Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Breaking down the 2011 election results for school board

The most interesting race in Tuesday’s election was for school board. With James Cannon and the write-in challenge to the incumbents, who knew what was going to happen?

But, when the votes were counted, neither Cannon nor the write-ins had enough to take a seat from the incumbents and their running mates. Here’s how the votes broke down by ward:
  Candidate    2    1    3    5    4 (all)

1  Cappucci 1470 1287 1344 1138  997  6236  |
2  Lebowitz 1462 1247 1267 1090  962  6028  |
3     Kubit 1315 1168 1191 1018  935  5627  | WIN SEAT
4   Goldman 1231 1204 1087  972  871  5365  |
5    Cooper 1115  933  919  861  808  4636  |

6    Cannon  922  786  852  738  676  3974 
7  Write-In  677  631  596  459  559  2922

8     (all) 8192 7256 7256 6276 5808 34788
I’ve ordered both the candidates and the wards so that those with the most votes come first. This ordering makes it easier see where the votes came from and went. Ward 2 placed the most votes, and Ward 4 the least. Of the candidates, Cappucci and Lebowitz received the most votes.

The challenge to the incumbents made a good showing, but still placed last in all five wards. Cannon’s strongest showing was in Ward 3, where receiving just 1% more of the ward’s votes would have been enough for him to break into the top 5.

If we divide the wards into districts, we can see that Cannon did better in many districts. Take a look at the graph below. In it, I’ve marked with red where Cannon broke into the top 5. (If you click on the graph, you can see a larger PDF version that's not impossible to read.)

Votes by district for Mt. Lebanon School Board.
The candidates and wards are in most-votes-first order.
Red shows where Cannon received enough votes to break into the top 5.
(Click to see larger, downloadable version.)

If you look closely at the graph above, I’ll bet you can spot some interesting patterns. Take a look, and let me know what stands out.

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Blogger Dave Adler said...


As an aficionado of statistical analysis, I was eager to look for the patterns you mentioned. But the only ones I saw were:
-- very little variation across wards
-- Cannon placing fifth in the only six districts where he wasn't dead last.

It can be tempting to play Wednesday Morning Quarterback, but all conclusions will be influenced by the analysts' personal feelings. My take is that opposition to the proposed HS renovation is not as widespread as its most vocal detractors would have us believe.


November 10, 2011 1:36 AM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

Hi Tom,

I don't know if there are eight districts in all five wards, but two of the boxes are empty.

My guess is that your theory is that the distribution of the votes is the same across all wards and all districts?

Assuming that some wards do not have eight districts, then I would suggest using a Chi Square Test for Homogenous proportions to test the hypothesis that the proportions of votes across the populations are the same versus the alternative that at least one differs. More information concerning the test can be found at:

November 10, 2011 2:24 AM  
Blogger Tom Moertel said...

Dave (A) and John (K),

Thanks for your comments.

If you want the raw data, here’s where to get it: NUMBERED KEY CANVASS, General Election; November 8, 2011; Allegheny County. For your convenience, I’ve extracted the relevant portion and made it available as a CSV-exportable spreadsheet.

John, Wards 1 and 4 have only 7 voting districts; the others have 8.

As far as my hypotheses go, the only one I’m pretty sure of is this: Of the Mt. Lebanon residents who actually showed up to vote in Tuesday’s election, that graph shows how they voted. What it all means, however, is another matter.

I suspect that there are some interesting patterns in the data, and that these patterns may suggest more useful hypotheses, but I haven’t had much time to look for them. One thing I’d like to look for are geographically related patterns. (If anyone knows where I can get geo-data on the voting districts – just central lat/lon would be enough – please let me know.)


November 10, 2011 10:56 AM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...


I'd be interested in testing the hypothesis that the distribution is the same by Ward. The Chi Square test is simple, and it is a non-parametric method. The Chi Square Test for Homogenous Proportions is suitable for this investigation.

If we find that the proportions are homogenous then this suggests that the community uniformly supported these candidates across all Wards. I would consider this an interesting result.

If we can establish that the voters selected the candidates based on their agreement with the Board policies then we can argue that the community uniformly supported the policies across all Wards.

I am not certain that we can establish a casual relationship between voter support for a candidate and the endorsement of their policies without additional investigation.

I beleive that:

*Most of our residents are risk-adverse.
*Most of our residents resist change.
*Most of our residents really don't know our candidates that well.
*Most of our residents take the quality of education in our district very seriously.
Therefore, my opinion is that most residents will blindly support the machine candidates. But this is strictly my opinion.

I do think that my opinion explains why the machine has held control of the Board for decades.

The Commission is another matter...

November 10, 2011 11:34 AM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...


If you want to explore the voting patterns by Ward and District then you'll need to think about the explanatory variables. Please be careful what variables you select - it's easy to force significance. You may want to seek input from a subject matter expert who understands from prior studies which factors influnce voter decisions, and then use those factors to build the model.

You may want to consider a data reduction technique that examines demographic data as explanatory variables for supporting a particular candidate. One approach:

(select the top article)

could be interesting and my produce some interesting indicies that you can use in future examinations.

My hunch is that the geographical location is less influential than the factors that motivated voters to select a particular candidate. It may be that these same factors underlie where a person resides, but that would be for an other investigation.

All of that being said, I have been involved in marketing research that links changes in consumption patterns to geographical areas post-2008; but the key drivers were mostly connected with changes in real estate valuations in an environment of foreclosures and high subprime debt default in those areas.

November 10, 2011 12:30 PM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...


I ran the Chi-Sq test of homogenous proportions and I would reject the null hypothesis at alpha = 0.05 and conclude that the distribution for the candidates differed in at least one of the five Wards. By insepction, it looks like Ward 4 was the culprit.

However, if you look at the proportion of the vote that each candidate got within a particular ward the percentages are very close.

In my opinion, this indicates that the vote was well organized (i.e. The Machine did a good job of getting their votes out to vote for their slate of candidates).

November 10, 2011 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The stats make for interesting reading and contemplation (I love this kind of stuff), but what is really wanting is a scientific analysis of why, given the far-reaching import of this election and the affect it will have on their wallets, 63.49% of registered Mt. Lebanon voters stayed home.

Analyzing data gathered about those who voted is certainly worthwhile; but I for one am more interested in those who did not vote. I'm sure we all have opinions as to why 16,309 people sat this one out; but without hard, reliable data it would be just speculation.
Richard Gideon

November 10, 2011 3:09 PM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

I think that they gave-up. Personally, I was turned away at the polls for three elections in a row because some little old retired Mt Lebanon school teacher said that my registration, "was lost." I complained to the County, went downtown and spoke with people every time that it happened and was told that there is nothing that could be done. "You have a right to vote, sir. You could get a court order from a judge to vote, but since it is election day the courts are closed."

I think that the bottom line is that the machine gets their candidates into the Board no matter what the community wants.

So why bother? All you'll get is aggravation.

November 10, 2011 4:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Kendrick, who is the "Machine"?

Dave Franklin

November 10, 2011 6:20 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

Sure, blame the teachers. There is obviously a conspiracy to keep John David Kendrick from voting. Or, perhaps John David Kendrick could have:

(1) Used a provisional ballot, or
(2) Re-registered any day in the past year other than the 30 days prior to and including an election.

Who are the people always telling us to accept personal responsibility and get away from the victimhood mentality? Oh yes, conservatives. Those are among their positive contributions to society, so perhaps John David Kendrick, widely known for being staunchly conservative, should adopt them.

November 10, 2011 7:22 PM  
Anonymous Michael Goodin said...

I would wager that voter turnout is is higher in federal election years than so-called "off years". I would also wager that this holds true in most areas, not just Mt. Lebanon. People are just more motivated in federal elections to vote. Media focus and political advertising is centered around those elections. Local elections are so decentralized compared to the concentration of mass media outlets, that focusing on local elections is impossible. Mass media can do one presidential election and a few congressional elections. Mass media cannot cover thousands of local elections in Allegheny County. I think it would be wrong to say there is a specific moral failing of Mt. Lebanon residents not participating in odd year elections.

Another wager I would make (having lived in a number of communities and states prior to Mt. Lebanon) is that the dysfunction of the school board is not an problem unique to Mt. Lebanon. I noticed on the Allegheny County election site that most school board elections within Allegheny County were non-competitive. That's just not healthy no matter the school district. The situation allows people to create fiefdoms that are not challenged.

If I were creating a Mt. Lebanon school board from scratch, I would have 5 of the 9 spots elected by wards (you would be accountable to your neighbors) and the other 4 spots would be at large. Having the whole board elected at large allows alliances that protect incumbents. I would eliminate cross party filing. This seems like monopolistic behavior.

Michael Goodin

November 10, 2011 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I really like what you have to say and it is a known fact that off-year elections tend to favor special interest groups, as identified by the authors of Freakonomics. You are also right about the fiefdoms. Out little group was challenged by both parties as they either worked against us or didn’t support us while the PTA and sports groups worked hard against us as evidenced by malicious e-mails that were passed around the community.

I can’t see the value in any party affiliations for local school board elections given that the sitting Republican and Democrat board members were stumping at the polls for candidates of different party affiliation. The cross-party filing of the other candidates was also a factor in the outcome. James Cannon, a Republican, filed and ran as a Republican. While the cross-filing strategy gets more votes, it doesn’t define the candidate’s philosophy.

I don’t think the community will become engaged until they begin to feel the pinch of our current Board’s decisions. Your idea about ward reps being accountable to their neighbors is an interesting way to tie accountability to constituents. Perhaps some change to this system will occur in the future.

-Charlotte Stephenson

November 10, 2011 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to chuckle......if the pesky "sports groups" really controlled the world as much as everyone contends, you'd think it would be a heck of a lot easier to improve a couple fields.

Dave Franklin

November 10, 2011 10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David – I am chuckling too since you stated on Elaine’s blog “ I'm pretty sure that most of the residents on my street don't even know that our neighbor would like us to write her in. I guess the ultimate irony is that she has a Cannon sign in her yard, but not one for herself. Odd campaign strategy” and yet this individual attempted to visit you at your home and left a note to contact her. However, you never did, as I understand it. Was your comment another “strategy” or did you just not have the time to talk with her?

-Charlotte Stephenson

November 10, 2011 11:06 PM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...


Don't waste your time arguing with David Franklin. It's really not worth it.

The best thing to do now is just sit back and watch what happens when David Brown raises everyone's taxes through the roof.

Concerning you hyperbole Mr. Brown, I can only say, "There is no man who hath endurance like the man who sellith insurance."

November 10, 2011 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlotte, a good reporter always double checks her sources. Mrs. Bongiorno did stop by my house (I believe on Monday) when no one was home.

She left a note that said, "David, Sorry I missed you. Let's get together for coffee AFTER the election to discuss our community. Take care, Paula" (The emphasis is mine).

I thought it was a nice gesture actually, and I fully intend to take her up on her offer. Funny thing is, I kept the note because I knew someone on a blog would eventually call me out on it. By the way, I'm sure you also read on Elaine's blog that I praised that effort of the write-in campaign and again wondered aloud what could have happened had it started earlier.

I think I have accurately straight the record straight, but if not please feel free to join Mrs. Bongiorno and me for coffee now that the election is over.

Dave Franklin

November 11, 2011 6:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Set the record straight, sorry.

And for what it's worth, the post that you are referring to was on Saturday.

Dave Franklin

November 11, 2011 7:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


How nice that our write-in candidate found time to reach out to you before the election as busy as she was. With your high level of interest in all of this it’s too bad that you didn’t try and reach out to her when you made your original statement especially since she is your neighbor.

-Charlotte Stephenson

November 11, 2011 7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Goodin's suggestion that the current make-up of the school board be changed from a nine member at-large panel to one consisting of five elected by Wards and four elected at-large is both rational and timely; and one of the better ideas I have read on any local Blog. As long as Mt. Lebanon is stuck with a traditional school district it seem logical to make it as beholden to the public as possible.

But to return to the spirit of Mr. Moertel's original post, a scientific survey of Mt. Lebanon's “registered non-voters” seems tailor made for one of our local graduate schools. The results of such a survey may very well confirm a lot of the speculation about why our locals don't vote; but it might also start an engagement process with people who have heretofore been reluctant to get involved in local government; in the very system of government that usually has a larger impact on their daily lives than anything out of Harrisburg or Washington.
Richard Gideon

November 11, 2011 9:49 AM  
Anonymous John David Kendrick said...

This entire exchange is an excellent illustration of why this community can't get aligned and moving forward.

We started talking about data analysis and end-up quibbling over a lot of shit that adds no value to anything.

Maybe some of the colorful commentators like Mr. Brown can try to offer constructive suggestions that address some of the challenges that face our community like I and others have offered in the past.

Of course, I am assuming that Mr. Brown actually has the mental capacity to generate a credible idea or suggestion.

November 11, 2011 2:50 PM  
Anonymous David Brown said...

Mr. Kendrick,

The time for suggestions was months ago. At that time I mentioned a few reasons why, from a contractor's point of view, I thought the bids were high. I don't know if the board ended up using my ideas or not, nor do I care, because I trusted them to take everything into consideration.

Now, I intend to do the same thing and let this newly elected school board do their jobs. This is a precarious time, we are in the middle of the bidding process, and the best result we can achieve right now is to get the most for our money, whatever that may be. This board is going to see that process through and we should let them focus on just that.

When a contractor bids a job, he looks at the scope of work and tries to figure out exactly what every piece is going to cost. When the scope is vague, he has to guess, and if he doesn't trust the owner he guesses higher. After his costs are tallied he adds on his gross profit. If he thinks the job is risky he adds a higher gross profit to be sure of getting the profit he needs. If a contractor can trust the owner to make fast, clear decisions the risk is lower, but if the owner is paralyzed by internal politics or he might end up getting jerked around by different factions the price goes up.

So, having unity on the board right now is the best thing that could have happened on Tuesday to Mt. Lebanon. It might actually save us $1M. On a project of this scale, that's easily the difference between a tight bid and a bid with a "safety factor."

The community is aligned and moving forward, it just happens to be without you. If you don't like that, why don't you get on board or else concentrate on getting better candidates for the next election? That would be far preferable to whining about the fairness of this election when you haven't even bothered to learn the rules or the lay of the land.

David Brown

November 12, 2011 8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It cannot be said with any degree of certainty that the community is aligned and moving forward, or that it is not aligned and moving forward; the only thing that can be said for certain is that the majority of one-third of the registered voters in Mt. Lebanon supported and voted for the Board endorsed candidates, and it is they who are “aligned and moving forward” - whatever direction that may be. We simply don't know the mindset of the 16,309 registered voters who did not vote, and therefore did not express their opinions on the issue. If any correspondent to this Blog can adduce credible evidence that this vast number of registered non-voters are aligned with the Mt. Lebanon School Board please post it so all of us can look at the data.
Richard Gideon

November 12, 2011 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Michael Goodin said...

My working theory about the reason why people do not vote is that they are not motivated enough to care about voting. Either people think or feel they are happy with the status quo or they are apathetic/cynical about the matter. If people are genuinely unhappy with the current state of affairs and challengers to the status quo provide an authentic way forward, then people will be motivated to vote.

To harp on the fact that roughly a 1/3rd of eligible voters participated in an off year election and, therefore, state that the results of the election are not indicative of the feelings of the community is flat out wrong. People who are really upset about the current state of affairs vote. Offer people a credible vision, they show up at the polls.

My guess is that a significant number (if not a sizable majority) of Mt. Lebanon residents are content (if they care at all) with the school board policies. I realize I am in the minority with regards to my thinking about the school board, but elections have consequences, and I must accept that for democracy to work.

Michael Goodin

November 13, 2011 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Bob Reich, Jr. said...

I think another differentiating factor y'all (I'm a southerner now) need to analyze is the proportion of those voters who OWN vs. RENT in Mt. Lebanon.

There is no getting away from the fact that Mt. Lebanon is one street away from the city of Pittsburgh in some locations. It is a "first ring" suburb and it is on the T line. Thus, you have far more renters of homes and apartments that they do in, say, Upper St. Clair or Peters. You could argue that renters pay property taxes indirectly (via their rent) but the reality is that that isn't really a consideration when one signs a lease.

Because of the way our public schools are funded, a renter's children receives the same education that an owner's children receive. You can argue whether this is right or wrong all day long - or you can send your kids to St. Bernards. But the honest truth is that a renter is not paying the same amount for his child's education as an owner is.

So, if I'm a renter and want a fancy new school for my kids and know that the current board is more likely to get it to me than Mr. Cannon et al, I'm going to vote for the status quo. The same could be said for those who own but live in a small house appraised at less than the median.

Come to think of it, another great analysis would be to look at those with kids in school vs. those without. Usually it is our seniors who are more likely to vote than not. But they are also those who are more likely to not have kids in school. Do they vote based on the proposition that a new school enhances their prospects of selling their home at a better price someday? Or do they vote thinking that the tax bill is going to be so high that it will keep away first time buyers with young children?

Or maybe they all decide to move to South Carolina, where is was a chilly 78 degrees today. And I even saw a cloud!

November 14, 2011 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am still hearing from voters since the election last week and received this last evening:

“Thanks for a challenging effort. The entrenched members won by wide margins. Change will never take place for a long time. Perhaps when the community files for bankruptcy. Made a decision to move out of Mt. Lebo. Just as soon we sell a vacation property on… Market is dead there. I feel like I don't belong here. It is a young town with families that control the board agenda. They want us retired folks to pay to educate their offspring…”

So, that is one senior’s view.

Glad you made it South! It was actually 70 degrees here today, but I think we are headed toward a cooling trend. Our dear friends pulled up stakes today and are headed to Anderson, S.C. The Mrs. is a life-long Pittsburgher, so that was quite surprising to me when I learned they were planning to move there. Enjoy!

-Charlotte Stephenson

November 14, 2011 6:48 PM  

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