Early Voting & Election Campaigns

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The November 6th general election is a few weeks away, but early voting starts today. ASU Pollster Dr. Bruce Merrill talks about a host of election-related issues including how early voting has changed campaign strategies.

" Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The November 6th general election is a few weeks away but Arizonans can start voting today. In the last two presidential elections, early voting has accounted for more than half the ballots cast in Arizona and changed the way campaigns are run. Here to talk about early voting and a host of other election-related issues is Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill. Good to see you again. Thank you for joining us. Early voting really that big a deal?
Bruce Merrill: It's a big deal. It's completely changed electoral politics, particularly in Arizona. The smart consultants are the ones that put most of their money now towards early voting. Keep in mind that about half the people that vote early and were approaching 60% now do, cast their votes the first 10 days to 2 weeks after they got those ballots. So, you got to spend the money up front and just before early voting.
Ted Simons: When the returns come in, do the early voting are they usually announced first? Last? Doesn't really -- it changes? Doesn't really matter does it?
Bruce Merrill: It really doesn't matter. It's the final count but what we know is that the people that vote early tend to be different than the people that vote late. For instance, Janet Napolitano won both of her elections for attorney general and for governor by really understanding early voting and she spent most of her money on early voting. The research I did showed that she got like 56% of the early vote but lost the actual vote on election day, but it gave her enough that she won.
Ted Simons: So, how were those voters different?
Bruce Merrill: Well, the people that tend to vote at the polls tend to be a little bit older. Sometimes people that are kind of, it's traditional for them to go into the more established neighborhoods. A lot of the more professional people, younger people, tend to put in their ballots pretty early.
Ted Simons: Ok. Let's get to the national races here and then kind of focus in on Arizona. What is the mood of the country? Why did president Obama have the lead, seem to be owning up a lead before that debate? Why was that? Because of the 47% and things like that from the Romney campaign?
Bruce Merrill: Well, yes. It was a combination of that. The Libyan thing hurt Romney. He came out too early and criticized the president. There is a concept in American politics we call the rally around the flag syndrome, which means when you have a crisis, you lose an ambassador, there's a catastrophe, people of both parties tend support the president. That hurt Romney a little bit. Then the 47% comment hurt him a little bit. This is an election where up until the last week or two, until the debate, I couldn't, it wasn't clear to me who was going to win this election. Usually, it's pretty clear who is going to win by this time. But Romney -- Obama was pulling ahead. He was eight to 10 points ahead in the key battle ground states and I was about to call it for Obama until the debate. And it did change the dynamics. Now, whether or not it changed the underlying structure of those that are really going to vote for him or against him, probably not as much as the media has made it out to be. But nevertheless, because of media focus, it really did change the dynamics of the election.
Ted Simons: How unusual for a debate to have that kind of impact?
Bruce Merrill: Very unusual. And, in fact, I have talked with a number of reporters from the east coast, the west coast, and they are all saying the same thing I am. How did this happen? I mean, I was dumbfounded by the debate because this is a guy who has a reputation of being tough and a real good debater. He obviously either didn't take it serious. One almost looked like it like he was saying I am the president of the United States, why am I here? Why do I have to do this? And so I think we are all kind of mystified. I don't think you will see that kind of behavior in the second and third one.
Ted Simons: Is it the kind of thing, last thing on the debates, is it the kind of thing, where if you do well or you do poorly either way in the first debate, and number two and three are vastly different, I mean, how much can a second or third debate change what happened in the first debate?
Bruce Merrill: Well, you know, in the media society, the media last one day. So there's a new crisis, a new something to focus on, the next day. There are independent events. I think the thing that was surprising about the debate was simply that all Obama had to do because he was pulling away is kind of have a draw. That's all he really need but he got his rear kicked and in that particular debate.
Ted Simons: Let's get to Arizona. Is Arizona in play as far as the presidential election is concerned?
Bruce Merrill: I would be surprised. The Obama people really aren't terribly well organized in Arizona. They are not putting a great deal of money or effort into the Get Out the Vote activity, the social media that they put in last time. And keep in mind, in Arizona, there's about 4% or 5% more Republicans registered Republicans, than Democrats. Second, Republicans vote in a higher percentage than do Democrats. And so for both the challenger, Romney, in this case or the Romney to win, they have got to do well with the independent vote and get out their base. And that's what Romney will do. And keep in mind that Romney is a Mormon. There's a very significant number of Mormons in Arizona that will tend to support Romney. So it's pretty hard, I think, to see that the president is going to win in Arizona.
Ted Simons: What about the U.S. Senate race? We had our debate last night. And it was a rigorous affair, vigorous as well. How is that trending? And does something like a debate, can that, all indications are it's pretty close.
Bruce Merrill: Yeah. I was going to say, Ted, in a very close race it could. I personally thought the debate was about a draw. But it's the same scenario for Carmona. He has to get a majority of the independent vote. That's why you see lot of his ads are kind of directed towards, well, I don't like what either party is doing. That's a message that resonates well with independents. The second factor for Carmona is frankly the Hispanic vote. The Hispanic vote has to turn out for Carmona to have any chance to win.
Ted Simons: Are there indications that's going to happen? We saw the recall election of Russell Pierce. We are seeing Joe Arpaio in a relatively close race as least as far as his history is concerned. We keep hearing every election that comes around the Latino vote is ready to explode.
Bruce Merrill: I think that it will be a little higher this time but not for the traditional reasons. I think the activism that I have seen in the Hispanic community really comes from some of the younger Hispanics. Particularly because of the DREAM Act, kind of stuff that was going on. But you add the DREAM Act to the situation with the sheriff in terms of illegal immigration, and the presidential election, I think the Hispanic volt be a little higher. I don't think it's going to be high enough to really influence the outcome of the election.
Ted Simons: As far as congressional races, the CD 9 with Parker and Sinema, we have CD 1, as well, and CD 2. Let's start with CD 9, if we get to the others that's great but that's a lot of concentration. We're going to have a debate next week on that one as well. What do you see in there?
Bruce Merrill: I see a very close race there. That's an interesting district, demographically, politically. There's a large number of independents in that race. You have got two really different candidates in that race. We are at the stage where the campaign itself matters. By that, I mean strategy, putting money into get out the vote, identifying your supporters and delivering to the polls on Election Day. In a race like that, it's the better organized candidate that has a chance to win because it's a very close race.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about advertising. If one campaign or the other comes out, how negative do you go? They all, does anyone do a positive campaign ad anymore?
Bruce Merrill: Very seldom. About 80% of the ads that have been run are negative ads. Tragically the reason they run negative ads is because they work. When you live in a media society, there is so much noise. There's so many networks, so much cable, there's so much going on all the time that you have got to do something really dramatic to break through that noise to get people's attention. So what they do is they use negative advertising because it's very easy to make charges, whether they are true or not.
Ted Simons: Will that negative advertising in a race like this, could that negative advertising really make a difference?
Bruce Merrill: I doubt it. In the sense that even in the presidential election, Ted, at this point, probably no more than 4 to 5% of the people that will vote on Election Day are really undecided. Most people that vote really know how they are going to vote at this stage. And so it's just the most important thing at this point of what we call the end game of the campaigns is early voting and delivering your people to the polls. That's why the Democrats send in a guy like Bill Clinton. He didn't change anybody's mind. But what he did hopefully for the Democrats was to get out the base, to make them enthusiastic and want to get out and vote. So it's really delivering your people to the polls.
Ted Simons: Energizing folks there. CD 1, Kirkpatrick and Payton. What are you seeing on that race.
Bruce Merrill: That's another, it's not quite as polar, I think, as 9. But it's an interesting district. A lot of negative advertising. In fact, as far as I can tell it's almost all negative advertising on both of those. That's another one. I know it sounds almost like a copout but these elections are determined by who goes to the polls, who chooses to go and getting your people to the polls on election day, and the campaign that's better organized up there both of them have a chance to win.
Ted Simons: I mentioned Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County sheriff's race, do polls seem to indicate it's closer than it's ever been. Close is one thing. Losing the race is another. Is he in jeopardy of losing this race?
Bruce Merrill: Well, I think your analysis is right. I mean, he's certainly not as strong as he has been in the past. But he's got $9 million to spend for a sheriff's race. And the problem is his opponent really isn't known. The last time I looked, about 70% of the people in Maricopa County didn't know who was running against Joe Arpaio. Can he raise enough money to get his message out there to really have an effective chance to defeat the sheriff?
Ted Simons: That would be a good last question. The unknown factor that really does play how much of a difference does that make for a candidate? If you see unknown up there, how big a trouble are you in?
Bruce Merrill: There's no question that that's a major factor. Because I think one of the things to think about is we want to think about voters are rational, in other words, they are studying all the pros and cons. They are really not. Voting is primarily an emotional purchase. And so image and name is absolutely crucial.
Ted Simons: Bruce, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Bruce Merrill: Good to be here.

Dr. Bruce Merrill:ASU Pollster

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