Technical Politics 2.0

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This blog is intended to house essays discussing in-house research conducted by Mark Grebner.

The original “Technical Politics” was hosted by, and consisted of a series of essays written roughly from 2000 to 2012. At some point, the domain name was lost, and the essays became unavailable. I will post a few of the old essays here, looking for those that still seem relevant and useful. Some of the writing is probably lost forever.

Essay #1 – Recruiting Petition Circulators by Mail

As a result of the COVID-19 mess, circulating of nominating petitions became difficult, and various candidates found that reaching the legally required number was impossible. One solution I tried was to mail out blank petitions with an explanatory letter to people who might be convinced at least to sign and return the petition themselves, and might ever gather a few additional signatures from family members or others.

I convinced several candidates to try the method, which was more successful than I expected. Carol Koenig, running for Ingham County Circuit Court, captured the filled out petitions which were returned to her, and allowed me to compile the data. The following results are not intended to advance the frontiers of political science, but only to serve as a rough-and-ready recounting of what we learned by the process.

First, it should be explained that my firm, Practical Political Consulting, was hired to provide 5000 voter names and addresses for the mailing, which was sent First Class and contained a stamped First Class return envelope. We were hoping for possibly 5% response, but actually received petitions from 787 of the 4990 pieces mailed out – nearly 16%.

Koenig was not particularly well known in the community, but the circumstances were unusual, with media reporting of legal cases filed by candidates struggling with similar problems meeting the signature requirement. In short, the tactic may not be equally successful under less extreme circumstances. Still, the patterns we found would probably arise from similar efforts in the future.

The file selected for Koenig’s mailing was not a random cross-section of Ingham County voters, but was deliberately using a formula constructed based on gut instinct. We chose voters who each met several of the following criteria:

  • attorneys
  • Democrats
  • primary voters
  • signers of previous nominating petitions
  • signers of previous initiative petitions
  • circulators of previous initiative petitions
  • financial contributors to political candidates

Posting the 787 returned petitions to the original file, I ran a simple set of cross-tabs to see which groups out-performed. The effects were not extremely strong, but the large universe made even small differences statistically reliable. Even among the very weakest groups, the response rate was about 8%, and only rarely did I see a sub-class reach 20%.

Without worrying about scientific nicety, this is what I found:

  • Attorneys were slightly less likely to return signed petitions.
  • Very consistent August primary voters were better than inconsistent August voters.
  • People who requested absentee ballots in previous elections were better.
  • People who had signed the Voters Not Politicians (anti-gerrymandering) petition were better.
  • Having previously circulated a petition did not seem to matter.
  • Having previously signed nominating petitions didn’t matter.
  • The best age groups were surprisingly old. The very highest percentage return came from people in their eighties. Next best were people in their seventies and nineties.
  • People under the age of 50 – keep in mind these had been selected because they generally seemed to fit the desired profile – were noticeably weaker.
  • Gender didn’t make any difference.
  • Partisan orientation didn’t make any obvious difference. (People who were clearly Republican were excluded from the mailing, but to the extent “soft Republicans” were included, they didn’t particularly to underperform.
  • Geography didn’t make any difference. Urban, suburban, and rural all worked about equally well. Neither did socioeconomic status make any obvious difference.

The Author

Mathematically inclined voter list jockey. The last practicing hippie politician in America. Was elected forty years ago, at age 23, to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, representing the Michigan State University campus - and I'm still there, now representing some of the grandchildren of my original constituents. A sometime attorney, whose practice is closer to a hobby than a profession.

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