Is Alvin Greene A Plant?

Of all the unusual election results in 2010 – a Republican winning Massachusetts and sitting Senators losing primaries in Utah and Pennsylvania – perhaps the oddest is the selection of Alvin Greene to challenge Senator Jim DeMint (R, SC) in the November elections.

Greene is an unemployed army veteran who lives with his father and is facing a felony charge for pornography offenses. Conspiracy theorists fear that he is a Republican plant. An African American and possible felon makes a pretty easy opponent for DeMint. But what would be the motivation? Given an established Republican Senator in a conservative state and what is shaping up to be a good year for Republicans, this election was never going to be close. Even the best possible Democratic candidate was going to lose, and no credible candidates put their names forward.

Greene spent no money on his campaign, and questions have been raised as to how he even raised the money for his filing fee. He told the Washington Post that it was savings from the army.Common Sense supposes that this is possible. The fee was only $10,000, and some in the army do save money – after all, living costs can often be low.

So how did Greene win, against a moderately respectable candidate, Vic Raw, a member of the Charleston County Council? Even if Greene is a Republican plant, this question is still a bit of a puzzler. Though Republicans could, in principal, have voted for Greene in the primary, how could Republican operatives have persuaded tens of thousands to do so without the story leaking out? One possibility is that African-American voters chose Greene. While the election was very low profile and had a turnout of just 20-30%, Greene – with an ‘e’ at the end – is a distinctively African American name. Black voters, perhaps knowing nothing of the candidates other than the fact that one had a ‘black’ name, might well have voted for Greene. African-Americans often comprise more than half the vote in South Carolina’s Democratic primaries.

Another possibility is simply that Greene was listed first on the ballot, alphabetically ahead of Raw. This seems inadequate an explanation. It is true that in down ballot elections, when candidates are often unknown, the first listed candidate gets an advantage of about 5%. A similar figure applies in Australia, where voting is compulsory, and people with no particular interest in the election turn up to avoid a fine. Since Greene won almost 60% of the vote, this implies he would have won 55% of the vote without this advantage.

It seems then, that race-based voting is, at least, a large part of the explanation. This is rather disappointing. It implies that in any low-profile election with low budgets and more tightly contested elections higher up the ballot people will vote on racial grounds. There is nothing really wrong with voting for someone just because he is black – especially if you know literally nothing else about him. But it does suggest that it is possible to disrupt primaries with planted candidates, even if that is not necessarily the case in this instance.

Fortunately, this doesn’t really matter. The only reason Greene was able to win, despite his obvious weaknesses as a candidate, is that this primary was rather pointless – to choose a candidate to lose to Jim DeMint.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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