Analysis in Brief of West Hartford’s Second Referendum
Posted by whforums on October 8, 2008
No way around it, the results of the second referendum, while a decisive “No” victory, show a polarized active minority and a generally apathetic majority.
Since the town has been through 3 referenda in a little more than 15 months, it seems sensible that this particular referendum would see the closest percentage vote of the three. But the degree to which the percentages have shifted (from 73-27, to 66-34, 56-44) have been both regular and drastic. Some thoughts:
The first vote (which saw 73% vote “No”) seems now like a novelty vote. It was an easy way to stand up for something. Also, during that first vote, “No” was exceptionally well organized and “Yes” was not organized in any sensible way. In other words, “No” was essentially running unopposed. In the second vote, both sides were organized, and although “No” won a significant majority, “Yes” won one district and managed a result that was 7% closer than the first. In this most recent vote, “No” won only a slim majoirty and Yes won five districts. This is a long way of saying — the will for this second referendum was present, but, in context, weak.
The mandate of this referendum is, by corollary, equally weakened. This seems irrelevant, as the council has not taken significant action (save removing leaf pickup and not extending teaching contracts to new hires — someone correct me if I’m wrong) upon much stronger mandates.
It seems safe to say that West Hartford is suffering from referendum burnout — as the total votes cast continue to increase (summing the three referenda) the will for the referendum declines. This suggests that “No” may be less the will of the people than it is the will of the voters. As more “people” become “voters” (I’m assuming we have more total unique voters after 3 referenda than we had after two) the margins for “No” shrink (this, again, is likely attributable to burnout. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the June ’09 referendum — and yes, I’m expecting that — to be more of a 60-40 split).
The town Democrats were shrewd in threatening to close Firehouse Number One. While the target of this “conversation” was certainly those residents who would be impacted by a decreased service, the real audience may have been town union members who don’t often talk to one another. This threat likely galvanized the fire union to ally with the teacher’s union, thus increasing the “Yes” “base” and, ultimately, the “Yes” turnout.
And still, the inescapable fact — voter turnout was 28% (as opposed to 29% in June). With “Yes” more galvanized, and with a much larger turnout likely in the November 2009 elections, I would be shocked to see Democrats lose their Town Council majority.
The active minority — the 28% voting — are strikingly polarized (by the percentage vote, and by the conversations we all have, hear and read). The real question may be: What is the will of the silent 72%? We all want to hear from as many voices as possible, but right now we can’t even get 3 out of ten people to answer a yes or no question …