Saturday, July 02, 2022

Dr. Klumpp: Bar ratings more significant than ever in this judicial primary

This morning FWIW is honored to present this Guest Post by Albert J. Klumpp, a generous and frequent contributor to FWIW over the years, a research analyst with a public policy PhD, and the author of several scholarly works analyzing judicial elections.

by Albert J. Klumpp

By all accounts this was supposed to be a boring primary, particularly as it related to judicial candidates. Low turnout and nothing unusual.

Low turnout? Yes, without question. But nothing unusual? Hardly.

Turnout, as FWIW has already noted, was exceptionally low. At roughly 19 percent, it was the second-lowest for a modern-era primary, above only the 2014 primary—which similarly had little of competitive interest at the top of either party’s ballot.
As for the judicial contests, the voters who did turn out did not neglect them. In fact, the ballot dropoff for the twelve countywide judicial contests was the lowest ever, at only 16 percent.
A high participation rate in bottom-of-the-ballot contests is typical in a low-turnout election. With fewer casual voters turning out, the more diligent voters who always turn out and complete the entire ballot comprise a higher percentage of the electorate. But even so, this primary’s voters were singularly attentive to the judicial section of the ballot.

And the choices made by those voters were unlike any seen in a previous primary. Yes, the usual influences were present. Slating, for instance: candidates slated by the county Democratic party saw a boost of roughly 14 percentage points, one of the highest numbers in recent years. This is not a surprise. When turnout is lower, slating usually—not always but usually—is more valuable, since party loyalists who are reliable voters comprise more of the electorate.

The subcircuit contests showed this as well. Of the sixteen subcircuit contests, I was able to identify ten in which one candidate received all or most of the local political support, and nine of those ten candidates were winners.

Gender also played a significant role. Lower-turnout elections tend to see less of a pro-female vote, and this year there were no female candidates at the top of the ballot to attract female voters. Nevertheless, the gender vote in this primary was roughly 17 percentage points, a surprisingly high number. Possibly the timing of the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling was a factor, but this is only speculation.

Neither gender nor slating, though, was the biggest influence on the judicial voting. Nor were name cues. The advantages of Irish, Black and Hispanic surnames were difficult to estimate in this primary because of the small number of candidates, but they clearly were smaller than in previous years. Likewise, ballot position was less influential; the first ballot position seemed to be worth roughly four percentage points, but again this turned out to be difficult to measure due to the low number of candidates.

One other relevant factor was the “Girl I Guess” progressive voter guide that has been a detectable presence in the two most recent November retention elections. It influenced roughly six percent of the vote. This is an impressive achievement for a single individual, but it was not part of any larger grassroots movement that was the primary cause of anyone’s victory or defeat.

So what was the biggest single influence? Amazingly, bar association ratings.

This was a first for any primary in Cook County’s history. Just as with slating, there is a reliable segment of the electorate that votes based on independent evaluations of judicial candidates. Usually the percentage size of this segment reaches double digits, although in the three previous primaries it did not. In this primary, between the Chicago Bar Association’s ratings and those of the Alliance of Bar Associations, candidates who held or shared higher ratings than their opponents gained an advantage of a whopping 29 percentage points.

With one very marginal exception (Paul Joyce had one more HR rating than Michael Weaver), all twelve countywide contests were won by candidates who held or shared the highest bar ratings in their contests. And only three of the sixteen subcircuit winners had lower bar ratings than their opponents. Two of those three were in subcircuits where bar ratings have always had little or no impact (the 1st and the 14th), and the third was the Raines-Welch victory in the 4th, which was dominated by name recognition and a huge campaign fund.

To be clear, the 29 percent figure represents only about 120,000 voters, only a fraction of the number of information-using voters in the 2018 and 2020 retention elections. The high percentage is in part due simply to the low overall turnout. But what makes the figure remarkable is that it was done with no help from either of the major Chicago newspapers. The Tribune and Sun-Times both completely ignored the judicial part of the ballot, providing no endorsements of their own and not even reporting bar association ratings. This was the first time in at least a half-century (and likely much longer) that the Chicago print media offered no voter guidance in a judicial election.

In analyzing the 2018 and 2020 retention elections for FWIW I noted evidence that the Internet and smartphones seemed to be driving an increase in information-based voting on retention judges. This primary further suggests that the ease of access to websites and search engines, even while in the voting booth, is becoming an important influence on judicial voting in Cook County. Of course, this depends on voters being motivated to seek out information in the first place, but in the current climate of concern over criminal justice issues, some voters clearly have the motivation.

Finally, two bits of fine print. One is that all of the percentage figures cited above are statistical estimates with margins of error, but all except for those I indicated as uncertain are formally statistically significant. Two, the analysis does not account for campaign spending totals, which are unavailable at this time. Campaign spending can have a substantial impact on subcircuit contests and may have affected the subcircuit results discussed above, but that analysis will have to wait until the candidates’ campaign finance reports become publicly available.


Anonymous said...

Klumpp's analysis is my favorite part of the blog. I wonder if the influence of spending is bigger in '22 due to the lower turnout (and, a dollar goes farther)? Also, is the increase in reliance on ratings a trend or an anomaly? Judicial ratings are far more well-known and easily accessible now versus 10 years ago.

Albert said...

Thank you for I can renegotiate....

Spending totals won't be available until October because of the altered election day. Plenty of expenditures won't make it onto the second quarter reports because of billing cycles. You raise an interesting idea; we shall see.

Candidate ratings are definitely more accessible these days; the two most recent retention elections showed strong evidence of this. But more well-known, not so much....the bar associations in particular continue to be utterly clueless about expanding the impact of their ratings, despite the evidence on how to do so being available to them for many years. The increase we've seen recently has come entirely from the demand side, not the supply side.