When Reality and Rorschach Collide: Election Analysis Roundup

Every election season, once the ballots are counted, we the readers of the news, are treated to “election analysis.” Read any major paper, alt-weekly, or “the Internets” and you have all sorts of Big Experts talking about What It All Means.
What strikes me, having worked on campaigns for years, is just how little one finds out about what actually happened during the election season that gave us the results – instead these “analyses” function more like a political Rorschach Test, telling us more about the prognosticator than about what really happened or more importantly, how.
Let’s take a look at local election post-mortems. Most people locally tend to use pollster David Binder’s premiere post-election analysis as a starting point, which is primarily concerned with statistical information about turnout, who voted, polling info and the like – in other words, facts that are agreed upon to be verifiable with some interpretation by the knowledgeable Mr. Binder to translate these raw numbers into conversational English.
Fog City Journal ran a short analysis (which I was asked to write literally minutes before I walked in the door at SPUR, hence its lack of polish) , BeyondChron, and even the “blog” at the Bay Guardian used some form of Mr. Binder’s work to base conclusions and the like.
This is also where things get interesting. In the print edition of the Guardian, the results are trumpeted loudly as a rebirth of the local “progressive” movement, and at times one gets the impression that the authors are almost breathless in restating over and over “Things are OK. Don’t worry. We’re doing fine, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”
Which is fine, I suppose for people who want to hear that. But what I missed in the article most was the “why” and “how” – how did Chris Daly managed to win after a bruising campaign? Why did candidates like Supervisors Dufty and Alioto-Pier crush their opposition, if they had any at all?

Don’t forget – we’ve had these “progressive” blowouts in one year, and then followed them up with big blowouts for the other side in the next. (2001 City Attorney’s race, anyone?)
When I picked up the Guardian, I wanted to be told something I didn’t know – how did these campaigns win and lose? Who ran them? Why? What new ways were used to reach voters? What worked? What did not? Instead I got a Rorschach test that told me what the Guardian folks felt about the races, but I didn’t learn anything new.
Don’t get the impression that this analytical style confined to one side. Reading Plan C’s analysis somehow managed to take the results, look at the same numbers the Guardian looked at, and proclaim it a victory for the city’s non-progressive political partisans.
Using a crystal ball, they even manage to project a landslide for “moderate” candidates in 2008. It’s like reading the Mirror Universe version of the Bay Guardian’s piece – “Don’t worry, moderates, everything is fine and going our way!”
Again, what I’m not told, beyond what I’m supposed to feel is the “how” – how is it that no one besides a retiree with no hope in Hell ran against Supervisor Alioto Pier in the first place? What did Supervisor Dufty do to get his landslide? And how would this be replicated to create the Landslide of 2008 so easily predicted?
As usual, the reader is left trying to reconcile two radically different views of the same set of statistics and figures. How this is possible, I’m still not sure. When you consider that no one in either quickie analysis took any time to actually talk to the people who really made things happen in Campaign 2006, you start to realize that “analysis” is cheap – doing the digging and finding out the “how” and the “why” are much more difficult.
In San Francisco, more often than not, we are great at feelings and spinning, but not so great at learning from the past. With this kind of political planning, Lady Luck has way more sway over politics than she ever did in Vegas.
Those of you on the left, right, center, downtown, or around town factions who are making decisions for your political futures might want to remember that before you start betting on Campaign 2007 or Campaign 2008. Even better, throw away the blogs and the talk, and go ask some people yourself the “how” and the “why” of Campaign 2006.

Leave a Reply