St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

NARAL’s misstatements seem rooted in abandonment of principles

The November fundraising letter for NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri (NARAL) got off on the wrong foot for factual purists like the Oracle. It starts off lamenting how “Missouri has elected its first anti-choice governor since 1992, when Mel Carnahan defeated anti-choice John Ashcroft.” The basic point is accurate, but the details are not. It was 2000 when Carnahan’s corpse defeated Ashcroft, and that contest was for U.S. Senator, not governor. In 1992, Governor John Ashcroft was term-limited. The anti-choice Republican that Carnahan defeated that year was future convict William Webster.

Truth took a bigger hit later in the letter. Executive Director Carolyn Sullivan went on to claim, “For the first time since 1920, the Governor’s office and both legislative chambers are controlled by anti-choice leaders.” Actually, the Governor’s office and both legislative chambers have been controlled by anti-choice leaders for the majority of the period since 1920. While a full unanimous triumvirate of anti-choice leaders is hard to find in recent years, one still only has to go as far back as 1976, when the governor was Republican Kit Bond, the president pro-tem of the Senate was Democrat William Cason, and the Speaker of the House was Democrat (and future convict) Richard Rabbitt. Ironically, Bond would be unseated that year by anti-choice Democrat Joe Teasdale, who drew pro-life votes with an extreme stand that contrasted with Bond’s tolerance for exceptions for rape and incest.

In more recent times, Gov. Bob Holden had to deal not only with Republican senate president Peter Kinder and Republican house speaker Catherine Hanaway, but also with Hanaway’s predecessor, Democrat Jim Kreider, all of whom are anti-choice. Carnahan had to deal with anti-choice senate presidents like John Scott and James Mathewson, both fellow Democrats.

In the years before Roe v. Wade in 1973, the illegality of abortion was a given, and only the most radical and courageous politicians publicly advocated its legalization. Ironically, this small cadre included Republicans like one-term Florissant Senator Robert Prange and Columbia State Representatives George Parker and Harold Reisch. Governors and legislative leaders weren’t really on record with their positions on abortion prior to then, so it’s hard to fathom how Ms. Sullivan ascertained the alleged choice leanings of leaders during the first 53 years after 1920.

Of course, we all know what Ms. Sullivan meant, and that’s the problem. What Missouri’s Governor’s office and both legislative chambers haven’t been controlled by since 1920 is Republicans. Ms. Sullivan incorrectly equates Democrat with pro-choice and Republican with anti-choice. Her misstatement is rooted in NARAL’s recent unpublicized mission change. They now regrettably act as a front for the Democratic Party instead of supporting pro-choice advocates regardless of party. Both State Senator Harry Kennedy and State Rep. Mike Daus are anti-choice Democrats who faced pro-choice opponents in November, but NARAL wouldn’t lift a finger (except maybe the middle one) for either pro-choice candidate. Admittedly those pro-choice opponents were third-party candidates (David Sladky of the Green Party and Libertarian Leonora Kham), but NARAL backed pro-choice third-party challengers to anti-choice Democrats as recently as 2000, when its founding principles mattered more.

The Oracle misses the more principled organization.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The evangelical vote in historical perspective

Much has been written about how George W. Bush, Matt Blunt and other Republicans rode the votes of rural Missouri’s evangelical Christians to victory this year. The same pattern repeated itself in most other states with substantial evangelical Christian populations. Evangelicals make news whenever they turn out in large numbers, because they are the one segment of the current Republican coalition whose turnout is unreliable. But their bloc voting power isn’t really new.

Religion was a major factor in the 1960 election. Prior to then, every American President had been Protestant (and a freemason as well). No major party had nominated a Roman Catholic for president since Catholic Democrat Al Smith lost to Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928. In 1960 Democrat John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism inspired not only a surge of Democratic votes among Roman Catholics of all political stripes, but also a backlash from evangelical Protestants. In both rock-ribbed Republican Ozark counties and staunchly Democratic counties like Monroe in Little Dixie and the exurban counties surrounding Kansas City, JFK trailed 4-6 percentage points behind Democrat Adlai Stevenson’s pace in the prior election. Blacks in St. Louis gave Kennedy their lowest percentage of any Democratic presidential candidate since World War II. Catholic voters picked up the slack, as Kennedy carried Republican areas like St. Louis Hills and St. Charles, allowing him to carry Missouri with just 50.26% of the vote.

The evangelical vote went the other way in 1976, propelling fellow “born again” Christian Jimmy Carter to victory over incumbent Republican Gerald Ford. Carter’s percentage of the outstate vote approximated his performance in metropolitan areas. (Historically, outstate areas ran about seven points behind.) In some Ozark areas, Carter even ran ahead of President Lyndon Johnson’s pace in his 1964 landslide win over Barry Goldwater.

But by the next election, the evangelicals had soured on Carter. Emerging televangelists like Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson exploited this discontent and inspired many evangelical Christians to switch to Republican Ronald Reagan. While urban and suburban votes changed very little between 1976 and 1980, Carter’s vote in outstate and exurban areas slipped 10 full percentage points, costing him Missouri’s electoral votes and a second term.

The seeds of the Republicans’ 21st Century “moral values” strategy were planted during the Bill Clinton Administration in the 1990s. Resentment over the Clinton sex scandals was highest among rural evangelical voters. While Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign improved his 1992 performance in all parts of the state, he improved less in rural counties than in the metropolitan and exurban areas.

The real “moral values” surge among evangelicals followed in 2000. Besides being the next presidential election following Clinton’s impeachment in connection with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, this election focused on the impact of the new president’s appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court on the continued legality of abortion (as well as rural (not necessarily evangelical) support for gun ownership). The dominant “pro-choice” and gun control sentiments in metropolitan areas produced a surge toward Democrat Al Gore, while strong “pro-life” and pro-gun attitudes among rural evangelicals produced an even greater surge towards Republican George W. Bush. When no Supreme Court vacancies occurred in Bush’s first term, the 2000 battle was replayed in 2004. Urban and Democrat tolerance for developments favoring gay marriage and rural and Republican resistance to them accentuated the divergent urban/rural political trends even further.

The numbers confirm the theory. While Missouri’s rural areas have been less supportive of Democratic presidential candidates than metropolitan areas for years, recent elections have markedly increased the spread. In the 11 presidential elections from 1952-1992, this spread averaged about seven percentage points. The difference was never greater than the 14-point spread in the1960 religious war centered on Kennedy, and the spread virtually disappeared in the 1976 election involving Carter. The spread crept up to 12 points in Clinton’s 1996 re-election, jumped to 18 points in 2000 and to nearly 23 points in 2004!

What lies ahead? Democrats’ best hope is that the deterioration of their rural percentages is attributable to surges in turnout by voters who historically don’t vote very often, and that elections centered on other issues will draw fewer of them to the polls.

On the other hand, there is also potential for further Republican growth from an untapped source of evangelical voters. A substantial part of the African American community is evangelical, with very conservative social values. Many black evangelicals broke with the party and voted against Kennedy in 1960, but they have remained solidly Democratic ever since. They did not join either evangelical surge for Reagan in the 1980's or for Bush the past two elections. Many blacks may have resisted the Falwell/Robertson evangelical surge because they identified that movement with southern racism. But gay marriage may be a different story. African American voters broke with fellow progressives earlier this year by backing Missouri’s constitutional amendment against gay marriage. It is certainly encouraging for Democrats that no sign of black defection took place in November. (In fact, the six most purely African American wards in St. Louis increased their support for the Democratic ticket this year to a record high 97%.) Whether they continue to tolerate perceived Democrat support for incompatible lifestyles remains to be seen.

Note on classifications: I have lumped urban and suburban votes together as “metropolitan” because county-level reporting does not adequately separate the two. The Kansas City vote was not reported separately from the Jackson County suburbs until 1996, and St. Louis County includes “inner ring” suburbs that vote like the city (and probably would have been part of the city if the city’s boundaries had not been frozen in 1876). While the suburbs vote less Democratic than the core cities, these neighbors’ votes tend to move in the same directions in tandem, especially when compared to outstate voters. The growing exurban vote (the “collar counties” surrounding Jackson and St. Louis Counties) now acts like the hybrid of urban and rural voters that those areas are.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

What killed Claire?

Many pundits have cited many reasons why Democrat Claire McCaskill lost the Missouri governorship to Republican Matt Blunt this year. But no one of whom I am aware has cited her relative weakness in the City of St. Louis.

Weakness? McCaskill carried the city by over 82,000 votes, winning 77.8% of the vote. She would have liked to have been that “weak” everywhere! But the point is relative weakness, that is, compared to other Democrats in the same election.

While McCaskill ran nearly two percentage points better (1.8% to be exact) than Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry statewide, she ran 2.5 points behind Kerry in the city. She trailed Kerry in 26 of 28 wards, ran even with him in one and ahead of Kerry in just one. In St. Louis County, she ran ahead of Kerry, but by less than half a point.

Closer examination of the returns suggest why this may have been. The two wards where McCaskill matched or bettered Kerry were the city’s most conservative, southwest city’s 12th and 16th. In the more progressive wards where McCaskill trailed Kerry, her campaign’s attempts to blur the differences between herself and the conservative Blunt may have struck a sour chord with voters seeking genuine progressive leadership.

Moreover, in nine wards McCaskill even ran behind U.S. Senatorial nominee Nancy Farmer, whose doomed campaign against popular Sen. Kit Bond garnered Democrats’ lowest statewide percentage. And these wards weren’t anywhere near Farmer’s home base in Skinker-DeBalliviere. Seven of these wards (7, 9, 11, 15, 20, 24, 25) are in integrated white-majority areas, where many working young adults (the bourgeois bohemians or “bobos”) now call home. (The 20th has a black population majority but a white voting majority.) Most of them are south of I-44 and east of Grand.

What might have enticed up a couple thousand progressive Kerry-backing bobos to split their tickets for Blunt? It may well have been McCaskill’s own campaign. In a pre-election post (October 20), I speculated and warned that many of the young workers that Kerry’s campaign (and George Soros’ big-bucks GOTV efforts) were drawing to the polls were being repelled by the McCaskill campaign’s relentless belittling of 33-year-old Blunt’s age and accomplishments. In particular, the television and radio ads hypothesizing a Blunt job interview for the governor’s job with an obnoxious, condescending interviewer may have reminded young workers of their own unpleasant experiences in performance appraisals by unappreciative “dead wood” supervisors.

The same thing did not take place in Missouri’s other urban center, Kansas City. McCaskill enjoys great personal popularity there because of her service there as both a state representative and county prosecutor. Kansas City voters regarded her as one of their own. McCaskill’s ads deftly highlighted that Kansas City service without ever mentioning that she had moved away to St. Louis County.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Post-election analysis: overview

My analysis (about 400 words of it) will appear in the November 10 issue of Arch City Chronicle. I will delay my full post-election commentary until that issue has been out for a while, as a courtesy to that publication.

Nevertheless, it is safe to say the crystal ball blew this one big time. It had foreseen that John Kerry would win the 2004 election handily, both nationally and in Missouri. It didn't work out that way.

But it wasn't because of any failure of get-out-the-vote efforts. Voter turnout in St. Louis City and County and Kansas City rose 12% over 2000, improving Kerry’s urban victory margin by nearly 50,000 votes over Al Gore’s. In St. Louis City and County, Kerry’s share of the vote exceeded the combined percentages of Gore and Ralph Nader in 2000. Bush got less than 20% in the City.

But the rest of the state was a whole another world, and that's where Bush won. The gory details are in the Arch City Chronicle article.

Why didn’t we see this coming? Myopia. We saw what was going on in our own surroundings without taking into account that other world in the rest of the state.

A universally large turnout often signifies what the late Harvard political scientist V. O. Key called a "critical realignment." Lieutenant Governor-elect Peter Kinder was on the tube claiming that this election was exactly that, but I don't think so. This election simply reaffirmed what happened in 2000 (albeit with an exclamation point). Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia went for the same party as in 2000, and all three states that switched were states that would have gone in 2000 the way they went this year if it hadn't been for third-party candidates. (In 2000 Ralph Nader won more votes in New Hampshire than the margin by which George W. Bush beat Al Gore there; this year, Nader's vote was much smaller and New Hampshire went for Kerry. Less obvious, Al Gore had won both Iowa and New Mexico by fewer votes than Pat Buchanan had polled in those states; this year, Buchanan wasn't on the ballot and both states went for Bush.) Democratic constituencies got more Democratic this year (e.g., Kerry won 97% of the vote in the six purely black wards in the City of St. Louis, a new high), and Republican constituencies voted even more Republican (e.g., Bush ran 3 percentage points better in outstate Missouri this year than four years ago).

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Early trend from New Hampshire?

New Hampshire's two "midnight voting" towns have voted and reported:

Hart's Location:
This year: Bush 15, Kerry 15, Nader 1
Last time: Bush 17, Gore 13

Dixville Notch:
This year: Bush 19, Kerry 7
Last time: Bush 21, Gore 5, Nader 1

The significance is not that Bush has a combined 34-22 lead in these traditionally Republican towns, but that 4 voters (net) switched from Bush in 2000 to Kerry in 2004. These numbers are way too small for legitimate projections, but that's still 7 full percentage points moving from Bush to Kerry. Also noteworthy: This took place in rural locations, where Bush is thought to be strong, not from urban areas with angry minorities and youngsters and turnout assisted by George Soros' money.

It looks like the Oracle's early predictions that Kerry will win and it won't be close are right on.