There was a poll released last week by 9News that showed Peggy Lamm leading Ed Perlmutter for the Democratic nomination in congressional district seven. Jeralyn has already discussed the specifics, but it was interesting to hear the spin from Perlmutter’s campaign that voters are often confusing Peggy Lamm with her more well-known sister-in-law, Dottie Lamm (who ran for the U.S. Senate). Perlmutter’s camp says that when voters learn that Peggy is not Dottie, they will be much less likely to vote for her. That may be so, but that shouldn’t make Perlmutter feel any better.
It doesn’t matter if voters are confusing Peggy with Dottie, with former Governor Dick Lamm, or with Mary and her little Lamm. The fact is that most voters don’t really know all that much about the people they vote for anyway; if some part of a candidate’s name sounds familiar, that candidate already has a built-in advantage. Primary voters are far more likely to be knowledgable than general election voters, and that should help Perlmutter to a degree, but name ID is only relevant in that voters recognize the name – not whether or not they know who the name belongs to. If somebody named Jim Elway ran for congress, how many votes do you think that person might get just because of the last name? Probably a lot.
Consider it another way: Suppose you took Perlmutter and Herb Rubenstein, the third Democrat in the race, and put them in a room on election day. If you asked voters to tell you which person was which, how many do you think could do it? Probably not many. But if you gave them a paper ballot and asked them to vote, one of the names would pop out at them more than the other. Name ID isn’t necessarily the same thing as name recognition. You don’t need voters to explain why they voted the way they did – you just need them to mark an ‘X’ by your name.
I remember seeing a poll a few years back that said only about 40 percent of voters nationwide knew who their current congressional representative was. I won’t go so far as to say running for congress is merely a popularity contest, but it’s close. Voters may indeed be confusing Peggy Lamm with Dottie Lamm, but what difference does it make? A vote for any Lamm is a vote for Peggy Lamm.