Could Adrian Fenty have won as an independent?
On Monday, as a follower of the @WriteFentyIn Twitter account, I received the following direct message: "It's not over. Please write-in Adrian Fenty for DC Mayor on Tuesday, Nov. 2"
So is it over?
As a write-in -- an unwilling write-in, at that -- it's over for Fenty. Running an effective write-in campaign requires oodles of money and a motivated organization that can accomplish the traditional GOTV objectives of identifying voters and getting them to the polls, then add the extra step of making sure voters know how to properly fill out their ballots. All Fenty has right now is a Facebook group.
But let's embark on a thought experiment -- what would happen if Fenty had run as an independent in the general election and had appeared on the ballot alongside Democratic nominee Gray?
Let me start by eating a bit of crow: The Friday before the election, I wrote that "there may be a difference of opinion between the pool of voters who would be eligible to vote in November and those set to pass judgment Tuesday." I said there were "indications ... that non-Democratic voters have a strong preference" for Fenty and that could make the difference in a general election. I wrote that expecting a five-point Fenty loss, not a 10-point Fenty loss. But let's see where the numbers take us.
We'll start with the assumption that all the voters in the Democratic primary would have shown up for the general election and voted the same way. In that case, Fenty would have to make up a 13,124-vote deficit to Vincent Gray among the 108,668 non-Democrat registered voters in the city. (We'll set aside the question of same-day registration, which represented only 1.6 percent of primary votes.)
The question becomes: What percentage of the non-Democratic votes would Fenty have had to win to make up the gap?
It depends on turnout. Here's a chart that illustrates the answer:
If the general election turnout were to hew to the same level (about 40 percent) seen in the primary, Fenty would have had to win 65.2 percent of the non-Dem vote to make up the gap. (If you adjust the turnout level to account for the fact that there are more non-Democratic voters in Fenty-friendly areas, the figure doesn't change much, to 64.9 percent.)
But if turnout were to rise, it would help Fenty considerably. The largest-ever turnout for a mayoral general election was in 1994, when 51.5 percent of voters (186,316, given registration levels at the time) showed up to vote up or down on Marion Barry's restoration. The largest turnout for any election was the 2008 general election, where 62.5 percent of registered voters (266,871) showed.
If general election turnout were to reach 1994 levels, Fenty would only have to win 61.7 percent to close the gap. If every 2008 voter showed up, he'd have to grab 59.7 of the non-Democrats to win. (This time, of course, Barack Obama won't be on the ballot.)
So the question becomes: How likely would it be that Fenty would win 60 percent or better among non-Democrats when
we he won only 44.5 percent of Democrats wanted him?
Two reasons why it's not likely: First, in 1994, which was as polarizing an election as this town has ever seen, Barry improved his margin considerably in the general election. While he fended off the combination of John Ray and Sharon Pratt Kelly with a 47 percent plurality, he won a full 56 percent in the general -- finding another 36,000 votes over his primary total, while only 6,000 additional anti-Barry votes materialized.
The bigger problem for Fenty is this: According to the Post's August poll, Fenty's approval ratings don't dramatically improve among non-Democrats. Where 46 percent of registered Dems approved of Fenty versus 47 percent disapproving, the numbers for registered voters of other parties (or no party) break down 47 percent to 42.
The poll numbers do indicate that the city's non-Democratic voters are more likely to be white -- 44 percent, versus 33 percent among registered Democrats -- which is meaningful in a race where race was such a powerful predictor. But 46 percent of non-Democrats are black. Bottom line: There's simply no evidence that Fenty would be favored enough among non-Democrats to make a difference.
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