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Zaitoon attracted protesters; bad sign for incumbents

I was intrigued by a comment somebody else that had been in the political science profession made about the special elections for insurance commissioner, that the reason Libertarian S.B.A. Zaitoon racked up 11 percent in the insurance commissioners’ race was because Democrats had no place to turn with two major Republican candidates in the contest. It echoed a comment made by a campaign operative of one of those GOP candidates on television Saturday night.

On the surface, it seems ridiculous. Ideologically, libertarians are much closer to conservatives, which ideology is the hallmark of Republican, not liberal Democrat, candidates. To me (as I announced on Shreveport’s KSLA-TV during election night and in a subsequent posting), it sounded like these voters were protest votes against the two Republicans, both incumbent officeholders.

Still, the claim deserved some investigation, so I got parish voter registration statistics and Zaitoon’s vote in each, and computed a linear regression of the vote percentage on the percentages of white Democrats, black Democrats, Republicans, and other party registrants. This technique can determine which factor has an impact on the vote, and the strength of that factor, relative to all factors.

If this claim were true, we would expect to see several things: (1) the higher the percentage of black Democrats in a parish, the higher the percentage of the vote for Zaitoon, (2) the higher the percentage of white Democrats in a parish, the higher the percentage of the vote for Zaitoon, and (3) the higher the percentage of Republicans in a parish, the lower the percentage of the vote for Zaitoon (we also should expect to see the higher the percentage of other party registrants in a parish, the higher the percentage of the vote for Zaitoon, but that is unrelated to the question posed).

Upon performing the regression, it seems there is a kind of truth to the assertion, because the strongest determinant of the vote for Zaitoon was percentage of black Democrats in a parish – twice as strong as the only other significant factor, other party registrants. In both cases the higher the percentages, the higher the vote percentage for Zaitoon in a parish. But, both white Democrats and Republicans were missing from the equation; neither group’s numbers were shown to be related to Zaitoon’s percentage won.

This tells us a two things; firstly, that Democrats as a whole did not view Zaitoon, absent a Democrat, as the non-Republican to vote for, but black Democrats seemed so against the idea of voting for anybody listed as a Republican that they voted for a Libertarian, and, secondly, since the negative relationship was not present for Republicans (because their percentages should have varied positively with the combined total of the two Republican candidates), this says to us that a significant portion of Republicans defected and voted for Zaitoon, out of protest.

So, in reality, the vote for Zaitoon was a double-protest vote: some blacks because they didn’t want to vote for a Republican, and some Republicans because they didn’t want to vote for an existing officeholder even of their own party. It wasn’t Democrats generally because those who were white were no more likely to vote for him than either of the other two major candidates. Race and Republicanism really mattered here, reaffirming that a groundswell is brewing against long-time incumbents who will try to run in state contests in 2007.

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