Thursday, November 15, 2018

Guest Post: Dr. Klumpp reviews the results of the retention election

This morning FWIW is proud to present a guest post from Albert J. Klumpp, PhD, analyzing the results of the recent retention election.

Throughout my dissertation research and in every subsequent election, I was able to study Cook County’s judicial retention voting using the same approach, with a small group of basic variables. On November 6th that all went out the window. It was the most complicated retention election the county has ever seen and added a half-dozen new variables to my analysis. Much more could be written about the results than fits in a blog post, so I’ll simply run down the basics:
  • The number of votes cast on retention judges was the highest for a midterm election since 1966, and by a large margin. The median for circuit judges was 1,204,682 (based on preliminary results), a 41% increase over the 2014 median and a 32% increase over 2010. In part this was due to more voters turning out than in past midterms, and in part to a much higher percentage of voters completing the retention section of the ballot. Typically when more voters turn out, the participation rate for retention judges decreases, but this November’s results showed the opposite. In fact the participation rate was the highest ever for retention judges in Cook County, as shown below.

  • The base approval rate for a judge with no name-cue advantages and no negative performance ratings was 75.3 percent, a figure very consistent with previous elections. Female judges got a boost of 3.3 percentage points, the highest amount ever, and an Irish name was worth 1 percentage point. Because of outliers in my initial analysis, I added a variable based on a U.S. Census list of the most common African-American surnames--which I’ve used routinely in primary election analyses--and found those names to add 2.6 points. There also was a Hispanic name boost of 1 percentage point. (All of these estimates have margins of error but are considered statistically significant.)
  • The major sources of voter information were somewhat difficult to evaluate due to overlap with other factors, but as best as I could estimate them, the Tribune, ISBA, CBA and CCL recommendations were unusually equal, each worth roughly 5 percent of the vote. The ISBA result was a major surprise since there had never been evidence of ISBA ratings influencing past Cook County elections. The results of my initial analysis compelled their inclusion, though, and the revised analysis confirmed their impact. Furthermore, two judges who received negative ratings from smaller Alliance members were outliers by roughly 2 percentage points, indicating that even those ratings were seen and used by scattered voters despite relatively little publicity. The latter results suggest the use of the Internet and smartphones by a detectable number of retention voters to seek out and apply information from a broader group of sources than in the past.
  • Social media also played a detectable role for the first time. There were several judges whose approval percentages were negative outliers in my analysis for no apparent reason—until I found the November 9 Sun-Times story about the “Girl I Guess” progressive voter guide and how it appeared to resonate with and be widely distributed through social media by young voters (who turned out in large numbers). Sure enough, the retention recommendations in that guide explained the outliers, and their inclusion in my analysis suggests that roughly 3 percent of retention voters used information from the guide or other sources that referenced it.
  • Finally, the 800-pound gorilla: the county Democratic Party’s decision to recommend against Matthew Coghlan’s retention and advocate its decision in its mass mailings. The wide distribution, ideal timing, and clear formatting of its vote-no message checked all of the boxes necessary to turn a piece of negative information about a retention candidate into a defeat. Once the above-mentioned variables are accounted for, the targeted vote against Coghlan measures out to a whopping 10.3 percent of the retention electorate. Without it Coghlan would have won retention with at least 62.7 percent of the vote and very likely more, since the mass mailings almost certainly caused at least some of the increase in retention participation.
It should be noted that there also were non-party, largely city-based efforts to target Coghlan, mainly by community groups in certain areas, and that those efforts undoubtedly influenced some voters and contributed to the 10.3 percent total. I haven’t yet dug deeply enough into the ward and township breakdowns to know exactly how much (and I will do so, but running eighty separate analyses takes time). However, simply analyzing the city and suburban results separately produces targeting estimates of 11.2 percent for the city (which includes at least fourteen party ward organizations that were particularly outspoken against Coghlan, possibly more) and 9.6 percent for the suburbs—not all that different. So at least for now the lion’s share of the targeted vote, and the margin between retention and removal, gets attributed to the party’s decision and indirectly to whichever factors influenced it.

Stepping back from the vote numbers, one other important fact about Coghlan’s removal should be mentioned. Twelve U.S. states currently use retention elections for most or all of their state-level trial court judges, and including this month's retention election, a combined total of 11,978 judges have stood for retention to trial courts in those states. Coghlan’s defeat is only the second time ever in which a judge was targeted and removed by a political party. Retention defeats are rare for any reason: including this November, only 96 of the 11,978 trial court candidates failed to win retention. But a political party targeting a trial court judge at all, much less removing one, is virtually unheard of.

Majority party organizations in most of the retention jurisdictions could remove judges routinely if they wanted to. But parties have typically stayed far away from retention elections, especially at the trial court level. In large part this is because they have higher priorities, but there also is a danger of being perceived as trying to politicize and manipulate the judicial system.

As a researcher I have no desire to pass judgment on Judge Coghlan’s worthiness for retention or anyone’s decision to support or oppose him. I simply observe that there are larger implications of this November's election and how future elections will unfold in its wake, and that it is likely that few people, even among party leaders, have yet fully considered them. There also is a wake-up call in these retention results for bar associations regarding how they deliver information and which voters they reach. We’ll see if they hear it.

Albert J. Klumpp has been a generous and frequent contributor to this blog over the years. A research analyst with a public policy PhD, Klumpp is the author of several scholarly works analyzing judicial elections including, most recently, Alaska’s Judicial Retention Elections: A Comparative Analysis, 34 Alaska Law Review 143-160 (2017). Other works include Judicial Primary Elections in Cook County, Illinois: Fear the Irish Women!, 60 DePaul L. Rev. 821 (2011); "Voter Information and Judicial Retention Elections in Illinois," 94 Ill. B.J. 538 (October 2006); and "Cook County Judicial Elections: Partisanship, Campaign Spending, & Voter Information," CBA Record, January 2007 (p. 34).


Anonymous said...

So the decision of the retention class to pay the Cook County Democratic party $40,000 to mail out sample ballots which highlighted in red the No recommendation for Coghlan is ultimately what did him in.

Way to support your brother judge.

Anonymous said...

Very through analysis of a lot of data.
To be fair , this retention class was dealing with something that never happened before. The Party stated it would be fair by relying on negative Bar ratings in it's own investigation. It also said that a judge's whole body of work would be considered and it would not take into consideration events that occurred before the person became a Judge. None of that happened. Toni pushed for the "no" vote before most bar groups had weighed in with recommendations. Also, Toni relied on largely unsubstantiated claims from Injustice Watch to support her decision. The 2020 retention group better take notice because I bet Brendan has a hit list for your group. Better start shoring up committeemen now( forget about Ed Burke ).

Anonymous said...

There are no brothers or sisters of the robe. They are all backstabbers who would sell their mama’s shoes to get ahead. 2020 will be even more interesting because, you bet, Injustice Watch and the anti-law SJWs will be pushing their radical agenda to intimidate judges to capitulate to their wills.

Albert said...

Have to think those mailings would have gone out with or without the judges' money. But it would sure be interesting to hear from some of the other judges about their decision--and also about how many of them were interviewed for the investigation that the Dem party says it did.

Anonymous said...

The Injustice Watch Hit List for 2020:

1. Mauricio Aurujo
2. Jackie Portman-Brown
3. Debra Walker
4. Krystina Ryan

Anonymous said...

It's easy to criticize when your own job is not potentially on the line. While I am sure everyone in the retention class was sympathetic to Coghlan, very few are willing to risk being targeted themselves for the sake of protecting a class member.

Anonymous said...

Every rat for itself.

Anonymous said...

Injustice Watch will go for the easiest lowest hanging fruit as Will Brendan Shiller, unless of course, the judge is a judge of color. Translation: Jackie Portman will get a pass from Shiller, but he will target Megan Goldish, as she is also being sued by the plaintiff’s civil rights bar. Fight Megan! Don’t let these vermin destroy you.

Anonymous said...

Not white Irish conservative criminal court judges. It is highly doubtful that this is the target list. It would not further the stated agenda.

Anonymous said...

I hope Dr. Krump would take a look at how the Bars do the evaluations. For instance, how does the CCL and the CBA have such opposite opinions of Lisa Marino. Hold them side by side and you would think the reports are about two different Judges.
And how come the Trib takes the side of the CBA against Marino but in the same breath damns Coghlan and Boyle who got CBA approval but not the CCL.
Maybe this is something the next presiding Judge will take on and challenge the Bars to open up their evaluation process to review or be dumped from the Alliance