Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flagstaff's mayoral primary: Disappointing but, in retrospect, shouldn't have been surprising.

Before the results of Flagstaff's mail-in mayoral election came in on Tuesday, I would have predicted that sitting mayor Joe Donaldson and either of Dave Schlosser or Rick Krug would go on to the general election. Both were polished and professional, in addition to having strong records of community service and activity. Schlosser, additionally, was the boldest campaigner, and the smartest man (or woman, for those who for some reason don't know English) in the race.

What I neglected to take into account was that Sara Presler-Hoefle is a registered, active Democrat, the only member of that party in the race. Forget that her record of service and activity in the community doesn't come close to either of Krug or Schlosser--the press had to play up her having been the NAU student body president!--and forget her ambiguous, somewhat vapid platform, which, much like a student body president's, naturally leads to the question "is that really in your power, and how would you do it?" Forget that she didn't fare well in the public debates. Even though this was a nonpartisan election, all the voters out there for whom being a registered Democrat is a signal of being a Good Person who Cares About The Poor and wants to Work Together Cooperatively knew her party affiliation; it was as widely reported as Schlosser's involvement with the Libertarian Party.

Remembering that Presler-Hoefle (does anyone else find agglutinative surnames obnoxious?) is a known Democrat puts a different and more believable spin on the results than Fred Solop's appeal to change-ism. If desire for change was the driving factor,the voters would've went for Schlosser, who brought the freshest ideas to the race. The Yellow Dog Effect explains the result more simply.

I suspect, too, that Krug and Schlosser would have, more often than Presler-Hoefle, been Donaldson voters' second choices, and that Krug would have been most Schlosser voters' second choice (and vice versa.) Polling of that sort wasn't done, so we'll have no way of knowing whether Flagstaff's crude election method works. Condorcet would ensure that the candidate most preferred when compared pairwise with the others wins the election; the primary-plus-two-way method can lead to artifactual winners. Consider the French Presidential Election of 2002. Le Pen was certainly not the electorate's second choice, and it's not clear that Chirac was more preferred than Jospin.

My prediction for the general election: Presler-Hoefle is Flagstaff's Jean-Marie Le Pen. that isn't to say that she's a bigot, but rather that she's out of touch with the values of the community. Schlosser voters will perhaps split between Donaldson and Presler-Hoefle, and Krug voters will back Donaldson, leaving Donaldson the winner.

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