Tuesday, April 1, 2014

MCSG Electoral Caber Toss 2014: First Predictions

The idea behind this blog post is to try and put some of my political science training into action and predict who will win the upcoming MCSG Presidential election in the style of Nate Silver's recent 2014 Senate predictions. Unlike real elections, MCSG elections are conducted under a strange set of rules I have written about before. Combined with the unique electoral environment of Macalester, the standards I use to evaluate each candidate's likelihood of victory are somewhat different from what is often used in other elections.

Unlike FiveThirtyEight, I have no polling or fundraising data on MCSG candidates, because those numbers either don't exist or aren't public. I also don't have the advantage of the candidates being neatly pitted against each other in a two-party system. However, I do have an understanding of how MCSG's elections work and the advantages and disadvantages that system confers on certain candidates. I also have social media data and electoral histories about each candidate, as well as backgrounds on what past candidates have been involved in.

The key factors that I believe determine MCSG victory are social networks, effort, and mobilization. Candidates need a "social network" of friends and acquaintances, which at Macalester are typically developed through meeting fellow majors and campus org involvement. They need to put out the effort to run a visible campaign and persuade the few "swing voters" that have no ties to any of the candidates. And they need to mobilize their supporters to vote - a key factor in notoriously low-turnout MCSG elections.

You will notice ideology and platform are not factored into this analysis, with a slight exception in the Campus Involvement category. All of the candidates and most of the Macalester student body are so ideologically similar that analysis here would reveal little. I also don't believe platform is a compelling part of most students' voting decisions - and even if it was, it's extremely hard to measure the "quality" of a candidate's platform.

These are the factors I used to help determine each candidate's chances of victory in the upcoming election:

Incumbents are not necessarily loved at Macalester, but they do have the advantage of wide name recognition. Incumbents have their names routinely published in Mac Weekly articles about MCSG happenings. They are often well known to student org leaders. Students may remember voting for them in the last election. While the current MCSG president is graduating, three of the five candidates running are currently serving in other roles at MCSG.

Social Media Presence:
Almost all candidates organize Facebook events to encourage people to vote. This factor evaluates the strength of those outreach efforts by measuring the number of students invited to vote for the candidate and the number who have said they will do so.

Campus Involvement:
Different candidates have been involved in different on-campus groups, which may benefit their candidacy as group members and leaders are more likely to help their campaign and vote for them. I say "may" because some campus groups are more controversial than others - say, membership in Mac Young Americans for Liberty. Involvement in a controversial group can hurt a candidate's chances. Finally, some groups are simply larger than others, and so may have more ability to help a candidate reach students.

Physical Presence on Campus:
Some candidates are conducting their campaigns while they are studying away. While physical presence on campus may confer a slight advantage, I didn't weight it heavily. Many candidates who are on campus fail to use their physical presence to their advantage (say, in tabling) and the current MCSG president was actually elected while studying away.

Past Election Victories:
If a candidate has won previous elections, MCSG records can give me a good idea of what their base of support looks like.

Get Out The Vote Efforts:
Turnout is a chronic problem for all MCSG elections. Physical get-out-the-vote campaigns run by candidates are extremely rare. If candidates develop innovative ways to get out the vote and mobilize supporters, they could end up with an advantage come election day. While I have yet to see anything especially new, points are also awarded in this category for a campaign's "effort" in general.

Summarized below are my views on the status of the race and my current view of the likelihood of each candidate winning the election were it to be held today (April 1st). I currently view Rick Beckel as the strongest candidate in the race, although I don't think it would be impossible for Samuel Doten or Rothin Datta to beat him. Detailed explanations are found below for each candidate, explaining why I gave them those odds.

With luck, I'll be able to revisit each of these predictions prior to the election this coming weekend. I encourage candidates or their campaign managers to email me any information you think I may have ignored or left out so that I may include it in my revised predictions.

Sarah Vandelist '15
Sarah is a long-time MCSG insider whose track record is relatively uncontroversial. She has been elected to the LB three times by the Class of 2015 (although only her first election was actually seriously contested), typically landing about 80-90 votes despite low turnout rates. This group of 80-90 rising Juniors, along with some MCSG insiders, constitutes her base of support.

Sarah has probably the strongest incumbent advantage of any candidate (as the only insider running from the class of 2015), but suffers when it comes to campus involvement thanks to several off campus commitments (including her own small business). She benefits from her work in the political science department - one of the college's largest departments.

Sarah's GOTV efforts suffer from the fact that she is currently studying away. She has also poured most of her social media outreach work thus far into constructing a very well-made Tumblr page, while all other candidates have set up Facebook event pages. Her initial announcement on Facebook has only 86 likes and three shares - I consider it a risky move, and doubt either that post or the Tumblr will be as effective in reaching students as a Facebook event page would be. Sarah needs broad support in order to win the MCSG presidency, and I don't think she'll be able to get it unless something changes.

Chances of winning: 10%

Rick Beckel '15
Rick is one of two "outsiders" running in this race, hoping to upset the MCSG establishment, but I believe he is the candidate to beat. Rick is an activist and org-leader, with strong ties to Mac Dems and last year's fossil fuel divestment campaign. He's also a Biology major (a large department) giving many opportunities to meet new people over his last three years at Mac. The strength of all these ties, combined with general apathy toward the MCSG establishment, may boost Rick significantly. The unanswered question is whether the lack of incumbency hurts his name recognition, or if his ties to large and popular on-campus groups overcome that problem.

Rick is currently off-campus, and will not even have internet access until almost right before the election. But it appears a strong campaign is being run on his behalf, with several friends organizing what it currently the most popular Facebook event page of any candidate - 544 students have been invited and 40 have already committed to voting for him. This, along with the fact that at least three different friends (one of whom is a key MCSG insider) are helping manage his campaign, makes me think he is in a strong position to win the race.

Chances of winning: 35%

Richard Raya '15
Richard is the other "outsider" in the race, and has no MCSG track record. What he does have is a position on the editorial board of the Mac Weekly, where he's been writing op-eds since his first year at Macalester. This probably eliminates any name recognition disadvantage.

A key drawback for Richard's campus campus involvement score comes from the fact that the the Mac Weekly is unlikely to openly support him, and in fact does not issue endorsements in MCSG elections. Most of the orgs Richard is involved in are small - the Mac Weekly staff, Mac Martial Arts, and Bad Comedy all having no more than a few dozen members each. Richard majors in American Studies - again, a small department.

Richard is also studying abroad, but his social media presence is interesting - his event page has 31 committed voters, but only 218 people invited so far. While it remains to be seen if that number will grow, I suspect the small social networks Richard is involved in put him at a disadvantage compared to Rick. Unlike Rick, Richard is online and will be actively campaigning from Facebook.

Richard might be able to put himself over the top anyway, but I think he is likely to lose many first-choice votes to Rick and Sam Doten. Sam and Richard are both part of the same social groups, which I think will divide their potential base of support. Rick and Richard are the only two "outsider" candidates in the race, meaning that students who are voting based on opposition to the MCSG establishment will end up splitting between the two. He could pull it off, but it's gonna be an uphill battle.

Chances of Winning: 10%

Samuel Doten '16
Sam is interesting - he's managed to carve out an "outsider" image while still being an MCSG insider. In his own words, he has been to "hell and back" with MCSG. He's been elected twice to MCSG, suspended for his participation in the controversial KWOC Weyerhauser blockade, and returned after his suspension was complete. Along the way, he's pushed hard for gender neutral bathrooms, diversity in faculty hiring, and the removal of administration restrictions on MCSG eligibility.

Sam writes on occasion for the Mac Weekly, and is regularly written about in the context of MCSG debates, legislation and controversies. I don't doubt Sam has very high-name recognition. But given his controversial history with KWOC, that could hurt him as much as it helps. Perhaps the biggest edge for Sam is in his work on the FAC, where he was worked hard to cultivate good relations with student org leaders. Sam's strength can be gauged in part by his performance in last year's SOC Chair elections. He lost, but just barely - receiving 352 first-choice votes and actually winning in the second round before losing out once third-choice votes were included.

Sam got a bit of a late start on social media front, but so far has 10 committed voters and has managed to invite 334 people to his campaign page. A key test will be to see if the proportion of committed voters to invitees improves over the next two days.

Sam has strong ties to large activist groups on campus, including Mac Dems and Queer Union. He also retains his ties to many of KWOC's organizers, although the extent of those connections are unclear to me. I believe he does have a strong network of activists willing to support him - the $221 question is: can he mobilize them and get them all out to vote? If he can, I suspect he could edge out Rick, especially if Rick cannot effectively turn out the vote.

Chances of winning: 20%

Rothin Datta '16
Rothin is an MCSG insider, which I believe is likely his key strength. He has served as MCSG Vice President for a full year, and was elected after running unopposed last spring. He has served on MCSG since Freshman year, and my impression is that he has a good reputation among MCSG members. Rothin also has key ties to Mac's Athletes - both on the frisbee and football teams. Maddie Arbisi was elected SOC chair with the strong support of the athlete vote last year - the question is whether or not Rothin can replicate that success.

Rothin's VP position has afforded him a lot of visibility and little controversy. He did end up on the losing side of the "Orgs-versus-PB" budget vote in the LB last year, but I doubt that will have a serious impact unless org leaders actively mobilize to oppose him. He's also currently on campus, which gives him an advantage over the three rising juniors in the race.

Rothin's past election victories don't tell us much - he was elected VP with more than 900 votes last year but ran unopposed. The most the votes from that election tell us is that he has avoided making enemies. Rothin also has a strong presence on Facebook right now - 25 committed voters and 370 invited to attend on his page. One caveat has to be attached to that number - Rothin is running a joint social media campaign with Konnor Flemming. That could impact those numbers in ways I can't predict.

Rothin probably has the broadest potential base of support of any of the "establishment" candidates currently in the race - the question in my mind is if he can mobilize it. I have put Rothin up five percent on Sam, but this is probably the closest call in the race. The key will be who votes.

Chances of Winning: 25%

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