Why Are Fall Elections So Hard?
I dunno why, but I feel like giving some free advice/thoughts on the UF election experience. Having volunteered, run as a candidate, and a chaired a party during fall elections, I do have some experience. And as I do research for my third novel, I’m learning more about how SG elections have worked and are working now.
Rule: Opposition/GDI parties alway lose, and most often lose badly, in the “mid-term” fall elections.
The best result for a non-FBK party was in Fall 2000, when SUN picked up 13 seats from off-campus Districts C and D. So the question is why are elections in the fall semester so difficult to win?
1. Demographics are destiny. Freshmen are concentrated into the numerous on-campus districts; honors students (most likely of freshmen to be anti-greek) even more concentrated into Hume (formerly into Tolbert). Freshmen are least likely to know about SG or to care one way or the other. So the most likely to vote are those pledging a fraternity/sorority and were told to vote “or else”. Turnout is highest in the fall among the dorms, yet those voting are least likely to be GDI-friendly. When IRHA was more political and more GDI-friendly, GDIs had a fighting chance in these districts. But when IRHA isn’t as active, GDIs are less successful.
2. Turnout isn’t always the problem – demographics off-campus are partly to blame. Yes, turnout in the fall is usually in the neighborhood of 6500 during a good election compared to 8500-9500 in the spring. But that isn’t the whole reason why GDIs aren’t winning. The off-campus districts are another reason. Take District D, the 32608 zip code. 13 senators elected from one district. That’s a lot of independent voters you have to corral together in one district to overcome the natural turnout advantage of greeks. When you do achieve it, however, you can win a lot of seats (as SUN did in 2000 and Impact did in 2005). Likewise, with Sorority Row and Frat Drive divided into Districts A and B, you pretty much no chance of winning those districts without Greek support. This really leaves District C, District D if you dare, and District E which is a crap-shoot to campaign in.
3. Partial slating hurts more in multi-member districts than you may realize. Unless your supporters are undervoting, if you have a partial slate in a district, you actually make it more difficult for your candidates to win. This is true in fall or spring, but is more accuately felt in the fall. Let’s say you only 3 candidates in District C getting 300 voters to the polls. The other side gets 250 voters to the polls. Normally that means 1800 votes cast for you and 1500 for FBK. But those 300 voters have 3 extra votes to kill, which means FBK could end up with 400 votes for each of their 6 candidates, compared to 300 votes for your 3. You brought more people to the polls, but lost votes to the otherside due to partial slating. If you can’t get a full slate in a multi-seat district, you’re better off writing the district off as unwinnable.
4. The mid-terms aren’t treated as such. My own Voice Party was guilty of this, too. Mid-terms are supposed to be a referendum on the party in charge and an attempt to put a check on their power. Yet, the same groups mobilized for a Spring election just aren’t bothered for a Fall election – most of the focus is on the greek houses and IRHA’s subsidiaries, rather than getting the college councils, minority groups, engineers, etc. mobilized. And the opposition doesn’t do enough to force the incumbents to defend their records in office – which usually are pretty weak, given the platforms are recycled every semester.
So, to win, you need to mobilize voters like this is a Spring election, you need to put up a full slate in as many districts as possible while writing off districts you can’t win (at least in the sense of campaigning there – you can still put candidates on the ballot), and you need to find and active the strongest possible candidates in the dormitories, while recognizing the strongest district for the GDI’s will always be the Honors dorms (currently Hume Hall).
One of Voice 2001’s weaknesses, and we had many, was we didn’t do enough targeting of winnable seats in Tolbert and Graham/Lakeside, we didn’t do enough to fight the incumbents on their failed promises, and we didn’t mobilize the Spring-only voters. But I am not very combative most of the time, and we thought we had a better chance off-campus than we really did. Oh well, you learn from your mistakes.
So it’s tough going, but if you run a smart energetic campaign that targets places you can win, then even a small party with finite resources can do better than expected – even in a fall campaign.