Did Strategic Voting Take Down Nickels?

In the last few weeks before the August 18 primary election a meme sprouted that Nickels supporters should consider voting for McGinn because a Nickels/McGinn race would lead to a more progressive debate in the general election.  There was also talk among some Nickels supporters that voting for McGinn could be a good strategic move because it would be easier for Nickels to beat McGinn than Mallahan in the general election.  Of course in both cases, the operative assumption was that Nickels would make it through the primary easily.

Is it possible that there were enough of these strategic votes cast to tip the election away from Nickels to McGinn?

There are 379,721 registered voters in Seattle. Turnout projections are 33 percent, which means about 125,000 ballots were cast.  Assuming Nickels ends up at 26 percent, that’s 33,000 votes.   Nickels is currently behind McGinn by about 1200 votes, but lets make a guess that he finishes down 1500.   That 1500 is equivalent to four and a half percent of the estimated 33,000 votes he received.  But then we also must factor in that every Nickels supporter who switched to McGinn increased the split by two votes.  Which means 750 strategic voters would generate a 1500 vote split between McGinn and Nickels.  And that 750 is only about two percent of the estimated 33,000 Nickels voters.

By this back-of-the-envelope calculation, if one out of 43 Nickels supporters made a strategic vote for McGinn, it cost Nickels the election.   Possible?

My intial gut reaction is no.  On the other hand, I heard several politically sophisticated Nickels supporters talk about how they were seriously contemplating voting for McGinn.

There is no way to quantitatively verify this one way or the other, but perhaps we could learn something anecdotally.  What about it people?  Anyone out there willing to admit they did it?  Anyone know others who did it (no need to name names)?  Anyone care to venture a guess at how many may have done it?

20 Responses to “Did Strategic Voting Take Down Nickels?”

  1. Tony the Economist

    Well, I am a McGinn supporter, so I can’t really say I voted strategically, but I will confess to using that argument in an attempt to persuade a number of fence sitters. I also know of at least one person who told me that he did vote strategically for McGinn, though he was fairly torn between the two and was unsure which he would ultimately support in the general if both McGinn and Nickels made it through.

    I also know of a number of McGinn supporters who never thought he would actually make it through the primary and were more than ready to back Nickels in the general if McGinn didn’t make it through.

    I would say no one expected this to be a McGinn / Mallahan race, and there are at least a few folks who are like the proverbial dog who actually caught the car, thinking, “What now?”

  2. Dave B

    I have a sneaking suspicion that some of those outward Nickels supporters (I’m looking at you Publicola and Cascade Club) secretly went and voted their conscious, supporting McGinn.

  3. Kathryn

    Tour article, or that kind of thinking makes no sense to me. I think it was people who like the Mayor’s politics, maybe object to some of his decisions, and likely onject to his style, but basically agree with his POV .

    Lesson learned a long time ago. Vote for who you would choose in the general. Only have a second choice in case they do not make it.

    Now the only ’strategic’ thinking worth doing is to choose someone who is likely to make it past the primary, if all other things are equal.

  4. Matt the Engineer

    Yet another reason for Instant Runoff election style. Nickels would still be gone (unless this changes the strategic strategy of voters), but those that voted for Nickels with McGinn as their second choice would have gone for McGinn. Oh, and it removes the silly primary system with the wasteful dual campaign cycles.

  5. Zelbinian

    Oh gods, my inner mathematician would love Instant Runoff.

  6. wes kirkman

    I know of people that did the opposite: voted for Nickels thinking that all Nickels supporters were going to vote for McGinn to “have a good debate”. Not sure if that means they are McGinn supporters that voted for Nickels to keep him in or what. All I know is that it does not seem wise to vote for someone other than you want to be the (insert position).

  7. Max

    “I would say no one expected this to be a McGinn / Mallahan race, and there are at least a few folks who are like the proverbial dog who actually caught the car, thinking, ‘What now?’”

    I’ll answer that question: what happens next is that Seattle’s role diminishes in the region and in the State.

    Neither McGinn nor Mallahan are qualified to do this job – indeed, neither even seems to know what the job entails. McGinn proved that when he first announced http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2008918660_mcginn25m.html

    Now, if you combined Mallahan’s managerial skills with McGinn’s ability to portray dreamy visions of Seattle’s future into a hybrid candidate…then you might have a qualified Mayor.

    But, that ain’t gonna happen, obviously. The ‘burbs and the elevated AWV folks should be celebrating this act of supreme voter disfunctionality…

  8. archie

    I’m a Nickels supporter and briefly considered voting for McGinn for those exact reasons, but decided in the end to vote for who I really wanted.

  9. Where's my world-class, dammit!

    I see no one’s mentioned the obvious: If Nickels had sufficient popularity, we are not having this discussion. Whoops.

    @7: Seattle’s role diminishing? Are you kidding me? Olympia hated Nickels because Nickels thought of the Legislature as flunkies who should do his bidding. If either Mallahan or McGinn know how to say “Please” and “Thank you,” it’ll be an improvement over Nickels.

    “The ‘burbs and the elevated AWV folks should be celebrating this act of supreme voter dysfucntionality.” Uhhh … why? Does Mallahan support the viaduct? I know McGinn doesn’t.

    Oh, and those hated “‘burbs.” I’m a former Seattle resident now out of the area and going to school for a new degree. The rest of my family lives outside the Seattle area. And I can summarize the position of 90 percent of the state outside the Seattle city limits with regards to Seattle: Don’t screw up the Seahawks or the Mariners, and keep Sea-Tac running for when we need it.

    That’s it. The rest of the state sees Seattle as a prima donna demanding that things be done its way, even if it changes its mind five minutes later, and no one else exists outside of its needs and wants.

    Seattle is a city that preens and struts and calls itself world-class. Comparisons are in order only with the other beautiful people in New York and London and Tokyo. And then Seattle gets schooled by places like Lynnwood and Orting when it comes time to keep the streets plowed.

    Seattle is viewed not so much as like Paris, but more like Paris Hilton. So, yeah, we might be engaging in schadendfrude over Seattle’s voter dysfunctionality. But dysfunctionality didn’t happen on Tuesday.

  10. Geoffry Ottsen

    I think the bigger question is why Mallahan got so many votes with only TV ads and theoretically meaningless sound bites? I thought Americans, and especially Seattleites, learned from the Bush years not to believe everything they see on TV.

    If Mallahan hadn’t have put 200K of his own money into this race it would indeed have been Nickels vs. McGinn going onto the general. It is disheartening that a candidate can buy his way into an election.

  11. guilty

    I sort of did this and now I feel terrible about it. I thought that I was helping to ensure a Nickels/McGinn general (I wanted a more substantive debate about the costs of the waterfront options-if they still are that); I had no idea that Mallahan was going to be so popular.

    #9 is right, though, even if a few strategic votes broke the camel’s back, Nickels’ unpopularity made that possible.

    Who knows, maybe it will all work out, but I’d feel a lot more confident right now if I knew the Seattle Times website would be filled with comments bitching about Mayor Fatty McCheese for another four years.

  12. Where's my world-class, dammit!

    @10: If it was just about the money, it would be Nickels vs. Mallahan.

    Like I said, I’m not in Seattle anymore, but I do know that Mallahan impressed a lot of Democrats. In fact, the 36th District Democrats gave a dual endorsement the McGinn and Mallahan. Maybe you could ask them.

  13. mahanoy

    I have to confess I am one of those strategic voters Dan’s describing. I always considered Greg Nickels the best candidate, and yet I voted for Mike McGinn. I agonized over it, I’m not proud of it, and I halfway regret it.

    However, my strategic rationale was not to produce a more favorable matchup in the fall for Greg Nickels or to shift the debate to the environmental side. It was entirely an anti-Joe Mallahan vote. If I’d known it was Greg Nickels who needed the extra votes to edge out Mallahan more than McGinn did, I probably would have voted for Nickels.

    But then again, you don’t know ahead of time who needs the extra votes. So I’ll probably avoid any future exercise in strategic voting.

    Oh, and why am I so ant-Mallahan? It’s because, regarding transportation and land use and the environment, Mike McGinn and Greg Nickels are Green and Greener. And you can have a long debate who’s Greener. Mallahan can’t even speak about the environment without coming across as an idiot. It’s clear he’s utterly disengaged from these issues, and imagine someone like that making any tough decisions in favor of transit and density.

  14. rams

    @11 — Don’t worry, if McGinn wins, he’s really fat too. A lot of people must be kicking themselves that they tagged Nickels as Mayor McCheese already, because that title would have worked even better for McGinn.

  15. freddyJ

    In the last few weeks before the August 18 primary election a meme (the stranger, a credible resource for “news” only stated two positions he has on hundreds of issues but will roll on about his volunteer supporters) sprouted (self referential source) that Nickels supporters should consider voting for McGinn because a Nickels/McGinn race would lead to a more progressive debate in the general election. There was also talk among some Nickels supporters (no source) that voting for McGinn could be a good strategic move because it would be easier for Nickels to beat McGinn than Mallahan in the general election. So McGinn voters then switched to Voting for Mallahan so they would have an easier time winning the election because if Nickles can beat McGinn but would loose to Mallahan it is there for “logical” that McGinn would be able to beat Mallahan. This tactic was then picked up by the Mallahan camp and fearing a run-of with McGinn, Mallahan encouraged supporters to vote for Nichols. This of course now shows that Mallahan is really in Third place, Nichols is in First place and Mcginn is right where he should be in Second. Political genius. Of course in both cases, the operative assumption (no source) was that Nickels would make it through the primary easily.

    Is it possible that there were enough of these strategic votes cast to tip the election away from Nickels to McGinn?

    There are 379,721 registered voters in Seattle. Turnout projections are 33 percent, which means about 125,000 ballots were cast. Assuming Nickels ends up at 26 percent, that’s 33,000 votes (a now defunct source of credible news and only an opinion based blog). Nickels is currently behind McGinn by about 1200 votes, but lets make a guess (not supported by any relevant fact) that he finishes down 1500 (or 100,000 is just as arbitrary but sounds better). That 1500 is equivalent to four and a half (actually 4.54545454545454545%) percent of the estimated 33,000 votes he received. But then we also must factor in that every Nickels supporter who switched to McGinn increased the split by two votes (because Nichol’s voters got two ballots to ensure his victory). Which means 750 strategic voters would generate a 1500 vote split between McGinn and Nickels (2*750 = 1500). And that 750 is only about two percent (2.272727272727272%) of the estimated 33,000 Nickels voters. That’s sum exhausting math. Ha, I use sum instead of some!

    By this back-of-the-envelope calculation (evelope not supplied), if one out of 43 Nickels supporters made a strategic vote for McGinn, it cost Nickels the election. Possible?

    My intial gut reaction is no. On the other hand, I heard several politically sophisticated Nickels supporters talk about how they were seriously contemplating voting for McGinn (conjecture with no supporting facts – rabble rousing).

    (although the math equations above assert the opposite) There is no way to quantitatively verify this one way or the other, but perhaps we could learn something anecdotally. What about it people? Anyone out there willing to admit they did it? Anyone know others who did it (no need to name names)? Anyone care to venture a guess at how many may have done it? (I thought is was 1500?)

  16. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Ah, thanks freddyJ, now we can definitely conclude that Dan is in fact a true journalist. Good thing our paid dead-tree journalists are also upholding the tradition.

  17. freddyJ

    Sorry josh, I’m missing the point? Danny’s article is saying, in a lot of one sentence paragraphs, we should have re-elected Nichols because he gets things done. The revelation that our elections reflect us as voters in no great enlightening moment. And, politically we, even as a nation, tend to swing to polarized positions to fix the mistakes of our previous politicians.

    It’s great that Dan and Danny state the facts about what we don’t get the time to think about regularly but Journalists should dig deeper. They are the third leg in the stool of checks and balances.

  18. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    freddyJ, I was just trying to make the point that both historically and presently journalists rely a lot on conjecture, often with spotty facts. Deep-researching investigative journalism is great, but it’s a very small part of the news (and in my opinion, often is closer to academic publication than news reporting). This blog does link to published studies, by the way.

  19. freddyJ

    Josh,
    Those people, writing conjecture, are called OP/ED writers not journalist. Most people employed by newspapers are journalists with regular beats. I guess the difference would be Investigative Journalist rather than ‘reporter’.

  20. Ross

    I was on vacation for a few weeks, so sorry for entering such a late response. If people couldn’t see this coming, they really don’t understand politics and really shouldn’t be playing around with dangerous strategic voting. OK, some strategic voting makes sense. If you’re first choice was someone who was obviously not going to make it (e. g. Donaldson) then switching to another candidate makes sense. But voting for McGinn even though you’re first choice was Nickels? Idiotic.

    I’m sorry if people are surprise by this result, but I wasn’t. The polling numbers supported this. Nickels, the incumbent, had horrible numbers throughout the race. The more progressive and environmental voters (Stranger, Sierra Club, etc.) for the most part abandoned him (for good reason). The more moderate, mainstream, Seattle Times reading voter left him after the snow storm debacle (his Katrina). It was obvious that this was going to be a close, three person race. The fact that Nickels appeared to be ahead was missing the point: he was way below the number needed to ensure passage to the general election (33%). He had the most name familiarity (as the incumbent) but he also was not likely to get any of the late undecideds (as the incumbent). Nickels was obviously worried as his support was being eaten away from both ends. This is why he started attacking both men late in the race (instead of saving his money for the general).

    I sure wish folks that are shocked about this result would have bet me. I would have asked for good odds (2 to 1 would have done it although it sounds like I could have gotten more).

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