Thursday, 4. November 2010 22:28
I gave some comments on the upcoming runnoff election between the current mayor, Tyron Williamson (38%) and Bill Eaton (27%) to the Courier. Their article on the runoff is here. I spoke with the reporter over the phone, but I’d say she did a fair job of distilling my points on the runoff:
Dr. Donald Gooch, assistant professor of political science at Arkansas Tech, said there are elements that favor both Eaton and Williamson and it is impossible to predict what will happen in the runoff election.
Gooch added it is possible voters might take into consideration that all but two members of the city council will be new next year.
“You lose some of your institutional memory and lose some of your institutional expertise anytime you do a wholesale replacement of the government,” Gooch said. “If Williamson wins, that’s mitigated because he has the experience.”
The flip-side, however, is that runoffs are often considered bad for incumbents, Gooch said. He said the principle behind that assumption is if people wanted to keep the current administration, they would have voted for the incumbent to start with.
Gooch also said one must keep in mind a runoff election draws a different set of voters than the general election. Because district and state offices are no longer a factor, Gooch said the electorate is going to be a lot smaller.
“Neither of the candidates can be feeling comfortable (going into the runoff),” Gooch said.
My point with respect to institutional memory was more an observation of the fact you lose some expertise/memory with the loss of currently serving members of a government…particularly a wholesale replacement. This could influence voters, but I’m not sure whether any significant number of the voters in the electorate would take that into account when they vote in the runoff.
As to incumbents and runoffs, I did make one point that didn’t make it into the story. The reason I’d argue the incumbent may be in trouble here is the fact that there were 4 candidates and that, while he won a plurality between the 4 with a healthy margin, there are alot of votes for those other 2 candidates (about 30%) which could easily overcome his lead. So if they break 2 to 1 against him, he’ll see that lead disappear.
The final point I’m quoted on is spot on. Neither can feel comfortable, because we have no idea what the complete ranking ordering of the candidate preferences was in the election. We only know who their first choice was in the 4 candidate election. It’s possible that either Williamson or Eaton are the primary second choice of the other 2 candidate’s voters.
Of course, even if we did know, there still would be a great deal of uncertainty. Mostly because we have no idea what the composition of the runoff electorate will be. All I can say with certainty is that it will be significantly smaller than that which showed up on Nov. 2nd.
All of that to rhetorically shrug my shoulders and say, “Dunno!” But that’s the honest answer. Local elections are extremely difficult to predict for exactly these reasons. Multiple candidates, small N elections, absence of well-defined partisanship/ideology in the candidates, and inconsistent partisan/ideological voting in the local election electorate.
Your guess is as good as mine. But if I had to pick, I’d probably guess that, if the turnout is comparable to that of the general, the incumbent pulls it out as the percentages would stay roughly the same. However, in a small-n turnout race, I’d go with the challenger. The incumbent won’t earn votes above his general election percentage, but the challenger certainly can. Best guess: Williamson 56, Eaton 42 in a big turnout, Williamson 48%, Eaton 52% in a low-turnout election.