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, March 10, 2009

Analysis of Slay's primary win

Mayor Francis Slay won renomination for a third term by a larger margin than I expected. (I correctly predicted the order of finish, but anybody could have done that.) What happened and what does it say about next month's general election?

This election was a rematch of the 2005 primary (with a different third candidate). In most rematches, the winner repeats with a larger margin than before. This time, Slay's margin shrank (he lost over 4 points and Irene Smith picked up nearly 3), but not by as much as I expected; I had projected that Slay would win by 10 points, but he won instead by nearly 30.

The big news, though, was the lack of interest that the contest generated. Even though voter registration was up compared to four years ago, 19% fewer voters turned out this time. Even in Slay's political base in the 23rd Ward, where turnout was stoked by a 7-candidate open-seat aldermanic primary, turnout declined 8% compared to 2005. But the intensity of opposition to Slay among blacks did not translate into higher turnout. In Smith's 1st Ward, which also featured an aldermanic rematch between Alderman Charles Quincy Troupe and former Alderman Sharon Tyus, turnout declined 32%.

The numbers suggest that voters were turned off by both Slay (who got 5602 fewer votes this time) and Smith (whose votes declined by 1709). Denise Watson-Wesley Coleman (i.e., the candidate who wasn't either of them) got 783 more votes than her counterpart (Bill Haas) in 2005. But mostly, disgusted citizens "voted with their feet" by staying home.

The results showed that the City's political racial divide is alive and well. Slay won every white and integrated ward (including the 6th Ward, which has a black alderman), while Smith won all the black wards. And the difference was huge. Slay's lowest performance in the 17 wards he won (56.6% in the integrated 6th) was 17 points better than his best performance in a black majority ward (39.6% in the 19th). The whiter a ward's population, the more it favored Slay; and the blacker the ward, the more it favored Smith:
95%+ white (Wards 12, 16, 23): 92.5% for Slay
White majority (9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 24): 83.2%
Integrated (6, 7, 8, 15, 17, 20, 25, 28): 65.4%
Black majority (2, 3, 5, 18, 19, 22, 26): 30.3%
99%+ black (1, 4, 21, 27): 17.9%

The same pattern took place this time as in the aldermanic presidency primary two years ago, but with a different end result. (In 2007, black challenger Lewis Reed unseated white incumbent Jim Shrewsbury.) Slay won by polling better than Shrewsbury in all parts of the city; Slay won white wards by more, lost black wards by less, and carried the integrated central corridor wards that Shrewsbury lost.

Also, as I forecast in my prior post, the whiter the ward, the more anti-Slay votes were drawn to Coleman than Smith. These numbers show the proportion of the anti-Slay vote that went to Coleman instead of Smith:
95%+ white (Wards 12, 16, 23): 38.4%
White majority (9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 24): 25.5%
Integrated (6, 7, 8, 15, 17, 20, 25, 28): 21.1%
Black majority (2, 3, 5, 18, 19, 22, 26): 13.9%
99%+ black (1, 4, 21, 27): 12.3%

Slay now faces a more-challenging-than-usual general election on April 7. After having beaten his 2001 Republican foe 88-12 and his 2005 Green Party foe 79-21, Slay now faces three challengers. On the downside, "independent" Maida Coleman (former Missouri senate minority leader) provides much more formidible general election opposition than Slay has ever faced. On the upside, his opposition is divided and there is no runoff, instant or otherwise. None of his opponents is a Republican, a party to whom Slay openly appeals. Libertarian Robb Cunningham will siphon away some of those Republicans, but Slay will get most of them. Rounding out the field is Rev. Elston McCowan, the winner of the first-ever contested Green Party primary. The Green Party was a primary organizer of the failed recall effort against Slay, whose petition drive garnered a large database of anti-Slay voters. The good news for Slay is that this list is most likely in the hands of the Greens and not Maida Coleman.

The primary results suggest that Slay will cruise to a win. The intensity of anti-Slay feelings in black neighborhoods did not generate turnout against him. Moreover, the loyalty of African American voters to Democratic Party nominees is expected to help Slay carry the very wards where he is weakest. Green Party GOTV efforts in their first-ever contested primary, while topping the 100 votes I had forecast, nevertheless generated an insignificant 168 votes.

The ominous note for Slay is the flip side of the primary's low turnout: There are an awful lot of eligible voters who sat out the primary but could still vote in the general. Many believe that Maida Coleman will be a better draw than Irene Smith was. Slay is clearly taking the threat seriously. He saved more than a million dollars from his campaign war chest to spend in the general, his television commercials are already airing, and I already received his first mailing today.