As it happens, this district was pretty brutal to the Republican in 2006; he actually lost every precinct, which is rare.

As has already been mentioned, it’s in your campaign’s best interest to put your time, people and money where they’ll do the most good, and they’ll do the most good where the voters sometimes support Republicans and Republican ideas, and other times vote Democrat or for Democrat principles.  Only by doing the research can you know where to aim.

NB: Special thanks to the Lew Barnes for State Representative campaign for the precinct abstracts for House District 32.


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Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

22 April 2010 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Insights

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  1. […] Tagged with campaigns, elections, planning, volunteers « Drilling for voters […]


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