Correlation Is Apparently In The Opposite Galactic Quadrant From Causation

I’m relatively sure that a Five Thirty Eight piece on how Democrats are suppressing the vote by having off-year elections with the “advantage” of low turnout is the actual definition of peak data journalism.

Why do Democrats and Democratic-aligned groups prefer off-cycle elections? When school boards and other municipal offices are up for election at odd times, few run-of-the-mill voters show up at the polls, but voters with a particular interest in these elections — like city workers themselves — show up in full force. The low-turnout election allows their policy goals to dominate.

Anzia shows that off-cycle elections lead to higher salaries and better health and retirement benefits for teachers and public employees. Anzia studies these effects in many different ways. The simplest way is by looking at eight states that allow local governments to set their own election dates. She compares school districts that hold school board elections on-cycle and off-cycle within the same state. Controlling for factors that might make districts different from one another — like their population size, income, racial composition, partisan leanings and how urban or rural they are — Anzia found that the maximum base teacher salary is over 4 percent higher in districts with off-cycle elections.

Higher salaries and better benefits for municipal employees can be a good outcome. What is interesting is that this outcome is the result of a deliberate move to hold municipal elections at times when few voters are participating.

Proponents of the off-cycle strategy argue that local issues get drowned out when local elections are held concurrent with presidential or congressional elections. People who show up to vote in those big elections may not be equipped to weigh in on the local issues. Anzia quotes a Texas school official who defends off-cycle elections because they bring out “an educated voter … people who really care about the issues and who are passionate about their district.” In off-cycle elections, proponents claim, the electorate is a concentrated set of voters who are engaged in the local issues, which yields better results for the community.

For readers who are sympathetic to the perspective of the off-cycle election proponents (typically Democrats), it is worth noting that these are very much the same arguments that Republicans might make in favor of voting restrictions that make voting a little bit harder for the average American. Just like voter ID or voter-registration requirements, off-cycle elections impose a cost on political participation. The cost is evidently high, since very few people participate in local elections when they are held in odd-numbered years. Maybe the cost leads to a more enlightened electorate. Or maybe it is Democratic-sponsored voter suppression.

Even if you buy Eitan Hersh’s “gosh this is counter-intuitive!” Freakonomics argument here that low-turnout off-year local races favor Democrats (and not something far more reasonable like “larger urban centers tend to have more Democrats”), the act of comparing what Republicans are doing with actual voter suppression tactics now and over the last several decades to states that allow cities to vote in off-year races as equivalent to the point of making Democrats hypocrites over voter access is complete and utter nonsense.

This is because:

1) Democrats don’t pass laws specifically making it more difficult for people to vote by adding additional hurdles to make it more expensive for the voter to vote by imposing a photo ID requirement and then closing a bunch of DMV offices so those photo IDs are far more difficult to get.

2) “Having an election in an odd-numbered year” is not suppression. at most it’s an additional cost to a county elections board that is shared by all taxpayers and not just Republicans.

3) The Republican argument as to why photo ID voter laws are needed are based on junk science and are terrible because photo ID requirements wouldn’t have prevented the voter fraud Republicans keep complaining about that fuel these laws and…

4) Low-turnout elections favor Republicans and there’s reams and reams of data supporting that, which is why Republicans are trying to actively suppress urban Democratic party voters in the first goddamn place.

This whole idea is stupid on its face and serves only as High Broderism that hides the very real issue of Republican efforts to disenfranchise voters across the country.

Jesus hell, what an asshole.

PS, GO VOTE.  Frowny Bee wants you to vote.


43 replies
  1. 1
    The Gray Adder says:

    “When school boards and other municipal offices are up for election at odd times, few run-of-the-mill voters show up at the polls, but voters with a particular interest in these elections — like city workers themselves — show up in full force. The low-turnout election allows their policy goals to dominate.”

    This kind of assumes that Democrats run most school boards.

    Of course, I have seen this happen before. The local school board wants a bond passed for something that wouldn’t pass if it was folded into the main budget (when people are paying attention), so they hold the vote in February, when people are more worried about getting the snow out of their driveways than getting to the polls yet again to vote NO on whatever dumbass thing they want that they were too cowardly to ask for during the normal budget vote.

    Remember, upstate NY is red.

  2. 2
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    No elections for me to vote in today. Otherwise, I would happily do so.

  3. 3
    pacem appellant says:

    Blessedly no elections in my county in CA. San Francisco is having an election today, though. I’ve been ignoring Measure F, but supposedly it will either be the harbinger of the sharing economy or its savior. Don’t know which side is which though. Good luck my SF peeps!

  4. 4
    Srv says:

    Ft. Lauderdale sure has a lot of terminals. Like 4 or 5 apparently, and the monitors show gates, but not the terminal.

    I was confused until I read about odd year elections.

  5. 5
    karen marie says:

    OMG, I have to call the fire department due to the level that this stupid burns.

  6. 6
    Steve M. says:

    Excellent points.

    This is gulling people who usually aren’t gullible — e.g., Ed Kilgore, who, in his discussion of the piece, writes about “off-cycle, extremely-low-turnout elections. You know, like many elections today.” Um, today is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. How is that “off-cycle”?

  7. 7
    Mike J says:

    @pacem appellant: I can’t see how making people who are running hotels pay the same taxes other hotels pay is a bad thing.

  8. 8
    pacem appellant says:

    @Mike J: I admitted my ignorance, and I cannot vote on the measure. The messaging around the YES and NO campaigns has been confusing, and AirBnB’s self-inflicted head shot might be the only thing that makes a difference. I await reading the post mortem on the train to the City tomorrow.

  9. 9
    Matt McIrvin says:

    I recall just reading something about how Republicans have had outsize dominance of state-level politics in Virginia because their elections for the governor and state legislature are odd-year.

  10. 10
    Brachiator says:

    Yeah, I got a little voting to do, this afternoon

  11. 11
    Feudalism Now! says:

    How the hell did this get posted at 538? This is garbage data or at the very least massaging the data until it is spongy and weak. Wow just absolutely weak data analysis and even weaker journalism.

  12. 12
    Goblue72 says:

    @Mike J: To hear AirBnB tell it, they are just helping poor put upon homeowners make some spare pin money.

    Course, what studies are finding, is that in supply constrained markets like SF & NYC, or in small but popular vacation destinations, AirBnB is allowing landlords to back-door run a hotel where local zoning and permitting wouldn’t otherwise permit a hotel. And it’s resulting in conversion of residential apartment units into hotel units, which in many of these locations is also illegal.

    More and more of AirBnB’s revenue model is built on these full time AirBnB hosts (aka professional property managers and RE investors). I’ve seen the numbers – and on a square foot basis, an apartment in SF can generate much more rental revenue as an AirBnB unit than as a long term rental. Some places are outfitting units with bunk beds like a hostel and charging by the bed.

  13. 13
    Goblue72 says:

    @pacem appellant: The idiots who sponsored Prop F included a “sue your neighbor” provision in it. Smarter people told them to cut it from the ballot measure and focus on the stuff that most people would likely support. The sponsors refused because neighborhood activists don’t listen. And as predicted, it’s a poison pill that will result in its defeat.

  14. 14
    CaffinatedOne says:

    @Matt McIrvin: That’s actually true in general, so far as I’m aware. State and local races tend to be off-year and hence low turnout in many states, heck off-year federal House elections are low-turnout and decidedly benefit republicans.This dumb bothsider-ism from 538 is a surprise. Are they going to try to compete with Salon now?

  15. 15
    Mike J says:

    @Goblue72: Also too, the law explicitly states that if the homeowner is there, there’s no limit on how many nights per year you can rent. You can rent out your spare bedroom all the time, you just can’t go buy a rental property and charge hotel rates for it, at least without being an actual hotel.

  16. 16
    mainmata says:

    This is not High Broderism; it is Moronic Broderism. You pointed out all the relevant idiocies and contradictions in the piece but the chief one is the apparent (because he offers no concrete proof) that off-cycle municipal elections leads to higher salaries for teachers and municial workwers. Correlation, if there actually is one in this case – and I doubt there is – most definitely is not causation.

  17. 17
    dedc79 says:

    O/T: I know that there’s been a lot of entirely-justified bashing of Will Saletan on this blog, but his piece documenting Rubio’s lies about Hillary and Benghazi is definitely worth a read.

  18. 18
    boatboy_srq says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Definitely. And yes, I voted. That stain Delgaudio is on the ballot. I’d prefer a rabid hamster to that one (which come to think of it wouldn’t be significantly different) and in this case the guy running against him seems decent which is a major plus.

  19. 19
    Goblue72 says:

    @Mike J: Yup. And I think most voters would be fine with that limitation – that is, if it’s your primary residence, do what u want; its investment property, you can’t run a jitney hotel. Would have passed easily but for the sue your neighbor poison pill.

  20. 20

    * The following is a public service announcement. *

    HAMILFANS! Lin-Manuel is going to be on the Tonight Show this Friday 11/6. Set your DVRs now!

  21. 21
    Redshift says:

    Any “data journalism” that talks about off-cycle elections (meaning not at the beginning of November) and then smoothly conflates that with odd-year elections is pretty obviously agenda-driven crap. Odd-year elections are like congressional midterms squared in terms of their low turnout and lean toward Republicans.

    Some of the presentation of why different groups favor off-cycle elections may be accurate (I know that some mayoral elections locally were off-cycle because good government types thought it would get people to pay more attention to them.) However, what happens when people figure out that doesn’t work is where the rubber meets the road. Here, local voters wanted to change it, and the Republican legislature smacked it down. (Gee, I wonder why? Must have been the teachers’ unions, right?)

  22. 22
    Mike in NC says:

    Went to vote today even though the only ballots were for town council. Decent turnout despite torrential rain. Old white people reliably vote because they have nothing else to do.

  23. 23
    PurpleGirl says:

    I’ll admit that this posting made me feel guilty about not knowing what on the ballot in my area. So I checked. A couple of judgeship and the borough AG. The AG had only one name — running on all three party lines (Republican, Democratic and Conservative). The judgeship also had people with multiple party endorsements. But even with the polls open another 4 hours or so and my polling place being just across the courtyard… I can’t get up the energy to go and vote. It will make no bloody difference. When there is an actual difference to be had, I vote, even in primaries. But when there is only one person running for the AG’s office, sorry. I’m staying home.

  24. 24
    gelfling545 says:

    Just wanted to say that some items will take me a bit to get used to (I’m a creature of habit.), this format is very friendly to my elderly eyes so thanks.

  25. 25
    AnonPhenom says:

    What does it matter WHEN the election is if half the offices to be filled on the ballot have the same person running as both a Democrat and as a Republican?
    Here is the ballot for NYC & The O.B.s

    I mean, that’s just a joke in search of a punchline….

  26. 26
    Just One More Canuck says:

    @pacem appellant: I’m assuming this is to do with air bnb and the like. Do people who rent rooms in their homes through air bnb pay insurance at a commercial rate or at their homeowner rate. This has become an issue for Uber drivers here in Ontario, as insurance companies are cancelling policies for Uber drivers who don’t have commercial policies and are trying to get by on their personal policies

  27. 27
    SageNotSweet says:

    I’ve been lurking here for a few years. Discovered this place because of the Big Orange, and often returned to the site because of some of the front pagers, and familiar, to me, commenters like rickyrah and lam (sorry if I got the names a little wrong) I enjoyed ABL when she was here. I like reading many of the posts by Zandar, Betty, Anne, and the often-curmudgeonly-Cole (because I have some moderate Republican family relatives and I’m not unfamiliar with people like him) I also love cats and dogs- so enjoy all of the pet pictures and blegs.

    I’ve been following politics for decades and little surprised me before this year’s GOP primary. But now I’m supposed to believe that the Democrats suppress the vote to win elections? Wow. There is so much evidence to the contrary throughout the 20th century, and most recently with many state efforts to purge voting rolls and require difficult to get voter ID. I hope this is a sign that the Obama coalition is starting to change politics in this country enough that we have to have a contrarian piece like this to explain things to us (the teachers’ unions- that must be it)

    I like the new format and I seldom access through my phone fwiw.

  28. 28
    Peale says:

    @Just One More Canuck: As they should. It’s quite different assuming that one is offing car insurance to someone who is commuting back and forth to work each day and running errands on weekends. Another to have a car that is on the round 12-14 hours per day.

  29. 29
    Germy Shoemangler says:

    @PurpleGirl: When I was a youngster we used to receive sample ballots in the mail. Does anyone do that anymore?

    The old folks would study it carefully and bring it with them to the voting booth to speed up the process.

  30. 30
    Gimlet says:

    Maybe trickle-down will work this time.

    Larry Summers: Advanced economies are so sick we need a new way to think about them

    The volume contains a paper by Olivier Blanchard, Eugenio Cerutti and me on hysteresis — and separately some of my reflections asserting the need for a new Keynesian economics that is more Keynesian and less new.

    Here, I summarize these two papers.

  31. 31
    pete says:

    Damned if I’m clicking through to what smells like a clickbait article, but in my community, off-year elections definitely benefit conservatives (who, in my community, which tends to view itself as progressive, are not necessarily Republican) because, to use a technical term, the old farts vote. We have council elections every two years, half the seats each time, and a great leftist narrowly failed to get on the council last year; even one ex-Mayor who did not support him admitted he’d have been elected in 2012 or 2016.

    Strangely, this seems to be true of the House of Representatives too. Is the source the famous Professor Otto Yerass?

  32. 32
    PurpleGirl says:

    @efgoldman: I realize now that I meant District Attorney. (His role though is analogous to an Attorney General, but on the more local city/county level.) Anyway, Richard Brown is gonna be the same no matter which line gets the most votes.

  33. 33
    Just One More Canuck says:

    @Peale: Agreed – one insurance company is pursuing fraud charges against one of the drivers.

  34. 34
    PurpleGirl says:

    @Germy Shoemangler: I don’t remember getting a sample ballot for this election. In the past, when there are more varied and contested elections, yes, we still have them in NYC.

    ETA: OTOH I may have gotten something and tossed it onto a pile of mail since it wasn’t a bill.

  35. 35

    Ah, 538. Centrism central.

  36. 36
    Steeplejack (phone) says:

    @Steve M.:

    Odd-numbered year.

  37. 37
  38. 38

    @Matt McIrvin:

    Yeah. For reals. But, I guess, this tool couldn’t be bothered to look into any of that. Doing work and looking shit up for some shitty article is too hard, it seems.

  39. 39
    bobbo says:

    Didn’t someone like Ron Fournier make some slatepitchy argument that Obama making campaign ads was the same as Republicans passing voter I.D. laws? Or something like that?

  40. 40
    Glidwrith says:

    Anyone want to bet the real reason this baloney ‘both sides do it’ was written because enough people are finally starting to notice all the crap the ReThugs are pulling with elections? So they are taking a page from the tobacco industry and climate deniers and deliberately futzing the lines between the two Parties.

  41. 41

    Me, in early 2014:

    538 (Nate Silver, editor-in-chief) and Vox (Ezra Klein, editor-in-chief) are turning out to be disappointments, with Silver hiring climate denialist Roger Pielke and Klein hiring Cato Institute crank technology policy commentator Ted B. Lee (no relation to Tim Berners-Lee.) Alas, I don’t think these are going to fail, for the same reason that Fox News is not going to fail: these are funded propaganda operations, not honest news or commentary operations. Silver and Klein seem to be getting financial support because they’re thought safe centrists by the people who make the financial decisions. There’s plenty of that already in the media. So why should I care what these sites have to say? … Both Silver and Klein have excellent analysis skills. If they do this for a while they’re going to turn themselves into hacks. And that would be a shame.

  42. 42
    shinobi42 says:

    Day late, dollar short, but this post made me SO HAPPY.

    I’m a statistician and I say unto you, Data is not the answer to everything, especially if you are using the data wrong.

  43. 43
    louc says:

    Um, the conservative JeffCo school board that just got tossed out on its ear was elected in an off year. It benefits both sides Christian conservatives have used it to their advantage and so do unions. Wow. no words for that piece of crap article.

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