Search This Blog


Orleans mystery: "Obama effect" or something else?

Sen. Mary Landrieu was quick to assert that the “Katrina effect” appeared nonexistent in her reelection bid. She and others should have concentrated more on the unusual reasons why it did not appear to exist.

First, we must recognize that the “effect” – that depopulation of New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had disproportionately affected blacks who in turn disproportionately vote for Landrieu or other Democrat candidates – is there to happen. After all, the 7/1/2007 census estimate put Orleans Parish’s population at 239,124, of which 146,631 or 61.3 percent were black, compared to the 7/1/2005 estimate of 453,726 of which 304,268 or 67.1 percent were black. (Around the time of her last Senate race, on 7/1/2002 estimated population was 472,085 of which 317,672 or 67.3 percent were black).

But registration figures alter the picture considerably. Using information related to her last Senate contest, 2002, Orleans had 298,776 people registered to vote of which 187,289 or 62.3 percent were black, while as of last month there were 278,677 registrants of which 175,431 or 63 percent were black. The contrast is even greater when viewing the 2005 second quarter numbers – 299,369 total voters of which 189,628 or 63.3 percent black.

In other words, Orleans Parish has moved from a situation where, as a proportion of the population blacks were under-registered, now they are over-registered compared to whites. So, even if absolute numbers have dropped, they’ve dropped in all categories so Landrieu and other Democrats would not be disproportionately harmed, and of those remaining, Democrats now actually have picked up a small advantage relative to where they were.

However, this brings up another astonishing point. Even if we conceded that by October of this year Orleans had 324,000 residents and assuming that of the 125,000 or so missing relative to 2005 that, using historical data, 85,000 of them would have been registered to vote, registrations have dropped only about 20,000 from 2002 but turnout for Tuesday’s election for the Senate race of 141,968 was almost 10,000 more than for the 2002 runoff and over 15,000 for the 2002 primary. In other words, in 2002 registrations were 63.3 percent of the population of which 44.4 percent of the registrants and 28.1 percent of the population voted, while in 2008 registrations were 86 percent of the population of which 50.9 percent of the registrants and 43.8 percent of the population voted.

Since registration changes can lag actual population changes by a few years, the relatively small drop in registrations is understandable. And it’s also the case that the voting-age-eligible proportion of the population rose from about 70.6 percent in 2002 to 77 percent in 2007. Plus we can factor in a potential “Obama effect,” which may have raised black turnout as much as 5 percent over enthusiasm of the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama. Even so, these are remarkable figures, especially concerning voting age population proportion up 15 percentage points, particularly since less than 4,000 were absentee mail-ins which is how the many who had been displaced would have voted.

Contrast this with East Baton Rouge, where 70.9 percent of the population is voting-age-eligible and 71 percent of registrants voted comprising 45 percent of the population, and Jefferson, where 73.8 percent of the population is voting-age-eligible and 63 percent of registrants voted comprising 41.4 percent of the population. That is, whereas a few years ago the participation statistics of Orleans differed significantly from these other urban parishes, now it looks much more like them.

This is the real story of the election – what has happened in Orleans to suddenly make it like the other urban parishes in this regard? Could the “Obama effect” been so intense to produce this? If so, then Landrieu caught a real fluke as applying the 2002 metrics who have meant over 21,000 fewer people would have voted in Orleans, probably most for Landrieu, and perhaps another 50,000 (assuming the 5 percent bonus for the effect statewide rather than 15 percent) elsewhere in the state.

But if we can’t attribute the entire increase to the effect, then we are left with a mystery – one we should hope has an explanation that does not test the bounds of legality.


Anonymous said...

Obama won predominantly white precincts in New Orleans as well, whereas Kerry didn't in 2008. I think there's a "whites are as bitter or frustrated--or both--as black people" despite differences in resources and perceived power in effect here. It's a Katrina effect, in its own way, maybe.

Anonymous said...

The post-Katrina voter rolls were advertised in big, thick Times Picayune inserts a few times, by the way. People who did not call the elections office to say they were still around were going to be dropped, according to the inserts.

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey Sadow, your assumption is racist and amateurish.

Landrieu would have won her election without even a single vote from Orleans Parish, yet you still imply an illegality in Orleans as having contributed.

You also imply that all African-Americans in Orleans are Democrats and all whites in Orleans are Republicans. It doesn't seem to occur to you that in major urban, metropolitan places, MOST people are more Democratic.

You express this sickening hope that Katrina displaced enough Democrats to create permanent Republican majorities, and when you're faced with the facts, you'd rather argue impropriety and corruption than admit your own ignorance.