Even as Louisiana’s 2019 state elections fade temporally, imprecise analysis continues to obscure its larger electoral patterns and consequences.
A previous post dispensed with the notion that Louisiana followed a supposed national trend of suburbs indiscriminately lending support to Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ narrow reelection. That view presupposed that some suburbanites converted their voting preferences.
However, as previously noted, whatever new support Edwards picked up came disproportionately from the changing demographic composition of some state suburbs, almost exclusively Jefferson Parish. Compared to other less mature suburb parishes, Jefferson had a substantially higher minority population while its median household income tracked more to the state average than the higher number seen in most other suburban parishes.
A piece in the Baton Rouge Advocate elaborated on the unique changes occurring in Jefferson, where Edwards increased his runoff share of the vote from 51 to 57 percent. Black registration compared to whites significantly rose on the West Bank, with overall black registration rising half a point to 26.3 percent while white registration fell 2.5 points to 61.8 percent. This leaves the parish numbers close to those seen statewide, which is atypical of suburbs in the rest of the state.
As another point of comparison, reviewing differences from 2015 to 2019 results in three younger suburban parishes, Edwards lost 3 points in Bossier, 10 points in Livingston, but gained a point in St. Tammany. In Ouachita, a mixed parish where about 30 percent of the population lives in the central city Monroe that demographically differs substantially from elsewhere in the parish, Edwards lost 3 points. In all of these cases, the suburban areas differ substantially from Jefferson Parish on a number of demographic indicators, such as racial composition, educational attainment, income, and media age.
And in East Baton Rouge, which has suburbia both mature and newer along with the central city Baton Rouge that comprises about half the population, Edwards lost 2 points. If Edwards serves as a symbol of GOP retrenchment in the suburbs, regardless of whether from changing demographics or changing attitudes, statistics at the aggregate level certainty don’t suggest that, and reinforce the view that Jefferson acts as an idiosyncratic case.
That didn’t stop one proponent of the suburbia conversion theory from doubling down on that belief in the Advocate article. J. Miles Coleman, who is associate editor of the Crystal Ball newsletter produced by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, alleged that the Edwards Jefferson increase of 6 points profited from a national trend of suburban white women turning away from the Republican Party because of dismay with GOP Pres. Donald Trump.
But, again, a review of the parish’s changing demography casts doubt on this explanation. Turning to the larger concept of the “gender gap” in voting – that a significantly higher proportion of women cast votes for Democrats than do men – drilling down on it reveals it largely exists as an artifact of race and marriage. Simply, much of the gap disappears when comparing white married women to white married men; most of it comes from single women disproportionately voting at higher rates than single men, particularly among blacks who disproportionately vote for Democrats.
In other words, a likelier explanation for Edwards’ increased success in Jefferson comes from a growing proportion of blacks and single women in the parish. A comparison between 2015 and 2018 (latest) census data show this to be the case. In 2015, of the population aged 15 or older, blacks comprised 24.7 percent of the population of which 29 percent were married, and in 2019 they made up 26.1 percent of the population of which 27.2 percent were married. Meanwhile, the ratio of men to women registered to vote there stayed around 80 percent.
Obviously, for reasons of validity individual-level data obtained from a panel over those four years would do better in ascertaining which explanation makes more sense. But the aggregate data again point to changes in demography, rather than in attitudes, as the more powerful and likely explanation for increased Edwards success in Jefferson.
In a newsletter post, Coleman also floated a related assumption of presidential impact on the contest, that Trump didn’t do a whole lot to spur Republican candidate Eddie Rispone support despite three rallies in the state, with the most high-profile in Bossier City two days before the election. As evidence, he cites that the Fourth District had the lowest runoff turnout, and in its Bossier Parish Ward 4 Precinct 8C where is located the CenturyLink Center that hosted that rally, Edwards won it by 17 votes after barely losing it in 2015.
Yet he failed to note that the Fourth’s total lagged the rest of the state in 2015 as well, but saw a 24.1 percent boost in total votes cast. And in the two other districts that saw Trump visits, the Third recorded the third-highest increase of 28.5 percent while the Fifth – home to the presumed apathetic voters of third-place candidate in the general election GOP Rep. Ralph Abraham – turnout skyrocketed 41.6 percent, the state’s highest. Whether an apparent Trump boost helped Rispone relative to Edwards (in the Advocate article, a black Jefferson Parish politician disputes that), by Coleman’s metric the president did appear to get people to the polls.
Coleman – who hails from south Louisiana and perhaps never has visited Bossier City – even misfired on his precinct bon mot. The CenturyLink Center (which will lose that name by year’s end) is surrounded by the Red River and open space for the most part. The precinct itself, with the closest residences in it about a mile away from the arena, is in one of the lower-income parts of the city that in 2015 had a black registration of 26 percent. That increased to 34 percent in 2019.
Rispone didn’t lose that precinct because Trump didn’t activate nearby compliant voters, but because it contained disproportionately more lower-income voters and an increasing proportion of black registrants exceeding the state’s average who unlikely would be influenced by Trump. Meanwhile, in much more populated precincts 8A and 8B (that list is split) directly south of 8C, Edwards lost about a percentage point from 2015 even as the proportion of whites in these dropped a couple of points over the four years.
In the Advocate article, Coleman declares that even for Louisiana “these national trends catch up with you.” Maybe, but aggregate data, even in Jefferson Parish, don’t really corroborate his preferred explanation based on those assumed trends.