When races collide

As candidates enter the last leg of their races – Nov. 2 isbarely more than a month away – their campaigns are kicking intohigh gear. In Portland, voters have many different politicalcampaigns to keep track of, to the point of having to prioritizewhich races are most important to them.

Even if you can keep up with the developments of the mayoral andcity council races, there are still congressional, staterepresentative and metro races to follow, to say nothing ofresearching this year’s crop of initiatives. And oh yeah, there’sthat presidential race, too.

The multiple races have many effects on each other. Having manydifferent races and ballot measures at the same time impacts whovotes and how they vote, adjunct political science professor DaleHess said.

“If we were having only a national election, people would orientthemselves in a certain way,” he said. “Ordinarily… theinteresting election affects who comes out to vote.”

Usually, he added, “The presidency is the big draw, but notalways.”

An important factor of voter involvement is a touchy issue thatwill motivate otherwise unenthusiastic voters to fill out aballot.

“In 2000, Gore won by about 7,000 votes,” Hess said. “But ifthere had been a ballot measure outlawing homeschooling yourchildren, how do you think it would have gone? It would havebrought out…conservative voters who didn’t bother to come out,and they would’ve voted for Bush at the same time.”

If the organizers’ zeal on both sides is any indication, thisyear’s Measure 36 may bring out many voters, and since they’realready taking the time to vote they’ll be much more likely toweigh in on issues and candidates that wouldn’t normally sparktheir interest.

City council candidate Sam Adams sees support from otherfactions in his campaign. As “a Kerry supporter and a longtimedemocrat,” he said, he’s been involved with events to promoteKerry.

“There’s definitely a symbiosis between Measure 36 and mycampaign,” he said. “As the only openly gay candidate, people havemade a strong connection.”

On the other hand, multiple races can distract voters and dilutethe importance of lower-profile races.

Hess brings up voter fatigue, the phenomenon of voters detachingthemselves from the process when they perceive too little rewardfor filling out a ballot.

“You’ll have people who just vote for president and leave therest of the ballot blank. Or you’ll have people just vote in cityelections and not for county ones,” Hess said. “At a certain point,people just stop voting. And when people get overwhelmed, they voteno on ballot measures.”

Even candidates, who are some of the most interested in theelection process, can find themselves needing to broaden theirfocus to make a decision about everything on the ballot.

“For the most part I try to stay on top of everything,” Adamssaid. “But there are definitely a few issues at the state I need todig into more deeply…I’m looking forward to the voter’s pamphletcoming out.”

Although a close-to-home issue may inspire a voter to vote inother races, advertising support for multiple candidates orpositions can detract from the message sent to others, Hesssaid.

“You could have a whole yard full of signs, all of which woulddistract from all the others,” he said. Hess won’t put a sign up toendorse his mayoral pick because he doesn’t want to distract fromhis yard sign for his presidential candidate.

The level of motivation voters have determines the levels ofundecided voters as well.

Tuesday’s Portland Tribune reported that in the Portland CityCouncil race, Sam Adams is gaining on Nick Fish, though the marginis narrow. According to the article, based on a Tribune poll, 29percent of the voters still hadn’t made up their minds. (Adams’polls put that number higher, at between 30 and 40 percent.) TheOregonian, which endorsed Adams last spring, recently threw itssupport behind Fish.

In a race between two people who are widely regarded as equallyqualified, that level of indecision is not surprising. But in thepresidential race, the difference is startling.

Portland poll guru Tim Hibbitts was quoted in The Olympian assaying that undecided voters are down from the usual 20 percent tofive percent of likely voters in the presidential race.

With so many things to attract voters’ attention, the potentialfor information overload is high. Voters’ pamphlets will beavailable about three weeks before Election Day.