Abdul El-Sayed can Win
Swing voters: love 'em or hate 'em, the more you have, the more you'll win... Right?
Forget everything you learned in high school civics. America's systemic voting issues of low turnout, high corruption, and near-zero political efficacy stem from a disbelief in the very democratic system that made us unique 230 years ago. Surely, millions of dollars indirectly control our political system, but even directly, only a minority participate in voting every year. These voters, often a part of the managerial class, are disproportionately white and wealthy.
Who doesn't vote
It's really not so difficult to study or understand. An in-depth survey performed by Pew in 2006 discussed some of the reasons why people don't vote, simultaneously suggesting new ways to think about electoral politics in America.
The strongest demographic differences here are class and age. While 45% of all adults fall in the latter two columns (rarely and never voting), 65% of 18-29 year-olds do and around 53-54% of lower income workers do as well. Those who identify as black vote less than whites, but not by much; Hispanics, on the other hand, vote much less.
Why people don't vote
This part is the most crucial. Instead of identifying and targeting people we deem swing voters, who likely constitute less than 5% of the population, it's way easier and more effective to target the 50%+ voters who won't vote in this election cycle. To arrive at this conclusion, let's see why they don't vote.
The first three important and actionable reasons why people don't vote are highlighted above: a voter is angry with the government, isn't affected by electoral politics, or thinks that voting doesn't change things. Ironically, many of these are legitimate statements: government most often aligns with corporate interests and thus doesn't represent you, there aren't many radical changes being offered to change your life, and your vote is relatively meaningless if it's wasted on a mainstream candidate from either party.
However, El-Sayed's campaign targets these three issues entirely: he doesn't take corporate donations, offering a funding structure that is guaranteed to be accountable to the voters. He proposes new, bold, and invigorating policy that can finally change lives, while offering so much that he beats the cost-benefit analysis that many voters use.
The last two items are purely cost-benefit related. As I wrote in another post breaking down a Target-Insyght poll, voters are forced to make a mathematical calculation about voting in which they ask themselves: "Is it worth the drive, waiting in line, taking the day off work, and potentially having my vote thrown out to elect these candidates?" For potential El-Sayed voters, the answer is certainly yes. The cost-benefit of voting to get him elected satisfies these two complaints because of what he's promised. The most successful campaign will be the one that targets these potential voters and turns them out, not the ones that appeal to the most voters that vote regularly.
My best advice for a Michigan campaign would be to avoid spending millions in TV and online advertising that only says "It's time to fix the damn roads."
The problem with polling is that pollsters don't even attempt to reach the people mentioned above. They often target "likely voters," and in a primary, that label is mostly meaningless due to the unreliability of knowing someone will vote. These polls often have less than 600 participants and exclude independents, which constituted 27% of Democratic primary voters in the 2016 Michigan primary.
The race has quickly shaped up to feature another Sanders vs. Clinton-style showdown between Whitmer and El-Sayed. Sanders' endorsement of El-Sayed yesterday will surely help. Let's dive into some polls and identify their problems.
Poll from Gleingariff group
To start, this poll is from April, so the results shouldn't be taken to mean much anymore. The reason I wanted to analyze this poll is because it asked many additional questions about demographics that presumably apply to every poll up until April and afterward.
1) El-Sayed's name ID is virtually the same as Whitmer's in April. However, the amount of people that had "no opinion" of him was drastically higher than hers. The participants have heard of El-Sayed, but maybe only once or twice.
This changed radically after April. El-Sayed's campaign saw many more features, promotions, and much more exposure since then. Admittedly unscientific snap polls showed he outperformed both Whitmer and Thanedar in debates. All things considered, El-Sayed certainly had the most momentum since April, and considered along with the terrible polling underrepresenting young liberals, he might actually be in the lead.
2) Gleingariff's poll asked many questions, which is good for determining the demographics that polls like this end up with. One of these questions asked the participant to self-identify as a moderate or liberal Democrat.
The results, as shown above, include 56% moderates and 35% liberals. In the 2016 Michigan Democratic primary, the only comparable vote, the numbers were virtually flipped, with 57% of voters identifying as liberals and 33% identifying as moderates.
3) The poll also asked for the age groups of those who participated.
I shouldn't have to point out how idiotic this is, but 18-39 year olds made up 36% of the 2016 primary's voters (in Gleingariff's poll it's 11.8%). Ages 50+ made up 47% of the voters while this poll gives them 69.8% of the voting share.
4) The poll used 60% landlines and 40% cell phones, which spells a problem for contacting younger and poorer folks. More on this later.
Poll from Emerson College
Emerson college releases a transparency report as well as some raw data with every poll they conduct to inform readers.
This poll was conducted about equally through opt-in surveys and landline phone calls. It baffles me that a professional pollster can use opt-in surveys and still maintain its credibility. Opt-in surveys literally come from the apps that you specifically download to take surveys. They often pay people to take surveys. This self-selects and wildly skews data.
All of the phone calls made were taken from landlines. A recent report on landline usage showed that "61.7% of adults 18-24 live in wireless only homes, while 72.7% of adults 25-29 and 71.0% of adults 30-34 live in wireless only homes." Only 54% of all homes in general lack a landline
"Adults living in poverty (66.3%) and near poverty (59.0%) were more likely than higher income adults (48.5%) to be living in households with only wireless telephones."
Surprise surprise, wealthy people vote more conservatively. This, in addition to awkward selection methods, exclusion of POC from polls, and the fact that millennials virtually never answer phone calls from unknown callers dismantles the data as practically useless. Polls like these should really be titled, "Likely Democratic primary voters who have landlines." Extrapolating a poll with this title to the rest of the state would be patently absurd, but that's what everyone's doing.
Additionally, the voter files that Emerson used were from Aristotle LLC, a political consulting agency. In order to be on file with them, you must have voted previously, which seriously reduces the amount of young people and first time voters which makes the poll more conservative.
Don't take this as scientific, but El-Sayed's website is much more popular than Whitmer's. I haven't seen anyone take this into account, so I ran the websites through two analytics programs. Thanedar's website is basically off the map.
El-Sayed's website has much more organic search traffic and backlinks. A backlink occurs when someone gets to the website via another website (presumably a news organization or social media).
Another analysis confirmed these disparate results. El-Sayed's website received nearly 73,000 total visits. Whitmer's website isn't visited enough to be calculated, but it does have a rank shown at the top which is well below El-Sayed's website.
El-Sayed currently beats out Whitmer in Facebook likes (64,000 to 57,000) and in Twitter followers (41,000 to 24,200). Bernie Sanders' endorsement from yesterday will elevate these numbers tremendously in the next two weeks.
Now that nothing makes sense, what will happen?
I truly don't know who will win the primary. Honestly, it depends how many votes Thanedar can steal from El-Sayed by spending his small fortune on TV advertisements. El-Sayed has a real shot at this race, and there's a good chance he's already ahead of Whitmer following the Sanders endorsement. There's probably no accurate way to poll this Michigan governor's race; we'll just have to wait and see, and in the meantime, vote!