Thursday, December 03, 2009

Redistricting Louisiana--When Every Variable Collides

This study by the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna brings together everything that gets me excited about elections and political demography (great maps too). When Louisiana begins its redistricting process after next year's census, its going to have its work cut out for it. As a result of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent out-migration of thousands of Louisianans, the state's population has actually declined. That's a sure fire way to ensure that the state is going to lose one House seat. Thus, its delegation is poised to fall from 7 to 6 members. The process of reshuffling districts in order to remove one is almost always messy.

There are some other variables at play here as well. The state government is currently divided between a Republican Governor (Bobby Jindal) and House (with a narrow GOP majority) and a Democratic Senate. Thus, assuming this division remains, partisan wrangling will run through all of the mapping and deliberations. The current delegation is 6 Republicans to only 1 Democrat. Obviously both parties want to grow the size of their delegation. What either party is able to propose is somewhat limited by another consideration. As a result of the Voting Rights Act, the 2nd District which encompasses New Orleans will likely have to be kept majority-black. I profiled the interesting turn this district took in last year's election. Currently represented by Republican Joseph Cao, this district is likely to swing back to the Democrats next year. The requirement to maintain its racial balance limits the ability of the state to shift its black population into neighboring districts or to move outlying white constituents in.

The district that appears to be most in jeopardy is the 3rd, encompassing the southeastern part of the state. Currently held by Blue Dog Democrat Charlie Melancon, the willingness of state legislators to carve this district up and disperse its constituents to surrounding districts is buttressed by the fact that Melancon is vacating the seat next year to challenge GOP Senator David Vitter. As the study notes, it may be easier to force out Melancon's freshman successor than any of the more senior members of the delegation. If someone needs to lose out, better it be a freshman than someone with more political clout.

The part of the state that seems to be ground zero in both parties' attempts to maximize their electoral chances is the greater Baton Rouge area (also profiled last year). The 6th district has been the most competitive in recent cycles and contains the largest African American population outside of New Orleans. Thus, moving enough whites out into surrounding districts or adding enough African Americans (probably from the 2nd assuming one could do so and still abide by the Voting Rights Act) would seem to be on the Democrats' agenda. Moving more whites in, probably from the 3rd, would help the GOP's chances.

Overlaying all of this is a general statewide trend toward Republicans. John McCain carried the state by 19 points in 2008, an improvement on Bush's 53% and 57% totals in 2000 and 2004 respectively. However, Democrats are able to be competitive in statewide offices. Senator Mary Landrieu is currently in her third Senate term. With an African American population of roughly 33% (with that population being very well dispersed as well), Democrats have a sizable base of support from which to build upon.

Thus, we've got the intersection of dramatic population shifts, partisanship, race, and the interests of individual politicians and their careers--all within a process that must produce a final outcome. Louisiana has always had one of the most colorful politics in the country. 2011 should live up to the state's reputation.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Voting for Mayor in the "City Too Busy To Hate"

Some interesting results from yesterday's mayoral runoff in Atlanta. The race pitted Kasim Reed, the Democratic candidate and a former state senator against independent City Councilwoman Mary Norwood. The result--a tentative 620 vote win by Reed--has triggered calls for a recount, something Norwood is entitled to by law and which Reed has pledged to adhere to. What's interesting about this election is not so much the results, but what they might say about the role race plays in voting. I've spent a lot of time on this site talking about the racial dimension of American voting behavior, much too much to recount ad nauseum here. Suffice it to say, its an issue, especially in many southern states. The results in Atlanta, however, go against the conventional wisdom that whites won't vote for blacks and blacks won't vote for whites (especially when running against a black opponent). Reed is black; Norwood is white.

Lets look at some numbers. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports the results by city council district (and also precinct) here and also provides an excellent interactive map of the city. Their data also includes each district's white and black population %. From this I created the following chart:

What we see is that the voting does not show a consistent correlation between the racial makeup of the electorate and its vote. If we were to hypothesize an electorate perfectly polarized by race, we'd expect each candidate's performance to essentially match the racial composition of each district. That is far from what happened. In the three whitest districts (6, 7, and 8) Reed did better than we might expect. Likewise, in the four blackest districts (4, 10, 11, and 12) Norwood also outperformed expectations based solely on race. These numbers are even more interesting when we throw the variable of party into the mix. We would assume that those whitest parts of Atlanta, located in the northern part of the city, would be the most Republican. That he still reasonably well here is quite fascinating. Likewise, although Norwood campaigned as an Independent, she has more often than not voted as a Republican in past elections. That she could perform so well in heavily black areas further suggests that there were some interesting dynamics at play.

When the Civil Rights Movement threw much of the south into turmoil, there was a saying that Atlanta--which didn't produce the violence seen in places like Birmingham, Selma, and Oxford--was a "City Too Busy To Hate." Maybe yesterday's vote was an indication that many people in Dixie have moved on.

West Tennessee Open Seat Creates More Ground For the Democrats to Defend

Well, it looks as if we might have been on to something in the last post. Yesterday brought word that one of the members I highlighted, Tennessee Democrat John Tanner (8th District), was announcing his retirement from Congress. While fear of electoral defeat does not appear to be the overriding factor in his decision making (he contemplated stepping down after his previous term despite the fact that he would ultimately run unopposed), his 2010 campaign was shaping up to be pretty daunting with his top challenger already having banked over $300,000 in campaign contributions.

Tanner has long been a leader of the House Blue Dogs and represents a rural chunk of western Tennessee. While west Tennessee has historically been the more Democratic part of the state, it has been trending Republican in recent cycles. John McCain garnered 56% last year while Bush received 53% in 2004. Native son Al Gore narrowly won the 8th with 51% in 2000. To expand a bit on the interesting geographic/partisan divisions of the Volunteer State, here's a bit from "The Transformation of Southern Politics":

The politics of contemporary Tennessee have their roots in the Civil War. The state rejected the Confederacy until after the fall of Fort Sumter and after President Lincoln asked for 75,000 troops. For almost a century after the Civil War, Tennessee politics remained frozen by the state's division in that conflict...Much of Middle Tennessee and most of west Tennessee was plantation country, but the mountainous East was dominated by small farmers who found slavery unprofitable and who rejected the notion that it was a divinely ordained institution.

The modern day 8th district is from that part of the state that supported secession and clung to its Democratic loyalties for generations. Thus, there is little history of GOP success in the region and it will be interesting to see whether the Democrats (who may push forward a credible candidate in State Senator and current gubenatorial candidate Roy Herron) are able to draw upon these longstanding loyalties and maintain control of the seat. Republican hopes lie in the fact that the district includes wealthier suburban areas of both Memphis and Nashville. Should the currently hypothesized "enthusiasm gap" between Democratic and GOP voters continue into next year, this could be where the race is won. Democrats, in addition to relying on history and tradition, have been able to draw upon the large African American population of the district--currently 22%. Their turnout will be crucial to preventing this district from flipping to the GOP for the first time since Reconstruction.

While I won't predict the outcome of next year's race, here's one thing that wouldn't surprise me. Congressman Tanner currently chairs the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. If President Obama, as has been reported, pivots from the current focus on health care to a focus on long term deficits and entitlement reform, expect Tanner to be tapped as a member of an entitlement reform commission charged with creating recommendations for Congress.

**An interesting bit of trivia: the city of Jackson in the southern part of the district is the home of the only Pringles production facility in the U.S. due to the local abundance of cotton seed oil. Who knew?