Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Next Mayor IV - Black Voter Power

If the demographic data in the reportauthored by P. Frances Gouzien and David C. Kimble still holds, a black can become mayor of St. Louis without getting a single white vote (click the link).  In fact, given the pattern of racial voting discussed in their report titled, "Race and the Reelection of the Longest Serving Mayor of St. Louis," the only way a black can become mayor in a contest against a white is to focus the campaign on the black vote.

     The twenty-three page report is an analysis of the 2013 mayoral campaign that pitted then three-term incumbent Mayor Francis Slay against an African American, Lewis Reed, the President of the Board of Aldermen.  The report, in observing the entrenched racial polarization in city elections, notes that: "According to the 2010 census, the voting age population in St. Louis is 49 percent African American and 44 percent white."

If this census data, which reveals that blacks are the majority of the eligible electorate, remains substantially true today, then if black and white voters in the next mayor's race turn out to vote in numbers equivalent to their respective percentages, the majority of the votes will be cast by blacks.  Of course, this is largely only theoretically true because of the historic pattern of lower voter turnout by blacks as compared to whites.
     Slay defeated Reed, the report notes, "by a margin of 54 percent to 44 percent," with the actual numbers being 23,968 votes for Slay and 19,496 for Reed.  The overall turnout of voters was just 22 percent of the eligible voters, with the report stating that "our exit poll suggests that white voters comprised about 55 percent of the electorate" in the election.  

     If, according to the census, 49 percent of the approximately 200,000 eligible voters are black, then had just a third of these blacks turned out to vote for Reed he would have beaten Slay without needing a single white vote.
     The report also brings to light that raced based voting exists on both sides of town.  Despite Slay outspending Reed $3.2 million to $650,000, and despite having the endorsements of some prominent black politicians, the report notes that only "approximately 22 percent of African Americans voted for Slay, just surpassing the mayor's goal of 20 percent," while also noting that "Reed was not far behind Francis Slay in cross-racial voting appeal, receiving approximately 17 percent of the white vote."  Thus, the data bears out that in a race between a black and a white, blacks will overwhelmingly vote for the black candidate and whites overwhelmingly for the white one.

     This seems to be common knowledge.  It also seems to be the pitfall that Reed fell into, as he geared his campaign to try to capture that small percent of the white vote that is not locked into racial voting, instead of targeting his campaign message and funds toward increasing black voter turnout.  He ran, as the report analyzed, a cross-racial campaign, chasing the white vote, while assuming he had the black vote. 

     Historically, black candidates seeking city wide offices have been gun shy about making an overt appeal to black voters on the basis of their blackness - like the way women candidates appeal to women voters on the basis of gender - for fear of being accused of "playing the race card" and turning off white voters.  Such an appeal, though, would spark enthusiasm and turnout by black voters.  Moreover, the numbers suggest that a black candidate has more to gain by a strategy that turns blacks on and some whites off than one that tries to appeal to white voters.

     We have to ask, would this not be a better city if black voter participation reached a higher level?  And further, is there anything that would more cause blacks to turn out to vote than the chance to be led by a mayor who is one of their own?

Race and the Reelection of the Longest Serving Mayor of St. LouisP. Frances GouzienDavid C. Kimball (click the link)

Eric E. Vickers, Attorney and Activist.

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