Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A few thoughts on elections from the demand-side

There is, generally, a lot of room for cynicism about politics and politicians from those who are on the outside. I intend to discuss more on politics from the "supply-side", but, as with any model of a market (including the market for political leaders), there is a demand-side aspect to the selection of political leaders: voting.

One demand-side question which is quite important and all politicians must pay heed to is what makes voters support certain politicians. While my instincts say that money in politics is a supply-side issue, its apparent effect is really too big to ignore. If you look at the performance of politicians and how much their campaigns spend, it is fairly obvious that there is a strong correlation between expenditures and votes, although this might not be entirely cause and effect. After all, politicians who are most serious about getting into the legislature will put a lot of effort into all aspects of their campaign, including fundraising and spending. Furthermore, when someone donates, it is an indication of two factors: that a donor supports the candidate and they expect it to be put to good use (generally in a successful campaign).  Most candidates pretty much spend what they get, although some put their own money into their campaign. This, again, indicates how serious the candidate is that their money will not be wasted. One thing is clear: campaign spending is a good indicator of a successful campaign, for whatever reason, and generally correlates with numbers of votes cast by about 30-40%.

Leaving campaign finances aside, there are bound to be qualities that voters look for to distinguish those politicians who they are willing to support from the others. If one looks even casually at those who have become a senator on Guam, one would find that most have a college defree and a disproportionate number have post-graduate degrees. It is hard to tell whether military service makes a difference because of a small sample, but there appears to be support for those who have a history of military service. I have suspicions that there is a degree of thematic voting, where certain candidates get more support because of their association (by  profession or support for) with issues, like education, health and public safety. A considerable portion of past and current senators have administrative experience in government (usually as a director or deputy director) or managment of a private business or other organization. Most of these immediate criteria are some measure of qualifications or experience. It is difficult to think of even one senator or former senator who fails to meet even one of these measures of qualification (if a readerrthinks of one or a few, post in the comments). I would venture to suggest that the average qualifications of the slate of candidates who win are more than the average for those who are not elected/re-elected in any given election.

Another feature which the voters seem to care about is leaders who seem consistent and principled. There are very few bills or political issues that come forward on which there is serious disagreement. In the primary election, I looked at the performance of incumbent senators relative to the 2008 primary. From the story that Lee Webber told after the primary, one would think the Fantastic Five (my phrase) were chastened by voters. Quite to the contrary, everyone who seemed to have a consistent position on the military build-up and tax refunds, regardless of the side they were on, did well. The real issue appears to be whether the public thinks that a politician is holding a principled position. My instincts say that at least 4, but perhaps all 5, will be re-elected.

 So far, that is far as I am able and, therefore, willing to provide analysis of which I am fairly confident of on empirical grounds. There are further area which I intend to do initial study, including trying to include more years in my analysis (currently I've only compiled the basic data for 2006, 2008 and 2010 general elections). I have strong suspicions that the narrative involving taxes and the election for the 2008. In part, my hypothesis (which is untested, aa yet) is that the main issue with regard to taxes and voter support had more to do with a policy flip-flop than the unified opposition to the increase in the Gross Receipts Tax. As I say, I could be wrong about that, but I believe it deserves scrutiny.

As a student of politics and economics, what matters most to me in an election is the policies that are likely to result. At this stage of my inquiry, it is hard to see the connection between ideology or policy orientation and the level of support politicians receive, although I would not rule it out as a factor.

Sort-of related posts:
Guam Legislature from a labor perspective and a rallying call
Old hands, new hands and flashbulbs
Comments on the Calvo administration's 'spending cuts' and the debt ceiling
Possible response from McNinch (different topic)
Lee Webber admits why he wants a part-time legislature
Functions of the Guam Legislature
A view of Guam's Primary election

1 comment:

  1. Another nicely considered viewpoint. And more clearly analyses, explains and predicts what we can expect on election night than anything else being published in the media.