Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman was included in a recent Finger Lakes Times article about how interest in the election is high among Finger Lakes residents, even though New York isn’t a battleground state. The article notes the Finger Lakes region has a greater number of Republican voters than Democrats (registered) but that doesn’t mean the Finger Lakes are a Republican stronghold, given both past history and recent informal polling. Recently registered voters include more Democrats than Republicans, according to the article, but they are both outnumbered by the number of people who did not affiliate with either party.
The article cites Deutchman as thinking “the growing number of unaffiliated voters may reflect the sentiment that voters are fed up with both political parties. She also surmises people may not be aware they can’t participate in a primary if they are not enrolled in a party, or committing to a party is not a big issue for them.”
The Finger Lakes Times also looked at campaign contributions to the Democratic Party versus the Republican Party, noting that Obama has garnered more campaign contributions in the Finger Lakes region.
According to the article, Deutchman sees both the financial support and increased registration as aligned with national trends.
“We are in the middle of a change,” the article quotes Deutchman, adding, “it’s possible all four counties may go Democratic when it comes to this year’s presidential race.
‘It would not surprise me any more than an Eric Massa victory over Randy Kuhl would surprise me,’ she said, referring to the rematch for the 29th Congressional District seat.”
With 20 years of experience in higher education, Deutchman has taught a number of courses about election politics, including courses focusing on election years. This semester, she is co-teaching a course on Election 2008 with Colleges President Mark D. Gearan. However, the Finger Lakes Times notes she “said she’s never seen students as excited about an election as this one. Most students favor Obama and are making phone calls and even visiting Pennsylvania and Ohio to volunteer, she added.”
As to why students seem to favor Obama, she’s quoted in the article as saying it’s not about his personality, but rather about the past eight years.
“George Bush did so much damage, you have to be scared about this country’s future,” she said in the article, going on to cite a poll that “found most people today don’t believe they’ll be better off than their parents’ generation, an opinion voiced by many of her students and which in part may be driving their activism.”
A regular in the media this election season, Deutchman has conducted interviews ranging from Wisconsin Public Radio to Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle, and speaking engagements in the Geneva community at Irene’s Coffee House to the League of Women Voters.
Deutchman holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania, and a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University in political science and economics. She has a long list of publications in major journals, the latest of which is “Fundamentalist Christians, Raunch Culture and Post-industrial Capitalism,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Summer 2008.
The full article appears below.
The Finger Lakes Times
Time to decide: Local interest high as historic Election Day nears
By SUSAN CLARK PORTER • Finger Lakes Times • November 2, 2008
In two short days, the marathon election season will draw to a close as voters cast their choice for president.
It’s been a dramatic race that reinforces the cliché, truth is stranger than fiction. Who would have imagined that Barack Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, would topple the Clinton political machine to become the country’s first major-party black presidential candidate? Or that John McCain would bring his nearly comatose campaign back to life to claim the Republican nomination.
Then there’s the war in Iraq and the global financial crisis for a little added background drama.
Even though New York is not a battleground state on which the presidential election may hinge, interest in the race still appears high among Finger Lakes residents.
But how to gauge which way local voters are leaning is a hazy science at best. New York is rarely a state in play electorally, so national pollsters don’t bother surveying its residents.
The Finger Lakes counties of Ontario, Wayne, Yates and Seneca are primarily Republican, with enrolled Republicans outnumbering Democrats in each of the four counties (see chart).
But that doesn’t necessarily mean Finger Lakes voters shy away from choosing a Democratic president. In 1996, for example, voters in each of the counties except Wayne favored Bill Clinton for a second term over Republican Bob Dole.
Although the assumption may be that the Finger Lakes is a Republican stronghold, that may be changing.
This time around, new voter registration trends show burgeoning strength for the Democrats – with more new voters in each of the four counties who have registered since Nov. 1, 2007, choosing Democrat as their party affiliation over Republican. (see chart)
Those figures are for new voters who have registered in the past year and don’t reflect the number of voters who were already registered but may have switched their party affiliations. That new designation goes into effect after this week’s general election.
But Yates County Democratic Election Commissioner Robert Brechko said it’s his sense from processing paperwork that the most people who are switching parties are heading to the Democratic side.
Although more new voters in the past year picked the Democratic Party over the Republican Party in each of the four counties, the number of people who rejected any party affiliation was tops among all numbers in Ontario and Wayne counties.
Registered voters who don’t choose a party forgo the opportunity to participate in a primary election. And that growing number of “unaffiliateds” makes predicting the outcome of any political race much dicier.
Dr. Ken Padgett, chair of the Seneca County Republican Committee, said the fact that more new voters in Seneca County enrolled as Democrats than as Republicans in the past year doesn’t worry him because of the high number of people who choose not to enroll in any party. That choice reflects a national trend, he said.
“I think individuals are getting to the point where they don’t want to affiliate with anybody,” Padgett said, noting even candidates’ political signs nowadays don’t indicate their political party.
Iva Deutchman, a political science professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, thinks the growing number of unaffiliated voters may reflect the sentiment that voters are fed up with both political parties. She also surmises people may not be aware they can’t participate in a primary if they are not enrolled in a party, or committing to a party is not a big issue for them.
Like Padgett, Dan Olson – a social studies teacher at Victor and chairman of the Wayne County Republican Committee – isn’t fearful of the rising number of Democratic voters. He questions how dedicated those registrants are to the party.
“My guess is not that many,” he said.
He, like Padgett, is more worried about the growing number of people who don’t align themselves with a party because “they take themselves out of the equation” when it comes to choosing candidates because they can’t participate in primaries or caucuses.
Although Democrats may have the edge when it comes to new voters in Wayne County, Olson notes that Republicans still outnumber Democrats almost 2 to 1 and are a loyal group. For example, his research indicates the last time a Democrat was elected to represent Wayne County in Congress was 1844.
Show me the money
If campaign contributions are the only predictor in determining a winner, it appears Obama has the race locked up among Finger Lakes voters. According to Federal Election Commission records of individual contributors, Obama received more in donations than John McCain in each of the four Finger Lakes counties, with the biggest disparities in Yates and Ontario counties (for this story, Ontario County numbers reflect the eastern towns and cities of Geneva and Canandaigua).
In Ontario County, Obama raised $42,102 to McCain’s $13,199.
In Yates, he outraised McCain by close to the same ratio – $9,699 to $2,675.
Wayne County residents gave a total of $16,789 to Obama, versus $10,194 for McCain.
And in Seneca County, Obama raked in $7,966 to McCain’s $4,791.
Although McCain trails Obama in local contributions, there are some interesting highlights in the data that make it difficult to extrapolate an Obama victory from that information alone.
For example in Yates County, individuals donated $4,063 to Ron Paul ($1,388 more than to McCain). Paul is not on the presidential ballot, yet many of his financial supporters may vote for McCain. In the Wayne County town of Palmyra, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, garnered $2,500 in donations – much more than McCain’s $134 and Obama’s $410.
And in Geneva in Ontario County, primary opponent Hillary Clinton raised about the same amount as Obama – $15,382 to his $15,005.
Both candidates dwarfed McCain’s $1,800 from Geneva residents, but what those Clinton supporters will do in the voting booth is anybody’s guess.
Gaye Chapman, Wayne’s Democratic chairperson, isn’t surprised Obama outraised McCain in her strongly Republican county, but she said Wayne County residents generally aren’t major contributors to political campaigns.
She puts more stock in the voter registration numbers, noting in the three-week period between Oct. 1 and 20, 447 people enrolled as Democrats – a figure she called “utterly amazing.”
Chapman said she can tell many of those new voters are younger because of their names (i.e. Amanda, Chelsea, Emily). To her, the high number of people registering to vote is a sign that those who didn’t feel compelled to vote in the past feel differently this time around. Her door-to-door conversations with people have borne that out, she added. In previous years, there was much more resignation that “my vote doesn’t really count.”
“I didn’t get that as much this time,” Chapman said. “People are more interested in talking about it this time.”
Deutchman said the local data illustrating more financial support for Obama and more people registering as Democrats mirrors national trends.
She said the Finger Lakes and upstate New York in general is trending more Democratic, a phenomenon that is happening in other states as well. She pointed to the fact that retiring Rep. Jim Walsh’s 25th Congressional District seat was always considered a Republican shoo-in, but may likely be won by Democrat Dan Maffei.
“We are in the middle of a change,” said Deutchman, who added it’s possible all four counties may go Democratic when it comes to this year’s presidential race.
“It would not surprise me any more than an Eric Massa victory over Randy Kuhl would surprise me,” she said, referring to the rematch for the 29th Congressional District seat.
On the street
Although campaign contributions give Obama the edge, there are plenty of voters out there who don’t write checks but support their candidate of choice by simply getting to the polls on Election Day and pulling a lever.
Padgett believes more Finger Lakes voters, at least in Seneca, will lean toward McCain because of the county’s higher overall GOP enrollment. He also doesn’t see a big influx of voters crossing party lines and said his committee members “are not the least bit excited” about Obama.
“The longer it goes on the more fearful I am of him,” Padgett said, citing his lack of experience, his taxation plan where the taxing threshold has changed; and his discomfort with the people with whom Obama has chosen to associate.
Padgett said he received a bunch of McCain/Palin campaign signs Oct. 23 and they went out in a hurry. Olson said the Wayne County Republican Committee ordered 500 McCain/Palin signs and they were gone in three days. He placed an ad in a local newspaper saying the committee had 500 more signs available, and Olson said he’s been inundated by phone messages from people who want them.
Chapman of Wayne County has also seen a high demand for Obama/Biden signs and is struck by the fact that some requests are coming from Savannah, Clyde, Red Creek and Wolcott, because eastern Wayne County has traditionally been more Republican than the western towns closer to Rochester. Also, she’s noticed groups are making their own signs in support of Obama.
The race certainly seems to be generating interest among Finger Lakes youth, with most drawn to Obama.
Romulus social studies teacher Chris Puylara said his students are very excited about the election, with about two-thirds favoring Obama. He noted about 15 of his seniors are “really into it.” He took a poll of his seniors and while eight are old enough to vote, only two are registered – and they are choosing Obama.
“Obama resonates with younger people and is a good speaker,” said Puylara, who has incorporated discussions about the race into some of his courses. His students watched the third presidential debate, have analyzed political cartoons and staged a mock debate Friday.
Deutchman has been teaching at the collegiate level for 20 years and said she’s never seen students as excited about an election as this one. Most students favor Obama and are making phone calls and even visiting Pennsylvania and Ohio to volunteer, she added.
Although she admits the election is an historic one given Obama’s potential to be the nation’s first black president, she does not think students are attracted to him based on personality alone.
“He’s not a figure that sets your heart a-thumpin,'” said Deutchman. “Bobby Kennedy set your heart a-thumpin’ and he’s not of that ilk.”
Instead, Deutchman attributes much of the interest in the election to the last eight years.
“George Bush did so much damage, you have to be scared about this country’s future,” she said.
She cited a poll that found most people today don’t believe they’ll be better off than their parents’ generation, an opinion voiced by many of her students and which in part may be driving their activism, she said.
If the youth seem fired up for Obama, it’s more of a mixed response among older voters.
At the Penn Yan Diner last week, retirees Bill and Carol Crain of Bluff Point said they’ve known all along that their votes would go to Sen. Barack Obama.
Bill Crain, who is on the Yates County Democratic Committee, said he’s pretty confident that Obama will become the nation’s next president, citing national polls in his favor.
Carol Crain likes Obama’s inclusive message.
“The reason I’m voting for Obama is because instead of saying what he’ll do for us, he asks us to work with him,” she said.
One seat down, waitress Cynthia Bechard of Penn Yan said her vote would go to McCain, but it was geared more toward the party than the person – she thinks Democrats are too liberal.
Bechard added that she hasn’t talked to too many people about the election, but most of the people she has discussed it with are voting Republican.
An informal poll of 15 shoppers leaving the Seneca Falls Wal-Mart Saturday afternoon found that seven supported Obama; three would vote for McCain; and five were undecided.
Some of those favoring Obama cited a need for change and a departure from George Bush, while those supporting McCain were wary of Obama’s limited Washington experience, among other things.
“I don’t think Barack Obama has a clue; he’s in over his head,” said Wiley Westerfield of Penn Yan.
Mike Morales of Waterloo, a veteran and McCain supporter, said “I’m not going socialism; that’s the last thing I want to do.”
Carl Frazer of North Rose said he was “sick of Bush” and didn’t think McCain would be much different.
“We need a new direction and we think he’s the best man,” said Bob Dinan Jr. of Waterloo. “I’m tired of push politics.”
Which way Finger Lakes residents lean won’t be known for sure until Tuesday night.
For now, Chapman, Wayne County’s Democratic chair, is focusing on getting the vote out and keeping an eye on the weather.
“So far they’re saying 60 degrees on Tuesday,” she said. “It looks good.”
Times staff writer Amanda Folts contributed to this report.