Analysis: Voter Poll Brings the East Lansing City Council Race Into Clearer Focus
With the November 2 general election just a few weeks away and absentee ballots already out to voters, the East Lansing City Council election — which is the only matter East Lansing voters have on their current ballots — is coming into clearer focus.
In the five-candidate race for the two open four-year terms, George Brookover appears likeliest to win a seat, according to a poll conducted by Practical Political Consulting (PPC) for East Lansing Info (ELi).
Behind Brookover, respondents slightly preferred Daniel Bollman over Chuck Grigsby and incumbent Dana Watson (appointed in 2020), but all three stand a fair chance of being elected to fill a four-year term. Adam DeLay is squarely behind the rest of the four-year candidates in the poll.
In the two-candidate race for the one open two-year term, incumbent Ron Bacon (appointed in 2020) was far preferred by respondents to Mikey Manuel.
How was the poll conducted?
According to an analysis prepared by PPC founder Mark Grebner, PPC attempted to reach the 3,465 East Lansing “voter households to whom landline telephone numbers had been previously matched.” Respondents were asked who they would vote for in the race for the respective four-year seats — a question about their first choice and a follow up about their second choice. They were then asked who they would vote for in the two-year race. Not all respondents answered the queries in full, so the response totals are not equal.
In total, 2.5% (86 people) answered at least one of the questions asked, but among those with a more dependable voting history, the response rate reached 6%. The survey relied on landlines because there are restrictions on auto-dialing (robocalling) cell phones.
Using landlines, the respondents skew older than average. Younger respondents are virtually non-existent. Of the 3,465 landlines contacted, the average age of the owner was 65 years old. The average age of respondents to this poll was 73 years old. Grebner’s analysis notes that the average age of voters in the November 2019 election was 60 years old.
The analysis identifies three flaws to note before delving into the results:
- the overrepresentation of older people and lack of younger people in the sample;
- the low response rate means the sample could be skewed toward people who simply wanted to discuss their views and “who may not be statistically identical to the majority who declined”;
- and the 86-person sample means the confidence intervals — a measure of statistical accuracy — are wide.
“With these warnings,” Grebner wrote, “we proceed to look at our results.”
The polling results paint a clearer picture of the Council race, albeit not a definitive one.
As is evident in the tables below, Bacon appears much preferred to his opponent, Manuel. Out of the 52 responses for the two-year race, 45 were for Bacon to seven for Manuel. And despite the large margins of error in this poll (11%), Grebner was confident in his analysis that Bacon is “essentially unopposed in his contest.” Bacon’s lead over Manuel, based on this poll, is well beyond the margin of error.
In the four-year race, 57% of the respondents, favored Brookover, or in raw numbers, 49 ‘votes for.’ The next closest candidate is Bollman at 35%, or 30 ‘votes for’. This gap is big enough for Grebner to express his confidence that Brookover will likely be elected to one of the two open seats in this race.
Bollman had more support among respondents than Grigsby and Watson — 28% (24 ‘votes for’) and 27% (23 ‘votes for’), respectively — by clear but perhaps negligible margins. Bollman may be the favorite among the three, according to Grebner’s analysis, but lead in this poll may “simply be due to statistical noise.”
The final 14% (12 ‘votes for’) of the responses were for DeLay.
To better understand the four-year table above, read this bit from Grebner’s analysis: “First and second choices in the four-year race are lumped together. This was necessitated by the evident tendency of respondents to understand ‘first’ as meaning ‘first preference’ and also ‘first on this list.’”
Grebner also examined demographic patterns among the supporters of each candidate in this polling sample, using data from PPC’s own voter database. But because of the small number of respondents, “only the starkest comparisons reach statistical significance.”
One comparison that Grebner did note in his analysis is how candidates are doing among voters who are Democrats versus Republican and Independent voters. The City Council seats are non-partisan positions, so candidates in this election aren’t running with any explicit party identification. But Grebner nonetheless discovered that Brookover is liked more than the other four candidates by Republican and Independent voters.
Of the 17 non-Democrats in the poll, 16 indicated they’d vote for Brookover.
“Among the much larger number of Democrats, he holds a moderate lead which doesn’t quite qualify as statistically significant,” Grebner wrote in his analysis. “Given Brookover’s lifelong identification with the Democratic Party, this pattern must reflect a sense that he is relatively conservative, among the actual field. The same pattern applies, to a lesser extent, to Bollman.”
Grebner also sought to provide more context and nuance around the age-skewing and lack of younger people being represented in this poll.
By Grebner’s own estimation, around 4,500 people will vote in this upcoming election, and he predicted based on long history that the number of Michigan State University students voting in this election will be negligible.
He surmises that with the wide availability of absentee ballots and early voting, students would opt to vote absentee rather than in person.
But speaking to ELi on Thursday, Grebner posed a question he already knew the answer to: How many students living on-campus, in the 48825 zip code, had already applied for or gotten their absentee ballot?
“Of the 14,000 people in 48825, as of two days ago, the answer was one,” Grebner said on Thursday. “And he hadn’t returned his ballot yet, but I’m sure he will. One. So we can extrapolate that to lots of numbers, but I don’t think you can extrapolate it to, say, 500 people voting on election day. I don’t think you can extrapolate it to 100 people in the dorms going on election day.”
Grebner added that there had been approximately 80 people under the age of 25 who had applied for an absentee ballot in East Lansing. It seems likely that, as in the past, the voters in this year’s East Lansing City Council election will skew toward the senior population, as did this poll.
Check out more of ELi’s election coverage.
See what the candidates had to say at a recent ASMSU forum, which highlighted notable differences of opinion. You can find more election coverage here.
And go to ELi’s Voter Guide for the 2021 Election here.
This article was updated at 2 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2021 to reflect the correct zip codes for MSU’s residence halls.