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.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The professor beats the pols

After all the whining from supporters of four experienced legislators about how we couldn’t afford to elect a senator with no legislative experience, voters in the 4th senate district opted instead for the inclusive, principled advocacy of young college professor Jeff Smith. The margin was much larger than anyone expected.

As regular readers know, the Oracle had picked second-place finisher Yaphett El-Amin to eek out a narrow win. What happened? Well, thanks to very prompt election returns in ward-by-ward breakdowns that the City’s new Election Board and its new computer voting machines produced, we have some answers.

The reason for who won, as I had correctly forecast, was turnout. Fewer voters turned out this year than rookie Secretary of State Robin Carnahan had forecast: not only less than in the presidential year primary two years ago, but also substantially fewer than in the comparable election four years ago. Low-turnout elections favor candidates who can get their supporters to vote. I hadn’t thought that Smith supporters would do so, but they did, and Smith won.

Seven wards produced turnouts that, relatively speaking, exceeded projections for an election with this kind of turnout, and five others notably lagged those projections. All but one of those exceeding projections were wards in which Smith finished first or second, including his top three. In every ward but one, the increased relative turnout seemed to consist of Smith voters, because those wards also produced larger shares of the vote for Smith than I had projected. In contrast, all five underperforming wards were north side wards carried by El-Amin. Turnout in Ward 1, which is home to both El-Amin and Amber Boykins, was down 24% from the last state senate election four years ago. The only north-side ward that exceeded turnout projections was the 21st Ward, which El-Amin lost to Boykins.

Except for the 21st, turnout had a regional flavor. I had projected that the eight north-side wards would produce 41% of the district’s vote, but they only produced 37.5%. In contrast, I had projected that the four central/southeast wards where Smith was strongest would produce just 19% of the district’s vote, but they produced 22% instead. The six southwest wards that collectively gave Derio Gambaro a 3-point edge over Smith (and Smith a 43-point margin over El-Amin) produced nearly 41% of the vote instead of the 39% I expected. All of this worked to the benefit of Smith and to the detriment of El-Amin.

In addition, El-Amin failed to dominate the African American vote by the extent that she needed to win. I had written last week that she could win district-wide by winning 70% of the African-American vote. Because of the disproportionate turnout, she actually would have needed 76% from the eight north-side wards. She got a little less than 56%. The seemingly moribund Boykins campaign came back to life the final week, and Boykins snared 27% of the north side vote and nearly 13% overall. In the white and integrated wards, Boykins’ share of the vote for African-American candidates increased. In the six southwest city wards, Boykins matched El-Amin’s total.

Also, as previously forecast, El-Amin’s efforts to win white support among fellow Muslims in the Bosnian community went nowhere. In the 14th Ward, whose 4th District precincts included substantial numbers of both Bosnians and African-Americans, El-Amin won less than 5% of the vote. Results in the demographically similar 5th precinct of the 10th Ward won’t be known until precinct results are issued.

Third-place Derio Gambaro fared only a percentage point better than I had forecast. The only wards where he scored significantly better than my own (unpublished) forecasts were on his home turf. He won an extra 5% in his home 10th Ward and an extra 4% in the 24th (which he still lost to Smith), which was in the state rep district he had represented and where he was committeeman before ward redistricting divorced his Hill neighborhood from then-Alderman Tom Bauer.) Gambaro didn’t win, or even seriously contend, because his south-side strength could not overcome getting less than 1% in the eight north-side wards.

Smith’s biggest disappointment had to be the continued dominance of racial voting, in spite of Smith’s dedicated efforts to woo African American votes. Smith won just 10.6% in the eight north-side wards, short of my own (unpublished) pessimistic forecast of 12.5%. (Smith won 20% in the 26th Ward, but that ward has a larger white minority than other north-side wards in the district.) This was well short of totals earned by whites such as Mayor Francis Slay, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and Smith’s predecessor, Sen. Patrick Dougherty, in recent, similarly racially divisive contests, but all of them did so running as incumbents, and with at least some north-side ward backing. Smith’s 10% (11 times better than fellow white Gambaro) realistically wasn’t bad for a non-incumbent facing three well-known African American opponents.


Blogger Amy said...


As one of Jeff's field organizers/interns, I think you grossly misrepresented the demographics of Jeff's supporters. Sure, his natural base would be young idealistic apartment dwellers, but by no means did we only focus on this group. We reached out to everybody, we knocked on every door, and we turned out supporters who definitely do not fit the confines of the demographic you assigned to us.

Anyhow, aside from your faulty predictions, thanks for all your support. I think we've proved that Jeff's ideals and work ethic appeal to a much wider group than anyone has previously suggested.

August 10, 2006 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Umar Lee said...

I was a lot like you in that I wanted Smith to win but would not have been surprised to see el-Amin win and I guess I overestimated her GOTV operation. I know Jeff worked hard on outreach to the black community, but this is St. Louis (and STL is not that dissimilar from a lot of cities with similar demographics) and voting is still tribal. Once Jeff is in office he will have the opportunity to show people he is not al talk and hopefully can build upon that.

August 10, 2006 at 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you also miss the fact that a significant percentage of Jeff's votes came from African Americans in the central part of the city. Maybe northside blacks did not turnout in huge numbers for Smith but in the 8th ward for example his percentage of black support was very substantial.

August 10, 2006 at 11:11 PM  
Blogger St. Louis Oracle said...

I agree. Both blacks and whites who live in integrated neighborhoods (or neighborhoods where the other race is the majority) are more amenable to voting for candidates of a different race. In this contest, blacks in the 8th and 15th Wards had many white neighbors who were enthusiastic for Smith, and those peer relationships helped generate black support for Smith there. Similar peer support for Smith was largely absent in the segregated black wards.

I didn't really miss it, but I didn't express it well. The manner of measurement of black votes (without a budget for survey research) was necessarily limited to identifying the north side wards as black. (One of the few benefits of St. Louis segregation is that it makes identification of racial voting patterns easier.)

Oh, Amy, I'm sorry that my comments offended you. Since you worked the 28th Ward, you certainly had to work with hip CWE apartment dwellers, stodgy "limosine liberals" in the gated communities, and some poorer ungentrified voters as well. The results in that ward indicate that you did a lot of things right. Congrats.

August 11, 2006 at 12:17 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Oracle, I wasn't offended. I just wanted to point out that when we did better than expected almost all over the city, we were getting old ladies in the 16th, younger families in the 23rd, and all sorts of people who knew Derio personally in the 10th. All I really meant to say was that Jeff Smith supporters can't be pegged down so easily.

I had the pleasure of knocking in almost every ward in the district, and to see such a diverse pool of support (by class, race, age, sexual orientation, religion, education level, etc.) all over the place was truly a remarkable experience.

August 11, 2006 at 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Smith's higher level of support among African-American voters in southside wards such as 15 and 8 could also be attributed to the fact that those wards were in the 3rd Congressional District. He canvassed those wards heavily 2 years ago and seemed to do very well among African-American voters in that campaign. A lot of those supporters probably stuck with him in this election.

August 11, 2006 at 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Bubba said...

Your take is the most money here. I can tell you that from the start of this campaign until election dayh and seeing the entire demographic cross section of voters' faces/expressions walking into the polls...I realized Jeff was going to run away with it bigger than all of us predicted. Buckle your seat belts everyone, the ride is just beginning!

August 13, 2006 at 11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Amy said,"Sure,his (Jeff) natural base would be young idealistic apartment dwellers", etc,. This will in the long run cost his early endorsers, like Kratky, Carpenter and Slay Sr. Actually, it already has, if you will note the "Positive" letters and flyers mailed out by officials, former and present office holders in the 16th, 23rd and 10th Wards. The 16th, 23rd and 12th Wards have historically been in the top three for "Voter Turnouts" for over 30 years. A tremendously large percentage of those people are NOT apartment dwellers, they are home owners that VOTE, and will be here long after the "Young" Apartment Dwellers are long gone back to wherever they came from. By the way, when is Smith going to admit he is an Instructor and NOT a Professor, and how long he has lived in the 4th, or when he moved into the 3rd Congressional District for the 2004 Primary. Where is his next MOVE, back to Ladue????

August 25, 2006 at 3:55 AM  
Anonymous Jim Frisella said...

Regarding Umar Lee's statement: I definitely am hoping you are correct when you stated, "Once Jeff is in office he will have the opportunity to show people he is not all talk, and hoepefully will build on that". ALSO hopefully, his supporters and he will join the Regular Ward Organizations, and work for the improvement of the District Democratic Party, and not run back to where they came from. YES, you are correct, he and his supports must show that they are NOT "All Talk". We definitely need some "Positive Action" on their part. Unfortunately, we have seen this to often with previous candidates, that have won and lost, all over the State. We need much more "Teamwork", for us to take back this State, starting NOW.

August 28, 2006 at 2:34 PM  

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