Low Turnout Expected in Today’s Election

Vote-stock-slideIt is not just Davis that seems disinterested in today’s election.  The Field Poll released this morning indicates that they predict a low turnout – in fact a record low turnout for a presidential primary – with just 35 percent of registered voters casting ballots.

“There’s really no comparison,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “We’ve never had a turnout at this level before for a presidential primary in California.

There are a number of factors involved in these low voter totals.  For one thing, both the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations are non-competitive and already decided.

In 2008, the state held their primary in February during the middle of not one but two very competitive primary battles.  In that election, turnout was a robust 58 percent.

Many lament the fact that so few people are involved in the process and so few people are informed about the process.

Others are probably just as happy that voters who are not particularly informed are not participating.

At the local level, however it is unfortunate that more people are not going to be participating in the local process.  We have several tremendously important issues that the city will be facing in the next six months – issues that will define this community perhaps for the next fifty years.

Yesterday, we ran a piece arguing that the loser in this election was the issues.  Some argued that the Vanguard contributed to the problem.  Perhaps that is true, though the Vanguard believes for the most part we covered the news.

We certainly ran a number of stories on issues.  We had a weekly feature where we asked candidates about issues, we covered the much fewer than typical candidates’ forums, and we covered city news on the budget, our victory in our lawsuit on the firefighter report, and other critical issues.

For all of the talk about the low interest, May 2012 shattered the Vanguard‘s previous records for readership.  In fact, going back to the 2008 council elections, from 2008 to 2010, the Vanguard‘s readership doubled, and from 2010 to 2012, the Vanguard‘s readership doubled.

It is worth noting however, that of the top 9 stories in terms of readership this month, not one of them was a story about the issues.

The top nine:

The Vanguard published 56 stories on the city of Davis in the month of May.  The bigger readership by an issue-oriented article was the Vanguard Question: Council Candidates on Economic Development – and that was on May 4.

The month of May, even with the fire revelations report, which failed to crack the top 15, was dominated by discussions of the campaign itself, signs, the Chamber and PACs and the attack mailer.

We simply cannot make people interested in stories that they were not.

There are a variety of theories involved in the lack of interest in the issues.  One theory is that the candidates really are not that different on the issues.  There is something to be said for that.

All of the candidates support working toward budget reform and reducing unfunded liabilities.  The water issue has, if not a consensus, a general continuum of beliefs.

To put it simply, there was not an issue that emerged with great salience that produced sharply-divided opinions.

In fact, as we argued on Sunday, we can argue that the most sharply-divided opinions were over one particular personality.

The Chamber of Commerce became an interesting issue because they were actually willing to engage on an opinion – economic development and the downtown, including growth – that the candidates themselves were not.

Others point out that the dearth of discussion of issues did not come from the candidates themselves – who were well-versed on the issues and all five seem well-prepared to go forward should they be elected.

The bottom line for the day is that not a lot of people are going to vote, the city is not going to collapse no matter who is voted in, the city has survived more or less with 12 previous years of Sue Greenwald, 8 previous years of Stephen Souza, Dan Wolk has been solid for a year, and neither Brett Lee nor Lucas Frerichs appear to be a grave threat.

People may have their preferences, people may have their favorites, some people have candidates they would prefer not to see, but the stakes on the critical issues perhaps do not hang in the balance of who wins.

In the end, all of this may be disappointing for the political prognosticators locally, but they probably have little bearing on the future.

The bigger concerns for this state and this nation will be played out not so much today, but in November.  The critical ballot initiatives, the critical battles for control of the legislature at the state level and congress, and of course the Presidency, hang in the balance, but not today.

We will have plenty of time to evaluate all of these things in the future.  Today is about our local future and, as I have been arguing for some time, we need to be much more concerned about it than we are.

The $7 million question will not be answered at the ballot box today, but it will be addressed, at least in its beginning, behind closed doors and in secret.

Programming note: Tonight from 10:15 to 10:25 I will be on DCTV.  Lucas Frerichs will be immediately before me.  Dan Wolk immediately after.  So get your popcorn quick, I promise to make it worth your time.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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29 Comments

  1. JustSaying

    “Yesterday, we ran a piece arguing that the loser in this election was the issues.  Some argued that the Vanguard contributed to the problem.  Perhaps that is true, though the Vanguard believes for the most part we covered the news.”

    The Vanguard covered the people and the issues in the election far better than any of the other local media. My only disappointment was the failure of the candidates to engage in the Vanguard comment columns. Maybe next time…. Sue was the only one who gave more than token participation and pretty much only to claim credit for something.

    All in all, though, the election news events were better covered, the interviews were more informative and the comments were more enlightening than the Enterprise coverage and letters to the editor.

  2. Matt Williams

    David, let me try and approach this topic from a slightly different perspective by asking two questions …

    1) What were issues that you felt did not get discussed?

    2) Why do you think those issues are indeed issues?

  3. David M. Greenwald

    Matt:

    I understand why you ask those questions, but to me they are not the right questions.

    My biggest concern by far is that the broader community has no idea the magnitude of the budget cuts that lie ahead. And so just as last June, 150 city employees suddenly were in the council chambers, so too will there be hundreds of residents when the council proposes closing down parks, greenbelts and pools and cutting other services.

    They are going to say, my bod, where did this come from.

    And the council is going to say, we have been warning about this for years.

    I don’t blame the candidates for that, the public is simply not interested in the budget until it impacts them directly and immediately.

    Secondarily, i think there is a growing consensus on what needs to be done on water but not by the average resident and so the lack of discussion of the water issue will probably come back to bite us as well.

    Third, you have seen how heated the discussion on this site has gotten over economic development and the downtown, that’s another issue that has not been discussed.

    Given that the public is going to care about these issues, it would have been better if they knew that and could evaluate the candidates on those issues. They may find out that the candidates that they like or are aesthetically pleasing are not the ones they end up agreeing with.

  4. Alan Miller

    I just got back from my polling place at the City offices, and though the polling place had been open for half-an-hour, I was the first person to vote.

    A group of us got together Sunday at a cafe, all politically “aware” sorts, and none of us had opened our voter books until then. We asked other friends to join us, but they had other things to do.

    This election will be decided on vague impressions, last minute decisions, whims and coin tosses.

    God Bless America!

  5. DT Businessman

    The Davis Chamber PAC has stated from the very beginning that its effort was not meant to start or stop with this election. We will continue to work hard to help Davis residents make the connection between the issues David mentions above and the quality of their lives and their children’s lives. Once this evening has come and gone, our hope is that there will be more focus on the issues and the message and less focus on personalities and distractions. We are confronted with many challenges and it would behoove us to find the means to come together as a community to meet these challenges. The business community has a strong role to play in this effort as do other community stakeholders.

    -Michael Bisch, Davis Chamber PAC

  6. E Roberts Musser

    To dmg: Why do you feel the public does not “get” how serious the budget problem is? The water issue? Economic development? Or is it that the public feels they have no control over those issues? My thought is the latter, bc I know that is how I have felt at times over the years when I have watched the CC make its decisions…

    Fortunately, I sense the current CC does “get it”, and has inherited problems that they are ready to tackle…

  7. David M. Greenwald

    “Fortunately, I sense the current CC does “get it”, and has inherited problems that they are ready to tackle… “

    I agree, but without public buy in, I think it’s going to be exceedingly difficult

  8. Rifkin

    [i]To dmg: Why do you feel the public does not “get” how serious the budget problem is?[/i]

    I know you asked David, but I would like to give this a try.

    I think most people simply pay no attention at all to Davis politics until some change affects them or their family directly. We have a huge and looming crisis, but little of the pain has yet come, and almost none of the reforms which are needed to stem the red ink have been put in place.

    A few weeks ago, the Sunday Enterprise asked its Man-on-the-street question to six residents as to what issue each thinks is most important in this year’s city council race, and at least 5 of them said something to the effect that ‘the school budget’ or ‘the quality of the public schools’ is what will decide their votes in this year’s city council race. Never mind that the public schools are not controlled in any way by the city council. The answers made it clear that we (seem to) have a significant share of our citizens who just don’t pay any attention to the city council or city issues, unless they are directly affected and that is only after the fact.

    The group which is most engaged in the city budget situation is the city’s employees. Yet even there, I get the sense (though my sampling may be bad) that most of them are living in a dream world, where they think they deserve 20% to 50% more money and they have sacrificed as much as they possibly can already, even though in reality we have hardly made any dent in the problem of their overcompensation. It is because of that disconnect that I foresee serious anger, strikes, shouting matches and so on once the shinola hits the fan.

  9. Don Shor

    Rich: [i]Never mind that the public schools are not controlled in any way by the city council.[/i]

    Unfortunately, the ChamberPAC perpetuated this notion in their op-ed several times:

    “the three big issues facing our community — namely, our long-term water needs, the city budget [b]and the K-12 school district budget [/b]— will challenge all Davis City Council members when they are seated on the dais this July.”
    “We’ll take up water at a later time and remain focused here on the unstable and unsustainable city [b]and school budgetary state of affairs.”[/b]
    “Focusing only on expenditure cuts decimates our community service programs that support youths and seniors alike; erodes public employee morale; and d[b]oes absolutely nothing to address the K-12 school budget crisis.[/b]”

  10. DT Businessman

    I agree with most of Rich’s 10:55am post, but I have a nuanced difference of opinion. I have a much stronger difference of opinion with Don’s 11:51 comment. While it is true that “the public schools are not controlled in any way by the city council”, funding for public schools can be impacted by city council decisions. City council decisions that result in increases or decreases to property tax revenue directly impact public school funding. City council decisions that increase or decrease local business activity indirectly impact public and private school funding. Generally, the wealthier a community, the more the community invests in education. The more profits local businesses generate, the more they compensate their employees, the more jobs that are created, the greater the ability to financially support schools both private and public. Hence the notion of a sustainable community consisting of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. It’s all linked and I’m happy to perpetuate this notion a bit longer. Indeed, I predict this will become a focus of community discussion in the months following the election.

    -Michael Bisch, Chamber PAC

  11. Don Shor

    [i]City council decisions that result in increases or decreases to property tax revenue directly impact public school funding[/i]

    For the most part, schools are not funded directly by property taxes or sales taxes, and not even really indirectly. Most school funding is from the ADA provided to the district by the state. It is based on enrollment, but the ADA is (at least supposedly) based on the cost of educating the student. So increasing enrollment doesn’t (in theory) increase funding any more than it increases costs.

    This is only mildly misleading. Especially compared to the egregiously misleading door hanger you are putting out today.

  12. Matt Williams

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”Matt:

    I understand why you ask those questions, but to me they are not the right questions.

    My biggest concern by far is that the broader community has no idea the magnitude of the budget cuts that lie ahead.”[/i]

    If that was your focus David, then the headline was off the mark IMHO. It should have read [b]”The Loser This Election? Voter Participation”[/b] That would have more accurately reflected what your concern is. I would argue that for those who participated there is a very good sense of the magnitude of the budget cuts that lie ahead. So criticizing the people who have posted here and the candidates themselves for being light on the issues is off target.

    I will take that a step further, I would venture to say that the vast majority of those who hose not to participate in the recent weeks will not find the coming budget cuts appearing on their radar screens even after the cuts happen.

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”And so just as last June, 150 city employees suddenly were in the council chambers, so too will there be hundreds of residents when the council proposes closing down parks, greenbelts and pools and cutting other services.”

    They are going to say, my god, where did this come from.

    And the council is going to say, we have been warning about this for years.[/i]

    And I predict right now that there won’t be a single one of those “hundreds” who wasn’t an active participant in the community discussions over the past weeks.

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]I don’t blame the candidates for that, the public is simply not interested in the budget until it impacts them directly and immediately.

    Secondarily, i think there is a growing consensus on what needs to be done on water but not by the average resident and so the lack of discussion of the water issue will probably come back to bite us as well.

    Third, you have seen how heated the discussion on this site has gotten over economic development and the downtown, that’s another issue that has not been discussed.

    Given that the public is going to care about these issues, it would have been better if they knew that and could evaluate the candidates on those issues. They may find out that the candidates that they like or are aesthetically pleasing are not the ones they end up agreeing with.[/i]

    All of the above is IMHO not true. The passionate few will engage water issues, The passionate few will engage economic development and the downtown issues, But not beyond the passionate few. Based on a conversation I has with a very knowledgeable retailer recently, there is more interest in whether everyone in a social circle is going to the same outside-the-City-Limits retailer than there is in doing anything to make the local Davis economy more sustainable.

  13. Matt Williams

    David M. Greenwald said . . .

    [i]”I agree, but without public buy in, I think it’s going to be exceedingly difficult.”[/i]

    David, why does the Council need the public’s buy-in in order to make budget cuts? If they were trying to raise taxes, then yes, public buy in is needed, but to make budget cuts? I don’t think so.

  14. Matt Williams

    Rifkin said . . .

    [i]”The group which is most engaged in the city budget situation is the city’s employees. Yet even there, I get the sense (though my sampling may be bad) that most of them are living in a dream world, where they think they deserve 20% to 50% more money and they have sacrificed as much as they possibly can already, even though in reality we have hardly made any dent in the problem of their overcompensation. It is because of that disconnect that [b]I foresee serious anger, strikes, shouting matches and so on once the shinola hits the fan[/b].”[/i]

    Rich, you really think that any of our citizens will be angry, striking or engaging in shouting matches? Heck no. That behavior will be limited to the workers IMHO.

  15. Rifkin

    MB: [i]”City council decisions that result in increases or decreases to property tax revenue directly impact public school funding.”[/i]

    Due to the fact that all non-categorical funding for public schools in California (save for a small number of wealthy districts) is equal, your conclusion is incorrect.

    DS: [i]”For the most part, schools are not funded directly by property taxes or sales taxes, and not even really indirectly.”[/i]

    Yet it is the case that 36.4777% of the property taxes paid by Davis property owners (outside of the RDA, but soon enough it will be inside the RDA, too) go directly to the DJUSD. But, as Don understands, the non-categorical formula makes an adjustment, so that, per Serrano, all schools (but some of the very rich districts with very high property values and smaller student populations today than they had 40 years ago) get roughly the same amounts of non-categorical money per child.

    Note: The richest source of categorical funding is Title 1. That gives extra money to schools with low-income students. And Davis does not get much of this. For that reason, our schools have less non-local public money than most other districts in our region. (We might have more in total due to the Davis Schools Foundation and other parental contributions and our local school parcel taxes. We are also a bit short-changed in other categoricals.)

    MB: [i]”City council decisions that increase or decrease local business activity indirectly impact public and private school funding.”[/i]

    This is ra stretch if you are basing a vote for a council candidate on how business activity will end up helping or harming the schools. Note that no one ran on this platform, not even the trio that the Bisch-Pope Gang placed its bets on.

    MB: [i]”Generally, the wealthier a community, the more the community invests in education. The more profits local businesses generate, the more they compensate their employees, the more jobs that are created, the greater the ability to financially support schools both private and public.”[/i]

    Again, you are stretching to justify your original claim. It would be all well enough and good to have simply said, ‘If we improve the business and investment climate in Davis, all of us will end up benefitting.’ It just confuses matters when you try to pigeonhole this into all of what you want so that the schools get more money.

  16. Rifkin

    [i]”Rich, you really think that any of [b]our citizens[/b] will be angry, striking or engaging in shouting matches? Heck no. That behavior will be limited to the workers IMHO.”[/i]

    Matt, I was thinking of the our citizens who are city workers being most angry at the looming changes. I don’t plan on doing any shouting myself. I lost my voice on Saturday just trying to talk at Beerfest amid loud rock bands and thousands of noisy carousers.

  17. Matt Williams

    I knew that was what you meant, but our citizens who are city workers are already fully engaged. I simply don’t see any incremental interest being generated by the looming events.

  18. Rifkin

    [i]”We are also a bit short-changed in other categoricals.”[/i]

    Let me check that. I concede I am not really sure if this is true. It was a decade ago, but that may have changed.

    One categorical where I recall the DJUSD got matching state funds was for a reading assistance program. It is designed to help children who are reading below grade level (or who have dyslexia) to improve their reading skills. What made little sense to me was (again, some years ago when I looked into it) that Woodland, Winters and West Sac did not qualify for this matching money, even though each had more demonstrable need. The difference was that, due to our local parcel tax money, the DJUSD could come up with matching funds that the others did not have.

  19. David M. Greenwald

    Matt: the reason you need public buy in is that otherwise you will have a few hundred parents protesting the closing of a park or a pool.

  20. David M. Greenwald

    Rich: Your point is largely correct. Davis is an ADA district, meaning that it gets funding from the state based on average daily attendance. The district augments that through the parcel tax approved by the voters. So I’m not exactly sure if Mr. Bisch really understands school funding that well. If anything, Davis’ current configuration advantages the schools because right now, you have between 67 and 75 percent of the voters willing to pass parcel taxes. Right now those parcel taxes fund close to $6 million per year. If we change the demographics of our district, we could lose that money.

  21. David M. Greenwald

    Very meaningful in my opinion. It has been a very rare circumstance that a council has faced a room of hundreds opposed to them and not blinked.

  22. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]If they blink with respect to the budget cuts, then they really don’t get it.[/quote]

    Bingo!

    I sense a certain amount of disdain for the public expressed by dmg and Rich Rifkin. That the public should be as involved in public issues as they both are, and that somehow the public just doesn’t get the budget crisis. I would argue the public “gets it”, but quite frankly feels there is not much they can do about it other than to come down to City Council en masse to complain about a particular budget cut. And lo and behold sometimes workable solutions are found this way – with public/private partnerships. I wouldn’t sell the public so short…

  23. David M. Greenwald

    “I sense a certain amount of disdain for the public expressed by dmg and Rich Rifkin. “

    Disdain is the wrong word. The public is an important part of the process, but there is also a reason why we have elected representatives who have the time and skills to study and analyze issues and should at least in theory weigh all viewpoint and considerations prior to making their decision.

  24. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]Disdain is the wrong word. The public is an important part of the process, but there is also a reason why we have elected representatives who have the time and skills to study and analyze issues and should at least in theory weigh all viewpoint and considerations prior to making their decision.[/quote]

    I’m not following you here. You keep insisting the public doesn’t “get it” in so far as the budget issue goes, as if they are ignorant, uncaring. Yet you are critical of the public because they care enough to show up at CC meetings to voice opinions on a particular budget cut – that often results in some way to work things out in an creative way. So what would be the word you would use to characterize the public? I would strongly caution you to be careful in your choice of words…

  25. David M. Greenwald

    I don’t really thing there is one word that captures the public. There is a segment of the public that is highly attentive, that is a very small segment. They come out when the issues are important to them. But I think most people are not paying a tremendous amount of attention to the public realm, particularly local politics. I don’t think that the public doesn’t get so much as they are not paying attention and therefore do not understand the severity of the problems facing this community.

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