The Daily Agenda: Break the turnout model
Vote in the midterm, too ... Voter/candidate intimidation continues ... And Clinton, Norris, Dewey and Bigfoot walk into a bar.
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For the past year, we’ve been deluged by candidates screaming about how the polls show them up by a point — or down by a point. Two different polls conducted on the same day might find both results (and candidates will have a fundraising pitch for each).
But it’s worth remembering, all polling is based on a turnout model: a set of assumptions each pollster makes about who’s going to vote. At its most basic, turnout is the question of how many Republicans, Democrats and independents are going to vote based on past elections. But a smart turnout model also takes into account voters’ ages, locations, education levels, voting history, gender, ethnicity and a variety of other factors to make the best possible prediction about who’s going to vote.
And that’s all decided before a pollster even asks those voters who they’ll vote for.
But modeling turnout is essentially guesswork. Some pollsters are better at guessing than others, but they’re still guessing.
We have some data about who has already cast their ballots, but with voting patterns rapidly changing, that early voting data doesn’t provide as much insight as it used to.
Nationwide, it’s already a record-breaking year for early voting. The Washington Post reports that the number of early votes across the US is already higher than any past midterm. The pandemic accelerated voters’ already growing use of mail ballots, despite Republicans training their fire for more than two years at early mail-in voting.
But in Arizona, we’re not breaking records.
Republicans, who dominated early mail-in ballot returns through 2018, are now holding onto their ballots longer. More will likely vote in-person, though that’s leaving a lot to chance. Fewer independents have voted so far this year than at this point in 2018, the last midterm election. The Republic editorial board over the weekend urged Arizona’s independents to make their voices heard and ensure the extremes of both parties don’t decide this election.
As of Sunday, Democrats held an edge in returned ballots. But perhaps the best predictor for turnout is past voting history. And far more ballots from reliable Republican voters remained outstanding than from reliable Democratic voters, according to Democratic strategist Sam Almy, who built a handy dashboard tracking early ballot returns.
As any reporter put on the spot for a bland election prediction will tell you, it’ll all come down to turnout. Infrequent voters are the biggest blind spot for turnout predictors, just look at Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Even in the best of midterm elections, only about 65% of registered voters cast a ballot.
If you don’t usually vote, especially in midterms, go out there and cast a ballot — it’ll surprise the pollsters and turnout modelers.
Don’t do this: The campaign headquarters of GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake received an envelope this weekend that contained “suspicious white powder.” A staffer opened the envelope and is under medical supervision, Lake’s campaign said. Two envelopes were sent for testing, and the issue is under investigation. Democratic gubernatorial contender Katie Hobbs condemned the “threatening behavior.”
The voter intimidation election: Despite a judge’s order that curtailed the most problematic elements of drop-box watching, complaints about people monitoring drop boxes intimidating voters continue to pour in to the Secretary of State’s Office. The court order only applied to Clean Elections USA, so some of the watchers may be going solo now. In total, the SOS has sent 18 complaints to law enforcement for investigation, several of which were from November. The process of “hunting voter fraud” has now been gamified on some social media platforms, where people can earn points for dubious, unsupported claims of voting issues, the New York Times reports. Elections workers in Maricopa County have gotten more than 100 threats the past few months, including messages saying things like “You will all be executed” and “Wire around their limbs and tied & dragged by a car,” Reuters reports. Democratic county party chairs received a menacing letter, too, Rachel reported in The Guardian as part of a broader story on voter intimidation in this year’s midterms.
Echoes of the 2020 audit: A judge should rule today in a lawsuit that argues Cochise County’s full hand count of ballots is illegal. The suit, brought by the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans, claims that the hand count would throw the election and its results into disarray. Hobbs’ office wrote an amicus brief in the case saying the same. The supervisors who ordered the recount are represented by Bryan Blehm, who formerly represented the Cyber Ninjas.
When hyperlocal becomes national: San Luis, Arizona, became the center of conspiracy over ballot harvesting and an inspiration for “2000 Mules,” and now four people have been charged for illegally submitting ballots for other voters in the small border town, the New York Times’ Jack Healy and Alexandra Berzon report. Voters in the town, which lacks home mail delivery, now are wary of helping others vote and voting themselves, worried they’ll be ensnared in the controversy somehow.
They’ll all be close: Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly couldn’t outrun the national landscape for Democrats forever, and his race against GOP candidate Blake Masters has tightened in recent weeks, the Washington Post’s Hannah Knowles reports. While Kelly was once thought to have the race locked up, the mood among Dems has privately shifted to wariness, and the race is expected to be a nail-biter now.
As if by magic: A company called Superfeed Technologies created an app for Kari Lake that collects her social media posts and campaign info like donation links and volunteer opportunities into one place, but there’s no record of the Lake campaign paying the company for the app, which could violate campaign finance laws, the Daily Beast reports. The company’s CEO seems to be former Arizona treasurer Jeff DeWit, at least according to DeWit’s LinkedIn. Three other candidates — Jim Lamon, Kelly Cooper and Austin Smith — had Superfeed apps in the app stores, too.
Everything is politics: Two defense attorneys filed a State Bar complaint against Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell and two prosecutors over their charging of Nubia Rodriguez for negligent homicide after her car hit and killed a police officer who had run into traffic while working an accident scene, ABC15’s Dave Biscobing reports. The charges against Rodriguez were dismissed. And instead of MCAO responding to the complaint, Mitchell’s campaign did, calling the complaint a “political hit job.”
It’s all theater: Kari Lake’s former colleagues and friends say they don’t recognize the person on the campaign trail, and that their old friend used to hate guns, practice Buddhism, support abortion and love the Obamas, the New York Times’ Jazmine Ulloa reports. Separately, Lake, Masters and GOP secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem all made the list of Vanity Fair’s “GOP midterm candidates who should scare the s–t out of you.”
Recusal would be abnormal: While Lake and her supporters have tried to make the point that Hobbs shouldn’t be overseeing an election she’s running in, it’s typical for Arizona secretaries of state, governors and attorney generals to sign off on their own elections, the Republic’s Stacey Barchenger reports.
Don’t come over for dinner: The New York Times’ Jennifer Medina profiles “one of the most divided households in one of the most divided districts in America” — a Scottsdale family made up of a Trump-supporting Republican, a Libertarian and two Democrats, where clashes over intense political differences between the parents and two children have become a regular occurrence.
Turning Point is so hot right now: Turning Point USA (and its leaders, Charlie Kirk and Tyler Bowyer) have molded the Arizona Republican Party over the past few years into a MAGA haven that ousts anyone who doesn’t follow the Trumpian line, the Washington Post’s Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Isaac Stanley-Becker report. And the Republic’s Richard Ruelas writes about a pastor, Caleb Campbell, who’s watching the ways Turning Point has used faith in its messages and is now working to stop the intertwining of religion and politics.
Don’t ignore them: Just a few hundred residents of the Hopi Reservation voted in this year’s primary, with thousands sitting it out, Stan Bindell reports for the Republic. The tribe cited distrust and a lack of engagement from the government and candidates, plus the complexity of voting in a rural area, as reasons for lower turnout. The Hopi’s tribal elections also aren’t on the same timeline as Arizona elections.
Some days, it’s difficult to find something to laugh at. In the past few days, though, we’ve been bombarded with good material.
There was this from Kari Lake, perhaps the wildest thing she’s said on the campaign trail so far, and there’s plenty of competition.
And this tweet from Abe Hamadeh that we assume HAS to be a joke, where he posted a photo of the infamous “Dewey defeats Truman” headline while claiming votes could be counted in a single night. (Dewey did not defeat Truman, which you probably know because the name Thomas E. Dewey doesn’t mean anything to you.)
Or the fact that Chuck Norris, the former TV ranger, endorsed Blake Masters.
But we’ll leave you with this video, of a voter with a sense of humor dropping off a ballot while dressed as Bigfoot.