Monday, February 17, 2014

Sticker Shock Shock

Correction to the Sticker Shock post yesterday.  I stated that 86% of Minnesota Constitutional Amendments have been approved by the voters.  Technically, that is not the case, although it depends on what you approve of as your definition of “approve”. 

The law defining approval of ballot Amendment proposals was changed in 1898, from a simple majority ‘yes’ votes among those voting on that particular amendment, to a majority of ‘yes’ votes among all those casting a ballot in that election (whether or not they bothered to vote on that particular Amendment). 

This may seem like a subtle distinction, but the affect has been dramatic.  Seventy-seven Amendment proposals have been rejected since this law was put into place (staring with those appearing on the ballot in 1900).  Fully 82% of these rejected proposals would have passed under the old standard of a simple majority voting ‘yes’ on that particular question.  Overall, while 86% of amendments have indeed received ‘yes’ votes by a majority of those casting votes for that Amendment, only 56% of these Amendments have actually been “approved” into law due to the higher standard passed in 1898. 

The 1898 change in Amendment law was itself passed by Amendment approval by the voters.  Alas, it would have been rejected if forced to be judged by the very standard it was mandating.  Although a clear mandate of those bothering to vote on this question approved of it (68%, or 69,760 of 102,641), the ‘yes’ votes represent a piddling 27% of all ballots cast in1898 (69,760 of 252,562). 

Only 41% of those voting in 1898 (102,641 of 252,562) bothered to express an opinion on this change in the law which proceeded to radically alter the content of our Constitution for the next century.  Talk about a non-response bias!

Or maybe it’s not.  It’s hard to say how the vote might have been different if all voters had expressed their opinion on this question.  In the absence of compelling evidence that the non-responders materially differed from responders on this variable, the best guess is that they would have been distributed generally the same way on this question.  Since it was a landslide approval among responders, Minnesota is *probably* living under the Amendment law that the majority of its people wished in 1898.  The irony is that since 1898 that is not the case.  

Because of this law, the default assumption is that non-responders are not distributed similarly as responders, who are usually approving.  It is that non-responders are always 100% opposed.  Because of that we’re 60+ Amendments to the Minnesota Constitution light compared to where we’d be otherwise. 

Getting back to Sticker Shock, this does not change my snap conclusion into the overwhelming liberal orientation of amendment proposals themselves.  But it shows how the glorious apathy of Minnesota voters or, stated another way, the failure of Amendment proponents to properly educate and motivate voters on the specifics of their schemes, has been a firewall against liberal policies. 

The more I read through the Amendment database, the more fun facts I uncover, so there is more blogging to come.  In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about the history of Minnesota Constitutional Amendments, check out this excellent report from last year by the research department at the MN House of Representatives.