Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Historic perspective on the Gonzalez-Danielson race

UPDATE 9/29/12: A few smart folks took a close at the precinct level numbers and came up with some pretty solid evidence about race based voting patterns. I stand by my take below, but this research is much more significant and relevant to the election.

Since State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez won a full term last week, there have been questions about how Bruce Danielson -- who didn't raise or spend any money in a campaign -- was able to get more than 40 percent of the vote.

Initially mentioned by Eli Sanders, there have been claims that Gonzalez didn't get more of the vote because of racist tendencies of rural Washington voters against candidates of Hispanic background. Here are clips from Tacoma News Tribune, Seattle Times and the Everett Herald that show some of the discussion.

It may very well be true that a certain percentage of people voted against Gonzalez because they don't like minorities, but this doesn't necessarily bear out against historical context. In two other state Supreme Court races in 2000, candidates that spent no money at all got at least 38 percent of the vote.

Here is a spreadsheet that puts these three races (two in 2000 and Gonzales vs. Danielson this year) in terms of vote percentages and campaign expenditures. Just a side note, these two 2000 races were the only two when one literally unfunded candidate opposed a well funded candidate in a state Supreme Court race.

One of the 2000 races, Jim Foley lost to Tom Chambers, but received over 43 percent of the vote in the November general election.. Similar to Danielson, Foley was ranked as not qualified to serve on the bench. But, in a sort of opposite name phenomena of Gonzalez-Danielson, the scuttlebut in 2000 was that Foley did so well because voters confused him with former Spokane congressman and Speaker of the House Tom Foley:
Chambers, 57, who raised more money, $355,947, than any of the other candidates, said he at times found himself hard-pressed to compete with Foley's familiar name. 
Although he beat Foley by a wide margin, he said he wished the margin had been even greater.
"It would give me greater comfort," he said. 
When Foley ran unsuccessfully against Faith Ireland in 1998, he said he had a "million-dollar name" because voters mistakenly link it with former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley, to whom Jim Foley is not related.
Here is another Seattle Times story that discuss the dynamics of that race.

In the other race (the deciding vote took place in the September primary), Bobbe Bridge defeated a Tacoma lawyer Scott Schweiger. Like Gonzalez, Bridge has earlier been appointed and had already been serving on the court when she won. She also spent $153,000 in a race that ended months before November because she was able to knock off her only opponent in the primary. But, despite her opponent not raising or spending any campaign funds, Schweiger received 38 percent of the vote, very close to Danielson's total. This article indicates that there was little, if any, discussion at the time how Danielson finished so well against a well-funded candidate.

A significant difference between the 2000 races and Gonzalez-Danielson is the lack of a statewide voters pamphlet. It is hard to gauge the impact of the lack of this information had on voters this year, but you also can't discount information available now more readily available from the internet and from newspapers.

What we should be able to take from this information is that there seems to be a floor that literally unfunded state Supreme Court candidates won't fall below. And, Danielson performed within the normal range of similar candidates in recent years.


Charlie said...

I am discouraged by this line of suggestion. Judge Gonzalez worked hard and won on merit. A 60+/sub 40 win is a huge margin in any election.

Where Judge Gonzalez did the best - King County - he has run before, so he had certain advantage in this largest metropolitan county. Yes, his opponent had run in a small county. But other than those, neither of these candidates have appeared on a statewide ballot before, so they both started almost from scratch in terms of statewide familiarity, especially for a race down the ballot. Spending $240k in a statewide election cycle doesn't go as far as you'd think in voter outreach.

Must we imagine racism is around every corner? Justice Gonzalez has earned our congratulations and simple respect for winning, and does not deserve his victory being clouded with convoluted controversy.

Sometimes a great win is just a great win.

Emmett said...

Hi Charlie,

Taking a much closer look at the data (http://olywa.blogspot.com/2012/09/a-data-based-perspective-on-racism-in.html) I tend to agree with the initial outrage.