The El Paso Tribune - El Paso Texas Political Commentary
Election to Test Political Influence
May 3, 2005 - Martín Paredes
This year’s city elections will give the community an opportunity to test various theories based on the results. The theories vary from the affect the media has on public perception to the power of community neighborhood associations. The results will no doubt be debated for years to come but the groundwork is in place to test various political influence methodologies. Of the contested races, District 2 the centerpiece of various methodologies regardless if the outcome ends in a runoff election or in a true winner.

Before we can address the various influence methodologies we must accept some caveats in order to form a baseline from which to draw conclusions. The first of this is that we must accept that our target voter universe is a small subset of the total registered voters. This is important because although the voter universe of registered voters can potentially influence an election, historically it is less than 20% of that universe that actually votes on election night. Accepting this caveat we must also accept that this “actual voter” universe is both educated on the issues of the community and stays inform of the candidates, or is swayed to vote by a given agenda. It is difficult to gauge how many of the universe votes on issues and how many votes based on an agenda but this voter nonetheless makes a decisive decision to vote thus we must accept that at the very least they are informed enough to make a conscious decision with their vote. This caveat, of course, addresses only city elections as other elections have the party factor intermixed in the decision process.

Thus, if we accept the caveats as laid out above we can make the following assumptions and possibly draw some conclusions on election night. The methodologies we can study in this election are the factor, if any the media, namely the El Paso Times and KVIA can play in a city election, as well as what factor, if any, the neighborhood associations can wield on city politics. This, of course can be studied in the race between the incumbent, Robert Cushing and his challengers Susie Byrd and Oscar Gonzalez.

What is interesting is that historically speaking the incumbent holds name recognition among the voters and is in the enviable position to take credit for community concerns even if the credit is not due the incumbent. But in this race, both challengers have built in name recognition in the fact that they both worked under a mayoral administration. Susie Byrd was executive director for former Mayor Caballero and played a central role in some of Caballero’s most controversial policies. Likewise, Gonzalez served under the Wardy administration and was instrumental, by some accounts, in empowering the neighborhood associations. Therefore, both challengers have a measure of name recognition not enjoyed by other challengers.

Both challengers enjoy name recognition among our target voter base and each represents a significant sphere of influence in these elections. Susie Byrd represents the Caballero dogma of taxpayer funded city luxuries while Gonzalez represents the possibility of an empowered neighborhood grassroots effort. The unanticipated factor thrown into this mix is the El Paso Times and its television partner KVIA.

With these factors in play, the results of the election will allow us to examine these interesting dynamics. Should Cushing pull a victory or a runoff then we would have to accept that the newspaper has become a none factor in terms of city elections and our target universe. At the same time, a strong showing by challenger Gonzalez in either a runoff with the incumbent or challenger Byrd would demonstrate that the neighborhood associations have become political players in the community.

Gonzalez would have to force a strong mobilization of the neighborhood associations in order to force a runoff or an outright win for himself. Byrd, on the other hand can only hope that her name recognition and the media’s attention to the incumbent would allow her a runoff or an outright win. The Caballero legacy and the voter’s repudiation of his administration makes a strong showing by Byrd only possible through the media’s inordinate attention to the incumbent. Thus, if Byrd shows strong on election night than it can be argued that the El Paso Times has influence over our target audience. On the other hand, a run-off scenario between Gonzalez and the incumbent, Cushing or an outright win by Cushing will only demonstrate that the newspaper has lost any relevance in community issues.

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