2013 Virginia Election: Turnout Analysis

How did ethically challenged Democrat Terry McAuliffe manage to eke out a narrow victory over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in last year’s Virginia gubernatorial election?

According to a new turnout analysis of the election conducted by the Market Research Foundation (MRF), the real question we ought to be asking is “where” McAuliffe eked out his win.

Or rather where Cuccinelli lost this race …

As expected, McAuliffe and the Democrats scored huge wins in the eleven Virginia jurisdictions with high concentrations of black voters. That’s not surprising – even in an off-year election.

These jurisdictions gave McAuliffe his net plurality of 228,147 votes.

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mcauliffe plurality

What was very surprising, though, was the depressed level of GOP turnout. In thirty-eight GOP-dominated jurisdictions, turnout was unchanged from 2009 to 2013 – resulting in lower net gains.

“It is no overstatement to say the GOP campaign left the victory (on) the table,” the report concludes.

What could the GOP have done to turn a 2.5 percent defeat into victory?

Click on the report below to find out …

TURNOUT ANALYSIS OF VIRGINIA GENERAL ELECTION (.pdf)

State Of The Media: The Proliferation Escalates

Moving public perception used to be all about delivering a simple, potent message on television.

Today? “It’s complicated.” The ongoing proliferation of media has changed the way messages are crafted, delivered and consumed. Potent messages must now be delivered across multiple media platforms to increasingly divergent audiences. This imposes several new demands – first and most importantly identifying where media consumption is taking place.

According to the latest data from the Pew Center – released earlier this year – cable television audiences continued to see declining viewership in 2013. Combined prime time viewership for the top three cable news stations – Fox, CNN and MSNBC – was down 11 percent last year.

MSNBC suffered the steepest fall, losing 24 percent of its audience. CNN was down 13 percent while Fox was down 6 percent.

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media pew

Local news – which according to Pew remains “the primary place American adults turn to for news” – saw upticks in every time frame in 2013 after five years of declining viewership. Local morning newscasts climbed 6.3 percent, while evening news climbed 3.3 percent and late night news inched up by 0.1 percent.

Of course these increases did nothing to stop the ongoing consolidation of local stations – and the increasingly top-down generation of local content.

“At this point, fully a quarter of the 952 U.S. television stations that air newscasts do not produce their news programs,” Pew reports. “Additional stations have sharing arrangements where much of their content is produced outside their own newsroom.”

Network news saw a 2.3 percent increase over 2012 – with ABC News up 2.2 percent (to 7.7 million viewers), CBS News up 6.5 percent (to 6.5 million viewers) and market leader NBC News declining 0.7 percent (to 8.4 million viewers).

Newspapers saw modest upticks – gaining 3 percent circulation during the week and 1.6 percent circulation on Sundays – although Pew notes “that result is influenced by liberalized reporting rules … and includes both paying visitors to digital platforms and distribution of Sunday insert packages to non-subscribers.”

Speaking of digital, 82 percent of Americans now get their news on desktops or laptops – with 54 percent receiving news on tablets or smartphones.

How much of that content is really “news,” though? That’s a good question.

“In digital news, the overlap between public relations and news noted in last year’s State of the News Media report became even more pronounced,” Pew reported. “One of the greatest areas of revenue experimentation now involves website content that is paid for by commercial advertisers – but often written by journalists on staff – and placed on a news publishers’ page in a way that sometimes makes it indistinguishable from a news story.”

Separating the wheat from the chaff, then, becomes an indispensable skill for practitioners – whether in placing messages or responding to messages placed against them.

Don’t Snooze On This Study: How Sleep Impacts Turnout

A rested electorate is a motivated electorate – or so concludes a new study by Iowa State University political scientist Robert Urbatsch. According to Urbatsch, the awarding – or withholding – of an extra hour of sleep not only impacts turnout at the macro level, it has a discernable impact on the ideological composition of those who show up to vote.

Published in the March 5, 2014 edition of American Politics Research, Urbatsch’s findings showed increased turnout in years when November elections take place after the conclusion of daylight saving time. Democrats enjoy a slight edge in those races, whereas Republicans enjoy an advantage in elections held prior to the time change.

How much of a bump are we talking about? Using state-level voter turnout data from 1971-2011, Urbatsch concluded that “having an extra hour in the day just before the election again associates with more voting,” by an average of 4.5 percentage points. Data gleaned from the American National Election Study over roughly the same period – from 1972-2008 – also determined that “a clock change made just before the election associates with a higher probability of voting,” this time by 2 percentage points (when controlled for other influencing factors).

Companion research done in Indiana – which until recently had some of its counties on daylight saving time and others on standard time – also revealed “an approximately 2.5 percentage point increase in predicted turnout” when voters had an extra hour of sleep.

Obviously the impact of a good night’s sleep has no bearing whatsoever on absentee ballots and early voting – meaning the modest outcomes observed by Urbatsch are likely to yield diminishing returns in future elections.

Still, it’s clear there is a cause and effect at work – one savvy organizations would be wise to leverage. Count on MRF to explore optimum ways of doing just that as we incorporate these findings into our research.

In the meantime to view Urbatsch’s study for yourself, CLICK HERE.