This project would endeavor to illustrate some of the patterns in Philadelphia electoral politics that are occasionally covered in the media but rarely quantified. This includes the circulation of political contributions from local candidates to the city parties and ward committees (neighborhood-level partisan organizations) and ward endorsements which carry significant value in low-profile elections. An analysis could help reveal any relationships between the flow of money, ward endorsements, election results and voter turnout. Turnout is frequently highlighted in political campaigns as a measure of civic health, but is very expensive to increase. Consequently, campaign contributions may correlate with turnout but only because endorsements are more valuable where people vote. In short: visualizing these variables – campaign contributions, endorsements, election results and voter turnout – and determining the degree to which they’re related would be a helpful start in understanding Philadelphia elections.
Ample election and campaign finance data is readily available online through local and city government websites. Information necessary for this project includes election results and voter turnout available from the Philadelphia City Commissioners (PhiladelphiaVotes.com), campaign spending from the Board of Ethics, and map boundaries from OpenDataPhilly.org. Voter registration by ward (needed to calculate turnout) will be collected from either the city or state. Three of the four variables assumed to have a significant impact on turnout – education, income and race – will be pulled from the 2010 Census or annual American Community Survey. Finally, broad and reliable samples of Philadelphia ward endorsements have only been attempted in 2015 and 2017; Philadelphia Weekly reporter Max Marin’s survey of District Attorney endorsement during the May 2017 primary is the most thorough available.
The proposed interactive web-based map would allow users to parse through and visualize geographically: voter turnout, campaign contributions, ward endorsements and election results (for the 2017 District Attorney election only). The map would overlay Philadelphia’s wards and include the expected turnout in each ward (based off of education, income, race, and past turnout), the actual turnout (ballots cast for the highest-profile office divided by voter registration) relative to the expected turnout, how much money each Philadelphia ward spent in the most recent primary election, the reported ward endorsements, and election. In addition to the visualization, a regression analysis could be performed to estimate the relationship between the socioeconomic variables, campaign dollars spent, and ward-based turnout.
Together, the map and the report would seek to better understand how local campaigns in Philadelphia are financed, who pays for them, and who benefits from them, and what are the impacts on election outcomes.
The primary purposes of this project will be to: 1) Demonstrate the value and need for further collection and analysis of data to understand how Philadelphia elections work (e.g. new efforts to systematically collect for public viewing all endorsements pushed on Election Day); 2) focusing more attention on how money influences local elections and, consequently, the quality of government; and 3) spurring discussion around voter turnout and what ward committees are (and are not) doing to encourage voter participation. PhillyWardLeaders.com, a Code for Philly project from 2015, is already in the midst of being redeveloped and may be a prime hub for this type of analysis and insight.