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UFT Election Turnout: Some Observations

May 15, 2022 pm31 1:39 pm

The number of voters seem to change without connection to the number of voters changing. What that means – I will be looking at the number of votes cast instead of the turnout percentage (with one exception).

Earlier I looked at all the turnout data, trying to locate patterns or breaks in patterns that bore further examination. Here are some things I found, followed by a first crack at some analysis. It’s not enough, not yet. I will be digging deeper in the coming days.

  1. The UFT elections have alternated between higher returns and lower. 2004, 2010, 2016, and 2022 were higher. 2007, 2013, and 2019 were lower.
  2. There is an overall downward trend in participation. It is significant enough that the number of votes in 2022, a year of increased voting, was less than 2007, a year of lower voting.
  3. Retirees do not follow this trend. The number of retirees is rising. The number of retiree voters is rising. The percentage of retirees voting had been slipping, but the most dramatic number in this election’s turnout was the surge in retiree votes, 4,600 more votes than three years ago.
  4. The number of functional votes plummeted.
  5. The number of teacher votes climbed from 2019 levels back to 2016 levels – EXCEPT ELEMENTARY.

It is going to take further digging to explain these points. But there is room for some initial analysis.

  1. The changes, year to year, in the number of votes cast likely reflect events in the Department of Education, or in the UFT. The last two “high” years, 2016 and 2019, there were very competitive elections (in one or two divisions).
  2. The overall downward trend is something we have seen before. It reflects, I believe, a serious disconnect between members and our union. Short-term teachers (and it is alarming how many come into teaching for just a few years. Shouldn’t this be a career choice) do not have reason, at least in their own minds, to worry about the union. In the day to day reality of many of us, we have colleagues and a principal, and we work out what we can. If the union’s power and influence are not felt, why invest time in that union? I disagree with that stance – it is wrong. But it is rational. I will come back to this. Turning the lack of engagement around should be a high priority. I worry.
  3. Part of the retiree puzzle is easy: Medicare Advantage drove turnout. The other part is trickier. I have tried in past elections to dig further into retiree turnout. It is complicated, and I’m not sure it is worth it. But, in case you are curious, here’s some stuff: New retirees often pay more attention at first. And the number of retirees went down (after the incentives 25 or so years ago cleared so many out), and then has come back up. Also, a significant number of retirees stay involved for the longterm, and treat voting as an obligation. (Voter participation in state and federal elections is also higher among older voters). Also, retirees are out of schools, and out of most of the controversial stuff. So as long as they keep voting, they will probably continue to vote the same way. Except this year…
  4. I do not understand the drop in functional votes. I will dig, and look, and ask. One guess – the numbers rose temporarily as family child care providers (how large is the number? Large, I think) joined the UFT and were glad to have a union, but with time interest has fallen. That’s just a guess. The only supporting evidence I have is the timing. I’m curious if you have better ideas. And whatever we think of, I’ll try to ferret out something more concrete.
  5. The low number of votes from Elementary School teachers will become clearer as I go into the data in more detail. For now, this was a “good” year in the other divisions, but in Elementary School it looks like a bad year (7500 this year, compared to 7300, 7300, and 8900 in the last three bad turnout elections). We have a longterm downward trend, but that didn’t stop Middle Schools and High Schools from rising. Perhaps this is a reaction to the pandemic. Unity’s policies, Mulgrew’s bad deals, they made high school people scream. But we were already voting against Unity. Some of the decisions hit the Elementary Schools especially hard. They had to go back into the buildings before the other divisions, and before vaccines were available. “Instructional Lunch” which, if you read the language, was clearly a policy the UFT proposed to the DoE, hit Elementary Schools particularly hard. And even for teachers who did not get sick, being scared is a real thing, and not so easy to forget. I’ll get into this in further analysis, but it appears that a large number of loyal Unity Elementary School voters threw out their ballots this time.

Each of these points is a first stab at an explanation. They need further exploration. But the outlines are coming into focus.

Below is the data I relied on, with the total votes captured in a chart.

As always, comments and corrections are welcome.

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