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Thursday, November 7, 2013
Results from My Unscientific Election Day Poll

And a few thoughts, mostly related.

We're surrounded by opinion polls and people telling us what they mean. A lot of them are created to tell us what someone wants us to believe. In any case, it's very important to evaluate a poll and its results not only in terms of what it says, but in terms of what it doesn't say. What do the numbers mean? is only half the question. The other half is, you guessed it, What don't they mean?

On Election Day, which I admit is rather late to be thinking of such things, I decided to put out a short online opinion poll for American Fork voters. I knew I wouldn't have a properly scientific, random sample which might be useful for predicting results. What I really wanted was to see why people voted as they did, and what information sources they would identify as having the greatest influence on their decisions.

Thanks to all 65 people who responded; that's about 1.6 percent of the voters who voted. Special thanks to Danny Crivello, Rod Martin, and any others who promoted the poll to their Facebook friends.

This brings me to my next disclaimers, and they're important. The fact that it was an online poll skews answers about influential information sources toward the Internet. The fact that I advertised it mostly through social media increases this distortion. And, much as I tried to pull in plenty of people who disagreed with my votes, you'll see that the results are predictably skewed toward those of my readers and Facebook friends.

Not a Scientific Sample

Just to prove that I wasn't kidding about the unscientific sample . . .

  • Respondents had Mayor Hadfield winning 79 to 17 percent; the actual margin was less than 8 percent.
  • Respondents had Craig Nielsen roughly doubling Jeffrey Shorter's votes, and Shorter roughly doubling Carlton Bowen's. The actual results were quite close, with Bowen finishing first, Shorter second, and Bowen third.
  • Respondents voted for the road bond issue about 72 to 28 percent -- almost exactly the reverse of the actual result.

I never put any stock in these results as a predictor. If they had tracked closely with the actual results, I still would have thought that a coincidence, not a triumph of last-minute poll design. But I had to ask people how they voted to provide context for their answers about why they voted as they did.

The Races

Now for the interesting part -- at least, interesting if you're into this sort of thing.

In the mayoral race:

  • Voters who favored Mayor Hadfield cited his character, competence, experience, mastery of infrastructure, and what they saw as a favorable track record. Even some who said they aren't pleased with the general direction of the City said they chose him because he seemed to be the better leader of the two.
  • Numerous Hadfield voters questioned Bill Thresher's qualifications, preparation, and experience. (This is no surprise. Some of them met him, and in any case I encouraged this view in my writings before the election.)
  • Voters who favored Bill Thresher didn't like the City being in debt and think change is needed. Their explanations describe protest votes more than positive support of the challenger. One voter even explained that he or she voted this way as a protest, not out of conviction that the challenger was good. (However, bear in mind that the sample here is small and very skewed.)

In the city council race:

  • Voters who favored one or both challengers expressed anti-incumbent sentiments or wanted change. Some cited opposition to debt or the road bond specifically.
  • Craig Nielsen's supporters found him intelligent, sensible, honest, and practical. They found the challengers poorly informed, too far right, impractical, detached from reality, and susceptible to innuendo. (Again we see clearly that my readers were overrepresented in the poll.)
  • About one-fourth of respondents voted for Nielsen, but didn't cast a second vote. Some who did cast that second vote chose Jeffrey Shorter, thinking he might be more likely than Bowen to learn and grow into the role.
  • Three reported casting write-in votes for Heidi Rodeback (known here at the blog as MFCC). (These votes were not officially counted or reported, because she did not file as a write-in candidate at least 60 days before the election.)
  • One respondent voted for Nielsen and asked, "How much longer until Dale Gunther returns from his mission?"

The Road Bond

As to the proposed road bond issue:

  • Several opponents mistakenly asserted that it was for ongoing maintenance, not one-time reconstruction, and they oppose borrowing for ongoing maintenance (as do I). Several said borrowing was just an easy way out. Some thought $20 million too much for 15.4 miles of rebuilt roads (suggesting that they have not studied the actual costs). Several incorrectly blamed the current council and mayor, rather than their predecessors, for the drastic cuts in road maintenance budgets which began in the 1990s. One blamed it on "bad installation of utilities."
  • Supporters believed the bond issue to be the most economical approach, cited the economic and other advantages of fixing more roads sooner, and expressed reluctance to keep kicking the can down the road.

My conclusion here, with respect to the road bond's resounding defeat, is that misinformation ruled the day.

Influential Information Sources

To me the most interesting question was the last one, asking which sources of information were influential. But I'm not sure what I learned. Here are some notes:

  • Informational meetings and personal contacts with candidates and officials were often mentioned.
  • Most respondents cited multiple sources.
  • Fliers and mailings were mentioned far less than online sources. The newspaper fared well, in print and online. (Remember what I said earlier; the nature of the poll skewed results toward online sources.) This blog, other blogs, Facebook pages and statuses, the City's web sites, and pro- and anti-bond sites were all mentioned frequently.
  • Consultation with friends, neighbors, and family members who are attentive to City government were important.
  • Common sense and observing the City over a period of years also were mentioned.

If there are conclusions to be drawn from these responses to the last question, perhaps they are these: Paper is still relevant. Online sources are tremendously important. The ground game -- personal contacts -- is still crucial, and trusted friends and neighbors play a prominent role.

While We're at It, Some Web Analytics

Looking not at the poll, now, but at some web analytics related to LocalCommentary.com, I see the following:

  • Voters in about 400 households read at least one of my blog posts about candidates or the road bond. These households represent about 800 voters, almost three times the margin of victory in the mayoral race. I'm not claiming credit for Mayor Hadfield's victory. But it's possible that I helped a little.
  • Google searches for Bill Thresher dramatically outnumbered searches for Mayor Hadfield. (This is not suprising; Thresher is less known.) A high percentage of people who searched for Thresher clicked through to this blog, where he didn't fare well. Note to future candidates: Make sure opponents are not the only people putting significant content about you on the web.
  • Dozens of people listened to at least one of the audio segments I posted from meet-the-candidates events. This is more than I expected. I thought it might be less than ten, but I was still willing to go to the trouble, because people who do that sort of thing tend to be opinion leaders in their circles and neighborhoods, so the impact is multiplied.

Final Notes

Hundreds of people read my notes and commentary on the candidates, the road bond, or both. (Thanks!) Some printed them out and handed them to friends, neighbors, or family members who don't lurk on the Internet. (Thanks!) Most of my traffic came through Facebook; I conclude that blog posts not promoted in social media draw little traffic, at least in my little world. I also conclude that a lot of voters and residents want more information and opinion than they're getting about local issues. I realize this conclusion is self-serving. So is the next one.

Having observed my efforts to inform and persuade the voters in this election, a friend looked at the results and asked me late Tuesday evening, "Do you feel insignicant?" In truth, I never felt myself very significant, but one does what one can. This suggests a follow-up question: Do I feel as if all the time and effort I invested, mostly in losing causes, was in vain?

No. I'm a little cranky with the voters right now, and two of three votes didn't go my way, and my property taxes should be going up a lot more next year than they would have, if the road bond issue had passed. But there are a lot voters out there (not enough yet) who understand roads, bonding, their local government, etc., better than they did a month ago. This is knowledge that will be useful in the long term and will generally tend toward good government. Besides that, a lot of my readers have gone out of their way to thank me very kindly for my small part of the picture.

So what do we do in (partial) defeat? We lick our wounds, learn what we can, and jump back into the fray. Or, if we're your friendly local blogger, we do that and also compose a blog post about it, which is coming soon.

Except for the wound-licking. I don't know how to put that in a blog post, and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want to see or read about it anyway.

Thanks for reading, everybody. Thanks for all the thanks. You're welcome.

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