The shameful, but not surprisingly low participation in the March 5 election by Los Angeles voters is being skewered in the state capitol. Jack Ohman, the editorial cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee, has this one running in the paper on Wednesday. I like it: your own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame just for voting. Personally, I'll take the special freeway lane.
Angelenos may not like being the butt of Northern California jokes, but come on. The choice of the next mayor was up for grabs, yet only about 20 percent of eligible voters took part in the March 5 balloting. We won't know the exact share until the rest of the votes are counted, only that it's more than the 16 percent that many media outlets reported on election night and the next day. Even 20 percent might be artificially low, because the voter rolls have not been purged of deceased and relocated voters in some time. If what the consultants call "dead weight" is pruned from the voter lists and the total vote creeps up five or ten points, that still isn't good.
Some of the refusal to vote reflects a complete failure to excite younger or new voters. An exit poll conducted by Loyola Marymount students for the school's Center for the Study of Los Angeles found that a whopping 82 percent of those who voted had lived in Los Angeles for 20 years or more. At a gathering Tuesday night at Loyola Marymount of the campaign strategists for the top mayoral candidates, the discussion kept coming back to the low turnout figures. Bill Carrick, Eric Garcetti's chief strategist, said a higher turnout would have increased Garcetti's lead — he finished first in the primary — but Carrick acknowledged that neither Garcetti nor Wendy Greuel enjoyed the sort of hard-core, devoted base that Antonio Villaraiogsa and Jim Hahn had when they ran against each other in 2001 and 2005. "This was a much more amorphous situation," Carrick said.
Garcetti and Greuel had good name identification, Carrick said, but it was "soft." As voters pondered their choices, they may have known what they were against, but "they didn't know who they were for." That backs up a finding of the last USC-LA Times poll before the election that found even voters who had made up their minds were not very committed to their candidates.
Carrick and John Shallman, who is Greuel's top strategist, agreed that changing the election cycle to June and November might help -- it puts more space between the fall presidential campaigns and the start of the municipal races, which overlapped this time. Neither Shallman nor Carrick, sitting one seat apart, would show any strategic hands to the audience of mostly LMU students — the event was also taped for LA Channel 36. The strategists agreed that this runoff won't be anything like the vote-inducing battle royale between Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley in 1973 that lured something like two-thirds of voters out to the polls. They expect a modest bump of about five more percent in the runoff — and that's even with three medical marijuana measures on the ballot to possibly excite some voters to come out and vote yes (or no.) "Basically, we'll see the same electorate come back again" in May, Carrick said. Shallman discounted the impact of the marijuana measures too, saying the candidates have essentially the same positions on regulation of pot dispensaries.
Eric Hacopian, the top strategist for Jan Perry, advised that Greuel would be smart to defend her base in the Valley against appeals by Garcetti, then try to expand her own base into the Westside. He got off a good line about the split images that Greuel projects, saying when she goes to conservative Porter Ranch she tries to sound like Sarah Palin and when she goes before labor groups she goes for an image more like Rosa Luxemburg, the late German Marxist martyr. (He was exaggerating.)
Some other observations:
- Shallman acknowledged that the Greuel campaign's internal tracking poll never changed, meaning they knew that Garcetti would finish the primary a little ahead. As I noted last week, finishing first in the primary is no predictor of final victory.
- The LMU exit poll was almost dead on with the actual results in the mayoral race, and reflected the findings of a pre-poll taken among LA voters during the presidential election last November, said director Fernando Guerra.
- Harvey Englander, the strategist for Measure A, the defeated sales tax measure, said he always figured that turnout needed to reach 25% for it to pass. That's because the additional voters would have been young or come from areas, such as the Eastside and South LA, where support for the sales tax increase was highest, presumably due to support for the LAPD and a favorable view of city services.
- Jeff Corless, the strategist for Kevin James, said the Republican was gaining support and would have been in the runoff with a little more money to spend.
- Hacopian said that Perry would have beaten Greuel and gotten into the runoff if unions and Hollywood money had not made big independent expenditures for Greuel. "We were a million dollars short," he said.
- Hacopian also said Garcetti always has an advantage in debates. "He's an actor...with a SAG card."
- Hacopian identified an interesting finding in the polls he saw: voters in the most affluent parts of the city are the least happiest, and those in the least affluent areas came to the election with the most optimism about the future.
- Asked the best advice he would have given Perry months ago, Englander quipped: "Run for city controller." He never believed that anyone other than Greuel and Garcetti had a chance to make the runoff, Englander said. "There was no path to victory" for the others.
Editorial cartoon: Jack Ohman, Sacramento Bee. Photo of Shallman, Hacopian and Carrick: LA Observed.