Friday, June 11, 2010

V-O-T-E (Vote)

The biggest mystery of the week in politics is, I suppose, the story of the Democratic nominee for Senate in South Carolina.  Who is he?  Is he a real candidate, or part of someone's crazy plot?  And, in the part of the question that political scientists should be able to shed some light on -- how did this happen?

In fact, there's a nice item over at the Monkey Cage by John Sides looking at the effects of ballot order on vote in low-information elections.  Apparently being in the first spot in the ballot might make a bit of difference.  John also speculates about race: could voters have guessed the ethnicity of the candidates and voted on that basis? 

I haven't seen anyone mention yet, but there is another possibility.  The guy's name is Alvin Greene...and there is a very famous, and I think generally well-loved, person named Al Green.  Here in Texas, the Democrats have been plagued by a fringe candidate named "Gene Kelly," who managed to win a few nominations over real candidates, presumably simply on the basis of sharing a name with the movie star.

Now, I'm not saying that's what happened here...I have no idea!  I would say that I've been a little puzzled about the Gene Kelly thing...I'm a big fan of (the real) Gene Kelly, but he did die fourteen years ago now...his last acting was about 25 years ago (he was on a Love Boat!), Xanadu is thirty years old, and while he did show up on TV quite a bit in the 1970s, his movie career was slipping by the mid-1960s; I'd be sort of surprised if all that many people in their 20s and 30s know who he was (yes, Singin' in the Rain is still well known -- for a movie from the 1950s.  A lot of people don't know any movies from the 1950s).  Anyway, Al Green -- he's Albert Green, no "e" at the end, and he's not from South Carolina, for what it's worth...well, I'd imagine that he's at least as well known among South Carolina Democrats as Gene Kelly is among Texas Democrats, and if anything more liked.  Well known enough that people know that he's not "Avlin Greene"?  No idea!  Well known enough that people, faced with two unknowns, might pick the one with the same name as a star they love?  Could be; as John Sides points out, if we assume a coin flip going in, it doesn't take much to get a 58/41 result.  Of course, the other candidate did run a bit of a campaign, so it was perhaps not 50/50 going in...but maybe take a few points for ballot order, and several more for "Take Me To The River" and perhaps that's enough. 

As far as I know, no one has ever studied the Gene Kelly effect, but I'm willing to guess that it's a factor in this one.  As John asked in his post, anyone have anything better?


  1. I wonder if Al Green benefitted from the "Al Green effect"?

  2. One thing I can't find is exactly how many votes Greene got. I can see that he won about 60 percent of the vote, but a Democratic primary in South Carolina in a presidential off-year can't get more than a few thousand voters, can it? But I really don't know.

  3. Good point! And then there's Jerry Lewis (R-CA)...presumably, the lower the information level in a campaign, the more it could be a factor (that's why it's more likely in a in the general election is a huge amount of information). I doubt Paul Simon got much out of it in his campaigns for Senate, much less his presidential race...but if I was running for some obscure authority governing board, I'd at least think about running as Ringo Starr. Or Beyonce.

  4. You should look up Don Yarbrough, now that you're a Texan. His election inspired the greatest political cartoon I've ever seen, a Ben Sargent masterpiece riffing off the Sistine Chapel, as well as some very funny Molly Ivins columns.

  5. Anon,

    Excellent story. I did not know (or at least remember) it. Thanks.

  6. Jonathan, I don't know if you were living in Texas at the time, but some years back some guy named "Don Yarbrough" was nominated for governor (I think) despite the fact that he was a political neophyte (at least in terms of qualifications for governor). This was almost certainly due to confusion over his name - there was a more famous Don Yarbrough, and also the very famous (and very liberal - those were the days!) US Sen. Ralph Yarbrough. The wrong "Don Yarbrough" was quoted in his campaign saying that "God told me to run."

    Which is a lead-in to the classic Ben Sargent cartoon that came out after the election. Don Yarbrough is holding a newspaper touting his victory, and from above, God's voice comes out of a cloud, "I thought it was the other Don Yarbrough."

  7. I recall reading that many people voted for George W. Bush thinking that they were voting for his father. How about Senator George Allen and Coach George Allen. In New Jersey we had a popular Congresswoman named Flo Dwyer. Bernard Dwyer (as far as I know no relation) later represented the district.


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