What Do We Learn from Data-Crunching the Election?

Friday, November 10, 2017, 8:46 am
Chris Root

Unofficial results are now in on the election of Tuesday, November 7, 2017. What can we learn from the data about what happened in East Lansing?

Turnout was relatively high:

A total of 6,196 voters participated in the November 7, 2017, election in East Lansing. There were 24,655 registered voters. This is a turnout rate of 25.13%.

While a 25% voter turnout may seem disappointingly low to some people for deciding a question as important as an income tax to address the City’s significant debt, many more City residents turned out for this election than is usual in an odd-year East Lansing election.

There was a significant increase in turnout in East Lansing in 2017 compared to 2015. A total of 1,950 more people voted in the 2017 election than in 2015. (6,196 people voted in 2017, compared with 4,246 people in 2015.)

The percentage turnout was 25.13% in 2017, compared with 17.10% in 2015. (The number of registered voters changed very little – 24,825 in 2015 and 24,655 in 2017.)

In 2015, there was a hotly contested election with six candidates vying for three City Council seats. In 2017, income tax and related property tax questions were on the ballot, which were controversial. There were three candidates, two of whom were incumbents, vying for two City Council seats, a noticeably smaller field of candidates than for the last City Council election.

The two previous odd-year elections (when there are no presidential, Congressional, or state legislative elections), had even lower turnouts in East Lansing: 12.79% in 2011 and 10.71% in 2013.

Beier showed strong around the City, Stephens strong on campus:

Incumbent Ruth Beier and newcomer Aaron Stephens won the two seats on City Council. Incumbent Susan Woods lost her Council seat. The votes came in this way:

  • Ruth Beier: 3,538
  • Aaron Stephens: 3,042
  • Susan Woods: 2,709

Beier received the highest number of votes in every non-campus precinct except Precinct 2 (Chesterfield Hills), where Aaron Stephens got the most votes.

Stephens received more votes than Woods in six precincts (3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 18), and Woods received more votes than Stephens in five precincts (5, 7, 8, 11, 17).

Stephens, who is an undergraduate student at MSU, received more votes than any other candidate in all five on-campus precincts. The number of voters in these precincts was small, however, totaling 184. (This on-campus turnout compares with 122 in 2011, 24 in 2013, and 33 in 2015.) Many MSU students live in other parts of the city, and there is no way to distinguish how students voted in these precincts.

Almost a quarter of available Council votes went unused by voters:

Each voter could cast votes for two of the three candidates for City Council. No information is available from the County Clerk about how many voters voted for only one candidate in the City Council race.

The number of votes cast for all three Council candidates (9,289) plus “unresolved write-ins” (132) equals 9,421. The 6,192 people who voted each had two votes they could use in the City Council race, or 12,392 available votes. The total number of votes that were cast for candidates on the ballots or write-ins is 9,421, which is 2,971 less than the number of votes that could have been cast for the Council seats.

So, 24% of the available votes were not cast.

We do not know why so many votes for Council were not used. There could be an “enthusiasm gap”—people not being strongly supportive of two candidates. Also, some people may have chosen not to use a vote if they felt they didn’t know enough about a candidate.

The number of votes for Council seats that were not used in 2015 was lower than the comparable figure in 2017. In 2015, when people could vote for up to three of six candidates, the 4,246 voters cast 11,517 votes for City Council candidates out of 12,738 available votes (the number of voters times 3), leaving 1,221 unused votes, compared to 2,971 unused votes for Council candidates in 2017. One can also observe from these 2015 data that it is not unusual for some voters not to use all their available votes in a City Council election.

Voters did use their available votes on the two tax proposals:

The income tax failed by 46% to 53%. (There were 2,878 votes in favor and 3,259 votes against.)

Most people who participated in the election voted on the two tax questions. On the income tax question, 6,137 people voted, while 59 people did not. On the related property tax question, 6,032 people voted, while 164 people did not.

This is a much higher count than people who voted for two candidates for City Council. Therefore, it seems likely that the controversial tax questions on the ballot were responsible for the turnout that was significantly higher than in 2015.

Geographic trends on the income tax:

The precincts with the highest proportion of votes against the income tax were Precinct 17 (Hawk’s Nest, 66.7% against), Precinct 7 (Whitehills, 61.2%), Precinct 5 (Tamarisk/Pinecrest, 59.2%), and Precinct 4 (Shaw Estates/Pinecrest, 54.8%).

In three City precincts, a majority of those who voted supported the income tax. These were Precinct 16 (Red Cedar/Spartan), Precinct 9 (south Bailey), and Precinct 10 (Bailey/Avondale). Also, in Precinct 11 (Marble/ Walnut Heights), there were only four fewer votes for the income tax than against it. Precinct 16 had the highest support for the income tax in the city, at 55%, but it is the smallest precinct in the city measured by the number of registered voters.

In the five on-campus precincts, 51.41% of the 184 voters supported the income tax. Stephens, an MSU student who was a successful candidate for the Council, said that he planned to vote for the income tax, and the State News ran an editorial urging a “Yes” vote. Lorenzo Santavicca, President of the Associated Students of MSU (ASMSU), and Ashley Fuente, president of the Council of Graduate Students, had both spoken against the income tax.

Turnout increase as it related to the income tax question:

Given that it seems likely that the income tax issue increased the turnout in this election, I looked at whether the increase in turnout was noticeably greater in some precincts than in others and whether there might be any correlation between increased turnout and support for or opposition to the income tax.

The two precincts with the highest turnout in 2015 were Whitehills (Precinct 7) at 43.43%, and Glencairn and Oakwood (Precinct 3) at 43.04%. This year, Whitehills, which had the highest proportion of “No” votes on the income tax, at 61.2%, also had the highest increase in turnout compared to 2015 – an increase of about 15 percentage points.

Voters in Precinct 3 (Glencairn and Oakwood) were quite evenly split on the income tax – 429 “Yes” to 436 “No” – and this precinct had a less significant increase in turnout between 2015 and 2017, by 6.55 percentage points. In 2015, the turnout in precinct 3 was 10 percentage points higher than any other precinct, which is relevant context for understanding the smaller increase in turnout here in 2017.

Voter turnout also increased by more than ten percentage points in Tamarisk/portion Pinecrest (Precinct 5) and Harrison Meadows (Precinct 6). The former had the second-highest proportion of “No” votes on the income tax after Whitehills, at 59.2%. Harrison Meadows (Precinct 6) was fairly evenly split on the income tax, with 50.6% of voters voting “No” and 49.4% of voters voting “Yes.”

Support for Stephens did not amount to opposition to the income tax:

I looked to see if there is any apparent correlation between precincts with a high percentage of opposition to the income tax and a high number of votes for Aaron Stephens, since he was supported by the Greater Lansing Association of Realtors PAC, which was identified with the Citizens for East Lansing’s Future, the ballot committee against the income tax. I ranked precincts by the percentage of votes against the income tax and also by percentage of votes for Stephens.

There does not seem to be a very strong correlation of a “No” vote on income tax with either relatively strong support for Stephens or for Woods. For example, Hawk’s Nest (Precinct 17) was the precinct with the highest percentage of voters against the income tax, and it ranked 11th among the 12 non-campus precincts in terms of the percentage of votes that Stephens received. Whitehills (Precinct 7), the second strongest precinct for “No” on the income tax, was the 12th ranked precinct in terms of percentage of votes for Stephens. Woods received more votes than Stephens in both of these precincts.

On the other hand, the precinct that voted most strongly for Stephens, namely Red Cedar (Precinct 16), was also the precinct that voted most strongly “Yes” on the income tax. So, support for Stephens did not correlate here with opposition to the income tax. In Chesterfield Hills (Precinct 2), the sole non-campus precinct where Stephens received more votes than any other candidate for City Council, 51.5% of voters voted “No” on the income tax, less than the city-wide percentage of 53.1%.


Note on sourcing: Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum’s office released updated figures for “Unofficial Summary Results” on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 7:58:50 AM and updated “Unofficial Precinct Results” at 8:06:06 AM. This report uses these figures. According to Byrum’s office, the numbers in the unofficial results include all East Lansing voters, not only those who live in Ingham County. (A small part of East Lansing is in Clinton County.)

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