In our previous analysis, we had provided the context for explaining how a parish that up to the 1996 Presidential election consistently voted more Republican than the state of Louisiana has now moved steadily towards the Democrats, while the rest of the state is becoming more solidly Republican. In this analysis, we will explain (at the macro and micro level) what has happened.
For years, East Baton Rouge Parish could be counted on to vote Republican in Presidential elections in an otherwise solidly Democratic state. In fact, for 10 out of 11 elections in a row after John Kennedy was elected president in 1960, no Democrat could carry the parish in a Presidential election. However, in the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections, Barack Obama carried the parish twice, and by increasing margins. What happened ?
At a “big picture” level, demographic changes provide most of the explanation: in absolute terms, the number of white voters in the parish declined by 7300 between the 2004 and 2012 Presidential elections. Assuming that 80% of this demographic votes Republican in Presidential races, that means that the “pool” of potential Republican votes decreased by 5500 throughout the last decade. In fact, Mitt Romney received 7700 less votes than George W Bush did in 2004, which suggests that some of the white conservative vote has moved out of the parish and has been “replaced” by a more politically liberal voting bloc.
As the white voter bloc has declined (in absolute numbers), the parish simultaneously gained about 21,900 black voters – the conventional wisdom was that this was brought about by the mass exodus of New Orlenians after Hurricane Katrina, but these demographic changes were already in motion when Katina unleashed its destructive forces on the city in 2005. Since blacks vote nearly unanimously Democratic (especially when Barack Obama was on the ballot), it could be expected that the Democratic vote would increase by over 20,000. Which in fact, is what happened: In President Obama’s re-election campaign, he received 20,400 more votes than John Kerry did in his losing Presidential campaign in 2004.
If you look at the political/demographic trends in each of the regions of East Baton Rouge Parish, you can appreciate how the changing composition of the electorate has created territory less favorable to Republicans planning to run parish wide.
First, in Baker/Choctaw, the rapid rate of demographic change has shown up in the election results: Barack Obama received 52% more votes than John Kerry did, while Mitt Romney received 39% less votes. Accordingly, GOP support percentages plunged about 20% over three election cycles.
While the Garden District area is more liberal than the “Highland Perkins” region is, the two parts of the parish have one thing in common: a perceptible movement of white liberals into these more affluent and well educated neighborhoods. Barack Obama received 10% more votes than John Kerry did, while Mitt Romney only received 2% more votes than George W Bush. This caused the Republican percentage to drop from 61 to 59% between 2004 and 2012. What is noticeable about this change is that in many parts of the “Highland Perkins” region, new subdivisions are still being built, but those new subdivisions have not, by and large, brought a staunchly conservative electorate with them like they have in suburbs like Watson, Walker, Denham Springs, and Prairieville in Livingston and Ascension Parishes.
Little has changed in the “inner city” precincts: this is an area that is nearly all black, and they vote nearly unanimously Democratic. Accordingly, John Kerry got 89% here, while Barack Obama received 92% in his re-election bid.
Southeast Baton Rouge has historically been nearly unanimously Republican, but in recent years, demographic changes have led to a doubling of the black population over the past three election cycles. Furthermore, the Democrats are benefiting from attrition of the conservative/Republican base in this part of town: Mitt Romney received almost exactly the same number of votes as George W. Bush did in 2004, while Barack Obama received 38% more votes than John Kerry. This has caused the Republican percentage to fall from 76 to 68%. While this remains a Republican area, there is nonetheless a noticeable Democratic trend in this part of town. This trend is most noticeable in the Sherwood Forest subdivision: an area that gave President Reagan nearly 90% of the vote in his re-election bid in 1984 have George W. Bush 75% of the vote n 2004 and Mitt Romney 58% of the vote in the November elections.
Central historically has been the one part of the parish where strong conservatives can and do win, and where taxes generally stand no chance of passing. Accordingly, the Democratic vote has remained flat (Barack Obama received 1% less votes than John Kerry did in 2004), while the Republican vote has increased 26%, causing the Republican percentage over three election cycles to increase from 81 to 83%, despite an increase in the black population from 6 to 10%. However, as loyal as Central is to Republican candidates, this area only represents 10% of the East Baton Rouge Parish electorate.
Finally, the conventional wisdom is that historically blue collar Zachary would become even more of a GOP stronghold once it got its own school system. What has happened is more complicated. There has always been a black population in this part of the parish, and the creation of an autonomous school system has brought both high income whites and blacks to this part of the parish. So even though Mitt Romney received 31% more votes than George W Bush did, Barack Obama received 51% more votes than John Kerry did. In practical terms, this means that the black population in this fast growing part of the parish has increased from 32 to 39%, while the Republican percentage has declined from 60 to 56% between 2004 and 2012.
In conclusion, East Baton Rouge has always had complicated politics: John Maginnis once noted that “Baton Rouge grew up not as one community but as three separate and isolated worlds: the newcomer professionals and old families of South Baton Rouge and LSU; the rednecks and union workers of North Baton Rouge; and the blacks.” Today, it could be argued that a more liberal voting electorate comprised of students and single professionals is a fourth “isolated world”, and the sum total of these four parts comprises the politics of this parish.