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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.


Genuine conservatism in candidates key for GOP success

The major lesson for Louisiana, and perhaps for the country as a whole, from federal elections in the state is that in this era where the main Democrat strategy is to demonize Republicans, the GOP triumphs if their candidates are genuine conservatives, run as a conservatives, and explain honestly issue preferences when they seem to deviate from conservatism.

Those in the know did not take seriously Sen. Mary Landrieu’s claim of a huge lead over state Treasurer John Kennedy for her reelection, but Kennedy’s loss was not surprising either. Landrieu actually won by more than a pittance for the first time in her Senate-chasing career because of doubts about Kennedy’s genuineness as a conservative, having run just four years earlier espousing some liberal issue preferences. Suspicious about Kennedy, enough voters decided that if they had to choose between the liberal-but-trying-to-appear moderate Landrieu and the conservative-now-but-liberal-past Kennedy, they would go with the she-devil they knew.

But it’s possible that the “Obama effect” also may have contributed to Landrieu’s win. With a black at the top of the Democrat ticket, although we will know for sure in a few days when the final statistics are compiled, I’m willing to estimate that black turnout (reviewing almost all-black precincts in Caddo Parish from 2004 and 2008) was up about 5 percent. Computing that to the number of registered blacks in time for this election and assuming almost all voted for Landrieu as long as Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy had gotten them to the polls gives Landrieu another 42,000 or so votes. These two factors together probably gave Landrieu the win.


Let's see what happens, and record it for posterity

There's no point in writing anything today about Louisiana politics. The big stuff happens tonight, and the relevance of it won't be known until tomorrow. Instead, I invite you to participate in making a small bit of history.

Starting at 6 PM tonight I will be one fo the guest analysts for KSLA, CBS channel 12 in Shreveport. I done this many times for a myriad of outlets but what makes this different and relevant to you readers is much of the time I will be pounding away on a live blogging session in the studio. Some attention will be devoted to the 4th Congressional District contests, and also to the national picture, but for you Louisiana politics junkies I'll covering the Senate race and the constitutional amendments and, if the spirit moves me, maybe throw in a little of the state's other important contests as well at all levels.

Making matters more interesting, you all can dive in as well. The facility allows you to enter comments that, if they are perspicacious enough, I can have posted for the world to see and respond to them. As for making history, the software creates a log of everything so when it's finally over, it is archived and can be replayed, so your input can be played and replayed for all eternity.

Go to KSLA's site to find the blog. Meanwhile, if you haven't already, go vote.


Bypass idiocy, ignorance to understand tomorrow's turnout

There appears to be a lot of hyperventilating concerning potential turnout tomorrow in federal elections in Louisiana. Facts rather deflate the idea that there will be anything unprecedented concerning it.

What seems to have gotten some to guess there could be record turnout for a presidential election is the highest degree of early voting ever. But to view this in isolation ignores the fact that it has been since the last presidential election that significant relaxation of early voting requirements occurred which has encouraged people who would have voted tomorrow to have voted already. In other words, most of the increase in early voting from 2004 will constitute a decrease of those who vote tomorrow.

The fact that it is up compared to last year’s governor’s election, when the new rules were in effect although people were less familiar with the brand-new rules then, is because of black Democrat enthusiasm for their party’s nominee Sen. Barack Obama and, to a lesser extent, Republican horror at the most liberal candidate since 1972’s George McGovern, and perhaps ever. The election also is relatively close, so we can expect that as well to drive turnout to levels approximating last election’s 59 percent.

(Note: there are several ways to define just what is “turnout.” Most common is by voting age population which is 59 percent. Less common because it is less accurate is the measure as a proportion of all registered voters, which in 2004 was 66 percent in Louisiana. Most accurate but the most difficult to compute is by voting eligible population, which excludes people who have lost the right to vote for some reason such as conviction of a felony or not being a citizen, which was 61 percent in the state in 2004. Given Louisiana’s past discrimination against blacks from roughly 1900-64 in not allowing them to register which prevented otherwise voting-age-eligible people from registering, for comparative purposes proportion of registration will be used to define “turnout.”)

But some observers let their enthusiasm get the best of the known historical facts and theories concerning voting turnout. One crowed it would be the “highest in Louisiana history” while another at least limited to saying it would be the highest in what he termed “modern electoral history,” since 1948.

Both are unlikely to happen. The highest ever mark known to be was in 1868 (credit Tulane historian Laurence Powell for pretty much getting this), after Reconstruction when turnout was 77 percent, driven by carpetbag Republicans and Democrats desperate to hold onto power (in those days, governor’s elections almost always were on the same days, probably boosting turnout for both offices). We aren’t going to get there this year, and we’re unlikely to even get to the top “modern” election, 73 percent in 1964, a very salient one for the state as segregationist forces tried by ballot box to resist the inevitable tide against them.

It’s also, to be charitable, a bit mistaken to think Louisiana will deliver one of the highest turnouts of any state as these observers appear to suggest. Its history against reformist government and relative lack of development compared to other states depresses its turnout. It ranked 20th in 2004, nearly 15 percent behind the leading states

Ignorance of history is one thing, but downright stupidity is another, with that award going to political consultant Raymond Strother, whose antediluvian, facile view of what motivates white Louisiana voters isn’t even race – where you could make a decent argument the complex of issues related to it is important – but actual racism itself. Needless to say much academic research has shown this (one such effort concerning Louisiana in particular being here) rather unsophisticated view to lack validity among today’s electorate, and it certainly doesn’t explain the anti-Obama vote that will contribute to higher turnout (which goes to show ability to manipulate voters and really understanding them do not go hand-in-hand). Many whites will be mobilized to vote against Obama because they understand all too well his policies will be against their own interests, and the good of the country’s as a whole, not merely because he’s black.

So, tomorrow will produce an above-average turnout in Louisiana, one of the higher in its history. Only by understanding that and the real reasons why will allow us to learn anything from it.


Deficit maneuvers highlight future health spending conflict

First there was, then there wasn’t, and now one must wonder whether there’s more than meets the eye to spending decisions made concerning Louisiana’s Medicaid program.

In September, Secretary of Health and Hospitals Alan Levine asked permission from the Legislature (through its Joint Committee on the Budget) to cut some spending as a result of a projected deficit. Most of his requests were acceded to after criticism about how perhaps the action was premature or accounting practices weren’t painting an accurate picture.

Then, Levine announced days after this was granted that, rather than a deficit, there was an even larger surplus. This appeared because of fewer demands on services as a result of delayed entry of people into the health care system as a result of the hurricanes blowing over the state in September. Levine specifically mentioned some 400 waiver slots for home- and community-based care programs going unfilled that did not make claim on resources. He also pointed out that these expenses were going to happen, they just had been postponed.

The timing seemed curious, as some observed that the 2005 hurricane experiences could have been used to make better projections, while others thought the predictive historical data being used were too sparse, and still others thought the projected deficit of $81 million could be worked through internally with a $7 billion annual Medicaid budget without budgetary intervention. However, state Rep. Jim Fannin ascribed political motives when he wondered whether Levine already had known the number might come in better before arguing for the fixes.

Fannin’s musings certainly seem credible. And Levine’s numbers don’t quite add up: if there was $181 million swing in resources, for 400 waiver slots on an annual basis the typical recipient might cost about $70,000 annually, that’s only $28 million of concern.

It’s possible that Levine’s actions are accounted for by larger policy and budgetary concerns. With the state looking more certain to encounter future difficult budgetary times and a major component to reduce those being restructuring of health care, the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration may have seen this projected deficit at the time as being a persuasive element to start implementing a move from the less efficient institutional-cased health care system to a more cost-effective home- and community-based system.

The changes accepted by the committee for the most part addressed money going to institutions. The one change that was not sanctioned, which essentially would have lowered payments going to rural hospitals, also did. It is possible that the Jindal Administration thought these kinds of changes – many in fact which appeared to be contrary to federal regulations that may have resulted in denial of funding from that source, or were outright duplicative in nature thus wasteful – would bring resistance from the strong institutional health care lobby and that any hint of a crisis could overcome that among legislators who in the past have been reluctant to move the state in a better direction on indigent health care structural spending.

Fannin and his ilk may cry about political motives, but that fact is these changes they made last month were justifiable without any crisis real or imagined. That there was such resistance to them by legislators regardless shows that politics may be a significant obstacle to providing improved, less costly health care that reduced deficit aggravation in Louisiana.