A civil war for votes
Two big takeaways from the final days of the Boston mayor’s race are that a lot of voters have yet to make up their mind, and the race has remained remarkably congenial. That may be no coincidence.
Except for those Boston residents who’ve been holed up in their basements for the last few months, the mayoral candidates have been unavoidable. They are at T stations, they are outside supermarkets, they are in every neighborhood parade. They’ve been in someone’s backyard in your neighborhood at one of the zillions of “meet and greets” that have probably made the candidates who are hoping to showcase their big ideas for city policy unwitting experts in patio design and urban landscaping. There have been lots of opportunities for voters to quiz candidates directly on their positions and ideas.
More formal candidate forums featuring the candidates have been too numerous to keep track of. At least once forums were scheduled for the same time slot, leading to some sharp elbows being thrown. That jostling, however, was not among the candidates but between competing event sponsors. Among the field of 12 contenders themselves, the endless string of 18-hour days and block-by-block competition for the same voters has prompted remarkably little sustained acrimony or mudslinging.
As elections enter the homestretch, campaigns are often battling over a small sliver of undecided voters who have not paid particularly close attention to the race and who are not, to put it charitably, always the most informed, issue-oriented citizens to begin with. “Low-information voters” is what they have been dubbed in recent years, and the fight over them often becomes a question of how low do you go?
The undecideds made up more than just a tiny sliver in the last mayor’s race polls. Moreover, in talking to some of those who are still mulling their mayoral favorite, in contrast to the unflattering picture of the “low-information” voter, one is struck by the degree to which these are people who have paid close attention to the race, yet remain vexed over the choice they must make. That’s probably a function of the significant overlap between many candidates on issues, and the general high quality of the mayoral field.
At an issues panel discussion last night in West Roxbury, where the vast majority of the 50 or so attendees said they had yet to decide who they were voting for, residents earnestly prodded me and Globe columnist and editorial board member Larry Harmon for information that might help them sort out their choice.
Some may have gone home a little disappointed. There are differences among the candidates on issues that may influence how voters break. Differing views on how to improve public education have probably made for the sharpest division in the race. But narrowing the choice down to one candidate can be hard. A couple of candidates have backgrounds managing public agencies and budgets. How much does that matter, asked one attendee at the forum at Temple Hillel B’nai Torah? Hard to say was my answer, pointing out that none of Boston’s recent mayors had run much of anything before taking office. Who is really talking about the issues affecting the minority community and those living in poverty, asked another voter. Nearly all the candidates have shown a genuine concern for those constituencies and articulated plans to address the challenges they face, said Harmon.
The fact that so many undecided voters seem to be taking their decision seriously and still studying the candidates carefully may be contributing to the positive tone of the race in its final days. There are a lot of thoughtful voters still making up their minds who would be quickly turned off by a candidate who veered toward the gutter. The mudslinging and nasty attack ads that so many races devolve to are really a fight over the small slice of “low-information” voters who might be swayed by such tactics. It’s a race to the bottom.
So far, the race for mayor of Boston has remained a pretty high-minded affair. If you run into a still undecided voter, thank them for that.
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