Politics & Policy

‘Ethnic Cleansing by Hurricane?’

A smaller New Orleans vote did not decide the Louisiana governor's race.

It did not take long after Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal’s victory in Louisiana’s governor’s race for left-wing bloggers to gripe that it was all because of population displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina. Some even suggested that President Bush deliberately let black voters in New Orleans lose their homes so that Republicans could start winning statewide races (even though Republican Sen. David Vitter already won statewide in 2004).

On the Democratic Underground, a poster expressed dismay that Louisianans could prefer any Republican after Hurricane Katrina. “Why is the Republican Party in relative good shape in Louisiana?” asked one poster. “I mean, this is the party whose president has ignored the state and let a major US city pretty much go down the drain.”

“They moved all the Dems out after Katrina,” replied another.

“This is the home of David Duke,” wrote another.

“Ethnic cleansing by Hurricane pays off for the GOP handsomely I guess,” opined a Daily Kos commenter.

Even full-fledged journalists, before they had any statistical evidence available, were not above asserting that Jindal would win because black voters would not materialize in sufficient numbers. The Baton Rouge Advocate published an entire piece based on speculation by a college professor in the absence of exit polls. Jindal, he opined, “may have come away with black support in the low single digits, well below what some polls had shown him getting before Election Day.” (Emphasis added.)

Everyone seems long on theory and short on basic research into the election. As it happens, the numbers are available, and they tell a very different story. Many people suffered greatly from Katrina, and there is plenty of blame to go around for how its aftermath was handled. But the idea that a hurricane elected Bobby Jindal by purging Democratic voters is easily disproven.

We need not wonder how Jindal would perform in a pre-Katrina Louisiana, because we already know: He ran in 2003 and lost narrowly to Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D.). Jindal did exceptionally well in New Orleans for a Republican, losing Orleans Parish by fewer than 50,000 votes (Bush lost it by 110,000 votes in 2004). The problem that year was that he lost almost every parish upstate, as conservative Protestant Democrats in the north and Cajuns in the south of the state supported Blanco, a moderate Democrat.

On Saturday, Jindal had to get 50 percent of the vote in a field of 12 candidates, or else he faced a November run-off with a significant chance that he could lose. A quick comparison of the numbers from the 2003 and 2007 elections destroys any case that the destruction of New Orleans won the race for Jindal.

In 2003, Orleans Parish cast 136,000 votes, giving Jindal 31.7 percent (click here for a full table of results, percentages, and margins by parish). On the margin, Jindal gave up 49,000 votes in Orleans as he lost to Blanco by 54,000 votes statewide.

In 2007, two years after the storm, Jindal slightly improved his percentage of the vote in Orleans Parish, taking 34.6 percent. (This indicates that those fleeing the parish after the storm represented a fairly accurate political cross-section of Democrats and Republicans.) Yet with so many residents displaced after the flood, only 76,000 votes were cast in New Orleans. The result was that Jindal only gave up 23,000 votes in New Orleans this time.

But the Democratic margin there, smaller this time by 26,000 votes, did not decide last week’s election. The subtraction of these 26,000 votes in 2003 would not have made Jindal a winner, nor would their addition into this year’s results have changed the outcome. If a full and vibrant New Orleans had voted this past Saturday exactly as it did in 2003, Jindal would have won anyway, and by a comfortable margin.

The real story of how Jindal won a 100,000-vote majority in 2007 was not to be found in New Orleans, but in the rest of the state, where he improved his margin over his field of opponents by a massive 129,000 votes. In 2003, Jindal lost New Orleans and nearly every parish except those immediately surrounding the city, giving him majorities in only eleven parishes. This time he gained majorities in 35 parishes (and pluralities in another 25). Even in the parishes where he took less than 50 percent, Jindal improved his margins against his combined opponents by tens of thousands of votes, as this chart demonstrates.

Before propounding conspiracy theories about Louisiana’s election, perhaps liberal bloggers should look at the actual numbers and ask themselves how this happened. Perhaps the Louisiana Democratic party’s anti-Catholic attack ads and attempts to exploit Jindal’s ethnic background didn’t work this time? Perhaps it has something to do with the quality of leadership in the state today?

Consider just eight parishes, all separated from New Orleans by at least 50 miles, and some by many more: Rapides, Tangipahoa, Washington, Calcasieu, Vermilion, Iberia, Lafayette, and Terrebonne. Jindal lost seven of these parishes in 2003. This time, he won majorities in seven of them, and his margin in the eight combined improved by 55,000 votes over the last election. That’s more than Blanco’s 2003 margin of victory, and more than twice the number of net Democratic votes lost in New Orleans. Given the tens of thousands of net votes Jindal gained in other parishes across the state, it is little wonder that he came out of the race with a decisive 54-percent victory.

Hurricane Katrina did have an effect on this year’s governor’s race — it just isn’t the one that the Left wants to claim. The election was not determined by the attrition of Democratic voters in New Orleans as much as it was by Katrina’s revelation of the major problems with the Democrats who have run things from Baton Rouge. Voters all across the state, even those who backed a Democrat in 2003, chose Bobby Jindal to tackle those problems.

— David Freddoso is an NRO staff reporter.

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