PoliGraph: Dayton voting claim hard to back up

During his recent rounds on radio and television, Gov. Mark Dayton has been touting the fact that neither he nor his Republican colleagues in the House and Senate have a mandate to govern because no one got the majority of the vote.

“I was elected with 43 percent of the people who voted in the last election and the Republican majorities in the Senate and the House were elected with 41 percent and 40 percent respectively,” he said during an interview on TPT’s Almanac last month.

He repeated a similar claim Tuesday on MPR News’ Midday.

Dayton’s numbers don’t hold up.

The Evidence

Of the nearly 2.1 million votes cast for governor in 2010, Dayton got roughly 919,000 votes – or about 43 percent. So he gets that percentage right.

About 2 million people voted for candidates for the Minnesota Senate. Of those votes, 49.72 were for a Republican; not a majority, but a lot closer than Dayton’s claim.

Additionally, roughly 2 million people voted in Minnesota House races. Of those, 50.44 percent cast ballots for a Republican.

Dayton’s staff responded, saying that he’s talking about the percentage of voters who elected winning candidates – the votes that helped the GOP take both chambers.

By that measure, Dayton’s contention would have been better served if he had the percentages right — 35 percent went to winning GOP candidates in both chambers, not “41 percent and 40 percent respectively.”

The Verdict

Dayton only considered the percentage of voters who cast ballots for winning candidates. His comparison fails to point out that far more people voted for Republican legislators in the 2010 election.

The governor’s statement is misleading to the point that it earns a false on the PoliGraph test.

SOURCES

MPR News’ Midday, March 1, 2011

TPT, Almanac, Feb. 18, 2011

Minnesota Secretary of State, General Election Results for Governor, last updated Jan. 19, 2011, accessed March 3, 2011

Minnesota Secretary of State, Senate Race Results, accessed March 4, 2011

Minnesota Secretary of State, House Race Results, accessed March 4, 2011

Interview, Katie Tinucci, spokeswoman, Mark Dayton, March 3, 2011

Interview, Steven Schier, professor, Carleton College, March 4, 2011

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The Humphrey School

  • Jamie

    This shouldn’t be a “false” rating. It should be a “qualified correct” rating. Dayton’s premise is correct, but he got the numbers wrong on half of his assertion, with the correct numbers actually supporting his premise even more than his incorrect numbers did.

  • Jamie

    I’d like to see the criteria by which you judge these things. It doesn’t seem to be very objective or uniform to me.

  • BWMorlan

    I am a Masters Statistician and an activist in the Republican party. I am always amused by these sorts of nit-picked analyses. A statistical statement that might take two or three pages to set up the background, assumptions and interpretation gets reduced to a 15 second sound bite and then the politician gets beaten with the incorrectness of the statement taken at its face value. You (PoliGraph) try hard, but this one is tough. I don’t envy you your task on this one, but I think you did well enough. The test has to be in the context of the intended reaction. Dayton is saying he has as much of a mandate (43%) as the Republicans. His slippery use of votes for winning candidates is bad, but to use the 35% figure is probably not correct.

    The underlying question appears to be either “Who voted for the people who are now running things” or “Who voted for the kinds of people who are now running things”. The answer to the former is the 35% you use at the end of your analysis, the answer to the latter is closer to the near 50% numbers you begin with. The poor schlub who gave Dayton his sound bite was probably much more interested in making a distorted answer to his/her own variant of the question, which might be better framed as “based on the makeup of the legislature, what percentage of the voters really support Dayton”, the analysis being done to remove the third party effect introduced by Horner.

    Good luck with that one. I am still arguing with party members over how to interpret these results.

  • Jim Erkel

    I’m not a statistician and I don’t play one on TV but I agree with Jamie that your criteria seem suspect and the Governor’s claim does not deserve a false rating. Back in December, I listened a bit to the House Republicans respond to the November Forecast. The message was that ‘we all should get ready to balance the budget through cuts only because that is what the voters told us how the deficit should be addressed.’ I went back to the Secretary of State’s website then and counted up all of the votes the 72 winning House Republicans received. The total was 726,519. However, Governor Dayton, who ran on raising some taxes in order to help in balancing the budget, received 919,232 (at least at that moment in the recount). So, Speaker Zellers would seem to be off by almost 200,000 votes when he said that the mandate from voters is to only cut our way to a balanced budget. The same result applies to the Minnesota Senate. The 37 Senate Republicans received 720,620 votes in contrast to Dayton’s 919,232, a nearly 200,000 vote ‘mandate’ running in Dayton’s favor. You can quibble about how the the Governor calculated his percentages but you ought to have made clear yourself that the Governor received around 200,000 votes more than the position being taken by the new Republican majorities in the Legislature. If there is a mandate in all of this, that would seem to be it.