Commentary: Lolo got 59% of the votes up for grabs from the losing candidates

Everyone has their own interpretation of our recent election. Here are some of mine.

Lolo won convincingly on November 20th, with 53% of the votes, but he did not pick up as many votes from his fellow “candidates of change” as might have been expected — according to the numbers.

On November 6, Lolo and Faoa received about 4350 votes each. The next day, a new campaign--the run-off campaign--began. Up for grabs were the 4250 votes that had been cast on November 6 for Afoa, Salu, Save or Tim.

It’s time to “unite for change”, the Lolo camp said. Within a week of the November 6 election, three of the four candidate teams formally endorsed Lolo and Lemanu. The candidates who did not endorse, Save and Sandra, were clearly candidates for change.

During the run-off campaign period, the Faoa/Taufete’e campaign started talking more about the changes they would deliver if elected. It was, in my view, too little, too late to persuade any voter with a strong desire for change.

In the days leading up to the run-off, we all wondered what we could expect when the votes were counted after the polls closed on November 20.

We could reasonably expect the 4315 people who voted for Faoa on November 6 to vote for him again, and the 4372 people who voted for Lolo on November 6 to vote for him again. And then we could reasonably speculate that most of the 4250 people who had voted for one of the four eliminated change candidates would vote for Lolo instead of Faoa, because Lolo was a candidate for change like Afoa, Salu, Save and Tim.

Not everyone who initially voted for Afoa, Salu, Save and Time would vote for Lolo, of course.

The question that we all asked one another was: How many of the 4250 voters who had lost their first choice candidate would go to the polls (as opposed to staying home)— and of those who voted, how many would vote for Lolo and how many would vote for Faoa?

It turns out that there were 400 fewer votes cast on November 20th as on November 6th (12,552 vs 12,944). About 200 of the 400 fewer votes were because the overseas absentee ballot tally dropped from about 200 on November 6 to almost zero on November 20, because there was insufficient time for those voters to return a ballot in time for the November 20 election.

Thus, if you disregard overseas absentee voters, the number of voters on November 20th was about 98% of the total on November 6. Few people “stayed home.”

Comparing November 20 to November 6, Lolo increased his vote total by 2,273 votes, while Faoa’s vote total increased by only 1,593.

Thus, Lolo got about 59% of the additional votes, while Faoa got only 41%.

That was enough to increase Lolo’s margin of victory over Faoa from 57 votes on November 6 to 738 votes on November 20. That was enough to give Lolo a 53%- 47% victory over Faoa.

Lolo won by a big margin (738 votes) and his camp has good reason to hoot and holler, but I feel that the result exposes some weakness in his support. I wonder if other people think, as I do, that Lolo should have gotten a much higher percentage of the vote from people who had initially supported Afoa, Salu, Save and Tim.

If Lolo had gotten 70% of the votes from supporters of the other candidates of change, his margin of victory would have been 1536, not 738.

Why did so many voters (41% of them) who initially voted for a candidate of change on November 6 decide to vote for Faoa on November 20?

We can only speculate. Here are some of my speculations:

•         Some of the voters who cast votes for candidates of change were not in fact deeply committed to change, but were initially committed to a candidate with whom they had a personal connection. Their second choice was dictated by personal connections, not a commitment to change, and lots of people who voted for one of the other candidates had a stronger connection to Faoa than they had to either Lolo or “change.”

•         Some voters don’t like Lolo or had a grievance with his campaign, and voted for whoever his opponent happened to be, and that was Faoa.

Thus it seems that the value of an endorsement is greater than zero, but a candidate cannot reliably deliver the overwhelming majority of his/her supporters to another candidate, even if they share a similar platform.

Here are some other relevant observations:

•         Not all the initial Faoa voters stayed Faoa voters and not all the initial Lolo voters stayed Lolo voters. For example, in Fitiuta village, Lolo received 49 votes on November 6 but only 41 votes on November 20; Faoa increased his Fitiuta total from 20 votes in the first election to 34 votes in the run-off. Faoa clearly picked up 8 votes from Lolo and then added the 6 people who had voted for Afoa.

•         A small, remote, traditional village like Fitiuta is likely a special case, but a close reading of the results suggest that it was not uncommon for a few Lolo voters to switch to Faoa and vice versa.

•         Because so many votes are dictated by family considerations, sizable numbers of votes can switch in blocks as families shift alliances during campaigning.

•         The approximately 200 overseas voters who did not have enough time to return a ballot for the November 20 election could not have changed the final outcome. They could have increased or decreased Lolo’s 738-vote margin of victory, but they couldn’t have affected Lolo’s actual victory.

• There were 12,944 votes cast for governor on November 6, which represents 73% of the number of the 17,774 registered voters. Voter turnout dropped to 71% on November 20th, in part due to the loss of overseas absentee ballots.

 The voter turnouts were consistent with a 20-year trend in decreasing voter turnout. Here are the voter turnouts (votes cast divided by registered voters) for the past six gubernatorial races:

1992: 80%

1996: 76%

2000: 77%

2004: 75%

2008: 74%

2012: 73%

•         As most people know, there are many people living in American Samoa who are not eligible to vote because of their nationality. According to the 2010 census, there are about 32,000 people of voting age living in the territory. About 40% of voting age residents cast a ballot for governor. Lolo won the vote of about 22% of voting age residents.