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7.12.08

Numbers show disgust at Jefferson likely ousted him

Analysis shows the reason why Rep. Bill Jefferson lost a chance at a tenth term, even if it might have been attenuated, was his black voting base abandoned him at his time of need while disproportionately more non-black voters showed up to give Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao enough margin to knock Jefferson off.

It’s fascinating to review the 91 precincts in the Second Congressional District that have at least 95 percent black majorities with fewer than 2.5 percent whites in them over the Oct. 4 Democrat primary, the Nov. 4 nomination runoff, and the Dec. 6 general election. In this time period they averaged 61,477 registrants or about a sixth of the district’s voters, and it’s no surprise that almost all of them in all three contests returned 95 percent-plus majorities for black candidates (several in the first election, Jefferson in the remaining two). Indeed, in the general election Jefferson swept every vote in 10 of them, while Cao was shut out in another 7.

The problem for Jefferson was, too few of them voted in the general election compared to the others. Turnout in October was only a little under 17 percent in these districts, but swelled to over 37 percent in November. But in December, it plunged to just under 12 percent. In numerical terms, the drop from October to December was over 3,000. Considering that Jefferson would have gotten at least 95 percent of this vote and he lost by 1,826 votes, even a turnout level, all other things equal, matching October’s would have brought him the victory by about 1,000 votes.

Why did turnout fall so incredibly? One clue is to look at the October election’s other contests and compare it to other contests on the ballot. Comparing precincts, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the sum total of votes received in the Second District primary and those for other local contests. Important to remember is that Republicans could vote in these other local races, but they comprise only about 11 percent of the district’s total. In other words, in a contest where a range of choices besides Jefferson was available, turnout was roughly equivalent to other contests on the ballot, meaning few of those voting were there only to vote on local races and rolled off on the congressional contest.

Therefore, if all other things were equal, turnout should have been close in December to October levels in these precincts. Instead, it dropped five percent. This would appear to indicate that some who voted in October did not vote in December because their choice was either a damaged Democrat in Jefferson or non-Democrats. Rather than be forced to make such a choice, they stayed home.

This played into Cao’s favor given the dynamics with which he had to work. He saw a boost come from white and Vietnamese constituencies. In October, turnout in the 24 precincts (that comprise over 25,000 registrants) with at least 80 percent of registrants being white and fewer than 5 percent being black, adjusting for Republicans not being able to participate until December turnout was over 28 percent, zooming to about 52 percent in November, and then declining back to about 29 percent in December.

The differentials are striking, especially in December. Typically, black turnout will fall a few percentage points behind that of whites. But the gaps here are unusual, of 11, 15, and 17 percent. The last in particular was stunning and cannot be explained, as Jefferson seems to want to believe, that there was “confusion.” Whites turned out at almost exactly the same adjusted rate October to December, so is it being argued here that whites somehow were less confused? The only explanation that makes sense is that some black, mostly Democrats, in October found someone they could for in the Democrat primary, but in December they felt there was nobody on the ballot for which they could touch the screen, and therefore stayed home.

Even though whites comprise only 31 percent of the district while blacks have twice as high a proportion, white turnout apparently was over 2.5 times that of blacks (this was the scenario for a Cao victory previously outlined). The magnitude of the increased differential suggests that some whites and other race voters who had participated in the Democrat primary defected to Cao. So he not only benefitted from a depressed Jefferson base, but appeared to also differentially benefit from defections. There maybe have been “apathy” among blacks about this election, but let’s be clear about why – it was because of the Democrat nominee.

(Only four precincts have a large Vietnamese population. In the two where other races outnumbered blacks, turnout increased from October to November, and then stayed the same from November to December – likely a boost of about a hundred votes for Cao.)

In the end, Jefferson appeared to lose support in the general election well in excess of what normally would have been expected – likely because of the federal indictments hanging over him – while Cao’s base remained more present and firmer. It’s why this unprecedented situation has occurred where for the nest two years a non-black Republican will represent a district with over half of his registered constituents being black Democrats.

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