The Freshman Horde?

One of the most important assumptions in any UC presidential campaign is the importance of freshman outreach. For as long as I have been here, the assumption has been that freshmen vote, and do so in far greater numbers than their upperclassman counterparts. As a result, candidates are sent to go door-to-door in the Yard, even if they never step foot in the Quad. Is this focus justified? The answer, it appears, is a qualified yes.

Despite myth to the contrary, freshman turnout does not exceed upperclassman turnout to any significant degree, if at all:

Year Total votes Min Freshman Max Freshman % Freshman
2004 3,984 882 1,126 22%-28%
2005 3,894 865 1,082 22%-28%
2006 3,453 985 1,098 29%-32%
2007 2,147 594 594 28%

The only definite example of freshman overrepresentation is the 2006 race, when around 30% of freshmen voted. Not incoincidently, Ryan and Matt cleaned up among freshmen in this race, winning 46% of the freshman vote compared to 38% of the total. Interestingly, however, Matt Glazer performed similarly in the 2004 race, winning 57% of the freshman vote and 50% of the total, but without creating the massive jump in turnout we saw in 2006.

What was different in 2006? It looks like the class of 2010 was just more interested in the UC in general than its predecessors (and successors). Take a look at these two graphs of freshman turnout for the general and presidential elections since 2004.

Two conclusions stand out. Even with the sparse data we have, freshman participation in general and presidential elections appears to be correlated (except for 2007, an anomaly we’ll discuss some other time). If more freshmen vote in the fall, more will vote in the winter. Simple enough. The second point is a little less obvious. Only around 20% of freshmen vote solely in the general elections, and the number of presidential voters is equal to, if not a little less than, the count of those who turn out in the fall. Put another way, the “pool” of potential presidential voters has historically been constrained by general election turnout.

Each year around 80% of freshman presidential voters are veterans of the general elections. Even with candidates going door-to-door, massive demonstrations outside of the Science Center and overzealous freshman campaign volunteers, very little new interest is generated. Ryan’s 2006 success is a case-in-point; he appears to have done slightly worse than the prior two years both in capturing the general election vote and in stirring up new interest. Nevertheless, because the freshman general election turnout was so high (almost 200 more voters than in 2005), we saw a significant increase in the number of presidential election voters.

So what can we expect this year? Freshman turnout will probably be somewhat depressed compared to 2006; campaigns shouldn’t count on more than 900 freshman ballots. Of those ballots, around 720 are going to be from prior voters and — if we use last year’s election as a baseline for unenthusiasm — around 600 of those voters are going to turnout no matter what.

Given the relative ineffectiveness of current freshman outreach efforts at netting new voters, I am persuaded that the informal freshman power networks are the most important element of a freshman campaign effort. Having freshman UC representatives, Dems Yard captains and Gossip Geek personalities stumping for you is probably the best way to lock in freshmen early, when Science Center demonstrations are just gearing up. A later post will explore the extent to which there are “persuadable” voters, but for the most part everyone has made up his or her mind by the beginning of the voting period. If any of the campaigns are weak on the freshmen at this point, it probably makes sense to run only a token effort in the Yard, and to try to rack up some serious votes on the upperclassmen side. There are tons of untapped votes there, an aspect of the race we’ll focus on next time.

Comments (2) to “The Freshman Horde?”

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  2. […] energy on the Yard — maybe under the popular idea that freshmen are a key demographic, one discussed expertly by Mike Ragalie — or he simply has greater appeal among freshmen. Flores, by contrast, seems to do equally […]