New Orleans Mayors race – a tale of two elections

What a difference an election cycle makes. After the 2006 New Orleans Mayor’s race, it was thought that a white candidate (even a Landrieu, whose patriarch was the last white mayor) had no future in a citywide election. Last night’s election provided some surprises, but there are also some things that need to be noted.

Scope of Mitch Landrieu’s victory

Mitch Landrieu’s 66% victory is impressive in several ways:

(1) This was the first time that a New Orleans mayor’s race has not gone to a runoff since 1998 – and that race was one involving an incumbent;

(2) This race also had 10 other candidates – and one of them (John Georges) was well funded;

(3) Landrieu received 63% of the vote in precincts where a supermajority (i.e., 80% or more) of the voters were black (he received 23% in those same precincts in his losing race in 2006). At the same time, he garnered 70% support in precincts where a supermajority of the voters were white (he received 77% in those same precincts in his losing race in 2006 against a black incumbent). Furthermore, he received more than 50% of the vote in all but 9 out of 366 precincts, and in 8 of those 9 precincts, he still received a plurality. In other words, an across the board victory;

(4) Whatever flack his sister Mary Landrieu has received for her Senate voting record, the Landrieu name still carries considerable biracial clout in the city of New Orleans – in fact, in the six times Mary or Mitch Landrieu were on the ballot since 1996, Mitch’s 66% in the Mayor’s race was actually the LOWEST percentage either has received citywide.

What wasn’t mentioned – lower turnout

While the breadth of Mitch Landrieu’s victory was impressive, what wasn’t mentioned was that turnout numerically declined 22% from the 2006 Mayor’s race  – this is significant because presumably some of the Katrina evacuees have returned to New Orleans since the 2006 Mayor’s election was held. Additionally, the theory of evacuees returning to New Orleans could be validated by the fact that the 2006 early vote, which  included vote totals from evacuees’ residing in Memphis, Dallas, and Houston at the time, dropped 32% since that election.

What wasn’t mentioned – less racial polarization

The apparent lower level of racial polarization was also accompanied by a greater disparity in racial turnout – this time, whites turned out at a rate twice that of the blacks. In practical terms, this means that not only was there an estimated 48/48 racial split among those who voted, but this turnout differential likely contributed to a 5-2 white majority that was elected last night to the New Orleans City Council. Could it be that appeals to polarization aren’t as potent now as they were in the past in New Orleans ? Possibly, but the biracial appeal of the Landrieus, the lack of a strong black candidate, and the fact that the Saints’ first time appearance in the Superbowl and Carnival season were competing for voters attention and thus lowered the “volume” of this election.