Prof. Murray surveys the scene and comes up with a turnout projection for November:
These considerations lead me to conclude that turnout in 2009 will be significantly below our 300,000 voters in 2003. How much lower? I think in the 225,000 to 250,000 range. This means campaigns have to carefully target mail, electronic messages, and phone bank efforts at a shrunken electorate. How to do that? Start with the 125,000 persons who voted in the 2007 General Election. If they came out when Bill White had no meaningful competition two years ago, they will very likely come back to the polls this year, if they are still on the city voter rolls. Then, try to figure out who the other 125,000 likely suspects are by a variety of means.
I’d probably start with the 50,000 or so folks who voted in the 2005 election but not the 2007 one and then go from there. I suppose that election, in which Mayor White was also essentially unopposed, had some turnout driven by the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that was on the ballot, and if so that may open a can of worms or two for this year’s contestants. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess, and the campaign that guesses the best will be in a stronger position than the others.
Greg adds an interesting dimension to Murray’s analysis:
In reviewing some numbers from elections past, one thing that jumps out is that the turnout by Council District doesn’t really move all that much from election to election. For instance, traditionally Republican District G will have an open seat election and possible runoff. All of the Mayoral candidates will give the district ample courting in the hopes of either earning a plurality in November that may turn into a majority in December, or at least avoiding a wipeout in the district. But the turnout in 2003 was 17.3% of the ballots cast in November 2003 and 18.5% in December 2003. In every election since 2001, it has been between 16.4% and 17.4% of the vote.
Where you tend to see major alterations in the turnout model are in non-Mayoral election runoffs. In 2005, District B went from 8.4% in November to 14.3% in the runoff, while District C went from 15.0% in November to 27.8% in December. Meanwhile, in 2007, District D went from 15.4% in November to 30.0% in December, while District E went from 12.0% in November to 24.9% in December.
In short, open seat Mayoral contests flatten the playing field. The three strongest GOP seats (A, E, & G) will garner a collective 39-40% in both November and December. The two African-American districts will represent about 24-25% in both elections. The two Hispanic districts will represent about 15% in both elections. And the two others (C and F) clock in at about 20% both times.
The questions, as Greg notes, are how does the electorate change within a given Council district between November and December, and how can Democratic candidates appeal to the Republican voters that come out in these elections without alienating their own supporters? Again, whoever gets this the most right will be in the best position to win.