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Interpreting the significant role of Census 2010 in election results

Posted: November 18, 2012 - 1:07am

Much as has been written about how the Latino Tide and the Gender Gap swept Obama into a clear victory by popular vote and a most decisive victory electorally. Much less noted is how the Obama campaign mined the Census 2010 data to augment their data base to 1) fine-tune their targeted messaging to households and 2) motivate their supporters to turn out in the same numbers as in 2008.

Just a glance of these numbers — Obama carried a whopping 93 percent of black voters (representing 13 percent of the electorate), 60 percent of the youth vote, (which increased its turnout to 19 percent of the electorate) and 71 percent of Latinos (representing 10 percent of the electorate) — and you can begin to see that the most significant event of this presidential contest might very well have the 2010 Census. Using the results of the 2010 Census also played significantly into Alaska’s statewide elections but for completely different reasons.

However, here the 2010 Census was used to redraw election lines that in the end favored Republican candidates over Democratic candidates. Since Alaska’s Redistricting Board had 4 of 5 seats appointed by the Governor, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House all of whom were Republicans, it’s easy for Democrats to cry ‘gerrymandering’. Republicans in their defense rightly point to major shifts in Alaska’s population. Rather than debate whether the Alaska Redistricting Board engaged in ‘gerrymandering’ or ‘simple demographics’ when drawing new election districts, it is important to note that sources on both side of the aisle acknowledge that if Sen. Joe Paskvan, Sen. Joe Thomas, and Sen. Bettye Davis had faced re-election in districts drawn the same as in their last election, they all would have won re-election and Sen. Hollis French would have won by a wider margin. As such, the 2010 Census played a dominant role in statewide elections as well.

But how the census is used affects how one can interpret the election results. Because of the very nature of a national presidential campaign President Obama’s use of demographics is not undermined by redistricting and as such there is more alignment of issues with outcomes. The issues of immigration reform and women’s rights are now demographically aligned. Obama knows this and can build upon it.

In Alaska any such alignment of issues and election outcome is clouded by the dominant role redistricting played. For example, when looking at the outcome of Alaska’s Senate races, Gov. Parnell and his supporters of the $2 billion tax giveaway may now be better positioned as a result of the election, but it does not mean there is a voter mandate for such action. This lack of alignment is also corroborated by the election of Sen. Peter Micciche, (R-Soldotna), who took a harder stance against the oil tax break than former Sen. Tom Wagoner whom Sen. Micciche unseated in the primary. Furthermore, the last statewide poll (March 2012) conducted by Hays Research Group found that 50 percent of Alaskans believe that Alaska taxes the oil companies either too little or about right with 30 percent thinking oil taxes are too high. In other words, getting more Republicans in the Alaska Senate does not necessarily mean that Alaskans are now ready to support lower taxes for oil companies.

A recent Empire editorial about the state election results and the upcoming legislative session suggested there was a connection between Sen. French’s squeaker re-election and oil tax support. The editorial stated, “We hope that French and others who have opposed the plan will take a look at the facts and do what is best for Alaskans, not what is best for a partisan agenda.” This is wrong on two accounts. First it reads too much into an election dominated by redistricting outcomes and errors in assuming most Alaskans want a massive reduction in oil taxes. Secondly, this statement in the Empire editorial overlooks the fact that it was the entire Bipartisan Coalition, including six Republicans, which opposed the plan. The defeat of the $2 billion oil tax giveaway was not the result of a partisan agenda. Hopefully this time when the Legislature convenes the issue of oil taxes will again be free of a partisan agenda and openly debated by legislators mindful of the significance of the 2010 Census.

• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.

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