Thursday, November 10, 2005

Postmortem Pt. 3: Ranking the Reasons for the RONwreck

RON didn't just fail, it failed spectacularly. It failed everywhere. Based on the numbers, it must have failed in every political, racial and economic subgroup. What's more, the numbers turned around sharply from the Dispatch poll released over the weekend.

Obviously, 70% of voters do not vote "no" for one reason. All around the blogosphere you can find posts speculating on why RON is now a smoking hole in the political landscape. I will try to collect them and give some reasons for a rank order, from most to least important.

1. The Inherent Bias Against Ballot Issues. Ohioans simply don't vote in favor of initiatives very often. According to the history on this site, we are actually in a fairly active time for ballot initiatives. Ohioans passed only one issue from 1939 to 1988. Since then, three have passed: the gay marriage ban, term limits and an issue overturning the soft drink tax. As OPR’s Bill Cohen said Wednesday on 90.3 at 9, when you are running a No campaign you can give people ten reasons to vote against something and they only need one.

2. The Complexity of the Ballot Language. This is above all the best explanation from the deviation from the Dispatch results. The poll would have asked questions about supporting an issue to, say, curb campaign contributions. Then voters walk into the booth and are confronted with several paragraphs of ballot language that talks about PACs and labor unions. Those who aren't put off are confused. For most folks, doubt leads to a No vote.

3. The OhioFirst Ad Campaign. By this I mean the TV ads run to appeal to the general population. They were effective in 1) highlighting the level of complexity, 2) planting the idea that a voter shouldn’t take a risk and 3) suggesting bad things that might happen. RON ran some decent ads, though the best came from Citizens to End Corruption. Unfortunately, a 30-second spot can only tell what a proposal seeks to accomplish. The big issue was whether RON could accomplish its goals.

4. Bad Editorials. In an issue campaign, editorial endorsements have a heightened value. In a candidate election, a fair swath of the electorate will vote on a gut feeling about the candidate. In an issue campaign, everyone looks for information. If the information says “no,” that’s where they head.

5. Real Problems with the Amendments. Beyond the complexity of the language, there were real flaws in the RON strategy. First among these was trying to amend the Constitution instead of changing statutes. This turned off a number of people who might otherwise have supported the issues. (It nearly did me in and I labored with a troubled conscience throughout the campaign.) Writing these as Constitutional amendments also raised the stakes. More people may have taken a chance on imperfect legislation, thinking that the GA could fix whatever problems came up.

6. Anti-RON Democrats. See previous post. A significant factor where it occurred.

7. Base Mobilization. Within the RestoreFundies crowd, it was fears, queers and smears business as usual. This had, I think, relatively little effect. Remember that an energized base only gave W 51 percent. In addition, the strategy had a galvanizing effect on RON activists and the progressive community in general.