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The District electorate, in black and white

There is an important question about the District's Democratic primary that's not easy to answer: How black or how white are the voters who are choosing our leaders?

If you accept, as the Examiner's Freeman Klopott writes, that "Mayor Adrian Fenty is the white candidate and D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray is the black candidate," then how many folks turn out in each category sure does matter.

But estimating these sorts of things is an imprecise affair. Exit polling is not widespread. Precinct-by-precinct demographic breakdowns are of limited utility, given that the most recent hard census numbers are a decade old.

The question's been rekindled by the latest poll, done by Clarus Research Group, which found a statistical tie between Fenty and Gray. The sample was 51 percent black, 40 percent white and 8 percent others -- a racial mix that no one I consulted inside the mayoral campaigns much quarreled with.

According to Clarus pollster Ron Faucheux, the poll was done using precinct-based targets calibrated using the 2006 primary turnout. In other words, he selected voters based on geography, not race.

Who comes out to vote, Faucheux says, is "a very important question because of the racial split on the voting."

And how: The deep racial divide in the candidates' support combined with the increasingly equal size of the two racial groups means this is likely to be the most racially determined election since Marion Barry dispatched Carol Schwartz in the 1994 general.

I spoke to Post pollster Jon Cohen, who noted that The Post's last exit polling in a Democratic mayoral primary, done in 2002, showed that 55 percent of voters were black. The Post's pre-election polling from 2006 found that 60 percent of those who identified themselves as likely voters were black.

Chuck Thies, a political consultant working for Ward 1 council member Jim Graham, says that in his opinion, the electorate will be much whiter than in the Clarus sample -- 48 percent white, 45 percent black and 7 percent other.

Ronald Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland and veteran observer of local politics, says that white voters have been the "effective electorate" since the late '90s.

Even at the black population's high-water mark, Walters says, black turnout rarely exceeded 60 percent.

All the political hacks I consulted agree on one truly obvious point: Fenty wants more white people to vote, and Gray wants more black people to vote -- and that targeting campaign ads and get-out-the-vote operations could be decisive.

"Gray has the advantage now, but Fenty with money and resources could wipe that advantage out with Election Day turnout," Faucheux says. "For the white portion of the electorate, 42-43 percent is a big difference from 37-38 percent."

Or, as Thies puts it, "If I'm Vince, I'm hoping for tornadoes up and down Connecticut Avenue on Sept. 14."

By Mike DeBonis  |  August 20, 2010; 5:44 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District , Vincent Gray  
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Next: Gray campaigns with Marion Barry in Ward 8


The math for the Clarus poll is not adding up if in fact phone votes were made based on race, supporting fenty and gray, per the voters polled (501). Wards 4/5 are majority black wards with the two highest voting democratic precincts (62/66) in the city.
Ward 1 is the most diverse (whites,blacks and hispanics). However, only 38,000+ democrats are registered to vote there, whereas; ward 4 has 47,000+ democratic voters registered and ward 5 has 47,000+ democratic voters registered (as of 7/31/2010).
The poll shows 41% for fenty and gray, respectively with 18% undecided. Since wards 4/5 are majority black wards, it is inconceiveable that both candidates have 41%. In order to accomplish this feat, you would have to make more calls to white voters to get these numbers since they stated that black voters were voting in substantial numbers for gray and white votes were voting in substantial numbers for fenty.

Based on the factual numbers available, registered democratic voters and past turnouts in 2006, 2002 and 1998, the math by the Clarus Research Group is not adding up correctly.

Additionally, for the first time since homerule, dc voters will be able to vote early (August 30th thru September 13th). This will increase the turnout by
10 to 15 percent higher than past primary elections. Fewer voters will be turning out on election day because of this option.

Posted by: dcgovcorruption | August 20, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

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