Monday, December 08, 2008

African Americans 'Confused' About Election Day?

I have never preferred the analysis of UNO's Ed Chervenak.

His conclusions regarding Anh Cao's upset victory over William Jefferson drove the title and tenor of the Times-Picayune writeup and have contributed to a meme that seems to have been repeated in other blog posts and articles I've read about this election.

African Americans didn't show up at the polls because they were 'confused.'

The dearth of voters showing up at the polls Saturday likely owed to lack of awareness of the election, Chervenak said.

With Louisiana holding closed party primaries for the first time in 30 years, the winner-takes-all general election became the third race of the season, rather than the second, as under the previous system. Complicating matters, Hurricane Gustav forced the first contest to be postponed a month, pushing the general election into December, sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Call me crazy but hasn't the scheduling of New Orleans elections always been confusing? African Americans weren't confused on election day in October, when Jefferson barely slipped into the runoff with an anemic twentysomething percent of the vote. Chervenak is essentially suggesting that African Americans knew about the October date because it had been previously scheduled and didn't know about this date because it was making up for one postponed in early September. This sort of implies that voters go to the Secretary of State's website and writes down all election dates on the calender a year in advance and then don't ever look at the news after that. And this idea that it was confusing because there was a closed primary... it's ridiculous. You know there's an election coming by watching the news or taking notice of the fliers and signs everywhere.

African Americans were not mobilized for this election, there's no doubt about it. It may be true to a certain extent that people were 'unaware' that polls were open, but I'd argue that people were not significantly more unaware than usual. From my experience, most people that follow politics generally learn when elections are being held and most people that don't, don't. Those in the latter category need to be mobilized. That's why campaigns are run.

This is every election.

Chervenak's rationale for why he thinks it was confusion is also interesting:

One school of thought holds that Jefferson was abandoned by voters who could no longer bear the weight of his legal difficulties. After FBI agents allegedly found $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer and linked him and several relatives to a wide-ranging bribery scheme, Jefferson was indicted on 16 counts of public corruption. His trial is expected early next year.

But in Chervenak's view, "People don't change their preferences that quickly in such a short period of time."

It seems implausible, he said, that "people would come to his defense and support him with their vote in two elections only to stay home for the election that would keep him in office."


Want to know what I think? I think that what Ed Chervenak believes amounts to 'demographics is political destiny.' Actually, I know it does. I've taken one of Professor Chervenak's political science courses. It was awful and there was a strange bipartisan student rebellion against him. (Ask me about this another time.) (Also, Oyster monitored use of the 'demographics is political destiny' theme during the Presidential race. Maybe he even coined that phrase.)

Chervenak inexplicably thinks it's 'implausible' for people to vote one way one time and then, after events occur, vote another way at a later time.

In 2004, President Bush was reelected. In 2006, his Presidency, party, and platform was repudiated by the same country that had just given him "a mandate" two years prior. Were white Republicans 'confused' about the date of the election in 2006?

Guess what? A lot of African Americans were 'confused,' but not by the date of the election.

I think a lot of African Americans were 'confused' by the actions of the African American political establishment.

I think a lot of my African American neighbors heard all sorts of stuff about how they needed to reelect people like Jefferson and Nagin in order to protect their communities only to watch those same politicians instead work to implement the same trickle-down recovery policy championed by the conservative establishment while their own neighborhoods are deprived of services and investment.

I think this confused African Americans enough that this time, many decided they'd rather stay at home or stay in Houston than mobilize for this corrupt Jefferson guy who doesn't seem all that interested in delivering for flooded black neighborhoods after all.

This isn't to say that had Jefferson had more money or actually done some campaign work, we wouldn't have seen a different outcome, but to suggest that African American confusion was a reason for Jefferson's defeat is a total cop-out.

The Times-Picayune needs to stop going to Chervenak for everything. At the very least, they need to stop publishing his analysis as fact by surveying a more diverse lineup of political analysts for articles like this one.

15 comments:

Matthew said...

I'm by no means advocating for anything else associated with the man, but as a clarification, Jefferson did vote against the bailout both times.

jeffrey said...

96,000 fewer votes from primary to a "general election" = something is wrong.

Look, I understand the "election dates change all the time" argument but the change to a closed primary is a wholly different matter. Throughout the process, voters were told that the Dem primary was the "real election" and that the general would amount to little more than a formality. Even as the media outlets like the T-P were playing up Cao, they were still printing the cw that his election would be a long shot.

Many voters unaccustomed to the skewed and undemocratic process of closed primaries very likely assumed that the thing was over on November 4.

You can imaginatively interpret 90,000 abstentions as anti-Jefferson votes if you like, but that seems a bit far-fetched for me... particularly given the thin margin among the minuscule portion of the electorate that did turn out.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers and journalists go to people like him because they are willing to cooperate, have employers who tolerate the quoting, are familiar, are quoted by other people and become regulars, etc. They also look for people who will talk with confidence about ... whatever. They want quotes and not too much nuance. I tend to think bloggers would do the same if they were reporting every day. It's to a large degree lazy, but practically inevitable.

Be that as it may, I don't think what the PoliSci dude is saying here is particularly objectionable. I'd love to see a survey done re voter attitudes toward Jefferson. I think the prof could have added something about indifference, low salience of issues (Cao had nothing about them on his website for the longest time--maybe never did? I didn't check later) and the like. But the effect of later election like that is practically worthy of a whole 'nother study. Two weeks after a presidential election, few of us are thinking about politics, except die-hard political junkies.

mf said...

I have the sane question I've been asking all week: was Jefferson to broke for GOTV (or did the alphabet soup establishment dhun him)? Back when I cared about GOTV in a professional way (1980s) GOTV on N.O. Cost money. Did het not pony up or even more interestinhg did the other organizations shun him.n thinking they would all do better next time?

Anonymous said...

Afterthought in re to issue salience: The only salient issue, mainly for white (and, more likely, middle-to-upper class and better educated white) voters was Jefferson's corruption. It had been previously. The fact remains that blacks didn't come out to vote in the same numbers--and failing to vote is not equivalent to voting. What drives (or fails to drive) the voter behavior there is, in other words, distinctive.

Tim said...

If low turnout "hurt" Dollar Bill, it's his own fault. His strategy from day one was to run a quiet campaign. Very few signs. Duck all media invites. Pretend like there were no real opponents and no real contest.

So now that his strategy has failed, Dollar Bill wants to say the low turnout caused his loss, and that his supporters were confused or had no "juice."

Tough toenails, Dollar Bill. You made your own bed...

Peace,

Tim

Schroeder said...

"I think a lot of African Americans were 'confused' by the actions of the African American political establishment."

"I think a lot of my African American neighbors heard all sorts of stuff about how they needed to reelect people like Jefferson and Nagin in order to protect their communities only to watch those same politicians instead work to implement the same trickle-down recovery policy championed by the conservative establishment while their own neighborhoods are deprived of services and investment."

"I think this confused African Americans enough that this time, many decided they'd rather stay at home or stay in Houston than mobilize for this corrupt Jefferson guy who doesn't seem all that interested in delivering for flooded black neighborhoods after all."

Sorry to quote so much, but I think you nailed it.

I haven't worked these numbers yet, but I'd bet a pretty shiny penny that about as many people didn't vote for Jefferson in African-American precincts as voted for someone other than Jefferson in October. Recall that three-quarters of New Orleans voted for someone other than Jefferson in the Democratic primary. It may also be that Jefferson didn't have the juice to run his political machine, if you know what I mean. He got a few central city ministers out to protest, but that was all.

Schroeder said...

There's one statistic I calculated which confirms your thesis:

Majority black precincts that voted for Cao experienced a 21.5% turnout.

Majority black precincts that voted for Jefferson only turned out at a rate of 12.5%.

Majority Black 3,287 21.5% Cao
Majority Black 27,789 12.5% Jefferson

mominem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mominem said...

I think you're right. I also think the "confused" analysis is a racist, denigrating African-America voters.

BTW African-American Voters in Jefferson have different priorities than those in Orleans Parish.

Someone should try talking to a few.

E said...

You're right. I don't know nearly enough about the political dynamics of Jefferson Parish.

mominem said...

I can tell you about one Marrero African-American who worked in my office.

She "didn't agree with" Harry Lee, but "respected him" because "he kept the people safe".

I had the distinct impression she was voicing conformity, without conviction.

Puddinhead said...

While we're cutting Chervenak off from the press, can we do something about sticking a cork in Loren Scott, too? I know those guys up in Baton Rouge are the biggest provincial boosters/homers in the universe, but Scott's really an exceptional specimen.

Just this morning WWL radio's using a clip of him for their story about the New Orleans MSA having the sixth best outlook for employment in the first quarter of 2009 in the country in Manpower's just-released report (Shreveport is eighth in the country, while Lafayette is actually first). All of this is apparently just too much for Scott to compute; he's "surprised" to see New Orleans and Shreveport on the list and shocked that Baton Rouge has been left off. To paraphrase, "Things are just booming in Baton Rouge, and I can't see how it's been left off the list. I guess there must be some construction or something going on in New Orleans to get it on the list."

Turd.

Schroeder said...

Mominem's right about JP African-American voters -- to the extent that generalizations can be made. I too have heard support for Harry Lee and Gretna chief Lawson from African-Americans. I've also heard the complaints about people from New Orleans -- African-Americans -- bringing crime into their neighborhoods on the West Bank. It would be an interesting study to see how prevalent those differences in attitude are, and what might cause them.

Puddinhead said...

Funny thing is, I worked in Marrero for most of the 80s, and it was widely recognized (although not widely acknowledged) at that time that there were just as serious of a drug-related crime problem in parts of Marrero, Harvey, and Gretna as there were on the east bank in New Orleans. Ask any JP deputy from that era about "Electric Avenue", Mary Poppins, Lapalco & Ames...my cousin worked a car wash right at that Lapalco & Ames intersection, and I remember him cleaning up the stalls one weekend and coming up with a big brown grocery bag full of crack...and then being terrified over what in the hell to do with something like that. LOL

The thug life has been alive and well on the West Bank for at least a generation before Katrina.