Wednesday, November 07, 2018

What role did 'low information' voters play in this election?

Updated November 8, 2018 to correct factual error.

It's time to start poking through the ashes of the 2018 campaign.

What can we learn? What lessons may be applicable in future campaigns?

There's a lot of anecdotal evidence out there suggesting that some of this year's voters were... less than well informed about... oh, everything.

Criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield saw a lot of certitude based on attitude out there in Social Media Land.

But, OK, you say, that's Twitter. Donald Trump's playpen. Take Twitter seriously? That way lies madness, you say.

And, if you're a regular FWIW reader, you are very likely a well-informed voter. You may not even know any low information voters.

(Notice -- I'm not using any more pejorative terms here. I could. But I am sick and tired of all the sanctimonious claptrap about being civil and taking the high road -- just as soon as the worst offender on the Other Side stops first. It's coming on Christmas, as Joni Mitchell sang, and one of the songs of the season you will soon hear in heavy rotation is "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Well, as the song says, let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.)

Anyway, you are inclined to dismiss anecdotal evidence as wholly unreliable.


Let me direct your attention to Exhibit A -- the more than 56,000 in Illinois' 3rd Congressional District who voted for an actual Illinois Nazi. Not Henry Gibson from The Blues Brothers (pictured at right) but a genuine, self-proclaimed Illinois Nazi.

Are there really 56,350 Nazi sympathizers in this mostly Southwest suburban district? (There are 203 Chicago precincts in this district as well.)

Were there 56,350 pranksters out there, just funnin' at the polling place?

Or were there, perhaps, a lot of folks who voted for the Illinois Nazi without having the first clue about what they were doing?

Let me show you now what I'm calling Exhibit B, the race for the Lawrence vacancy in the far northwest suburban 13th Judicial Subcircuit.

For the first time ever -- Dr. Klumpp will correct me if I'm wrong about this -- Democrats won all three vacancies.

There is considerable overlap between the 13th Subcircuit and the northernmost chunk of the reverse comma-shaped 6th Congressional District. If there was a Blue Wave anywhere last night it was in suburban areas -- not just in the Chicago area, but around many major cities across the country. And last night, in the 6th District race, Democrat Sean Casten unseated longtime Republican Congressman Peter Roskam.

The 6th Congressional District was a district, remember, that was drawn to hem in as many Republicans as possible.

In most years, Democrats don't even bother fielding judicial candidates in the 13th.

This year, however, the Democrats had two good candidates, former Judge Ketki "Kay" Steffen and current Judge Samuel J. Betar III.

And to be fair, these two candidates did do significantly better than the Democrat running for the Lawrence vacancy in the 13th. Judge Betar won his race by 8,572 votes. Steffen won hers by 11,133.

But Democrat Shannon P. O'Malley -- a candidate who began his legal career as Philip Spiwak -- who skipped assessment by each and every bar association -- who was called out by the Illinois Civil Justice League and Injustice Watch -- also won his race for the aforementioned Lawrence vacancy. By 2,278 votes. Not a landslide, certainly, but indisputable.

This is not to say that Judge O'Malley (or Judge Spiwak, if he resumes his former handle) will not provide good and useful service to the citizens of County Cook. Six years hence, at retention time, he may well enjoy the support of each and every bar group. There was at least one candidate on this year's retention ballot who eschewed bar evaluations in 2012 -- but who was unanimously rated qualified this time around.

But... I respectfully submit that O'Malley was the fortunate beneficiary of voters who came out specifically, and only, for Casten. Many of his votes may have come from low-information voters -- that is to say, voters who did not seek out available information about judicial candidates. Maybe they were swayed by the sonorous, and androgynous, appellation. Maybe they merely hewed to the party line.

The good news here is that this same evidence can also be interpreted to show that many of these judicial voters in the 13th did study up on the ballot and did know what they were doing in judicial races. That's why Steffen and Betar won by significantly more than O'Malley. But without the surge for Casten, Republicans might have swept all these races, as they always had in the past.

So the broader lesson is clear: Judicial candidates are at the mercy of high-profile races further up the ballot. Judicial candidates can't turn out large numbers at the polling place, but they may be buoyed up -- or buried -- by turnout beyond their control. Perhaps it was ever thus. Turnout is the key. And I hope to look at turnout in some key Cook County races in another post.


Anonymous said...

The real lesson of these victories is that timing is everything. Historically, many of these candidates might very well have lost. Heck, Steffen did previously lose. But the simple reality is that these candidates were running as Democrats in historically Republican-leaning areas, but were buoyed by the Blue Wave. What you MIGHT see is more contested Democratic primaries. "Might" because no judicial candidate has the resources to run both a primary and general election contest.

Albert said...

I think you’re spot-on about the 13th for the most part. Yes Republicans were a perfect 18-0 in the 13th before Tuesday, and only faced Democratic opposition six times. Two Dems did run there in 2008 and lost by less than two points, and one of Tuesday’s winners ran two years ago and likewise lost by less than two points. So what happened Tuesday isn’t wildly implausible, considering the long-term political trends in the suburbs and how unpopular the current Republican president is in Illinois.

Also agree that the top of the ballot drives the results of these judicial contests. Historically, 90 percent or more of the vote in partisan contests for Cook County judicial vacancies is based purely on party identification. Looking at how well Dems did all over the state, the results in the 13th might better be characterized as anti-Trump than pro-Kasten...but potatoe, potahto. It certainly was a major infuence on all three contests.

Not as willing to characterize O’Malley’s win as significantly different from the others. The other Dems won with 54.9% and 53.8%. O’Malley won with 51.0%. That’s not much of a difference, especially when endorsements, ratings and campaign spending are factored in. But actually the result isn’t the least bit surprising in light of how little attention the name-party-county-change controversy got during the general election period. None of the three major bar associations said a word about it, instead simply assigning a negative rating because of failure to submit to evaluations. (One even stated that because of this they found “her” not recommended.) The Tribune didn’t mention it in their pre-election endorsements and the suburban Daily Herald never wrote a word about it. And the other watchdogs and media outlets let it go as well, some after giving it attention during the primary. So the outcome is no mystery.

Anonymous said...

Rumor has it that a former just who lost in 2016 changed his name (back in April 2016) to a "stronger" ballot name and will be running countywide in 2020. Beware, he has a history of knocking people off the ballot and his last name is as Irish as his first name, if not more so.

Jack Leyhane said...

Dr. Klumpp's (Albert's) comment above prompted me to make a correction. I thought I remembered a Tribune article pointing out the Spiwak to O'Malley transformation. A Lexis search today proved me wrong. But the Illinois Civil Justice League and Injustice Watch (there's two groups you're not likely to find in the same sentence, except here on FWIW) both did make a point of highlighting the name change -- and I've put up links now -- but, again, as Dr. Klumpp points out, only before the primary. The last time I noted the name change here was in a little-seen post in May. So I have my own share of the blame for this, and I apologize.

Albert said...

Certainly did not intend to imply any criticism of you, Jack--you do an admirable job of organizing and posting information and certainly can't be expected to cover every single thing as an on-the-side blogger.

Jack Leyhane said...

No offense taken, Herr Doktor! I hope I'm not that thin-skinned. But I do try to be factually accurate -- and if I don't get it right the first time, I can at least go back and fix it on the rebound.

Anonymous said...

The same role they play every cycle: they elected more incompetents who will bring embarrassment and dishonor to the court.