Incumbency Helps

For the last week all the pundits and politicos have been tripping over themselves to analyze the election results. I’m itching to analyze something, but enough is enough, right? However, no one has attempted to analyze the results of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) election, so I figured I’d take a stab at that.

Campaign material

First off, it must be noted that Karl Rove’s SuperPACs played no role in this election. To the best of my knowledge, only one candidate (Josh Goldstein) bought ads and only one (me) printed any campaign materials. Money, in other words, was not much in evidence. No one got robocalled, and no candidates made any stupid statements about rape. All the candidates were interviewed by both papers, but if the papers are to be believed, none of them made any stupid statements at all. This speaks well for Martha’s Vineyard. It may also explain why national pundits and politicos have paid so little attention to the election results.

On the other hand, election day is firmly located in the off-season, so it may not have occurred to the P&Ps that we even have elections on Martha’s Vineyard. MVC elections are also so damn complicated that most Vineyarders don’t understand how they work. The P&Ps may be wise to leave well enough alone.

Someone has to do it, however. If not me, who?

Here  is Exhibit A, the ballot that 10,884 Vineyard voters confronted on election day:

Note that incumbents are listed at the top, in alphabetical order, and identified as “Candidate for Re-election.”

Non-incumbents follow, also in alpha order. Fred Hancock and Camille Rose are listed among the non-incumbents even though they are currently members of the commission. This is because they were appointed by the selectmen of their respective towns, Oak Bluffs and Aquinnah. They couldn’t be “candidates for re-election” because they weren’t elected in the first place.

See? I told you it was complicated.







Here is Exhibit B, the election results, arranged in descending order of total votes. I stole the figures from the Martha’s Vineyard Times.

Incumbents, aka “candidates for re-election,” are marked in blue. Five of the top six finishers were incumbents. I’m no statistician (understatement of the century!), but I’ll go out on a limb and surmise that incumbency was a statistically significant factor in the results. Not just incumbency: being identified as an incumbent. Rose and Hancock, both current commissioners, weren’t identified as such. They finished back in the pack.

The names marked in pink(ish) were at the top of the non-incumbent section of the ballot. I suspect that this was also significant. Barnes’s extremely strong finish testifies to a third factor: name recognition. If you’re a well-known Vineyard character whose name is emblazoned on several big trucks (for the uninitiated, Trip Barnes runs a trucking and storage business), you don’t have to be identified as an incumbent. Trip probably would have finished near the top even if his name had been #14 on the ballot.

Was the roundabout — the highest-profile project that has come before the MVC in the last year and a half — a factor in the results? A case might be made: Breckenridge, Sederholm, and Hammarlund, all roundabout supporters, finished in a cluster, as did Fisher, Sturgis, and Rose, all roundabout opponents. The three at the bottom, Hancock (a currently serving commissioner), Miller, and Jims, all identified themselves as pro-roundabout. This doesn’t seem to have helped them. The three at the top either voted against the roundabout (Brown and Sibley) or worked against it (Barnes). A real statistician might be able to figure out whether and to what extent the roundabout influenced how people voted. My hunch is that for some voters it was significant but that for most incumbency was the decisive factor.

Last but not least, here is Exhibit C. Following its custom, Martha’s Vineyard Times editor Doug Cabral endorsed candidates in all contested races on the ballot, including MVC. Vineyard voters predictably ignored his suggestion that we vote for Romney-Ryan (the GOP ticket garnered 2,753 votes, compared to 7,906 for Obama-Biden) and Senator Scott Brown (whose 3,473 votes trailed the 7,321 cast for challenger and winner Elizabeth Warren). As far as I can tell, his recommendations didn’t have much effect on the MVC race either.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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7 Responses to Incumbency Helps

  1. Hal Davis says:

    “If you lived here, you’d be home on the commission by now”


  2. daveparent says:

    If it any consolation I only voted for one person and it was you. Don’t know any of the others. Also, why do they not put party affiliation on there ???


  3. Sharon Stewart says:

    I wonder why the ballot indicates incumbents in the first place. I don’t recall ever noticing anything like that up here in Canada (on the other hand, I’m always focussing on finding my chosen one’s name on the ballot and not looking at any of the others, so maybe I’ve been missing that info all along). It seems to be introducing an uneven playing field. It has been said that alphabetical order influences voters who are undecided. For the longish list of school board trustees (up to 37 in municipal elections), I vote for characters at the bottom of the alphabet, to give them a chance (being a Stewart I feel some empathy).


  4. Shirley W. Mayhew says:

    Very interesting, Susanna – incumbents may have a better chance at being reelected, but you have to be elected in one election to be reelected in the next election as an incumbent – try again!


    • I might! Once someone’s elected for the first time, their vote total seems to creep upward in each subsequent election. Just think: If I lived in Oak Bluffs or Tisbury or Chilmark or Aquinnah, I would have been elected. 😉


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