Q&A #5: Mayoral Voting

So, let’s turn to the mayoral questions, shall we?

By email, “Dan” asks bluntly:

Prediction for Boston mayoral race?

“Rob” asks:

What’s your best guess-timate on turnout for the Boston mayoral preliminary election? How many approx. votes will it take to get into the final?


First, turnout. I’ve had a number of conversations about this with people, and there are basically two schools of thought. One is that turnout runs somewhere between the 111,000 from the sort-of-open 1993 preliminary, and the 162,000 from the very-open 1983 preliminary. So, maybe 125,000 to 140,000, depending on how engaged you think the city is.

The other theory is that the above thinking dramatically underestimates the size of the current electorate, and the eventual interest in the mayoral race. Although the city’s overall population has not grown all that much, the number of voters has (for several reasons) — from just under 200,000 “active voters” in 1983 to more than 330,000 today. They don’t usually show up for municipal elections, especially preliminaries (only around 80,000 for the 2009 prelim), but the numbers you want to compare against are the high-profile, total-saturation elections. For example, the 2006 gubernatorial primary (Patrick/Reilly/Gabrieli) drew 264,000 voters. Forget these summer doldrums, this theory goes; by September, Bostonians will care just as much about this first-in-a-generation mayoral race (with a dozen campaigns organizing and advertising in every neighborhood) as they did about that governor’s primary. We could easily get between 225,000 and 240,000 ballots cast.

Proponents of the lower-turnout scenario counter that voters’ interest in municipal elections has dramatically declined; people just don’t take as much interest in city government now, and will not vote in anything like the numbers of a competitive gubernatorial, Senate, or Presidential election. High-turnout advocates respond that this perceived decline in interest has been exaggerated by the absence of drama in Menino-re-election years, and the general irrelevance of the city council.

These are obviously two entirely different visions of the election. In the first version, it will probably take roughly 25,000 votes to secure one of the two top spots and move on to the November final (depending on how dispersed or concentrated votes are among the many candidates). In the second scenario, you can just about double that figure.

Logically, I’m sympathetic to the big-turnout argument. But I’m not completely convinced — for one thing, Bostonians really do check out from politics for the summer, and it’s a short window to engage them in September; for another, the broad slate of viable candidates makes it harder for voters to feel they can make a choice.

On the other hand, all of that probably will change quite dramatically in the final weeks, with the race turning into a dramatic,  saturation-coverage, talk-of-the-town battle royale.

So, yeah, I have no idea. And I’m still sticking with what I’ve said all along, that the most likely ultimate victors (NOT most likely to get through the prelim) are, in order, Consalvo-Richie-Conley-Connolly-Arroyo-Walsh-Walczak-Ross-Barros-Yancey-Clemons-Wyatt.