Analyzing Past Election Results with Kristina Keats CW 03

Voting ballotJohn Tsarpalas: I am here with Kristina Keats and we’re talking local elections. And last night I spoke to a guy who wants to run for his local school board, that is a seven-member board. And in this two-year cycle, there will be three seats up for election. And one of the things he had not thought about and didn’t know about was analyzing past election results. And one of the things I also pointed out to him is, who’s funded these other candidates in the past?

So let’s talk a little bit about going to your board of elections. And in his case it might be the county. It might be the state. I don’t know, it depends on what state we’re in. And obviously this broadcast is nationwide. So where do you start? What information do you pull? And how would you start to look at this race or any race?

Kristina Keats: You have to find out what agency to go to. In Illinois, it is the state Board of Elections keeps all of the past data. But interestingly, in school boards in Illinois, the school board runs the election. So they’re the ones who put out the packets and the petition information, etc. And you’re just going to have to go ask people. Whatever office you are running for, call the administrator in that office and ask them where do you get that information.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So assuming you got the information, now you have to go get it. Some states require you to pay for it. Some give it to you free. Usually also, I should add that most counties also keep the data.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Just depending which one is easier and which ones do it for free. Because interestingly some will charge and some are free. So do your research. You need to know this anyway for long tem.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah. And it depends too if the school district overlaps two counties and it’s going to be at the state, versus if it is in one county.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: There’s all these things going on. And not necessarily school districts. It depends what local race you are running for.

Kristina Keats: For every office and local offices are run locally in terms of how they do it, so you need to do the research there, okay, just to find out where you need to go. Then once you got your data, the best… And don’t just get data for the last cycle. Get it for the last four cycles. And the reason why is because that gives you the more data the better in terms of being able to predict what’s going to happen. Okay? And that’s what the purpose of the data is. Not just to look at the data, but to understand it and to get an understanding of how many people could potentially vote in your election.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Who are those people? Believe it or not, that is in the data. And that is critical in a local election because voter turnout in a local election can be as little as two and three percent, depending. People always focus on turnout at the presidential level, which according to statics runs about sixty percent of registered voters, sometimes more.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But remember only sixty percent of the people are usually registered. So if you do the math there on a presidential election, thirty-six percent of the people vote.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So you said, okay go get the data for the last four cycles.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Let’s talk about which cycles. Are they going to get the data for just that particular school board race, municipal race that might be happening in 2015? This is going to be spring of 2015.

Kristina Keats: Okay.

John Tsarpalas: Versus are they getting the presidential and the governor races? Are they getting any of that?

Kristina Keats: Start just get the data that applies to your race. Some places the local elections are done at off times when there is no other important election going on. So for you to look at presidential data is meaningless because you need to understand what your race looks like. So only, to start with, get the data for your race, for whenever people run for school board or for whenever people run for village board or city council or whatever it is that you’re running for. Get that data for four cycles. So that might be, if the election is every two years, you’re going back eight years. And that may seem like you are going back too far, but it’s important because it gives you more information and it will give you a range of the low and the high. The lowest that ever turned out in one of these elections was “x” number of votes. Most was “y”.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And the other thing it gives you, because you can find… When I say get the data, you want to get the voter files connected to who voted in those elections. They don’t tell you how people voted, but they tell you who voted.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So you’ll know that John Jones voted three times out of the last four times and Mary Jones voted once. Or Mary Jones didn’t ever vote. That is the data that you need because it is telling you who shows up in these elections.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Kristina Keats: And that is critical. Then you get a total. You know that eight years ago three thousand people voted. Now keep in mind that when people move and they move out of that district, they are pulled off the rolls. So you also need the total numbers from whoever keeps that. In other words, they are going to tell you three thousand four hundred and sixty-two people voted in 2010, let’s say. But when you get the voter data that tells you who actually voted, you may only have twenty-six hundred of those people because the other thousand have moved away over eight years. That wouldn’t be unusual.

But what’s really critical is once you get all your data together, you’re going to be able to then see who’s most likely to vote. If you have a choice, you’ve got- and this will affect your whole strategy. This is why you start with the numbers, okay? Because you need to talk to the people who are most likely to vote.

Just to give you as an example of school board. Everyone always thinks that it’s the parents who vote in school board elections. That is not true, necessarily. Yes, some parents vote, but in general, the older a person is the more likely they are to vote. And in a local election, it is less important. People don’t get excited about “Oh, school board! Who’s going to be on our school board? I want to know!” That just doesn’t happen. People, I’m sorry, don’t care. They should care, but they don’t. So if you are a candidate, you are a person who cares and just get that should care thing out of your brain because it will impede you from doing what you need to do. Deal with reality. Old people vote, young people don’t. People don’t care about school board; they care about president. And it just is the way it is.

So once you get that data and once you’ve decided what your platform is going to be… What are you running on? You have to have something to run on because that is the first thing people are going to ask you, “Why are you running?” If you go, “Oh, I always wanted to be on the school board,” you’re not going to register with them. Because keep in mind, in the local elections, since less people vote, the people who do vote in general are who I call the civics. They are the ones who care about their community. They care about who runs their community and they are knowledgeable. So if you go out there and you are not knowledgeable, they are going to know it and you’re going to lose their vote. If you are the kind of candidate the more you are out there, the less people are likely to vote for you, this is not a good thing.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But what the data gives you once you’ve got it, run it and preferably you want to do it on a data management program. But if you are really good with Excel, you can do that. It can sort for you and things like that. Because what you want to do is sort your data based on who is most likely to vote. And past history is a predictor of the future.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Let me interrupt on the data.

Kristina Keats: Okay.

John Tsarpalas: Because I have some questions.

Kristina Keats: Okay.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, if you go pull who voted, etc., and you know the numbers, but you haven’t pulled a presidential or a primary. First of all this is a nonpartisan race, but does party matter? And do you want to know if they are registered as a Republican or if in Illinois if they have voted Republican in primary or if they voted Democrat in primary?

Kristina Keats: That’s a really good point so I am going to maybe amend.

John Tsarpalas: So yes, I think that’s why I’m bringing this up.

Kristina Keats: You also should pull your party data. And that means that you have to pull the races that are party.

John Tsarpalas: I’d pull all the cycles so that you-

Kristina Keats: Pull all the cycles. That’s an excellent point.

John Tsarpalas: For the last four elections. And bring in… So you will know, because there is party things going on.

Kristina Keats: That is an excellent point. Because I always had all the data, I focused on the data.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, you’ve always pulled it all. I’ve never known you not to.

Kristina Keats: Right. Pull everything you can get, okay? Let me amend that. Anyway, you are right. You need to pull everything you can get. You are going to focus on your races, when people voted in those.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But it is helpful to know and you can have this when you’re making your decisions of who to talk to is whether the people who voted in these local elections voted Republican and Democrat. And here is another thing that will most likely occur is that people who vote in these elections will have in fact voted in a party primary election. They are the civics. They are the people who vote and they care. So you will know who is a Republican primary voter and who is a Democrat primary voter and the likelihood of them voting in the local election.

Then you can do fun things where you can break down how many Republican primary voters vote in the locals, how many Democrats. And you running for office are one of those. And just so that when you get to starting to talk to people, you will start with the people who are most likely to support you, which would be if you are a Republican, a Republican civic. You want the Republicans who voted in local elections and talk to them first because you will find a more natural affinity with those voters than you will with Democrats.

John Tsarpalas: Right. If you are running on fiscal issues- you are worried about the budget, etc. at your school board let’s say- you are probably going to have more Republicans worried about it than you would a Democrat. Now, I know these are nonpartisan races, but these affiliations and birds of a feather flock together still count. And so it is important.

Kristina Keats: Yes, you are right; there is a natural affinity. But we’re just at the beginning and I want to emphasize that with the right message in a local election, you can persuade people who would not naturally be in your camp from a partisan point of view. So you don’t want to rule those out. It is just where do you start first? You always, always- I don’t care what race it is- you start with the people who are most likely to agree with you.

So many beginners say, “I’m going to go get the Democrats to vote for me because if I can do that, I can win. Because the Republicans will vote for me anyway.” Wrong. You always start with your base. Because first off, you should be practicing with the people who are more forgiving toward you? Secondly, just because they’re a Republican and you’re a Republican, don’t count on it. You don’t know. They may have voted for your opponent ten times and thought he was a good person or she is. So you always start with the people most likely to agree with you. Get them in your camp and then work out from there and go further and further from that point.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay. But let’s go back to a nonpartisan race.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And one of the things I wanted to talk a little about was that you’re running…You know, this has got three seats that are open. Or not open, but three seats. There are some incumbents that are going to be running. And the best of three, it could be ten people running. It’s not a head on head. It’s not Republican versus Democrat, one on one.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And most local elections tend not to be. So I wanted to focus on that thought. And let’s go back to what are you getting from the Board of Election. Something I mentioned to this fellow last night was which incumbents do you think are going to be running? Which three seats are they? Have you gone and pulled the we call them D-2’s here in Illinois, but they are filings for money? Who has donated to these candidates in the past? And I was asking him did he know if there were any cliques going on or groups working in the background.

Kristina Keats: Caucuses.

John Tsarpalas: Caucuses. He didn’t think so. I said, “Well, again, look at the money.” Are the same people donating to each one of these candidates or is it completely different people donating to these candidates.

Kristina Keats: Right. That’s another analysis that you need to do. All of this you should do very early.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: When you are not trying to meet voters. So if you are thinking of running for school board and the election’s in May of 2015, you should start in January of 2014.

John Tsarpalas: Right, he’s late. This man is late. He’s got to file next week.

Kristina Keats: Which is typical.

John Tsarpalas: Which is typical, but I told him- he was wondering if he should file this time or wait for 2017- “If it is 2017, start right now.”

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Start doing your homework on these people. Pull their filings from the state Board of Elections and see, you know, who’s giving the money, blah blah blah.

Kristina Keats: The thing about local elections and why they are so winnable if you are smart and you work hard is because most people kind of are like this: “Oh gee, maybe I’ll run for school board” and the election’s in two weeks.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: They don’t plan. They don’t prepare.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So if you’re someone who plans and prepares, then you’ll just knock it out of the park.

John Tsarpalas: Absolutely.

Kristina Keats: And it doesn’t matter if they’re an incumbent because they’re just not used to anybody actually running a campaign for a local office. When we first started running in our local town helping people, first time I did it, I recruited a candidate. She was running up against I don’t remember how many candidates. I think there were five spots, three incumbents, and I was supporting this new lady and one of the incumbents. And the new lady got the most votes of anybody.

John Tsarpalas: Wow.

Kristina Keats: Because she did what I told her to do.

John Tsarpalas: And she worked. And the other ones were just used to kind of showing up.

Kristina Keats: Exactly.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: They were so used to it. And our town had been a caucus-run town where the caucus decided ahead of time whom to support and then they supported those people. And those were the ones who always ran. And what that meant is nobody ever challenged it because the caucus always won. And they tried to get the caucus endorsement. Well, the caucus was in play there too.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: We ran against the caucus. We ran against incumbents. Didn’t matter. Blew it out of the park.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Because she did what she had to do, which was to meet people, be her personable self, and talk about the issues that people cared about. She was a Republican in a Democrat town that just won really big because she did her work.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So that’s why I want to encourage you, even if it is a clique-run town, a caucus-run town, chances are that they are complacent and they don’t work. And you can then beat them on that basis.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But you want to work smart. You don’t want to just run around like a chicken with your head cut off. You want to go to the people who are likely to vote and persuade them. That’s why you do the data. And if you are a Republican, you go to the Republican-likely voters and persuade them first and then work your way out. But there’s no reason in a local election where it is nonpartisan that people will vote nonpartisan.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But in most places that I’ve seen, the parties are playing behind the scenes in a nonpartisan race.

John Tsarpalas: Yes.

Kristina Keats: So, you know, there is undercurrents going on because they start you with village board, city board, city council, school board, park district, whatever, and then they move you up to state rep.

John Tsarpalas: It’s a farm team system.

Kristina Keats: It’s a farm team system.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So they’re there. You need to be aware of that. But your own hard work and smart campaigning can get you the win with good messaging. And we are going to do a series on messaging because the messaging is so important. So just keep that in mind.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So let’s go back to pulling other people have run for this office’s filling on money. Things you can find out: number one, who’s giving them money, but number two, how much they spent last time to get elected. And this can help you determine what you’re going to need to raise as a budget, if not more. Because if you raise more, you can do more than they’re going to do and they did. And they are probably going to raise about the same amount, maybe a little more.

Incumbents do have the advantage of people have given them money last time, so they can go back to them earlier in the cycle, raise money there, and then work on prospecting with new people if they are going to work. Problem is a lot of them don’t work. You are a new candidate. You don’t know where that money is. It is going to take you time to build a donor base.

Kristina Keats: Well, in local elections you need a minimum amount of money in order to even run. You need to be able to create a piece of literature to leave with people, all of which should be done before you go out and start meeting people. You need to do yard signs. Advertising doesn’t make any sense.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So few people vote, to spend money other than free social media, things like that, it doesn’t make sense because only ten percent of the people in your town are going to vote. Unless your town is a really big town, you should be able to personally talk to every single one of those people. So you don’t need a lot of money. But you need enough so that you have literature and yard signs. And depending on the size of your electorate, a hundred and fifty to three hundred yard signs should be plenty and one run of literature of five thousand pieces. You should be able to run a local election that is not hotly contested- and I’ve been in those and it is a lot more expensive- for under a couple thousand dollars. So, yes, you want to go see what your opponents have done in the past or what people have done in the past. Chances are they self-funded or they had a couple friends.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Usually there is not organized money coming in.

John Tsarpalas: Well, you can look. Sometimes there is union money coming in.

Kristina Keats: Sometimes there is.

John Tsarpalas: You know, teachers unions are involved in school board around here heavy.

Kristina Keats: And you need to know what you are up against.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Don’t go into it naïve.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: You need to know what could happen so that when it happens, you’ve got a plan.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So that’s some research you can be doing long before you decide. It helps you to make up your mind to decide. Something else that can happen and you can be doing, and I was advising this fellow last night, what have you done to get yourself known around the town? Are you a member of the Rotatory, a Chamber of Commerce? What clubs are you involved in? He said he noticed that every member of the school board had been a past president of their local PTA. Perfect. Okay, was he a president of the PTA? No. I said, “Well, why don’t you run for PTA president first and then go from there.” And I think that-

Kristina Keats: It could be, it sounds- and I don’t know because I don’t know this area- like the PTA has it tightly controlled. So the next president of the PTA isn’t going to be a guy who walks in and says, “I’ll like to run for PTA.” Just on a side, when I quit working and I thought, “Oh, I’ll join the PTA,” yeah, not. I mean, they would let you come to the meetings, but they weren’t going to let you really be a member.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Well, in our area it was controlled by Democrats.

Kristina Keats: Right. And they didn’t want people who they didn’t know, because PTA members got special goodies for their kids.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: They got into the special programs. And they didn’t just want some parent walking off the street. Now, in a lot of school districts, parents are less engaged. In this particular school district, it was like over engaged.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: So it was tightly controlled. If that’s the way that it is happening, just be aware of it. It doesn’t mean you can’t win. Because likely they are used to just, “Okay, president of the PTA and then we become school board.”

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But that means that they probably are complacent and don’t work. And they don’t actually go out and talk to people.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And so he could beat them if he just worked, absolutely.

Kristina Keats: He could beat them by working. Probably what they do is they get their phone tree or whatever, their Google group for the PTA, and say, “Vote for these people.”

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But you can go out… Again, keeping in mind who votes is old people who aren’t connected to the PTA.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Campaigns are like sporting events; they build momentum. So if you start with the PTA and their Google group and then they are networking out into the community, you are going to have to get to those people in another way.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: And you are probably… In order to throw out the group that is running it now, there has to be unhappiness in the community with what’s happening now or you are not going to be successful. And given all the turmoil that is going on in schools, my guess is there is a lot of unhappiness out there. And the people who have been in charge and like being in charge, they are happy because they make sure their kids get the special stuff. But there might be a lot of unhappy people out there with spending with or with things that are going on in the schools, teachers that aren’t really competent, that they’ve unfortunately had to deal with. There can be a lot of things. You need to find out what issues. And something motivated you. Why are you running for this office?

John Tsarpalas: Right, right. Okay, so they pull all this data.

Kristina Keats: Yeah.

John Tsarpalas: They need to do something with it. You said you can throw it into Excel. You can use some kind of a-

Kristina Keats: Database analyzer. Access is better if you know how to use it, but most people don’t. It’s a more sophisticated data management. So that you can manipulate so that you can sort.

John Tsarpalas: Sort and slice and dice.

Kristina Keats: You can do everyone who is a Republican who voted in these kind of elections

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Everybody who is a Democrat who voted in these elections, everybody who lives in this precinct who voted in these elections. You know?

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Microsoft in its latest versions has made Excel closer to Access in terms of a data management.

John Tsarpalas: Oh good.

Kristina Keats: It can do a lot more things.

John Tsarpalas: Because I haven’t used Access for a few years.

Kristina Keats: Right. Right…

John Tsarpalas: You were always the whiz at it anyway. I let you do it all.

Kristina Keats: Yeah. But you need to… And if you can’t do it, find somebody who can.

John Tsarpalas: Exactly the point. Find yourself a Tina that can do it.

Kristina Keats: Right. Who can sort the data in the way that you need it? You may, you know… But don’t get crazy about it. I’ve seen campaigns where they say, “Okay, I want women between the ages of 30 and 34 who are 5’4” and higher,” you know. I’m going, “This is nuts.” Local election, you don’t want to waste too much time manipulating because you need to be focused on, once you got your data, who you talk to, how you are going to talk to them, how you are going to persuade. And that is the key. You know, you are going to find in a local election, since so few people vote, you can be talking about a total of two or three thousand people who are likely to go vote.

John Tsarpalas: If that many. I mean smaller.

Kristina Keats: If that many. So, you know, that’s who’s likely to vote. But then, after you’ve found those people, in order to change things, you can’t just have the same old people voting. So you need to work your friends, your neighbors, your group and motivate them to vote.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And that’s where, you know, whether it is early voting or absentee voting or however you do it, you need to identify the people who like you, know you, would vote for you if you could get them to the polls, and then your job is to get them to the poll. The average person knows about three hundred people. Now, not all of those people, a lot of them might be at work and they don’t live in your district. But make a list of everybody you know and use your voter database to flag them. Don’t make separate lists. You have one database. This is it. This is the big kahuna database. And put everything in there so that you go through your database and you flag everybody you know who is in that database. And you are going to find a lot of your friends are not registered to vote. Hello? So you need to get them registered to vote and then get them agreed to go vote for you. And you can do it. You can change numbers. I mean, depending on how hard you are willing to work, you could theoretically register two hundred of your friends that have never voted before.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Get them to the polls.

John Tsarpalas: And then win.

Kristina Keats: And win.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But it sounds easy, go get your friends registered to vote. It is not easy.

John Tsarpalas: Not easy.

Kristina Keats: You have to track it. You have to contact them. You have to get them to fill out the form. You have to get the form in the right place. That’s step one: you get them registered. Then you’ve got to get them polls. And someone who wasn’t even registered and has never voted, this is not an easy task. On the other hand it could be that they just moved here and they were registered. And that’s the other thing. You have to go through it and find the people who are going to vote for you. And some times they’ve moved and they haven’t notified the election authorities, which means that even though they are registered, they can’t vote.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Because they aren’t registered at their current address. Now that varies by city, town, county, state about whether they could still vote. But this is all the things you need to know. This is Civics 101. You need to know how your elections are run. And then you need to figure out with your data how many votes you need to win. Last time two thousand people ran and you got seven hundred and ninety-six votes you could win.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: You’ll know that by doing your analysis. So you then have to figure out where am I going to get my seven hundred and ninety-six votes?

John Tsarpalas: Right. So do that analysis. Go get the data. Do the analysis. It will help you make a decision whether you are running or not. And help you to decide what you need to do to win.

Kristina Keats: Right. It lays out your whole strategy. So it’s good homework to do. So go do it.

John Tsarpalas: Well, there you have it. Data can tell you a lot. So go to your Board of Elections and pull the previous election results for that office as well as pulling the results for the last three or four cycles in all of the elections. Also go get that campaign contribution information. Those reports can tell you a lot about how much money has been raised, what you think might happen in the future, and will give you an idea of what kind of money you need to raise. It can also tell you who is supporting who and what’s going on in the background if you track the money.

And then that data, as you analyze it, break it down to district-wide, and then take it down to town and precinct level, and it can show you where strengths and weaknesses are, areas you are going to have to work more intensively if you are moving ahead, and if it is winnable or not winnable. Some districts just aren’t winnable, and it is something you’ve got to factor into what you’re thinking about here. And maybe there is a race that’s winnable, maybe not.

So take a good look at that data. Think about it. Work it through. Find somebody to help you manipulate the data if you’re not good at that. If this has been helpful, or there’s other things you didn’t get from this podcast that you have questions on, etc., please leave a comment on our website at commonwealthy.com/analyzing-past-election-results. I’m John Tsarpalas. Thanks for listening.

Kristina Keats: Because you need to be focused on, once you’ve got your data, who you talk to, how you are going to talk to them, how you are going to persuade. And that is the key.

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