Next week, with just a week and a half to go before Election Day, Governor Snyder will board a bus to tour the state. The purpose of the trip: to focus attention on the Emergency Manager Law referendum and the five proposed amendments to the state constitution that you’ll find on the November ballot.
The Governor says he’s going all out, “I’m in campaign mode, to be open with you. I’m not running for office, as you know, right now… I’m setting up a schedule to say this is a campaign, because this is a campaign for Michigan’s future.” The governor is calling for a “yes” vote on Proposal One and “no” on the rest. This election has been called a referendum that will determine the success of the rest of his first term.
So, for us political junkies, it raises the question: can a governor, particularly one “in campaign mode,” really push the results of a ballot campaign in one direction or another. Typically, the answer is “no.” It’s often tried but usually a politician’s appeal or popularity does not rub off onto ballot proposals. Though they can gather a bit of media attention at first, endorsements are one of the most overrated political activities. The fact is, campaigns win or lose on the strength of message and organization. So, then, why do politicians engage in endorsements? Well, because politicians work with what they’ve got. A governor still has a platform, and it’s easier to sow seeds of doubt than to sell a ballot question. That’s why the governor is already working on a Plan B for a re-vamped Emergency Manager Law after the election, in case the EM Law is overturned.
We’re in the period now where the campaign season has moved from the “persuasion” phase to identifying and energizing the people on either side to get out the vote. But a lot of people are still undecided on the ballot questions. And, this is not a good sign for “vote yes” campaigns. If people have questions or are confused by a proposal, they typically vote “no.” We’re hearing anecdotally that it seems like more people are voting absentee this year in part because they want to sit down at their kitchen table and take their time to figure it all out.
Of course, the presidential race has demanded the lion’s share of attention. But we know the dynamics at the top of the ticket can affect everything else. We thought this was a get-out-the-vote year (GOTV). We even mocked people who haven’t made up their minds. (Did you see this pretty darn funny Saturday Night Live parody ad?) It seems like we’ve seen more voters going back and forth since the presidential debates. And every time a voter changes his or her mind on the top of the ballot, that ripples down through every race – partisan, non-partisan, ballot questions. Even if voters are “decided,” it seems they are still persuadable… they can change their minds at the very last minute.