Saturday, July 21, 2007

To Poll or to Vote; That is the Question

So, who will win? I have received some version of this question from several people in the last 24 hours. The answer depends entirely on you, the voter. When polling data helps you make up your mind whom to vote for based on who you think will win, the process becomes inverted. In elections, you vote for the candidate you want to win, and the polls either reflect that accurately or they don't.

Some polls show Clement in first with Dean surging Dozier, Gentry, and Briley battling for third. Clement's and Briley's support seems softer, and undecideds have gone to Dean over the last month, by and large. However, every poll shows something different, and they all show significant levels of undecided. Jeff Woods of the Scene criticizes the Channel 4 polling (take that for what it's worth) because it was done by random sampling with no attention to likely voters. Polls always produce at least as much controversy over their methods as they offer in enlightenment about the race. Of course, supporters of the front runner and charging candidates thin the polls show exactly what is happening while the rest of the pack tries to dispute them.

Dean and Briley are running similar campaigns and splitting similar voters. If Dean were not in, Briley would probably have easily advanced to the second round, but for some reason that I don't fully get, Dean supporters seem to dislike Briley on some personal rather than issue-based level, so Dean entered the race late and has run a good TV campaign to vault into serious contention. Dean also seems to be running a decent ground operation.

I spent this morning canvassing in East Nashville where Briley is very popular. I saw a projection that less than 100,000 could wind up voting, and early voting numbers have been low, so it should be any one's game in the first round. While it is hard to see an 8 point swing in polling data in a presidential election, that is exactly what Bush got in Ohio in 2004, and while some conspiracy theories dispute the claim, the last Bush campaign showed that attention to the get out the vote (GOTV) phase of the campaign can render polling data highly inaccurate. In a voter field of around 100,000 (about 1/3 of eligible voters in Nashville), very wide discrepancies between polling data and actual election outcomes are virtually certain. So all the campaigns will be focused on getting their supporters to turn out in these last few days. Early voting continues next week, and election day is August 2.

The bottom line is that whoever works hard in the next week and a half and whoever can convince more people to go to the polls during that time will win. Jesse Ventura was elected Governor of Minnesota by reminding people that the voting booth is not the betting window at the track. He reminded people that voting is supposed to be an expression of your personal choice for a leader, not your prediction of who you think MIGHT win. In horse racing, you win when you back the horse who wins. In elections you only win if the candidate you back is the right one. Unlike horse racing where you have no control over the actual race, in voting, your selection determines the winner.

Baseball fans will remember that there were "polls" or at least strong conventional wisdom that the lowly St. Louis Cardinals, winners of just 83 regular season games last year, would be eliminated from the playoffs in the first post season round. Fans of the now defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals understand clearly that the discussions and projections add interest to the story, but the actual outcome is determined on the field. Elections are exactly the same.

So, make sure you exercise your control over the process. Now is the time, and every vote counts.


Beatie said...

Well-written, Monsieur Coverstone! --Beatie

Whitney said...

Oh, how I wish 2004 had been a good year for John Kerry as well as the Boston Red Sox! I will be early-voting on Saturday, now that I am a Tennessean again.

ScottJ said...

"Dean supporters seem to dislike Briley on some personal rather than issue-based level"

This has more to do with Briley (and his staff's) repeated quotes, on the record, attacking Dean once the campaign began. Briley's campaign was also responsible for shopping the bogus story to the Nashville Scene about the Metro Dept. of Law's hiring practices for outside attorneys.

Alan Coverstone said...

Thanks, Scott. I appreciate that insights. I should keep from speaking anecdotally here, I suppose, but I had the feeling that some (very anecdotal) Dean supporters felt negatively toward Briley before Dean got into the race. I could, of course, be wrong about that, and I appreciate your help in pointing out post-entry causes as well.

I wonder if you can document some of the attacks you saw for the benefit of people evaluating our work here? I'd be happy to see some links or other sources that I could use to assess this point. I readily admit that I have not really noticed any attacks, but it seems likely that any campaign would have some, and I would like to see your perspective fully.

Finally, I do think that if thre is evidence about specific dirty tricks, like the bogus story that you say came from the Briley campaign, that we will need some proof. I don't say that to dispute your view, but that seems like a claim I would take seriously if I saw evidence of it.

Thanks for the reply. I look forward to hearing more.

ScottJ said...

Alan - I apologize in advance for not knowing how to abbreviate links with hypertext. My examples are provided below. I would be curious to know what you base your opinion on pre-existing tension upon.

First, as for negative quotes, here are some examples(though there are many more):

- Briley in a 4/26/07 Scene article :

“Without spending his wife’s money, he wouldn’t have a chance to win,” council member David Briley sniffs. “That’s the bottom line.”

- Briley's Campaign Manager, Emily Passini, in a 6/20/07 City Paper Article:
"I think it's been very evident to folks that Dean planned to win the race by spending a lot of money and not focusing on the grassroots part of the campaign"

- Then there was the June 21, 2007 hit piece on Dean's campaign in the Nashville Scene, ostensibly about the Briley/Dean showdown. The article was clearly driven by Briley's camp, based upon the extensive quotation from his staff and supporters, who were clearly trying to make it seem like Dean might drop out, which is the only thing that could help their struggling campaign:

"In informal lunchtime conversation between officials of the Dean and Briley campaigns, the topic of one candidate quitting the contest has come up, but each side has been adamant that the other should fall on the sword."

Clearly, Briley's camp was trying to create a sense that the two campaigns were having discussions. Indeed, Briley's campaign manager, the primary source in the article, tries to define the status of the race:

"His plan was to win by spending a lot of money, and now he’s trying to bluff somebody out of the race. "

The article also stated that Briley's supporters said that Dean carried more baggage if he were to make it into a runoff, which leads directly to....

- The bogus Nash Scene story on 7/5/07:

The article notes that at least 2 campaigns have been shopping the story around. We already know Briley's camp was saying Dean had more baggage. Then, interestingly, the only sources cited in the story are George Barrett and Dewey Branstetter, who Jeff Woods fails to disclose are well-known Briley donors and supporters. It is clear this was the Briley camp's doing. (The story itself is nonsense, by the way, and I'd be happy to post an additional entry explaining why.)

Overall, these two candidates have much in common and one would think that their respective supporters would find a lot to like with each other's campaigns. And certainly there will be some attacks in a political campaign and I am not suggesting Dean shouldn't ever receive criticism or that such criticism is automatically "unfair". However, Briley has chosen to take a scorched earth path, based upon, I believe, being in last place in fundraising (his supporters like to focus on Dean's self-funding, but Dean has outraised Briley every time in donations as well) and the polls. I think what has angered a lot of Dean supporters is this bitterness from the Briley campaign, despite the similarility of beliefs (I would also note that in contrast to such tactics, you cannot find one negative quote by Dean or his campaign regarding Briley). This bitterness/negativity is two-fold: 1) The obsession with Dean's self-funding, even though as already noted, Dean has consistently received more donations as well, and 2) A real arrogance on the part of Briley supporters that no one else is as intelligent or thoughtful as Briley(and they themselves) are. As evidenced by the quotes above, this is connected in many ways to the "self-funding" obsession, where Briley's campaign has repeatedly dismissed Dean's proposals and platform, saying Dean's only goal was to "buy the race". This dismissive attitude, that Dean's beliefs and strengths as a candidate couldn't possibly have anything to do with his competitiveness and rise in popularity, has had everything to do with the tension that has developed between the two campaigns.

For all of Briley's progressive ideas and right-minded goals for the city, he has consistently been content to try to tear down the one candidate most like him, even as it has become clear Dean is much more likely to make the runoff against Clement (which can only help Clement, a campaign that has almost nothing in common with Briley's beliefs). This raises the question for Briley- At this point, is his campaign really about what is best for Nashville, or is it about his own political motivations?

Alan Coverstone said...

Thanks for all that detail, Scott. I agree with you first and foremost on the point that these two candidates have the most in common, and I agree that either would make a great mayor. I guess I just didn't see the funding issue in as much of a personal light, although I can certainly see your point about how that might be taken personally. Again, I know Ms. Davis, and her family's generosity to this city is second to none, so I did not see her contributions to a cause like her husband's election to be a bad thing at all. So, I guess that's why I didn't perceive those comments as personal attacks. I understand your perception, though.

As I readily admitted, my evidence on pre-existing tension comes from personal conversations prior to Dean's entering the race, with people I generally agree with who told me they could not vote for Briley and were hoping Dean would get in as an alternative. This does not constitute any groundswell of evidence, and I would not quote these friends of mine in this context. Yet, they are friends, and I could detect something that they did not like. I think you may be close on the feeling that Briley thinks he's smarter than everyone. That may be what rubbed them the wrong way, but I don't know.

I don't know of anyone who has ever tried to claim that Briley is smarter than Karl Dean. You certainly won't find that opinion here. Briley is smart, though, and it is clear he has dedicated himself to knowing the issues. Dean is smart too, and I have every confidence in his ability to manage this city very well. So, this seems like a tone and perception issue. It reminds me of the Gore problem. Al Gore is smart. In most rooms, he is the smartest person, but "seeming" smart was a problem for him. Definitely, coming across as condescending is a problem. However, I have generally found that perceiving a candidate as condescending often occurs more once someone has made up his/her mind not to like the candidate for other reasons. That's why Democrats, by and large, did not find Gore condescending while Republicans more often did.

It seems like most of your concerns have come through the Scene. Perhaps it is the Scene's authors who seem condescending? I'll leave that to others to judge. My opinion of Briley comes primarily from personal conversations and listening to him at public forums.

Regarding the "bogus" story, the link you left is incomplete. I will be happy to follow it if you post it again. I know it is easy to include typos in these comments. (I do it all the time). I am not sure that reading the story will tell me where it came from, but I could be surprised. It should be enough to say that I see no blemish at all on Karl Dean's record as law director. I think he did a fantastic job, and I see his credentials and experiences as sterling. Comparisons are inevitable, but my goal on this blog has been to remain positive. I do not endorse attacks, and to the extent you see attacks, I understand and appreciate your perspective.

I don't know how the story about how one of the two should drop out was an attack. That is simply strategic discussion, and I don't have any idea the degree to which that kind of discussion actually happened as opposed to simply being put forward by the Scene. Frankly, I would hate for either of the two to drop out. I would like to see a city so moved by the capabilities of these two that they found their way into the runoff against each other. Then we could have a real battle of ideas with enough depth to really help propel Nashville forward. With high turnout among the people reading blogs, we could make that a reality.

Alan Coverstone said...


I found the full link to the Scene article. I remember reading it now, but I did not take it as a Briley attack. I took it as a fairly standard "follow the money" piece, which, by the way, includes the following statement:

"Accepting the contributions is perfectly legal, and is no worse than other candidates, three of whom currently sit on the Metro Council, taking money from lobbyists or supporters who regularly have business before the body."

That is clearly a shot at candidates on the City Council.

I appreciate your view, and I may be naive. I don't think David Briley thinks badly of Karl Dean at all. If the Scene writer, Jeff Woods is working surreptitiously for the Briley campaign, his other work sure fools me. We'll see, though.

Thanks for joining in with your views.

ScottJ said...

From the Nashville Scene, 7/5/07, entitled "Friends of Karl".

Again, I refer you to my previous comments about the story coming from the Briley campaign. It is pretty self-evident.

As for perception, if the quotes I provided were not intended to be negative, then why did Briley and his campaign manager say them? How could they have been meant in any other way?

The same goes for the condescension argument-

"Without spending his wife’s money, he wouldn’t have a chance to win.”

Seems like a pretty direct put down of Dean to me.

I do agree with you about your description Dean/Briley runoff, that would be a good debate of ideas.