Splitting the Difference

Which Way Will the Votes Go?

Considering that Manuel Zuniga had a definite edge over all four of his Place 5 opponents on May 3 in both name-identification (as a repeat candidate) and money, it's plausible to suggest that Gus Peña, Karen Hadden, Bill Spelman, and Bobbie Enriquez all split the anti-Manny vote. Certainly, this is what Spelman's camp is hoping, since only by picking up support from all the also-rans can he be assured of victory in the runoff.

More likely, of course, is that these votes will split, with Hadden's support going almost assuredly to Spelman and Peña's rather less assuredly to Zuniga. This makes Enriquez the spoiler, and we don't know whether she was her supporters' first choice among the progressives, or among the Hispanics. (While Enriquez has declined to endorse either candidate, her key campaign workers have thrown their efforts behind Zuniga.)

If Enriquez's vote goes progressive for Spelman, he can narrowly win the race. If it goes Hispanic for Zuniga, Spelman is dead meat, as he would be if Hadden's voters stay home, although given the progressive candidates' greater success over the last two years of elections in getting out their vote, this appears an unlikely prospect. More likely is that Gus Peña's voters -- concentrated on the Eastside, where he won several boxes outright on May 3, but where turnout is historically in the single digits -- will stay home.

Without Peña, the race becomes narrow whichever way the Enriquez vote splits, presuming it does split. If her supporters back Zuniga on the Eastside and Spelman elsewhere -- a presumption supported not only by intuition but by comparison to the results in the Watson/Reynolds race, an index of Austin's ideological topography -- the progressive candidate wins by a whisker. Conversely, if Enriquez's vote splits proportionally between Zuniga and Spelman, in line with each runoff candidate's percentages in each part of town, Zuniga can attain a similarly razor-thin victory.

Of course, all of this assumes that turnout on May 31 will be comparable, in distribution if not in gross numbers, to May 3 -- which it almost certainly won't be. If you thought 17% turnout in the general election was embarrassing, check out what will likely be single-digit turnout on Saturday, and expect that the variation between high- and low-turnout parts of town will become even wider -- except in the East and South/Southeast, where turnout is already abysmal but shouldn't decline any further.

In the rest of town, between 6-8% of the voters who showed up for the last round didn't even cast a vote in Place 5 or 6. If this "votes not cast" percentage is an index of local interest in the race, then neither the central city left nor the Northwest/Southwest right can expect much of a turnout advantage on May 31, aside from what they create directly with get-out-the-vote efforts. But even small efforts will make the difference in Place 6, where the "votes not cast" on May 3 were sufficient to have decided the race outright, and where even small declines in Eric Mitchell's margins could swing the race to Willie Lewis, with his commanding central city lead.

It's worth noting, and perhaps to be expected, that so many people chose not to vote in a race featuring a well-known and well-financed incumbent and a challenger with neither asset, as opposed to the free-for-all in Place 5. Apparently, as we saw with the early-vote figures analyzed here earlier -- where Mitchell's margins of victory dropped by 20 percentage points or more between early voting and Election Day -- a lot of people had trouble making up their minds in this race, which is better news for Lewis than for Mitchell.

Likewise, enough votes to have averted a runoff went to Eric Samson, the only also-ran outside Place 5 with enough support to swing his race. Surprisingly to many insiders who pegged Samson as a far-left Helmet Law candidate, he pulled his best percentages outside the central city, and his 9% showing in the North did much to keep Mitchell's margins down in that sector. Expect that at least a large portion of this vote will go to Lewis, since few people who voted for a barely visible fringe candidate, whose politics show little visible overlap with Mitchell's, can be expected to turn around and vote for the incumbent in the runoff.

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