August 26, 2014 by Thomas Hauber
Last Friday Brian Schatz was declared the winner in the 2014 Hawaii Democrat Senate Primary. The margin was slim, 48.5% -47.8%. Interestingly, dueling pre-election polls had both candidates winning by large spreads, the Civil Beat poll 49-41for Schatz, the Star-Advertiser poll 50-42 for Colleen Hanabusa
Schatz “won” by 1769 votes out of 238,000 cast, with 8000 residents of Hawaii’s Puna area allowed to vote late due to poll closures caused by Hurricane Iselle. Overall. 42% of Hawaii’s registered voters voted, about average for an off-year election but less than cast ballots in the 2012 Presidential election.
Close races can mean either the voters were contentiously split or in the case of an inter-party primary like Hawaii, that the choice was not a dramatic one. In truth Brian Schatz was probably no more than one percent different than Colleen Hanabusa, but after all, a win is a win. Once more a tiny fraction of registered voters ultimately decided who will likely hold one of Hawaii’s highest offices.
A 60-40 win these days is considered an embarrassing trouncing, even a 15 point spread is a landslide. A 55-45 win is significant, maybe even a “mandate” in today’s overworked use of the term. Every win is a mandate in the sense that it gives authority to govern yet the result hardly serves as a ringing endorsement of the winner’s politics or the pollster’s art. More often than not, a victory of three to five percent is likely with many important races decided by less than one percent of the vote. The Kennedy-Nixon race in 1960 comes to mind, the closest popular vote since 1916 ended 49.7 to 49.6%, a fraction of one percent difference nationwide.
What continues to confound pollsters and strategists alike is the large percentage of eligible voters who do not vote, generally about 40%. Voter participation has remained between 50 and 60% since the 1890’s when it declined from around 80%.
A quick look at modern voter statistics reveal Blacks and Whites vote more frequently than Asian and Hispanic. You are also more likely to vote the older and wealthier you are and the more education you have. And so it goes.
Contrast these voters to a small but growing group of actual voters who produce “blank” ballots, over 3800 in the Hawaiian primary. The blank voter is an activist who sees simple abstention as an unacceptable alternative. They seek a more active protest by submitted untouched ballots showing their dissatisfaction with the available candidates or more cynically, a blanket dismissal of the entire election process.
Interesting that some readers of my previous blog entry found the concentric circle voter graphic more interesting than the esoteric numbers games played by pollsters. Readers can draw a couple more circles inside “likely voters” — “actual voters” and “blank voters.” The pollsters would love to know what everybody else was thinking.