June 26, 2006

In Defense of Darrell West, or the Theory of the Surly New England Independent, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

Comparing the history of Darrell West's Brown University pre-election polls to actual election results, it's hard to find strong evidence of the phenomena of undecided voters breaking in favor of the challenger that has been documented in other places. To explain why an incumbent factor is not consistently seen in Rhode Islands highest profile statewide elections, I propose the existence, in substantial numbers, of a class of Rhode Island voters that we can call surly New England independents.

Consider Myrth Yorks numbers -- not just the percentages, but her absolute numbers of votes received. In 1994, York received 157,361 votes for governor. In 2002, she actually received about 7,000 votes fewer (and not because of lower turnout; Don Carcieris vote total was about 10,000 more than Lincoln Almonds in 1994). In 1998, her total was even less, but turnout in general was down that year.

York, despite a decade of campaigning for governor, clearly never broadened her appeal beyond her initial 1994 base of support. Now, given this fact, which scenario do you think more likely. A) Bunches of independents and/or undecideds suddenly realized, in the last month of the 2002 campaign, that Myrth York was the same candidate she had always been and her Republican opponent was a better alternative. Or B) bunches of independents and/or undecideds were strongly disinclined, all through the 2002 election cycle, to vote for the same person they had already voted against twice, yet still told the pollsters they were undecided. I think B) is more likely (making Darrell West's and Victor Profughi's jobs all the more difficult).

Im not suggesting that respondents intentionally deceive pollsters, but that there exists in Rhode Island a large number of surly independents who take the I vote for the best candidates, be they Republicans or Democrats, incumbents or challengers meme more seriously than most and who stay open to the possiblity of voting for any candidate deep into the election cycle. They may strongly lean towards one of the candidates, but since they believe it is their civic duty to consider all available information before casting a vote, they consider themselves to be undecided until they have heard the entire campaign.

The existence of surly independents explains, for example, why the Reed-Tingle result from 02 bucks the conventional wisdom regarding incumbents. Most voters had never heard of Bob Tingle before the campaign. Still, the surly independents did their duty as independents, stayed open to the possibility of voting for either party through the campaign, and waited to hear Tingles message. When they didnt hear a message (Tingles ability to get his message out was hampered by serious underfunding), many voted for Reed.

How the existence of surly independents might affect the current Senate race is difficult to predict, but the impact of surly independents is clearly being seen in the the current race for Governor of Rhode Island.

There are two phenomena difficult to explain in the Governor's race. 1) What spurred the sudden closing of the poll numbers between Gov. Carcieri and Lt. Gov Fogarty while politics was proceding business as usual in Rhode Island? 2) How does an incumbent Governor only get 44% support for re-election in the same Rhode Island College poll that shows him with 54% favorability rating?

The answer, I submit, lies in the existence of the surly New England independents. With election season underway, the independents have opened themselves up to the possibility of voting for either candidate -- even if they are strongly likely to vote the same way they did four years ago (is it pure coincidence that the Governor's 54% approval rating is the same as his 2002 percentage of the vote?).

Here's my prediction: As the Gubernatorial campaign moves forward, Lieutenant Governor Fogarty's penchant for giving mushy answers of Ill study that or maybe in response to even the most basic questions about reforming Rhode Islands taxation, spending and education policies will not play well with the surly independents. They will re-confirm their reasoning of why they voted for Governor Carcieri and the final election result will contain a break in undecideds, relative to the final Brown poll, that is slightly-to-strongly in Governor Carcieri's favor.

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Here's another theory on the Carcieri-Fogarty race:

I think voters genuinely like Charlie Fogarty. They've voted for him a number of times in the past and they'd be open to voting for him again . . . but not enough of them would vote for him over Gov. Carcieri.

If Fogarty were running for another office -- or an open seat -- he'd have a decent shot.

But when they get into the polling place, a sufficient majority (something like 53-57 or so) will go with Gov. Carcieri . . .

Posted by: brassband at June 26, 2006 1:11 PM


I don't think the voters in Rhode Island really know Charlie Fogarty. From what I can see Charlie has no genuine life experience in any area, personal or professional. Do you think the voters here in Rhode Island know that?
Think it's time they saw the real Charlie Fogarty.

Posted by: Tim at June 26, 2006 4:07 PM

Mr. Morse, I usually agree with you but not on your analysis on this issue. The idea of the surly New England independent is interesting, but basing this theory on the methodologically poor West polls is very insufficient to prove your theory. In contrast,pollingreport stated: "our analysis of 155 polls reveals that, in races that include an incumbent, the traditional answers are wrong. Over 80% of the time, most or all of the undecideds voted for the challenger." I tend to beleive them.

Now, the main point you are making, which is that Carcieri being below 45% is not a trouble sign has some validity. I believe that Carcieri has not started campaigning or spending any money so I think once he starts to get his message out and he paints a good contrast with Fogarty, Carcieri should prevail but by a close margin.

Posted by: Fred Sanford at June 26, 2006 9:49 PM

If Fogarty is correctly potrayed as the pro-illegal alien, pro-public union, pro-hack that he is he will be lucky to get the percent York got.

Posted by: Mike at June 28, 2006 6:57 PM

I'll bet you Fogarty fares better than York, even if he doesn't win, for reasons of gender.
1: The liberal tag as a perjorative sticks to women much harder than it does to men. Myrth wasn't any more liberal than Jack Reed, but those Dems who thought she was too liberal had no problem voting for Reed.
2: From a number of people I've talked to: senior voters seemed to have a harder time than younger voters electing a woman to an executive position (though it's not as big an issue down the ticket). I'd be willing to bet Carcieri was the only Republican many elderly lifelong Dems voted for. The Don won't have that advantage this time 'round.

Posted by: Rhody at June 29, 2006 11:27 AM