According to the United States Census Population Estimates Program, in 2006, Louisiana had a total population of 4,287,768 people, representing a 4.1% decrease since the 2000 Census (or a loss of a little more than 180,000 people between the years 2000 and 2006). At first glance, one may assume these numbers are entirely indicative of the net out-migration caused by Hurricane Katrina. After all, Katrina resulted in the destruction of over 275,000 homes and the loss of over 1,800 lives. Some conservative pundits seem almost gleeful at this population loss, opining that the loss primarily affected New Orleans African-Americans (who, they claim, constituted “the base” of the Louisiana Democratic Party). By their logic, all of those 180,000 people that Louisiana lost from 2000 to 2006 were registered Democrats who habitually voted in every major election, representing some sort of fictional political machine.
However, based on more recent population estimates and mail deliveries, we now know that New Orleans is currently up to 86% of its pre-Katrina population, which would represent a loss of only 67,000 people and which indicates that New Orleanians have continued to return in large numbers. Moreover, these numbers do not include the thousands of New Orleanians who simply relocated to places like Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Monroe, Alexandria, Houma, and Shreveport. The American Community Survey, an arm of the Census, reveals that these municipalities and the parishes in which they are located have gained population since 2000. In other words, current data indicates that Louisiana’s population has grown significantly since December of 2006.
Even if one accepts the 2006 Census estimates, Louisiana still has 70,000 more people than we did in 1990 (official Census data is computed every ten years), and this is notable for one important reason. Yesterday, The Baton Rouge Advocate put the 2007 jungle primary voter turn-out into context (bold mine):
One-fourth of Louisiana’s 2.78 million registered voters elected the state’s next governor.
Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal received 699,275 votes.
It was enough to earn the Republican an outright governor’s race win with 54 percent of the votes cast.
But at 46 percent turnout, his victory marks the lowest participation by voters in a governor’s race since Louisiana went to the open primary system in 1975, according to secretary of state’s records.
A total of 1,297,840 voters — 46 percent of those eligible to vote — cast ballots on Oct. 20, which is 2,635 more than in 1999, when then-Gov. Mike Foster easily won re-election to second term.
Other than 1999, this year’s election had the fewest votes cast in any gubernatorial ballot since 1975, when the state had 1 million fewer people registered to vote, the records show.
Conservative political analyst and blogger C.B. Forgotston recently pointed out that Bobby Jindal only received 16.5% of the State’s support. This is not quite accurate. He actually received approximately 25% of the registered vote in Louisiana, though this still underscores Forgotston’s point: In a democracy, 25% of the registered vote is never a mandate.
Republican apologist and serial blogger Jeffrey Sadow disagrees. In his latest post, he writes:
It’s interesting that Republican politicians pointed to the storms or, as a longer-term cause of a decline in turnout, legal changes that produced more registered voters but disproportionately fewer who would turn out. The Democrats may blame candidates because they may perceive the reduced excitement in the black community.
However, the Democrats in blaming politicians may have a political motive behind it. By ignoring the impact of the hurricanes’ displacement, they can attempt to make the problem out to be bigger than it really is – a mathematical artifact of essentially inaccurate representations of reality. This could give impetus to efforts to dilute ballot security in an effort to crease (sp) turnout for its own sake, such as by the unnecessary and wasteful laws passed in the wake of the hurricanes that applied to the New Orleans city elections of 2006.
It also may be an attempt to try to reduce the legitimacy of Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal’s landslide win. The fewer people that voted, the more impetus it gives to trying to deny Jindal’s win wasn’t what it was – a mandate for reform and conservative agendas.
The fact is, when adjusted for true residency, 2007 primary was not much below that of 2003 and, if anything, discouraged Democrats (of whom blacks disproportionately label themselves) probably account for most of the remaining difference. This is neither a crisis requiring relaxation of laws protecting ballot security nor repudiates the historic message of the election.
Unfortunately for Sadow, he is wrong on nearly all counts. There is no evidence that “legal changes” have produced “more registered voters but fewer who would turn out.” If anything, the evidence suggests that Louisiana has actually purged thousands of voters from the rolls since Hurricane Katrina. Sadow is circumstantially and disingenuously attempting to claim that the low turnout was influenced by an inflation of voter registration numbers. But the “mathematical artifact of of essentially inaccurate representations of reality” is merely the provenience of those who continue to rely on outmoded data to justify their own political positions and analysis. Additionally, such analysis denies the empirical truth: Voter turnout hasn’t been as low since 1975, when Louisiana had 1 million fewer registered voters (and when Louisiana’s total population was also approximately 1 million people fewer than it is today, even after the storms).
I do not care to dispute Jindal’s victory. He won, plain and simple, and Louisianans should all try to work with our new governor in order to implement real, progressive change. But when a political scientist ignores population data, empirical evidence, and the abysmal voter turnout numbers in an attempt to reward a candidate with an unfounded mandate, I question his academic objectivity and the politicized nature of his purported scholarship. If conservatives like Sadow truly believe Jindal’s victory constituted a mandate, then they would boldly proclaim that, even if turnout had been higher, Jindal would have still won, resoundingly. Instead, we are dishonestly told about the nature of “true residency” and the “black vote.” By Sadow’s logic, if every African-American in Louisiana (who is registered to vote) voted for a single Democratic candidate (which, Sadow asserts, they are “disproportionately” inclined to do), this hypothetical candidate would have received nearly 200,000 more votes than Bobby Jindal did during the 2007 jungle primary. Would he consider this to be a mandate?
The truth, however disturbing it may be, is that Louisiana’s voter turnout during the jungle primary was abysmal, and in a representative democracy, we should all hope for a healthy and substantial voter turnout, regardless of one’s political party or ethnicity.