Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Brain is Hurting!

It's been about a month since the election now, and I've had some time to sit down and really digest some of the details about what happened. Something didn't seem quite right when I first looked at the returns, but I wanted to wait a while until the numbers became a bit more firm. After looking at the still-unofficial 2006 returns on the State's website, I find a paradox that my brain simply can't begin to fathom. It looks like a decent number of people -- possibly as many as 60,000 or so -- voted for the victorious Ed Rendell as Governor, and yet then turned around and voted for the enormously unpopular Rick Santorum as U.S. Senator.

How in the hell can those two choices co-exist within the brain of any one person? It's like matter and anti-matter, for crying out loud!

Here are the numbers as they stand now. Voting in the governor's race was, for whatever reason, slightly more popular than casting a vote for the U.S. Senate. A total of 15,836 more votes were cast in the gubernatorial election than in the senate race. So, even if disdain for Republicans affected both Santorum and Lynn Swann equally, one would have expected Swann to receive a few more votes than Santorum, simply because Swann's contest with Ed Rendell attracted a larger number of voters.

But it didn't happen that way. Both of the Republicans lost big, but Rick Santorum still managed to secure 60,972 more votes than Lynn Swann. That's not a huge number, by any means; it amounts to all of 1.5% of the votes cast for governor. Moreover, there's no way to do a true cross-tabulation of individual voters across the two races; some of this difference will stem from voters who cast ballots in one race but not in the other. But even when one makes some allowances for that, it still looks like between 50 and 60 thousand people split their vote between Rendell and Santorum.

I really don't get it. If Ed Rendell is your man in Harrisburg, that's fine. You think he's great, you agree with most of his policies, and you like want him to be governor for four more years. So how do you then turn around and vote for Rick Santorum, who is about as non-Rendell as anyone can be? On the other side of the coin, if you were happy with Santorum, were down with his family values, and wanted to see him return to the U.S. Senate, that's O.K. too. That's why we have elections, so that you can express your choice. But how can you possibly square your support of Rick Santorum with the policies and behavior of Ed Rendell. It just doesn't make sense!

After thinking about it for a while now, I can come up with only three explanations for these numbers, two of which absolutely sicken me.

The one non-disgusting (but still kind of disturbing) explanation centers on Republican voters in and around Philadelphia. Ed Rendell has a (mostly) solid reputation in that part of the state as someone who did a fairly good job as Philly's mayor. But Bob Casey isn't from around there, and thus didn't enjoy the same degree of regional support. So maybe there really were people who consciously cast their votes both Santorum (because they usually vote for the Republican) and Rendell (because he's from their area and has a good regional reputation). These kinds of votes are at least partially understandable, even if they are glaringly illogical when you consider the completely contrary policy positions of their two selected candidates.

The second explanation is simply the raw power of incumbency. Name recognition can carry a great deal of weight with those voters who know almost nothing else about the candidates. The only odd thing here is that the voters here had to go out of their way to cast a Rendell-Santorum split ticket. Unlike party-line voters, they couldn't just push one big "Incumbent" button on the voting machine, and instead had to drill down a bit into the individual races to vote this way. That's not the way that I would normally expect uniformed voters to behave, since most of them take the path of least resistance and vote a straight party line. But there probably were a small number of them.

The third, most disturbing, and least-discussed explanation for this particular voting patterns is (of course) simple racism. Although some mean-spirited folks have tried to claim otherwise, the fact remains is that Lynn Swann is black. I have no doubt at all that there are voters out there -- Republicans in this case, but they exist in the Democratic party as well -- who simply couldn't ever bring themselves to cast a vote for a black man. If racism is behind some of these votes, it must be an especially virulent and vile strain. After all, it caused these particular voters to completely abandon any semblance of logic and select the polar opposites of Ed Rendell and Rick Santorum.

In the end, all three of these explanations played some role in creating this small number of Rendell-Santorum voters. There may even be some reasons that I haven't come up with, such as confusion when using the new touch-screen machines. But I keep coming back to racism as the most viable explanation. I truly hope that racism wasn't the prime mover driving this particular voting pattern, and yet I fear that it was behind a good deal of it.


Mark said...

Change avoidance.

The people in in your problem are the people in PA that voted for the one in the office now. Keep Rendell. Keep Santorum.

That was #2 in your list.

Issues matter to some, and that is a few. People vote the party. Some just vote for the guy that they known. They guy in office is known. He's the devil you know. He's the one who showed up to do something in the past, perhaps with a big cardboard check.

Some are sure to vote for those in power are already. They have been purchased and on a string that is understood. The union folks HATE to support an unknown and need to wine and dine all over again from scratch.

There is an experience factor. Santorum had seniority. It did count for some. Perhaps 20% of your problem.

Finally, there is the balance of power. When Rendell became governor, we elected MORE Rs to the PA HOUSE and SENATE. When the Executive is of one party, there is always a bump in the other party to keep some sense of balance. Rendell was an easy choice as we had Rs in PA House and PA Senate. Santorum was out because we had a R in the White House.

I predict that the Ds will take a beating in 2008 in state legislative races (PA House & PA Senate). That will be the year of major third party break-outs.

Richmond K. Turner said...

I would love to see some third-party action. Heck, I would love to just see them make it onto the ballot, even if they attract only 10% or so of the vote like Titus North (Green Party) did against Mike Doyle a few weeks ago.

Just give me anything other than unopposed incumbents!

I deeply appreciate your comments, and you have made me feel a bit better about the pattern I wrote about. Even if there is no racism involved, however, and even if this was caused 100% by the advantages of incumbent name recognition, I am still discouraged.

I will grant that most people aren't deeply invested in the issues, but this is a pretty drastic disparity for even the dimmest of minds to ignore. I mean, it was Santorum and Rendell... complete polar opposites. For "change avoidance" to explain the results in these particular races, it would require near total ignorance of any single thing that either candidate stood for.

Total ignorance of everything except fo the candidates name is pretty discouraging. It's better than racism, but only by a little bit.

Again, thanks for your comments.

Mark Rauterkus said...

But the candidate is more than just a name and an suite of issues -- and in this case skin color too.

The ones who are only into a bit of name I.D. are the 48% who just don't vote. They didn't show up.

Perhaps too, the racist folks. I have a hunch (thinking positive) that they are limited to only the did not vote part of the population.

Candidates have names, parties, issues, and PAST DEEDS. Plus there is a whole slew of relationships that they draw upon. How does your mom vote, or your brother, or your neighbor, or your steward??? Who did you meet at the banquet two years ago? Who sent you a Christmas card or investigated some V.A. (veterans) matter?

The ones in office have a lot of power because they've met a lot of people over the years. And really, those people know people.

Bad public policies are easy to overcome in the minds of the voters because you mingled and purchased ice cream one day at the senior center.

That's what Tom Murphy did.

Jonathan Potts said...

I don't think this explains what happened, but you may recall that in August, Rendell said that while he would campaign for Casey, he would not campaign against Santorum, because "When it comes to Pennsylvania, Santorum delivers."


He quickly had to backtrack.

Rendell had to quickly backtrack.

Richmond K. Turner said...

I read your post Jonathan, and I wished I had been blogging back in September to have written a few things about it myself. Of course, Rendell didn't really need to actively attack Santorum, since Santorum was already being attacked by just about everyone else.

While I can't say that I'm sorry to see Mr. Santorum go, I am somewhat wary that we really never knew much about Mr. Casey. In our haste to get rid of Rick, we didn't demand to know much about the alternative.