Friday, May 7, 2010

"Name Combat" Shows Hoosier Nativism?



This might surprise some folks, but my lovely wife is not particularly political. This pays huge dividends because she's one of the world's best sounding boards. If she sees a campaign ad and hates it, I'll call a candidate and tell them to change it because I know it'll flop.

The other night I involved her in an experiment. Without giving specifics, I asked her to look at three lists of candidates and predict how they would fare by ranking them in order from most votes to least.

(Get a pencil and play along. Don't look down until you've ranked how these candidates will finish).

ROUND ONE:

GLORIA (GLO) YVONNE ELEY
SANFORD E. GARNER
KRISTI ALLEN GREEN
UNA OSILI
S. KISHAN RANASINGHE
VICTORIA MARA RUTT
VANESSA J. SUMMERS
KATE SWEENEY BELL




As many Democrats active in the party will know, this is an actual ballot for Democratic state convention delegate. Here is how these candidates finished (with my Wife's predictions in parentheses):

1. VANESSA SUMMERS (1) - 154 votes - 38.69%
2. KATE SWEENEY BELL (2) - 53 votes - 13.32%
3. GLORIA (GLO) YVONNE ELEY (4)- 50 votes - 12.56%
4. UNA OSILI (7) - 47 votes - 11.81%
5. SANFORD GARNER (5) - 35 votes - 8.79%
6. KRISTIA ALLEN GREEN (3) - 35 votes - 8.79%
7. VICTORIA MARA RUTT (7) - 15 votes - 3.77%
8. KISHAN RANASINGHE (8)- 9 votes - 2.26%




ROUND TWO:

ANNETTE S. BIESECKER
FRED R. BIESECKER
JULIANA A. FASHANU
KEITH JOHNSON
HARINI RAJAGOPALAN
LAURA SCHENKEL




The results:

1. LAURA SCHENKEL (1) - 104 votes - 24.47%
2. KEITH JOHNSON (2) - 82 votes - 19.29%
3. ANNETTE S. BIESECKER (3)- 80 votes - 18.82%
4. JULIANA A. FASHANU (5) - 61 votes - 14.35%
5. FRED R. BIESECKER (4) - 52 votes - 12.24%
6. HARINI RAJAGOPALAN (6) - 46 votes - 10.82%

FINAL ROUND:

LAURA ALERDING
CHRISTOPHER CONNER
BRYDEN CORY
REX C. EARLY
J HOPKINS
DIANA J. HUNTER
CARLOS F. LAM
PATRICIA A. SCHNEIDER
SCOTT SCHNEIDER
WILLIAM G. SCHNEIDER





The results:

1. REX C. EARLY (3) - 2,663 votes - 16.74%
2. LAURA ALERDING (1) - 1,924 votes - 12.10%
3. SCOTT SCHNEIDER (5) - 1,809 votes - 11.37%
4. DIANA J. HUNTER (2) - 1,796 votes - 11.29%
5. PATRICIA A. SCHNEIDER (4) - 1,730 votes - 10.88%
6. CHRISTOPHER CONNER (6) - 1,613 votes - 10.14%
7. WILLIAM G. SCHNEIDER (7) - 1,515 votes - 9.52%
8. BRYDEN CORY (8) - 1,017 votes - 6.39%
9. J HOPKINS (9) - 930 votes - 5.85%
10. CARLOS F. LAM (10) - 910 votes - 5.72%

How does a mostly apolitical person who doesn't know Vanessa Summers is a state representative pick her first? How does that person pick 5 of 8 in that round dead on? How does that person miss getting the correct order in Round Two completely accurate by one slot? How does that person snag in perfect order the 5 low vote getters in Round Three?

It doesn't matter if my wife has ever understood her prediction method or articulated it, she's intuitively picked up what iPOPA calls his "Name Combat Theorems." For the rookies, they are:

(1) Many people will vote for an office, even if they know nothing about the candidates. People like to "finish" things, and moreover, to not vote is an admission we didn't do our homework as good citizens. Accordingly, many people (probably myself included) will rationalize and tell ourselves, "Well, of course, we have enough information to vote. I heard about that candidate from my best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend who heard it from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors."

(2) On a completely partisan (primary) or non-partisan (school board) ballot, the people identified in #1 will vote using the following principles:

(a) If a woman runs against a woman, the one with the name that is either more familiar or "cool" without being too "weird" will almost always prevail over any woman with a funny-sounded, overly exotic, or "foreign" sounding name.

(b) If a woman runs against a man, she will prevail over a man, provided they share equally-familiar names. This is because women constitute a higher percentage of the population already, plus they're more likely to follow gender identity as a voting prompt. However, if the woman's name is too "out there," even some women will break for the man.

(c) If a man runs against a man, apply Rule A.

I have a corollary about nicknames in parentheses, which is that candidates will either be rewarded or punished, depending on whether the nickname is deemed more folksy and charming or more embarrassing by the constituents.

The last part is critical because, just like with all these rules, whether something is "common," "American," or "foreign," is defined by the majority of the voters comprising the voting pool.

This makes the corollary difficult to apply unless you really know the area. For example, did Sarah "Doodle Bug" Chumbley get enough votes to tie for Democratic precinct committeeperson with Julanne Dubois in Warren Township Precinct 5 because of the nickname, or did she not win outright because of it?

But let's go back to my wife's results.

In Round One, my wife tabbed Vanessa Summers because she has the "best name" in this pool, following by Kate Bell. She also put Victoria Rutt in the bottom. Yes, Victoria is a common and even "pretty" name but "in a rutt" is the subconscious marker, which is why Vickie's in the cellar.

Now, people will rightly say, "Come on! Maybe Ms. Rutt and Kishan just didn't work and don't attend any party meetings. Maybe it has nothing to do with their names!" This is true. My wife had Una Osili finishing seventh, undoubtedly not knowing that Una is the wife of Secretary of State candidate Vop Osili, and an outstanding professor in her own right. I'm not saying a "strange" name will get you defeated if you are known, but it will if you aren't.

In Round Two, my wife predicted Laura Schenkel first over her fiancee Keith Johnson, and that's where 22 other folks took their ballot (sorry, dude!). Both names are pretty common, so the woman prevails (though maybe she talks to the neighbors more, too.) In the truest application of my theorem, my wife predicts Annette Biesecker will pull more votes than her husband with the exact same last name. (My wife doesn't know Annette might be better known from when she was a candidate for prosecutor).

In Round Three, my wife picked Laura Alerding first (she finished second) over another common name, Rex Early, because my wife didn't know Early had been the state Republican party chair and Ann Delaney's foil for years on Indiana Week in Review. And, yet, somehow she still gets Early in the top three. She also accurately predicts that missing full first name J. Hopkins will take a hit, but not as bad as a guy with two non-Waspy names, "Carlos" and "Lam."

This got me wondering whether "Carl May" would have won his Republican primary. Republicans will say Marvin Scott won because of "name recognition." Doesn't that prove my point? Even when party leaders slate a guy, the not-as-plugged-in Republican voters will take a four-time defeated candidate with a common name over a guy named "Carlos."

WAYNE E. HARMON. . . . . . . 4,727 18.74
CARLOS MAY . . . . . . . . 9,320 36.95
MARVIN B. SCOTT. . . . . . . 11,173 44.30

If you think I'm wrong on "name combat," please explain how Bob Kern, a guy who was sentenced to two years in prison for forgery, got 2,148 votes in the Democratic 7th District Congress primary (which Congressman Carson dominated) but Carl Kakasuleff only got 737. I know Carl's comedy is so bad as to be criminal, but still.


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3 comments:

Wilson46201 said...

Based on my years of experience I quite agree with your observations. There's a party difference in reactions too. Democrats tend to favor women and Republicans tend to abhor foreign names. Not that the female and foreigner factors dont have strength in the other party but not quite so pronounced.

Another important factor is ballot position. First on the list definitely helps. My favorite example is from 1990 when Trustee candidate Bill Smith got Sherri Brown to also run when Julia Carson was running. He figured it'd negate Carsons alphabetical advantage. Sherri was a pure stalking horse, she campaigned not at all. Election night she ended up with more votes than Bill Smith did himself!

Dave Stone said...

There's a nice example of this in the 1986 Illinois Democratic primary, where two Lyndon Larouche followers with nice American-sounding names beat two mainstream Democrats with ethnic names.

Anonymous said...

I think you are accurate. That is why Barack Obama deliberately made fun of his name and talked about the 'kid with the funny name". He did a good job of making people comfortable with it.