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Orleans turnout great news, even better for GOP

From the looks of comments given by a number of politicians and pundits, many fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between the results of the New Orleans mayor’s election primary and state elections in almost a year and a half.

First of all, answering the question about how many votes statewide Democrats will lose for 2007 I projected it two months ago in my paper presented at the Louisiana Political Science Association annual meeting: about 50,000. Roughly, about 25,000 Republican voters are projected to be out of Orleans and the state for the 2007 primary that otherwise would have been there without the hurricane disasters, but about 75,000 Democrat voters also are predicted to be absent. Whether that is significant is another matter.

In 2003, that margin still could have gotten Gov. Kathleen Blanco a narrow win over now-Rep. Bobby Jindal. However, for 2007 Blanco looks highly endangered while Jindal appears an early favorite to steamroll over all competitors for that office, so that margin wouldn’t matter then, either. Still, in close races Republicans have become advantaged, if the projections play out.

That these people don’t know about the 50,000-vote prediction is a minor shortcoming compared to their failure to properly analyze the meaning of the 36 percent turnout in the mayor’s race. Rather than interpreting this, in light of turnout nearly 10 percent higher for the 2002 contest, as a discouragement (and they are not the only ones to have made this mistake), in fact it is an exceptionally encouraging sign for upcoming Orleans elections.

Note that New Orleans’ population on Apr. 22 was unlikely to be more than half of its pre-Katrina level. Further, of that population only a portion is registered to vote – just about 60 percent if you take pre-election figures as accurate. But they aren’t – because so many registered voters really aren’t residents of New Orleans now who still appear on the rolls. Noting that there probably are disproportionately fewer children among the returnees and people marginally connected to the city who would have been unlikely to be registrants also disproportionately have not returned, perhaps 75 percent of those who have are registered voters. Estimating city population then at 218,000, this means 163,500 registrants were there on Apr. 22 – meaning turnout really was over 66 percent, a very healthy figure.

Admittedly, about 21,000 of those votes came from absentee or early voting. However, about half of that came from people opting for satellite, early voting in Orleans Parish, so even if we shave 10,000 off the final turnout figure (of 108,153), that’s still a very good 60 percent turnout of registered voters.

(It also points out the magnificent waste of money foisted upon the state by Democrats, principally at the insistence of Secretary of State Al Ater, to spend over $3 million extra beyond what the state and federal constitution required in voter contacts that got, using historical records, about 8,000 votes above normal – that’s about $375 per extra vote, or about what it would cost for an entire day for the state to provide skilled around the clock health care to a disabled person at home, at a time when almost 15,000 of them are stuck on a waiting list for state services. That is, the money Ater blew on the election could have served 25 such people for an entire year.)

Finally, just as many have misinterpreted the results as an indicator of lower future turnout, it also would be premature to say it is anti-incumbent. The May 20 general election can tell us more, but the fact that Mayor Ray Nagin pulled 38 percent of the vote I’m sure would have surprised many who now muse about any presumed anti-incumbent trend on the high side. Elections these days are rather candidate-specific, so it’s really the qualities of the incumbent and challengers that are the primary factors. It appears the majority of Orleans incumbents will survive, and, with Jindal out there, even without any hurricanes many analysts about now probably would have been writing concerning a tough reelection campaign ahead for Blanco.

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