Gadsby’s Revenge: Alvin Greene and South Carolina

Many people were scratching their heads Wednesday morning (or late Tuesday night), when we realized that South Carolina Democrats had nominated a literal “Some Dude” – an unemployed veteran living with his father – who somehow managed to front the $10,000 needed to run.

South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford weighed in on the matter later on Wednesday, remarking:

No white folks have an ‘e’ on the end of Green. The blacks after they left the plantation couldn’t spell, and they threw an ‘e’ on the end.

(If you’re wondering about the title, Gadsby is a 260-page novel that contains no instances of the letter E.)

Both Greene and Vic Rawl were relative unknowns and we’ll assume no voter knowledge of either candidate . Given the campaigning by both candidates (or lack thereof), I think this is a relatively tenable assumption.

So, let’s start at the county level – what’s the relationship between the percent of non-white registered voters and the percentage Greene received?

Here are two maps, with the non-white voter percentage on the left and Greene’s percentage on the right.

Is there a relationship? Maybe – hard to tell. Tom Schaller goes into this in more depth than I do.

However, thanks to the relatively good South Carolina State Election Commission website, we can go further to the precinct level. The geographic data for mapping precincts simply isn’t available, but we can still look at the numbers. (Sidenote: Absentees and provisionals can’t be attributed to a specific precinct and are tossed from here on out.)

Here’s a scatterplot of the non-white RV percentage and the percentage that Greene received on Tuesday and a simple regression line through it. Below that are the Stata output from a simple regression taking the non-white RV% as the independent variable.

The regression tells us two things:

  • For every 1% increase in the non-white percentage of RVs, Greene’s percentage can be expected to increase 0.22%.
  • For a hypothetical county with 100% white RVs, Greene’s expected percentage should be (!!) 51.6%.

But is the relationship there? Hard to say – it is statistically significant, but the R-squared is a measly 0.1425, meaning the other 85.75% of variance in Greene’s percentage is explained by something else.

Statistics disclaimer: Go ahead and skewer me for using a linear regression. (What else was I going to do?) I know the estimators here are going to be far from unbiased – that’s a picture-perfect example of heteroskedasticity if I’ve ever seen one…

I’m hesitant to rely solely on percentages though – there were plenty of precincts with few RVs and where few votes were cast (as you can tell by the 100% Greene precincts floating along the top edge). We can also consider this in terms of numbers: the number of non-white RVs and the number of votes for Greene in a given precinct.

Now, the regression tells a few things again:

  • For every additional non-white voter, Greene’s vote count can be expected to go up 0.09. (Keep this in context of 24% voter turnout between both primaries!) This effect, again, is statistically significant, and very much so.
  • For a hypothetical precinct with no non-white RVs, Greene will receive 7.8 votes.
  • 62.6% of variance in Greene’s vote totals by precinct can be explained by the number of non-white RVs.

So again, is the relationship there? I think the second method presents a stronger case for the “E”-phenomenon than that first. But that said, is this instance of identity politics any more extraordinary than other instances? Does this have to do with voters having very little information (paging Scott Lee Cohen)? The second analysis, I might add, is also confounded in part by varying turnout across precincts…

Robert Ford may be on to something, but it’s all hard to say. (Lastly – if you haven’t realized the difficulty in writing with no Es, this post excluding Stata outputs, contains 438 of them.)

60 thoughts on “Gadsby’s Revenge: Alvin Greene and South Carolina”

  1. Last time I checked Ashley Greene (the model in the SoBe commercials) and State Representative Gerald Greene, a Democrat in my state of Georgia, are two names that popped up right away that are not black.

  2. I can see it moving the needle by a few percent, in such a low-information race, but Greene won by a blowout (59-41).

  3. If you don’t know anything about the candidates in a primary or non partisan race, LEAVE IT BLANK!

    (Of course you probably won’t be reading SSP)

  4. Maybe South Carolina voters thought that Alvin is related to Jeff Greene, the multi-zillionaire businessman who is running to win the Democratic nomination for Governor of Florida.

  5. … a gadfly of the first order. He supported keeping the Confederate flag on the statehouse (he’s black).  On 90% of what he supports, he is a loner.  

    Nobody takes him seriously, which is why he did so poorly in the Governor’s race.

    BTW, Rawl won the absentee vote statewide by a sizeable margin.  I wonder if computer manipulation/malfunction was involved.  I saw a documentary about Diebold once that comes to mind.

  6. would be nice for someone to do a poll of people who voted in the Democratic primary and ask them who they voted for and why and how they heard of the candidate.  

  7. We always joke about the dead voting after the end of their natural voting lives, but I am curious how many dead people voted for a candidate that did not campaign.

  8. Democrats went to vote in the primary. In a low information race with 2 candidates, the person listed on top/ first of the ballot got a lot more votes. I am going to run in Idaho Democratic primary for governor as AaaaaGomer Aaaaaa  

  9. I did some digging and found an SC-Sen poll conducted by PPP in late May.  While PPP did not bother to poll the Democratic primary (why would they?) they did release figures on Rawl’s favorability with crosstabs for 2008 Vote.  Using this data, I managed to do some back-of-the-envelope estimates of what could be expected in among a Democratic primary electorate voting between Rawl and an Unknown Candidate (I’m therefore ignoring the theory that there was any significant racial bias for Greene).

    First the numbers: Obama voters gave Rawl a 6-18-76 favorability rating.  I assumed that those who had a favorable opinion of Rawl would vote for him over Greene 98% of the time.  For voters holding an unfavorable opinion of Rawl, I assumed a 90-10 breakout in favor of Greene.  Finally among those who did not have enough knowledge to have an opinion, I gave a 53-47 edge to Greene, based mostly on ballot placement.

    The results:

    Favorable (6) – 98% Rawl, 2% Greene – 4.88 Rawl, 0,12 Greene

    Unfavorable (18) – 10% Rawl, 90% Greene – 1.8 Rawl, 16.2 Greene

    Not sure (76) – 47% Rawl, 53% Greene – 35.72 Rawl, 40.28 Greene

    Estimated vote (100) – 43.4% Rawl, 56.6% Greene

    Actual vote – 41.04% Rawl, 58.96% Greene

    Obviously, theres a good deal of Margin of Error in my numbers and my assumptions.  But I think the calculations do illustrate that it’s not a great leap to explain the results with Rawl’s lackluster favorability numbers.  No need for conspiracy theories or accusations of shenanegans.

  10. significant at all, just like Tom Schaller. I don’t think it’s REALLY significant, my hypothesis would be that there is a small subset (25%)? of the AfAm electorate who knew who those guys are and broke mostly for Greene, and the others were distributed randomly.

    And as for the second one, couldn’t you do another one controlling for precinct size?

    Because it looks a little bit like you  might just have found a relationship between precinct size and race. Which is interesting, but not in this context. Plus, it’s driven really much by the outliers in the upper right I guess (impact analysis?)

  11. “Son, go make yourself useful doing something.”

    “I don’t have anything to do!”

    “Well, find something!”

    several days pass…

    “Hey dad, can I use this ten grand?”

    “What’re you doing with this?”

    “I’m filing to run for Senate.”

    “You kiddin’ me?”


    “Well, then go right ahead.”

  12. Even if he was a plant, that would not be illegal by itself.  I have seen numerous plants placed in primaries by both sides at the state rep and state senate level in Pennsylvania.  

    A prominent example was in the 50th State House Democratic primary this May.  The incumbent Democrat is facing felony charges for public corruption and was facing a strong challenge from a county commissioner in the district.  Then all of the sudden, some random union dude pops up and undermines the challenger.  The random dude raised hardly any money and it was clear that his campaign was receiving help from the incumbent like the incumbent’s staff placing signs for both candidates in the public right of ways.

  13. According to the File A Excel document linked from the Census page on surnames from 2000, people named Greene are 70% white, 26% black, whereas people named Green are 59% white, 36% black. Maybe things are different in South Carolina compared with the US as a whole, but it seems unlikely that the “e” at the end is really a signal of blackness.

    If that was the plan, they’d have been much better with a candidate named Washington (90% black), Jefferson (75%), or Booker (66%).

  14. This diary concludes that there exists a significant correlation between the % of non-white voters in a voting district, and the % of votes received by Greene, and therefore that Greene received preferential voting from non-white voters.  It does so on the basis of a non-zero value for r^2 (presumably, Pearson’s r, the product moment correlation coefficient).  

    This is a mis-understanding of the meaning of r^2. r is a way of summarizing the strength of a correlation, when a correlation is already known to be significant.  It is possible to have a high value of r^2 for completely uncorrelated numbers.  

    A related analysis is a Pearson analysis, which the significance level at which the null hypothesis of zero correlation is disproved (thus, a small probability indicates it is highly unlikely that there is zero correlation between two arrays.  I perform such an analysis here:

    I conclude there is no evidence that non-white voters voted preferentially for Greene.

  15. Apparently he never heard of Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene (who happens to be the namesake of my home city Greensboro, NC)!

  16. Problem is these guys were some dude candidates that Palmetto Dems knew little about, hard to dislike someone when you really don’t know said person.

  17. Hmmm, I think of that name I think of Reginald Rawls, a character on the HBO Prison Drama OZ which aired from 1997 to 2003.

  18. I would rather have 20 percent turnout among informed and active citizens instead of 60 percent turnout with 2/3 being emotional idiots voting for people because of race, religion or physical appearance.

  19. You don’t know much about the American political system don’t you? We don’t elect candidates based on issues, ideology and informity, we vote for people because how they look, if we can have a beer with said person, fear tatics and we will never vote for people who are an elitist, a wind surfer, has a wife who’s opininated or ugly. I mean we elected a President for two terms because we wanted to have a beer with him and if we didn’t a terrorist attack would happen. lol.

  20. You have to go out of your way to vote absentee, and if you’re voting absentee in a primary, you probably have done some homework to make sure you know who the candidates are.

    Day-of voters are lower information, so their choices are much more random on the races where they don’t even recognize the candidates’ names.

  21. Don’t get me started on the American electorate.  The American voter is the most irrational creature known to man.  That is why we have such a dysfunctional system.

  22. His campaign manager claims 300,000 emails were sent, 250,000 robo calls were made and 17,000 miles driven (in a small state geographically).  That’s not a ton of money, but it is compared to what Greene spent (essentialy 0).

    Obviously, the wanted to save most of the powder for November.

    Read this article if you haven’t already.  Several numbers are not adding up.


  23. than why did we see polls putting Rawl relatively close to DeMint. DeMint had fairly solid approval (…  

    yet there were polls (I forgot where but they were mentioned here) putting Rawl within single digits or teen’s behind DeMint. How would you reconcile that with Rawl’s terrible favorability ratings among his own base?

  24. I’m looking at the same poll** and the numbers are as follows:

    Favorable: 5 not 6


    No OPINION: 82 NOT 76

    Obviously this changes the numbers on your enevelope.

    Also, you have to run the SAME numbers on GREENE, in order for me to buy this theory. I assume ANYONE in ANY poll would have a double digit unfavorable. The pollster did not run numbers on Greene, because he was not a serious candidate.

    You must understand that Vic Rawl was only slightly more  known than Greene.  I follow SC politics religiously and have since 1980.  Only a political junkie of the first order, or a diehard INFORMED Democrat would have any idea who Rawl was, outside of his home county. He was on Charleston County Council, but he won Charleston. Even I did not know he was on council until he announced.

    I only remembered him from his days in the legislature. At the time he was a D holding a marginal district in a county that was turning Republican (when the legislature was 2/3 Democratic).  

    His time in the legislature was over 20 years ago. He ran no ads. He made no gaffes and took no issue positions outside what you would expect of a Democrat running for national office.

    His announcement received only obligatory coverage from the MSM.  All the focus has been on the Governor’s race, especially lately.  

    **  PPP surveyed 1,255 South Carolina voters, with a margin of error of +/-2.8%, from May

    22nd to 23rd.    

  25. Democrats frequently get at least 40 percent in South Carolina.  Democrats lose, but do not get horribly crushed.  Clearly there is a Democratic base, but the Democratic candidates have little hope getting beyond 40 to 45 percent, but they have little hope falling below 35 percent too.  This is not Utah or Idaho where the Democrats cheer when they get to 40.

    That is why I really do not understand why people were fussing so much about the DeMint numbers.  He was doing really well when placed into the polarized context of South Carolina politics.

  26. First, the PPP poll I used found a 19% lead for DeMint.  That’s hardly what I would call “relatively close.”  Second, the general election strength of Rawl despite lackluster support from the base is pretty easily explained as voting for “Not DeMint,” someone who is clearly a leader in the right wing Tea Party movement.

  27. doubt Alvin Greeneeeeee get’s more than 25-30% of the vote if he does not drop out.  

  28. Area of a county is significant. Doesn’t explain too much, r² of const+area is .15, but it is significant at 95%.  

  29. What are you saying essentially?

    Name recognition can be positive or negative sources.  My point was that Rawl had vitually NO recognition for either positive OR negative reasons.

    How many people outside Illinois knew who Blago was 18 months ago?  

  30. I have heard of Republican consultants trolling around in places like Detroit trying to find conservaDem challengers to your typical Democrats from Detroit.  I have also seen it in parts of Pennsylvania where one party dominates at the local or state level.

  31. PPP did poll this race post election. Here is the info on it:

    Basically they concluded that the surprise primary victory for Alvin Greene was not a GOP plot, but a completely random outcome based on an election in which both candidates were unknown.

    The fault here does not lie with some nefarious plot by evil GOP operatives to steal an election but rather with the 100,000 Democratic Primary voters in SC who basically voted for a US Senate candidate who was completely unknown to them.

    Sometimes in a Democracy voters get the candidates and the government they deserve. If the Democratic primary voters in SC were using a flip of a coin to determine who to vote for to represent them in the US Senate then they deserve Alvin Greene as their candidate.

  32. In all serious this happens more often then you would think. People run (or at least put their name on the ballot) for races they have no shot at winning as a resume builder or out of some delusion they might have.

    In general these kind of candidate’s lose very badly. By some fluke of luck Mr. Greene won. No different than when a Larouchie wins a primary because voters had no idea who they were voting for.

    I really think that’s all there is to this story.

  33. a Republican consultant is not going to risk their reputation by taking a DEmocrat contract in a GOP-dominated state like SC.  

    RINO is a dirty word in this state, especially this year.  The GOP dominates at the federal and state level and at the local level in most counties.

    Joe Wilson and Clyburn are not bosom buddies by any means. This was an attempt to embarrass Clyburn, hoping that it would not come to light.      

  34. Maybe the judge handling his case will ask Mr. Greene, under oath, where the funds came from to file, when he had already [dont know the timeline, tho] prepared and qualified for a couinty paid attorney.  I suppose he filed for the office after he was awarded the county attorney. It would be to the interest of the state as to the accuracy of the application he filed with the courts.

  35. The fault here does not lie with some nefarious plot by evil GOP operatives to steal an election but rather with the 100,000 Democratic Primary voters in SC who basically voted for a US Senate candidate who was completely unknown to them.

    Sometimes in a Democracy voters get the candidates and the government they deserve. If the Democratic primary voters in SC were using a flip of a coin to determine who to vote for to represent them in the US Senate then they deserve Alvin Greene as their candidate.  

    The old saying “Elections have Consequences” come into play here. People who for a man by simply by his name or flipping deserve with what they get. This why I dislike low infomation voters for example.

  36. First, READ the article.  There was NOT a post-primary poll, the pollster simply defended their PRE-primary poll, without offering any new information.

    The poll did not even poll GREENE.  He mentions Rawl’s favorable as 4%, but Greene’s favorable would not have been any higher, and most likely lower.

    I can accept that randomness could result in a 51-49, 52-48, 53-47 or even 55-45 result.  But 59-41 is stretching credulity to say the very least.

    A ‘coin flip’ would produce in a 50-50 result.

    BTW, we already know that more votes were recorded for the two candiates than cast a ballot in some precincts.  How can that be anything other than a malfunction or tapering?

    You would think Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Rod Shealy never existed, the way some posters (Repubicans, perhaps) seem to find it inconciveable that something is wrong here. Republican dirty tricks are as old in SC as the modern GOP.    

    The likelyhood that something is amiss, is very high IMO.  Either a malfunction or something more nefarious.


  37. I usually dismiss ballot placement as a factor in elections because I think it’s badly overhyped as a factor for candidates whose names are sufficiently recognized by the electorate, but in this type of instance ballot placement can matter a lot.

    Even in election polling, good pollsters rotate the candidates’ names.

    And on a ballot, there is a natural tendency to notice the top name, that’s just where our eyes start when reading anything.  If you have no idea who’s running, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if 60% of voters end up picking the first name.

  38. People tend to tune out robocalls altogether.  I’m a political junkie, and being a political junkie is the only reason I sit through a robocall message, since I’m always interested in who’s doing what in campaigning.  But I hang up almost immediately on a robocall about virtually anything else, and I imagine almost everyone hangs up almost immediately on a political robocall.

    An e-mail’s value depends on how it’s done.  The subject line is critical to get the reader’s attention, and frankly for someone like Vic Rawl with no name rec, his name needs to be in the subject line.  The substance needs to be creative enough to keep the reader engaged through at least the most important parts.  I get a lot of political e-mails, and most of them don’t get my attention enough to read them.

    They say for a campaign TV ad you need a viewer to see it 8 times before it really registers, and while that might be a somewhat arbitrary number conjured up by political consultants and advertising companies to sell more services and make more money, the need for repetition is very real.  So if Rawl’s campaign was doing the voter contact volume you cited, it doesn’t add up to that much repetition for the voting universe given that something between 150K and 200K people actually voted.

  39. …some sort of award for that!

    I never would have thought of looking for Census figures to figure out how many people of each race have a particular name with a particular spelling!

    You have too much time on your hands!  😀

  40. “He claiims to have got it from his work in the military”

    Then did he disclose the funds when he applied for a free lawyer, paid for by the taxpayers?  I doubt that he would have had a court appoint an attorney if they had knowledge of the funds.  

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