September 20, 2009 in City

Study finds early campaigner catches the older voter

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Note to candidates and campaign managers: If you’re going after voters in the upcoming election, you may want to target seniors early and hit the Gen Ys after Halloween. At least in Spokane County.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new study by Eastern Washington University’s Kevin Pirch, who analyzed last year’s voting patterns and found some things that go against conventional wisdom.

“I was kind of surprised,” said Pirch, an assistant professor in the government department. “I kind of assumed older voters would hold on to their ballots longer.”

Campaign managers clearly assume the same thing. That explains why the weekend before Election Day, the “Vote for Me” spots crowd out the pharmaceutical pitches for osteoporosis and indigestion cures on the nightly news and the Sunday talking-head shows, watched mainly by oldsters.

Pirch’s research suggests most senior voters had already cast their votes by then. He looked at when ballot envelopes’ bar codes were scanned by Spokane County elections and matched that up with birth dates and precinct results. It was the younger voters who were holding on to their ballots until close to Election Day.

The research also showed that areas which are strongly Democratic or strongly Republican – based on strong margins for those parties’ candidates in the presidential and gubernatorial races – tended to vote early. Those that trended toward tossup – say a majority for Barack Obama but Republican Dino Rossi, or John McCain but Democrat Chris Gregoire – tended to vote closer to Election Day.

Because of vote-by-mail, the concept of an “Election Day” is probably as relevant as an 8-track tape. There is no 12-hour period where everyone but the excused absentees trundle down to the precinct house and mark a ballot.

But newly registered voters might have wanted to catch a part of that community feeling and decided to vote on or near Nov. 4, Pirch suggested. Older voters, who may have a strong sense of voting as a patriotic duty, might have been reluctant to let the mailed ballot sit around on the desk or kitchen table, so they were more inclined to mark them and mail them quickly.

One study in one county is not conclusive, and Pirch plans to do more research. But campaign managers looking at the results might consider the results as they target their ads, he said: “Get older voters first. Grab younger voters closer to Election Day.”

Calendar notes

Don’t start a war, but feel free to speak your mind – in Spanish, if able. Toast the season with something that leaves your head clear. That’s because tomorrow is Peace Day. This is also Constitution Week and Alcohol and Addiction Recovery Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month.

We know this because of last week’s proclamations from the Spokane mayor’s office noting calendar honorifics. Constituents of good character ask the mayor’s office for a little recognition, and decades of mayors have been happy to comply. Proclamations are read each Monday evening before the City Council gets down to the serious business of explaining how each councilmember spent the previous week in neighborhood meetings, pancake feeds and rubber-chicken lunches.

Proclamations are not a bad thing. It’s just hard to know how to judge the relative import of these events based on time alloted. Is alcohol recovery more important than the Constitution, because it gets 30 days and “We the People…” gets seven? Is peace getting the short shrift on the calendar, just as it is around the globe?

By the way, National Punctuation Day is Thursday. No proclamation yet, but send someone you love an exclamation point, anyway.

Speaking of the Constitution

Tea Party organizations in Spokane and North Idaho had rallies last week on Constitution Day – the first day of Constitution Week – to air their displeasure with government. OK, so some group is always unhappy with government; it’s the American way.

But sometimes, government does its best to fan the flames. Take last Monday when City Council President Joe Shogan introduced the public forum with an explanation of procedures to an audience that included newcomers who had come to complain about an apparent crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries.

They had the right to talk, Shogan said. But members of the council aren’t obligated to listen, and may not listen at all or even consider what speakers say. How’s that for instilling warm feelings about one’s elected officials?

Spin Control also appears at www.spokesman.com/blogs/spincontrol with daily posts, video and reader comments.


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