The Arizona Desert Lamp

Friend endowments and electoral love

Posted in Uncategorized by Connor Mendenhall on 5 March 2009

Reader Jimi Alexander raises a worthy question in the comments: just how effective are third-party projects like candidate endorsements and our fee protection pledge?

Anecdotally, my best answer is “not very.” When Evan and I worked on Wildcat endorsements last year, the editorial board found only three Senate candidates fit for office. All were ultimately elected, but even the recommendations of UA’s ubiquitous daily did little to alter candidate rankings before and after the primary.

It doesn’t strike me as too wild to hypothesize that student government elections are dominated by influences other than the details of candidate policy and the sanction of student media. More likely, factors like the size of each candidate’s already-established campus social network (let’s call it the “friend endowment”) and the degree to which the nodes of that network care about ASUA (an effect I will punnily christen “electoral love”) dredge up most votes.

Trouble is, there’s not a very good way to test the effects of the fee pledge. Did Bratt and Elyachar take a hit for their insincerity? Would Jones have been eliminated but for our valiant editorializing? With three data points, we can’t draw many conclusions. Wildcat endorsements might be another story: it would be possible (albeit mighty unpleasant) to pick through the archives and match pre-endorsement primary results to post-endorsement vote numbers, but the exogenous influences are still daunting. Maybe I’ll give it a go when I run out of other procrastination options come finals time.

Fortunately, there’s lots of information easily available on the friend endowment and electoral love effects. In fact, most candidates are broadcasting detailed data about the extent of their social networks simply by using facebook. After a half-hour of Internet detective work, I matched the number of votes each candidate received in last night’s primary to the number of friends each one has in the University of Arizona facebook network and threw together the scatterplot below:

Votes v. Facebook Friends

It’s not the most spectacular correlation I’ve ever seen (r-squared here is .23), and would benefit from a lot more data. (Candidates: loosen up those privacy settings!) but there’s a weak correlation, perhaps the best that can be expected, as simple number of facebook friends is but a weak proxy for the depth and strength of each candidate’s social network.

More interesting is the distribution of red and blue points, meant to map the electoral love effect. Red points are “ASUA insiders,” those candidates that have already held appointed positions in student government or played a part in other ASUA activities like the Arizona Students Association, UA Votes, and Freshman Class Council. Blue dots are students with no prior ASUA affiliation, as reported on their campaign pages and facebook groups.

You can observe the electoral love by scanning the colors long the y-axis, but since some candidates were excluded from the above chart, it’s best expressed a bit differently. UA students often gripe about ASUA inbreeding and Greek Life dominance within student government, but it makes sense–both are robust and broad social networks that can deliver a lot of votes. Below, I’ve listed the results of last night’s Senate race, with a few annotations. Candidates involved in Greek Life or with previous ASUA involvement are in bold, and their positions are listed next to their names. All associations are as reported on the elections website–if you know of others, please let us know.

ATJIAN: 780 (7.13%) (Freshman Class Council)

WALLACE, DANIEL: 699 (6.39%) (ASUA Administrative Chief of Staff)

WALLACE, STEPHEN: 672 (6.14%) (Incumbent)

DAVIDSON: 657 (6.00%) (Freshman Class Council)

WEINGARTNER: 629 (5.75%) (ASUA Sustainability Committee)

BROOKS: 620 (5.66%) (Freshman Class Council, UA Votes)

QUILLIN: 582 (5.32%) (ASUA University Activities Board, Arizona Students Association)

SEARLES: 562 (5.13%) (Interfraternity Council Vice President of Membership)

RUIZ: 548 (5.01%) (Greek Life)

YAMAGUCHI: 529 (4.83%) (ASUA Senate Aid)

BRATT: 508 (4.64%) (UA Votes, Arizona Students Association)

DAVIDOFF: 507 (4.63%) (Greek Life)

SAN ANGELO: 479 (4.38%) (Freshman Class Council, Sigma Chi Fraternity)

VILLALOBOS: 450 (4.11%)

ELYACHAR: 408 (3.73%) (UA Votes)

BRAL: 406 (3.71%) (Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity)

SLATER: 396 (3.62%)

KLENKE: 395 (3.61%) (Freshman Class Council, UA Votes)

HUDSON: 299 (2.73%) (Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity)

JONES: 293 (2.67%)

—-

EVANS: 271 (2.47%) ELIMINATED (Freshman Class Council)

GODFREY: 246 (2.24%) ELIMINATED

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with ASUA involvement or Greek Life affiliation. There’s no insidious conspiracy to overrepresent fraternity members or the Freshman Class Council in student government–candidates from both just happen to be part of strong social networks. But it certainly seems that identity–and not necessarily policy–plays an important part in student government success.

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6 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 5 March 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I completely agree that Greek Life may play an important role in a candidate’s success, and it kind of makes sense. They’re big on social networking and they have their brothers/sisters as free support. Sorry I generalize so often, but Greek Life affiliates tend to be really outgoing and sociable, and that helps in any campaign. They just go together.

    I wouldn’t say “insincere” is the best description of Elyachar. He didn’t use the best judgment, but if you’ve ever met him, you’d know that he’s anything but insincere. He’s probably one of the nicest senate candidates, but clearly, you have to be more than nice to win. I’ll admit that his Desert Lamp controversy and letter to the editor didn’t help him out in the beginning, however.

  2. Jimi Alexander said, on 7 March 2009 at 12:07 am

    Laura:

    “Outgoing and sociable?” So long as you fit their social mold and have
    A. Enough bleach in your hair to do five loads of laundry (if you’re a girl), or
    B. A frayed baseball cap, a crew cut and at least one story about being “totally wasted at a party” that you tell repeatedly as if acting a fool while inebriated makes one special (if you’re a guy).

    Otherwise they’re mostly outright snobs that won’t give you the time of day. I’ve heard stories that some fraternities and sororities here on campus instruct their members not to associate with non-Greeks when they are wearing letters. My eyes just about roll to the back of my head when I get told I have to work in groups with Greeks in classes, especially sorority members. (Try and pry one away from their cell phone for ten seconds, I swear…) I’ve met one exception to the rule and even she agrees with me: If you’re not a Greek, you can expect to be disdainfully tolerated at best. At worst, you’re considered an untouchable and not worth talking to.

  3. Amanda said, on 7 March 2009 at 2:24 am

    Jimi…SERIOUSLY!? because stereotypes like that are REALLY accurate. I can think of hundreds of NON-Greeks who completely fit the descriptions you listed.

    Such an arrogant and condescending response that had absolutely nothing to do with ASUA elections or the candidates at all.

    You obviously don’t know anything about Greek Life or the people involved in it. You’re basing these stereotypes on only a handful of people who do not and should not represent the Greek Life system as a whole.

    *note…I am NOT in a sorority. But I rushed and I have enough friends in almost every Greek chapter to know that these stereotypes are GROSSLY inaccurate and damaging to these organizations.

    Let’s take some candidate examples and try to apply them to your stereotypes, shall we?

    Emily Fritze for EVP – Natural blonde (to address comment A), and one of the most humble, genuine, and UN-SNOBBISH people I have EVER met in my entire life. AND for a candidate who is running unopposed, I have seen her do more campaigning than ANY other candidate.

    Hillary Davidson for Senate – Brunette! (what a shocker!). Also doesn’t fit your description of a typical Greek. And she’s been one of the few candidates openly fraternizing with NON-GREEKS (another shocker!) as she campaigns.

    In fact, I’m actually going to stop with the examples, because after looking over all of the Greek-affiliated candidates…not a single one even remotely represents your completely narrow-minded description of Greek Life members.

    You roll your eyes when you have to work with sorority members? I roll my eyes when I have to work with people like you…who judge others for absolutely no real reason and base their opinions of 12% of the UA student population on only a handful of people.

  4. Jimi Alexander said, on 7 March 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Amanda:

    My comment wasn’t addressed at the post itself. It was aimed at Miss Donovan’s post, hence the absence of references to the ASUA candidates.

    I’m not saying that ALL Greek-affiliated are like that. That’s too broad a brush, and I’ve already met one girl (a Tri-Delt) who turns the stereotype on its ear. I’m shocked that her sorority gave her a bid, because she doesn’t fit their “mold” at all.

    What I am saying is that the ones I’ve had to work with in groups (with the above-noted single exception) and attempted to converse with have fit that description. They weren’t interested in working with the group any more than they had to, and were clickity-clacking away on their cell phones at every opportunity. They treated me and other non-Greek groupmates with a distinct lack of respect, and discounted our ideas and concerns. One never even bothered to show up for group meetings, even when I consulted with him and explicitly scheduled it so as not to interfere with his fraternal activities. They made it clear that they considered how much alcohol they were going to consume at the house party that weekend a higher priority than the academic task at hand.

    Those experiences colored my expectations, I’ll admit, and rightfully so. You only get screwed over by one group of people (and only that group of people!) so many times before expectations begin to form about said group of people. That’s human nature and if you disagree, take Intro to Sociology and then come back.

    Why have my experiences been so negative while yours are so positive? Maybe I’ve had an unrepresentative sample. You’ve probably worked with more of them than I have, and I’m sure there are more like my friend the Tri-Delt, but I have yet to see them, and they almost certainly make up a minority. (And speaking of minorities, don’t even get me started on what sadly passes for minority representation in Greek Life…)

    Enjoy your weekend.

  5. Laura Donovan said, on 7 March 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Jimi:

    Believe me, I’m in no way an advocate for Greek Life, so if you think I’m trying to promote it, you’re misinterpreting my statement. I’m the only person in my immediate family who didn’t join a sorority/frat, and I’ve grown to really resent my family for their disappointment in my decision not to be a part of the shallow institution. You can’t use my observation as an excuse to rant about Greek Life because I was just saying
    that they tend to be outgoing and sociable, and you have a point that they also tend to look a certain way. Their bubbly personalities are how they got selected to their fraternities/sororities in the first place, and obviously, aesthetics probably played a role.

    I wish that ASUA would have more than just Greeks as student representatives, and it does happen. I feel your pain from your bad experiences since I’ve had to deal with similar circumstances, within school and within family life.

  6. […] the names of the Porkies (we’ll have to find other means for better quantifying the “friend endowment” effect), but thanks to the work of Board Chair Matthew Totlis, there’s plenty of […]


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