Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Voter Freud

    The news that voters in the city of Philadelphia went for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 85% to 15% was not that surprising.  Further news that in 59 Philadelphia voting divisions, Mitt Romney got zero votes was more startling, but not unprecedented.  John McCain received zero votes in 2008, and even George Bush, when reelected in 2004, racked up zero votes in five districts.  Charges and suspicions of voter fraud were quick and plentiful, but is that the likeliest explanation?

    Even those of us who live relatively politically insulated lives have trouble imagining that extreme lack of diversity.  Many of my friends and acquaintances share my political leanings, but my neighborhood (based on yard signs and some conversations) is at least somewhat of a mixed bag. The consistency of the exclusive voting preference in these districts in Philly does nothing to diminish how remarkable this level of uniformity is.  Actually, when viewed along side the consistent poor quality of life in some of these neighborhoods over decades of virtual one-party rule in the city, the loyalty of those voters is stunning.

    Philadelphia has had Democratic mayors since 1952, and Democratic City Council Presidents have presided since the current form of city government was established in 1951.  A look at the current make-up of the City Council shows only 3 of 17 members are Republicans.  The following excerpt from a Philadelphia Inquirer article at Philly.com from November 13, 2012, reads like a search for the Loch Ness Monster (or perhaps the local legend from across the Delaware River, the Jersey Devil):
In the entire 28th Ward, Romney received only 34 votes to Obama's 5,920.
Although voter registration lists, which often contain outdated information, show 12 Republicans live in the ward's third division, The Inquirer was unable to find any of them by calling or visiting their homes.
Four of the registered Republicans no longer lived there; four others didn't answer their doors. City Board of Elections registration data say a registered Republican used to live at 25th and York Streets, but none of the neighbors across the street Friday knew him. Cathy Santos, 56, founder of the National Alliance of Women Veterans, had one theory: "We ran him out of town!" she said and laughed.
James Norris, 19, who lives down the street, is listed as a Republican in city data. But he said he's a Democrat and voted for Obama because he thinks the president will help the middle class.
A few blocks away, Eric Sapp, a 42-year-old chef, looked skeptical when told that city data had him listed as a registered Republican. "I got to check on that," said Sapp, who voted for Obama.
Eighteen Republicans reportedly live in the nearby 15th Division, according to city registration records. The 15th has the distinction of pitching two straight Republican shutouts - zero votes for McCain in 2008, zero for Romney on Tuesday. Oh, and 13 other city divisions did the same thing in 2008 and 2012.
Three of the 15th's registered Republicans were listed as living in the same apartment, but the tenant there said he had never heard of them. The addresses of several others could not be found.
On West Albert Street, Duke Dunston says he knows he's a registered Republican, but he's never voted for one.
    One suspects a survey of hepatitis carriers might come up with more respondents willing to own up.  So what kind of return do these loyal voters earn on their electoral investments?  According to a recent State of the City report on Philadelphia by the Pew Trusts, not much:
Philadelphia’s economic recovery has not been particularly strong, although the number of jobs in the city did grow in 2011 by 2,100. Overall employment in the city is still below what it was in 2008, before the global financial crisis. That is also true for the nation as a whole.
Unemployment among residents fell one percentage point to 10.5 percent at year’s end, mirroring a drop in the state jobless rate. The decline was slightly less than the drop in unemployment nationally. At the same time, the percentage of individuals over age 16 not in the labor force, 42.1 percent, is one of the highest of any major city, a long-term drag on
economic growth.
* * * * * * * 
 Crime is much on the minds of Philadelphians these days; our poll found that 75 percent of them view it as a “serious” or “very serious” problem in their neighborhoods, up from 64 percent a year ago. It is not hard to see why—the number of murders in the city rose in2011 from 306 to 324. While violent crime as a whole was down 2 percent, major crime,which includes burglary and theft, was up a little more than 1 percent. All of these numbers had been dropping between 2006 and 2009.
The systems that provide K-12 education in the city face a time of continued uncertainty. The School District of Philadelphia is grappling with huge budget problems and a dwindling enrollment, now down to 146,090, as it seeks to close some schools and take other steps to downsize its operations. Also faced with fewer students, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is shuttering 11 of its 65 schools in the city, after initially proposing to close many more.
* * * * * * * 
And there is poverty, which has plagued the city for decades. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the severity of the recent economic downturn, the share of Philadelphians classified as poor grew from 25 percent to 26.7 percent in the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures, again making Philadelphia one of the poorest big cities in the country. 
The local poverty rate is 31 percent for families with children and 47 percent for families
headed by a woman. It is 31 percent for African Americans and 41 percent for Hispanics.

    So what is going on?  In a mirror image of the infamous sentiment of Marie Antoinette, it is almost as though the residents of Philadelphia were crying out "Let us eat cake!"  Do they really believe this is as good as it gets?  Are the Democrats just giving out enough "gifts" as Mitt Romney recently postulated to keep the voters coming back for more?

    Instead of jumping to the voter fraud conclusions, perhaps the GOP needs to engage in some Monday morning psychoanalysis and probe the deeper reasons that its message isn't getting through to vast segments of the population.  Even if future elections could be won by a better ground game and turning out a higher percentage of the GOP base, is that the best answer?  Can the future of America be as secure when the big cities of America are impervious to conservative and Republican political ideas and ideals?

      GOP candidates need to begin engaging these Democratic enclaves personally and demonstrate that the party has not written them off.  Sure, it's likely to be a frustrating and lonely job, one that is certainly too big to complete in four years for the 2016 election.  But for the good of the Grand Old Party, and more importantly for the future of the United States, the time to begin is now.

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