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3.11.08

Bypass idiocy, ignorance to understand tomorrow's turnout

There appears to be a lot of hyperventilating concerning potential turnout tomorrow in federal elections in Louisiana. Facts rather deflate the idea that there will be anything unprecedented concerning it.

What seems to have gotten some to guess there could be record turnout for a presidential election is the highest degree of early voting ever. But to view this in isolation ignores the fact that it has been since the last presidential election that significant relaxation of early voting requirements occurred which has encouraged people who would have voted tomorrow to have voted already. In other words, most of the increase in early voting from 2004 will constitute a decrease of those who vote tomorrow.

The fact that it is up compared to last year’s governor’s election, when the new rules were in effect although people were less familiar with the brand-new rules then, is because of black Democrat enthusiasm for their party’s nominee Sen. Barack Obama and, to a lesser extent, Republican horror at the most liberal candidate since 1972’s George McGovern, and perhaps ever. The election also is relatively close, so we can expect that as well to drive turnout to levels approximating last election’s 59 percent.

(Note: there are several ways to define just what is “turnout.” Most common is by voting age population which is 59 percent. Less common because it is less accurate is the measure as a proportion of all registered voters, which in 2004 was 66 percent in Louisiana. Most accurate but the most difficult to compute is by voting eligible population, which excludes people who have lost the right to vote for some reason such as conviction of a felony or not being a citizen, which was 61 percent in the state in 2004. Given Louisiana’s past discrimination against blacks from roughly 1900-64 in not allowing them to register which prevented otherwise voting-age-eligible people from registering, for comparative purposes proportion of registration will be used to define “turnout.”)

But some observers let their enthusiasm get the best of the known historical facts and theories concerning voting turnout. One crowed it would be the “highest in Louisiana history” while another at least limited to saying it would be the highest in what he termed “modern electoral history,” since 1948.

Both are unlikely to happen. The highest ever mark known to be was in 1868 (credit Tulane historian Laurence Powell for pretty much getting this), after Reconstruction when turnout was 77 percent, driven by carpetbag Republicans and Democrats desperate to hold onto power (in those days, governor’s elections almost always were on the same days, probably boosting turnout for both offices). We aren’t going to get there this year, and we’re unlikely to even get to the top “modern” election, 73 percent in 1964, a very salient one for the state as segregationist forces tried by ballot box to resist the inevitable tide against them.

It’s also, to be charitable, a bit mistaken to think Louisiana will deliver one of the highest turnouts of any state as these observers appear to suggest. Its history against reformist government and relative lack of development compared to other states depresses its turnout. It ranked 20th in 2004, nearly 15 percent behind the leading states

Ignorance of history is one thing, but downright stupidity is another, with that award going to political consultant Raymond Strother, whose antediluvian, facile view of what motivates white Louisiana voters isn’t even race – where you could make a decent argument the complex of issues related to it is important – but actual racism itself. Needless to say much academic research has shown this (one such effort concerning Louisiana in particular being here) rather unsophisticated view to lack validity among today’s electorate, and it certainly doesn’t explain the anti-Obama vote that will contribute to higher turnout (which goes to show ability to manipulate voters and really understanding them do not go hand-in-hand). Many whites will be mobilized to vote against Obama because they understand all too well his policies will be against their own interests, and the good of the country’s as a whole, not merely because he’s black.

So, tomorrow will produce an above-average turnout in Louisiana, one of the higher in its history. Only by understanding that and the real reasons why will allow us to learn anything from it.

2 comments:

T. Wong said...

By antediluvian, would you mean before Katrina?

Anonymous said...

What was the point of this article? Seriously Jeff, write before you inject. Not the other way around.