Thursday, April 3, 2014

MCSG Electoral Caber Toss 2014: Second Predictions

Since my first round of predictions was released Tuesday morning, I've received a lot of feedback from candidates and campaigns about my predictions, as well as more data on the campaign activities of each candidate. I have subsequently refined my predictions to hopefully reflect likely outcomes in two possible scenarios: a low turnout election and a high turnout election. I am predicting a high turnout election, but at the same time MCSG has not taken any specific actions other than tabling (so far) in an attempt to drive it up.

In this post, I will first outline a brief update of what factors I think have changed for each candidate. I then break down each candidate's use of social media, and explain what I think social media statistics actually mean in terms of electoral outcomes. Finally I make predictions about the outcome of the election under two possible turnout scenarios (if you are interested only in the bottom line you may want to skip to that section).

I now see Rick Beckel and Rothin Datta as the front runners in a high turnout election, with Rothin possibly having a slight edge. In a low turnout election, predictions become a crap shoot, but I believe such a scenario hurts Rick's chances a great deal to the benefit of all other candidates, especially Samuel Doten.

Campaign Updates
The basis of my opinion for these estimates is summarized in detail below. I encourage candidates or campaign managers to contract me with any mistaken data or information you think I am missing.

Sarah Vandelist
After my last post was published, Sarah put together a Facebook event page and has shared it more aggressively than any other candidate - something she had to since she's running while studying away. She's adopted a new political strategy - rolling out a series of endorsements from MCSG members and other upperclassmen and taking a feminist tack as the "only woman in the MCSG old boys club" (a smart move on a campus that is 60% female).

I think these strategies have improved Sarah's chances overall, but probably not enough to fundamentally change her situation. She has a core base of upperclassmen supporters, but I doubt she'll be able to change the minds of upperclassmen committed to other candidates. She lacks connections to underclassmen and (to my knowledge) most student orgs, mostly due to her dedication to MCSG. In a low turnout election her dedicated base may put her over the top, but otherwise I think she is unlikely to win.

Richard Raya
Not much has changed for Richard, whose campaign activities have been limited since he is off campus. He continues to use his social media presence aggressively, and I believe he has a core of dedicated supporters who will definitely vote. I also wonder if his past work as an RA will give him a boost among the class of 2016. I think Richard's best chance is in a low turnout election, where he may receive many second or third choice votes.

Samuel Doten
Sam has been conducting an aggressive on-campus campaign, handing out snacks, coffee, and campaign literature several days this week. His strategy has been to position himself as a serious legislator unafraid to take on controversial issues. He's also hoping his work on the FAC and SOC will endear him to org leaders on campus. I suspect that some of Sam's first choice votes are being stolen by Richard, which could really hurt in him in a low-turnout race.

I think Sam's on-the-ground campaigning (which has reached around 100 voters) may have helped endear him to underclassmen voters, who probably have very little information about other candidates. I think he has a very good chance of winning a low-to-medium turnout election and a decent chance of winning a high turnout election.

Rothin Datta
Rothin's chances of winning have been improved mostly by my improved knowledge about him. I did not include in my last analysis that fact that Rothin is currently working as an RA, which makes him a known quantity to about 60 first-years. Rothin has also secured the endorsement of current SOC Chair Maddie Arbisi. Rothin suffers in a low-turnout election, but thanks to his MCSG connections, probably not as much as Rick.

Rothin has also been taking advantage of being on campus, handing out cookies to students on Bateman Plaza this week. I think this is another excellent move which will help boost his chances among underclassmen, who probably know less about the respective candidates than their upperclassmen peers.  If Rothin and Sam's electoral performances are far off from my predictions, it may be that I am underestimating or overestimating the effect of in-person campaigning.

Rick Beckel
Rick is seeking to capitalize on his widespread name recognition, as I mentioned in my last post. He has the benefit of being the only hard-science major (Biology) in the race, and if a large number of Olin Rice students vote, that could turn out to be a big advantage. Rick's campaign manager has also announced the publication of an op-ed in Friday's Mac Weekly. Rick's overall strategy seems to be aimed primarily at upperclassmen, but I suspect he will face a lot of competition in that category with three rising Seniors in the race.

Social Media Performance
One of the few sources of hard data on an MCSG campaign's performance is social media. I relied more heavily on social media to help form my estimates in the last set of projections, but it's become less useful as social media performance between the campaigns has leveled out. The graph below shows the number of students each candidate has invited to their campaign "Vote for X" event page (left y-axis, blue bars) and the percentage of those invited who have committed to "attending" (or voting) for the candidate (right y-axis, red bars).

Most candidates have now invited between 400-600 individuals to their campaign event page. In general, 30-50 students have publicly committed to vote for the candidate on their event page. The most useful information we can get from this now comes from outliers in the data, which may tell us something more useful.

The graph shows two areas of interest: first, Richard hasn't invited more than 350 students to his campaign event page, but has a larger percentage of them have committed to voting for him than any other candidate. This reflects Richard's underlying situation as a candidate - he has an enthusiastic base of supporters, but not an especially broad reach.

Second, Sam Doten has the lowest percentage of committed voters out of any candidate, despite only inviting about 450 students to his event page. I suspect this reflects the fact that many voters who would otherwise pick Sam as a first-choice on their ballot have chosen Richard instead.

Electoral Scenarios
This chart summarizes my previous projection and my two possible projections for election day, one for a high-turnout scenario and one for a low-turnout scenario.

Estimated % Chance of Victory by Candidate

Low-turnout election (700 voters or less)
In an MCSG election with between 500 and 700 votes, the race becomes something of a tossup. I think Rick Beckel suffers most in this scenario, as does Rothin Datta. This is the scenario in which the three candidates who have a narrow but dedicated core of supporters have the best chance of winning. A huge unpredictability factor also comes in here from the ranked-choice voting system employed by MCSG - the election could well be decided by third or fourth choice votes, which are extremely hard for me to predict.

High-turnout election (700 to 1000 voters or more)
Last year, almost 1000 valid votes were cast in the MCSG executive election. If that many or more students decide to vote in this election, Rick Beckel and Rothin Datta remain the front runners. I've given Rothin a slight edge here based on his work as an RA and in-person campaigning, but the election is currently a toss-up between the two. I also expect Sam Doten to remain a strong force in the race with this many voters, especially if he is able to gain the support of org leaders and underclassmen.

A Final Note
Because I need to do my homework, this will be my last set of predictions prior to the election. I will (time permitting) go over the election results once they are announced and compare them to my predictions (if someone in MCSG is reading and wants to give me access to all the voter data, that would be nice). Keep an eye out for an article about these predictions in Friday's Mac Weekly. I encourage any candidates or campaigns to contact me with complaints, rebuttals, and factual corrections. Finally, I hope this exercise has helped shed some light on the electoral process for my fellow Mac students, and provoked some thought about how our student body makes decisions.

Edit: The Mac Weekly's election coverage has just been published. Some things of note:
  • An excellent election guide, with some actual in-depth responses from candidates. A vast improvement over previous years' coverage.
  • No endorsement for Raya or anyone else (as expected).
  • A platform from Datta heavily aimed at the athletic community.
  • The editorial from Rick's campaign manager was published.
  • And last, an interview with me about these rankings. Looks like I got a little too excited about methodology and cut Heather off at one point... oops.

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