Search This Blog


Black Shreveport mayoral candidates must campaign hard

The opening of election qualifying also signals the period in which people may register to vote and participate in those elections is fast drawing to a conclusion, which will be crucial for determining who Shreveport’s next mayor will be.

Given that voting occurs largely along racial lines in Shreveport and there is a very good chance that the general election runoff will features a black and white candidate, the racial balance among registered voters in the city holds the key to who could win. For many years, black registrations have been growing faster that white ones but, unlike trends of a year ago suggested that by now, they still have not caught up to whites – leaving a gap of 1,722 as of Jul. 28 (however, total nonwhites outnumber whites by about 2,500; these figures from the combined active and inactive rolls).

Considering also the fact that historically whites turn out at slightly higher rates than blacks (2.4 percent in the 2002 contest) and a white candidate would be favored provided that larger amounts of racial crossover votes don’t break to the advantage of the black candidate (in 1994, for example, at the rate of 14 percent of whites of 7 percent of blacks). This means a black candidate must find ways to stimulate his base.

It’s far too simplistic to claim, “the only thing that gets people to turn out is emotion,” as said one appointed official. As political scientists have long noted, the single most important factor influencing political participation is age – the older a person, the more likely he is to vote (unless he becomes infirm). This is because as people age, they become more aware of how politics can impact their lives, and they gain more and vested interests – how well their kids are schooled, city services for their property, priorities for spending taxes paid, etc.

At the same time, observing that you can’t increase voting “until you get at the demography” describes the symptoms but misses the underlying disease. This is because the next two most important factors in participation are levels of education and degree of political efficacy (the ability a person believes he has to make a difference in governing). Better educated people are more likely to understand the process and see how it affects their lives, and thus are more likely to vote. People with higher degrees of efficacy feel more confident that they can effect political change through acts like voting. (These things also are inter-related: better educated people are more likely to rank highly in feelings of efficacy.)

Both of these factors, unlike age, can be changed within individuals. One elected official partially got it when she noted that nonparticipation occurs because “people don't feel any connection to the results of the process” – a contributing factor to lower feelings of efficacy. This highlights the difficult nature black candidates will face in trying to mobilize a black constituency – as blacks have lower levels of educational attainment and, partially as a consequence, lower degrees of efficacy.

(Understanding the theory behind political participation provides a much more complete explanation as to why “voters, especially in the South, are disproportionately both older and much more likely to be female. [They are] much less likely to be young and male,” as stated by one practitioner. First, aside from the fact this is quite an overstatement – whites compared to blacks and females compared to males were different by less than four percentage points in self-reported turnout in 2004 – it also misunderstands and overstates what the South has to do with it all.)

(Actually, age turnout differences among the four regions of the country are not very different – about 25 percent from highest to lowest turnout categories by age in the Northeast and Midwest, and 30 percent in the South and West. The reason why the latter two are greater is because they have greater proportions on nonwhite populations – black in the South, Asian and Hispanic in the West. These minority populations also are less well-educated and disproportionately younger. Sex works into this in the South because the black male population is significantly less well-educated compared to the black female population, and is much more likely to be imprisoned which prevents one from casting a vote. In other words, it all comes back to education, essentially – the region itself doesn’t make a differences, it’s aggregate levels of education and proportion of young population, not that Southern youngsters and males are less likely to vote because they are from the South.)

For the purposes of a campaign, however, educational attainment is not something you can change overnight. So, for black mayoral candidates to succeed in the next three months, since you can’t make your base older or better educated, you have to go after the efficacy angle. Specifically, you must address two political attitudes connected to it, perceptions of closeness of the election, and the salience of the election. Giving convincing details about how important the election will be for that person, and how every vote will count, are the best tactics to mobilize a base beyond its typical electoral response.

The numbers may not be as favorable for a black candidate as they may have appeared a year ago, but the recipe for victory still is the same – get out the vote.

No comments: