Monday, May 24, 2010

IPOPA Gets A+ for Political Analysis of Effect Name and Gender Has on Voting Results

Over at Indianapolis Painfully Objective Political Analysis, blogger Chris Worden has written at least three articles now discussing the political impact a person's name and gender has on voting results. Worden's analysis which he refers to as "name combat" is spot on. Let me summarize and discuss.

Worden correctly observes that people will often vote in races even though they know little if anything about the candidates. He's absolutely correct. That's one thing that is hard to get across to candidates. They get so wrapped up in their race and the issues, they become convinvced that on Election Day voters are casting a ballot based on information they've received about their race. As Worden points out the real reasons that influence decisions are often much more superficial.

In a "list" type race, particularly one that is low profile, women enjoy a huge advantage. Worden examines some state convention delegate races in Hamilton County to prove his point about gender voting:

3097 - 9.36% - Mary Ann Mckenna
2963 - 8.95% - Nancy Funk
2876 - 8.69% - Trish Whitcomb
2869 - 8.67% - Janet Rummel
2725 - 8.23% - Bonnie J. Kennelly
2681 - 8.10% - Rita D. Richard
2527 - 7.63% - Christopher A. Brown
2428 - 7.33% - Christian K. Renner
2344 - 7.08% - William A. "Bill" Latham
2289 - 6.91% - Alan D. Albright
2125 - 6.42% - Keith Clock
2092 - 6.32% - James Steven Bohner
2089 - 6.31% - David Snead


1141 - 6.54% - Judy S. Goldblatt
1126 - 6.46% - Josephine E. "Jo" Latham
1118 - 6.41% - Mary Russell
1111 - 6.37% - Kathryn M. Raymore
1070 - 6.16% - Felicia D. Brown
1068 - 6.12% - Sonya P. Wendel
1062 - 6.09% - Caitlin C. Intermill
1047 - 6.00% - Monique D. Wise
1018 - 5.84% - Deborah Hejl
1015 - 5.82% - Tom Mckenna
907 - 5.20% - Patricia M. Toschlog
814 - 4.67% - Henry Winckler
803 - 4.60% - Cary A. Hudson
786 - 4.51% - Keith D. Boland
702 - 4.03% - Douglas M. Kinser
698 - 4.00% - Myron K. Richardson
674 - 3.87% - James W. Rosensteele
654 - 3.75% - Tom Decoster
620 - 3.56% - Edwin E. Russell

It's really hard for men to beat out women in these type of races. So many voters go into the voting booth, not knowing anyone, but of the belief that there needs to be more women in elected office. So they look for female names. I would have loved though to see one of those women use a hyphenated name and see if it might pull down her numbers. Which leads to my next topic, the name.

As Worden notes, if you have a foreign sounding name, that could spell your political demise. In his second installment on "name combat", Worden talks about how 6th District voters picked
Tim Crawford over Nasser Hanna, who overwhelming had the support of Republican officials inthe district. This is not unprecedented in that district. Worden talks about the other example 12 years ago where an "American-sounding" name had an advantage:

What I find most tragic about last Tuesday is that in 1998, Bobby Hidalgo Kern, a man who was convicted of forgery and who would periodically impersonate a female judge he admired, won the Democratic Party primary for what was then Indiana’s 6th Congressional District.


Kern’s opponent was R. “Nag” Nagarajan. Need I say more? Why do that when I can just quote the 6th District Chair at the time, Allan Raches:

Nag is a fine candidate, but his name conjures up some Middle East monster for voters, I guess.”

The then-6th, now 5th District of Indiana hasn’t progressed in the past decade, and it’s a shame that should hang over the entire party until we address it.
I think Worden is a little too hard on these voters. I doubt many of them knew Nasser Hanna's qualifications and ignored them because of his name. Rather more likely it was voters who knew absolutely nothing about the candidates but their name - so they picked the one "most American sounding." I think that voting pattern is as much an indictment of ignorance as xenophobia and/or racism.

In his first post on the subject of "name combat", Worden articulated some theorem about the phenomena:

(1) Many people will vote for an office, even if they know nothing about the candidates. People like to "finish" things, and moreover, to not vote is an admission we didn't do our homework as good citizens. Accordingly, many people (probably myself included) will rationalize and tell ourselves, "Well, of course, we have enough information to vote. I heard about that candidate from my best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend who heard it from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors."

(2) On a completely partisan (primary) or non-partisan (school board) ballot, the people identified in #1 will vote using the following principles:

(a) If a woman runs against a woman, the one with the name that is either more familiar or "cool" without being too "weird" will almost always prevail over any woman with a funny-sounded, overly exotic, or "foreign" sounding name.

(b) If a woman runs against a man, she will prevail over a man, provided they share equally-familiar names. This is because women constitute a higher percentage of the population already, plus they're more likely to follow gender identity as a voting prompt. However, if the woman's name is too "out there," even some women will break for the man.

(c) If a man runs against a man, apply Rule A.

I have a corollary about nicknames in parentheses, which is that candidates will either be rewarded or punished, depending on whether the nickname is deemed more folksy and charming or more embarrassing by the constituents.
I think these conclusions about voting trends, in particular in more low profile races, are dead on accurate. While political strategists focus a lot on ballot placement (Indiana uses alphabetical order), the effect of female voting and common name voting is even more pronounced. In my school board race, I finished sixth out of 13, behind three women, a man who is school board candidate, and a male candidate who worked non-stop for months, knocking on thousands of doors. With one exception, men occupied the 6-13 positions. A woman who finished third in the race (and thus was elected) was Yvette White, a candidate who had barely campaigned and who seemed to come out of nowhere to beat out a male candidate, Eric Huffine, who had worked his tail off for months. Certainly being a woman and having a common name helped her. Possibly too did the similarity of her name with Beth White, the Marion County Clerk.

There is a saying that watching how our legislature makes laws is like watching sausage be don't want to watch it. However, if you want to really be bothered by an aspect of democracy, talk to voters sometime about how they decided to vote in races where they really didn't know the candidates. It's frightening.


Cato said...

So, women are sexist, while excoriating men for being sexist.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Cato, are you claiming women have a double standard? Surely you jest.

All kidding aside, I wouldn't assume it's just women voting for other women as candidates. There are probably men who do it too.

Marycatherine Barton said...

And if the STAR doublecrosses you, and fails to cover your campaign, or even let the public know that that you are up for reelection, and your opponent is slated and heavily backed by the money of the party, then your chances are severely diminished, especially if the RECORDER runs a surprise hit piece against you, full of deliberate lies and unfounded innuendoes, for which it won't retract or print a response. Yes, the political process in Marion County, STINKS to high heaven.