2015 Municipal Election Summary, Part 2
December 4, 2015
“There are two ways that a theoretician goes astray. 1) The devil leads him around by the nose with a false hypothesis (for this he deserves pity). 2) His arguments are erroneous and ridiculous (for this he deserves a beating).” — Albert Einstein, letter to Hendrik Lorentz, quoted in New York Times, “Finding Relativity” by Dennis Overbye, November 24, 2015.
There is a false hypothesis which is commonly expressed within the Green Party. This hypothesis makes it difficult for Green Party candidates to build a wide-spread electoral movement which (in time) will be able to win elections. It is important for us to discuss this hypothesis because it stands in the way of our efforts to build the Green Party.
At the November 2014 monthly meeting of the Green Party of Philadelphia (GPOP), an active member said that statistics have shown him that voters go to the polls with their minds made up. Therefore, he continued, it is a waste of time for members to volunteer at the polls for a Green Party candidate. A similar hypothesis is sometimes voiced at quarterly meetings of the Green Party of Pennsylvania. It would be tragic if this hypothesis has convinced Green Party members to stay at home, instead of volunteering to build our party.
Personally, I have never seen any such statistics, and this hypothesis runs counter to the basic strategy of the Green Party. GPOP has relied since its creation on building rank-and-file support for our candidates at the polls. Fortunately, there is quite bit of evidence contradicting this hypothesis, and I hope to demonstrate to you that this hypothesis is incorrect. I would like to relate some of my experiences with electoral campaigns during the last twelve years, which may shed some light on this topic.
Inconsistency or Social Causation
The first Green Party electoral campaign in which I volunteered was Tom Hutt’s campaign for Philadelphia City Council District 8 in 2003. During that campaign in the early days of the GPOP, I found it interesting that some divisions (precincts) had a very small vote for Hutt, while in other divisions he actually won the election.
This seemed like an inconsistency to me: Why would divisions with similar economic/ethnic demographics have such widely different counts for the Green Party candidate? Notably, Hutt was able to cover very few polling places with volunteers, though he had tried to recruit as many as possible. Could that have caused the variation in voting for a Green candidate? I began to follow election results more closely in following years, to determine if this was a natural inconsistency or if there was a social causation for it.
Ward Results: 2007 through 2015
In the 2007 Philadelphia City Council election, the Green Party’s candidate for District 8, Brian Rudnick, received 1,100 votes (four percent). At the end of the campaign, I wrote, “Rudnick’s campaign for City Council focused on three wards (Chestnut Hill’s Ward 9, Mount Airy’s Ward 22, and Germantown’s Ward 59), where he received 81 percent of his vote. In those three wards, he had volunteers in 27 divisions. The other 44 divisions in those wards had no volunteers (33) or paid poll workers (11). Paid poll workers had no significant effect, and their divisions have been counted here as polls with no volunteers. Divisions with volunteers averaged three times the number of Green votes in polls with no volunteers.” [See, “Analysis of the Green Party in the Election of 2007.”]
During 2010, GPOP had 59 volunteers at the polls for Hugh Giordano’s campaign for PA State Representative in District 194. Of that number, 14 were Green Party members, 28 were from the United Food and Commercial Workers and Iron Workers, and 17 from other parties or independents. In Philadelphia, Giordano received 3,212 votes (23 percent). After the election, I wrote, “Not surprisingly, Giordano did best in his home Ward 21 (Roxborough/Manyunk), where he won six divisions (aka precincts) with 39 to 46 percent of the vote. Giordano came close to winning another six divisions with 37 to 39 percent of the vote. There was only one division in Ward 21 where Giordano received less than 20 percent of the vote. Overall, Giordano received 85 percent of his vote in Ward 21, where he averaged 86 votes/division.” Giordano had a volunteer poll worker at every division in Ward 21.
The following year, 63 volunteers worked at the polls city-wide for Green Party candidate Cheri Honkala’s campaign for Sheriff of Philadelphia. Of that number, 23 were Green Party and 40 were from other parties or independents. Honkala received 10,430 votes (seven percent) citywide. Following the election, I wrote, “Of the 66 wards, Cheri’s campaign had no poll worker in 33 of them. In those 33 wards, Cheri received 3,611 votes (35% of her total), averaging 109 votes/ward. In the 33 wards where Cheri did have poll workers, she received 6,819 votes (65% of her total), averaging 207 votes/ward.” [See, “History of Green Party Volunteers in Philadelphia Elections (2007 – 2013).”]
During 2015, the Green Party’s Kristin Combs, who campaigned for Philadelphia City Council-at-Large, received 11,366 votes (6 percent) city wide. This was the most votes ever received by a Green Party candidate running in Philadelphia. Kristin had 71 poll volunteers, 13 from GPOP and 58 from Neighborhood Networks, Temple $15 Now, and other organizations. Those volunteers worked at divisions in 22 Wards where Kristin received 7,567 votes (67 percent of her total) which was 344 votes/ward. In the 44 wards where Combs had no poll volunteers, she received 3,799 votes (33 percent of her total) which was 86 votes/ward.
Significantly, if the Green Party had been able to mobilize the same proportion of volunteers in the 44 wards where the Combs campaign had no representatives, she would have been able to double her total vote to more than 22,700. While this would not have been enough votes for Combs to have won a seat on City Council, it does demonstrate the value of volunteers at the polls.
Results within a Single Ward
I understand one problem with trying to draw conclusions from the limited, ward-based statistics presented above. A wise skeptic might say, “Perhaps the presence of a volunteer working for the candidate made no difference in the vote total. Perhaps there were differences between the economic/ethnic demographics of the wards which caused the divergence between wards which voted for Combs and those which did not – regardless of the presence of a volunteer.”
Actually, I thought that myself and attempted to answer such skepticism by looking at the votes for Combs within a single ward, in this case Germantown’s Ward 59, where I reside. Germantown has 25 divisions, where Combs received 422 votes (17/division). Interestingly, Combs had volunteers at eight of those polling places, and the polls with volunteers produced 243 of her votes (30/division). At the 17 polling places with no volunteers, Combs earned 179 votes (11/division). These numbers demonstrate that the Green Party could have increased Combs’ vote total in Germantown to 750, had the Green Party been able to mobilize 17 additional volunteers.
I suppose that by now you have deduced the alternative hypothesis which I am proposing. I believe that Green Party candidates cannot win elections without Green Party volunteers working the polls on election day. I think that there is now enough evidence from the campaigns of Green Party candidates during the last twelve years to demonstrate the necessity of volunteers working the polls for our candidates. I hope that in proposing this hypothesis, I will earn neither your pity nor a beating. Instead, I hope you will express your support for this hypothesis by joining me in our newly formed GPOP Electoral Operations Working (EOW) Group.
Please volunteer by telephone or email, and then forward this email to those who might be interested in helping us.
Chris Robinson, 215-843-4256
City Committee Member at Large
Green Party of Philadelphia
PS: According to a motion approved by the GPOP membership on September 30, 2015, the EOW Group has three tasks: “recruiting Green Party candidates who will campaign for office; organizing people to work on those campaigns; and building an infrastructure that will be able to win electoral campaigns.”