Why We're Seeing Such Wild Swings in Election Results

Nov 13, 2013

Several races have swung wildly since the first vote count on Election Day, and it may be because campaigns are getting the hang of Washington’s all-mail elections.

University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto said it’s not uncommon for races to swing a percentage point or two in the days after election night, but not much more than that.

“Especially after we get the Wednesday dump, those results are usually very stable,” said Barreto. "And so here we’ve seen continual change, and that is definitely unusual.”

Credit Mike Baker / Associated Press

For some races this year, vote totals have lurched seven points or more. Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant, who was seven points behind at first count, surpassed incumbent Richard Conlin one week later. Even the Seattle mayor’s race has tightened, from an election-night margin of 13 points to a five-point gap.

Barreto said this might have to do with campaigns getting smarter about how to get out their votes in an all-mail election. And if you look at the pool of voters up for grabs in the last days, Barreto says they tend to skew left.

Credit Mike Baker / Associated Press

“Unlikely voters in an off-year election are going to be people who tend to be younger, lower-resourced, perhaps [with] slightly less income or education, more likely to be minority. And these groups of voters also tend to be more progressive,” Barreto said.

One exception has been the SeaTac living wage initiative with which the progressive position has lost ground. The measure was leading by eight points on election night, but now clings to an edge of just 19 votes. Barreto said ballot measures tend to follow different math, with late-deciding votes breaking against.