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Crossover voting may not affect upcoming Senate race

Perhaps an item that slipped by the consciousness of observers was election results in New Orleans that contradicted long-held conventional wisdom about race and voting. In several plurality-black constituencies, non-blacks were elected which is a reversal of past trends. More intriguingly, you had white candidates winning in majority-black constituencies because black crossover voting exceeded white crossover voting – and this could have consequences for upcoming statewide elections.

In House districts in New Orleans, among the four plurality (but not majority) black districts, three white candidates won. (And in the 102nd, Democrat incumbent Jeff Arnold, white, won again in his majority black district). Parish/city-wide, an at-large council seat and Criminal Court judgeship were won by whites where black registrants outnumber whites by almost double.

Most interestingly, rough estimates of voting show that white voters in contests pitting a white and black candidate were only about half as likely to vote for the black candidate as blacks were to vote for the white candidate. This is highly significant because with very few exceptions the ratio typically has been in the reverse in Louisiana urban elections – as shown in New Orleans only last year with its mayoral election.

If victories for white candidates came about because of lack of black numbers because of 2005 hurricane displacement, that is interesting. But because, at least in the city-wide races, crossover voting that showed less solidarity among blacks than whites which was the margin of victory for white candidates truly is astounding, contradicting much of the literature explaining elections in urban America that consistently have shown whites are more likely than blacks to cross over racial lines in voting.

Whether this will have an impact on the 2008 election for the Senate is another matter. Larger-than-normal black crossover voting, it must be noted, applied only to white Democrats, so it well may not apply to one or more white Republicans running against incumbent white Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu. By way of example, black voting for southeast Asian Indian Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal ran within norms in Orleans at about 10 percent.

Still, this represents an intriguing potential trend. In all probability, it may be a factor of individual candidacies specific to this election and may not play out as a permanent kind of shift. If it were to, one possible explanation would be that displacement disproportionately affected lower-income individuals, disproportionately black Democrats, who would be less likely to defect from monoracial voting. Future election results will confirm whether this is a blip, or a new phenomenon awaiting study and explanation.

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