I tweeted on election day (@jdlaing) that walking from the Hill to the j-o-bizzy, I was surprised and interested in the fact that no one had prompted me to vote. Compounding my interest was that I had noticed the night before that there hadn’t been any literature at my house encouraging me to vote for Obama (just 5 anti-Smith for Senator fliers in the mailbox). With all the Republican talk of “expanding the electoral map”, I wondered whether this lack of activity was also going on in other predominantly African American neighborhoods in PA and whether this could be a bad sign for Obama. Uh, nope. As it turned out, PA was no problem for President Obama.
Still, I was curious whether the low-level of activity I had seen on the way to work had shown up in Hill District voter turnout. What I found got me thinking. In Ward 3 (Lower Hill) there were 7% fewer votes cast for Obama in 2012 (1,423 in ’12 vs 1,522 in ’08) and in Ward 5 (Upper Hill) there were 12% fewer votes (3,990 in ’12 vs 4,549 in ’08). However, I don’t think this can be explained as an “enthusiasm gap” on the part of Hill District voters or volunteers. Ward 3 actually had a slightly higher % of registered voters vote in ’12 than in ’08 (58% vs. 57%) and Ward 5 was only down 3 points (59% vs. 62%). So why this drop off in votes for Obama?
My guess was that this drop off in votes was a result of folks moving out of the community and, according to Allegheny County election data, between 2008 and 2012, we lost just under 600 registered voters. Since Addison Terrace is in Ward 5 and it was torn down, one would think that a good amount of the population loss came from this “event”. Nonetheless, losing 600 or 12% of the neighborhood’s registered voters over the last 4 years surely means change over the next 4 years. Will the former residents of Addison Terrace return in any real numbers when the new housing comes on line? If special efforts aren’t undertaken to help them return, or they do not want to return, and new people come to take their place, what kind of voters will they represent? What will this mean for the future direction of the Hill District? I am not sure what will happen with regards to Addison Terrace’s former residents or how we are going to attract the folks that will grow the neighborhood’s population, but it’s obviously an issue that’s worth attention.
A side, probably irrelevant, factoid: Apparently the folks who left the Hill District were more likely to split their vote and not vote straight Democratic. In 2008, 40% of voters voted straight Democratic and in 2012 this number was up to 60%. Maybe this has something to do with Hill voters wanting to make sure their vote for Obama was counted and did not fall prey to shenanigans? Not sure, but the Hill does have Obama’s back. 95% of Hill District voters cast their ballot for him in 2008 and this same % voted for him this past Tuesday. To see the analysis I did on Wards 3 & 5 for yourself, click Laing analysis of Hill votes for Obama ’08 and ’12. Shouts to Democratic Party Ward leader, former dope MC, Khari Mosley, for breaking down for me that predominantly African American Wards are losing population all over the city and that the Hill District is part of a larger issue.