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After Super Tuesday: A reporter’s notebook

As political junkies know, exit polls examine nearly every facet of voter psyche. So why don’t exit results break out sexual preference? At least on the Democratic side, this is a meaningful cohort, a point brought home on caucus night when I chatted up DFL Central Committeeman Rick Stafford and Minneapolis City Council member Gary Schiff. Both are gay and Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters.

I asked them if Barack Obama’s support from ministers who “cure” homosexuals forced them into the Clinton camp. Both laughed that off as a media/blogger controversy (Obama has emphatically repudiated the “curing” notion.) Stafford had a personal connection; he had served on President Bill Clinton’s HIV/AIDS taskforce in the ’90s and worked with Hillary, whom he called a “fierce” advocate. Schiff opined that a “gender switch” in the White House would do more to upend anti-gay bias than the election of any straight man. Of course, a sample of two insiders does not a community make — but nobody has really known, thanks to clueless or possibly prudish exit pollers.

The breakthrough — a limited one — came Tuesday night, when the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities were included in New York and California exit polls. (But not, inexplicably, marriage-allowing Massachusetts or any other Super Tuesday state; Minnesota was not exit polled.) In California, GLB voters made up 4 percent of the Democratic electorate and broke 63-29 for Clinton, a far greater majority than the 52-42 statewide split. In New York, GLB voters constituted 7 percent of Democratic votes and went 59-36 for Clinton, compared to 57-40 statewide. Although nowhere near as large as Clinton’s female or Latino majorities, GLB voters are clearly a key part of her coalition and in a close race these voters deserve more coverage and wider polling. 

Strib plays it cute
Keeping the media-crit hat on for a moment: one of the bigger pre-caucus whiffs came courtesy of the Star Tribune’s editorial page, which announced “this newspaper will not declare its preference for president until October.” That’s right; hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans streamed to the polls Tuesday, but the squeamish Strib proudly sat on its hands.

Or rather, it played cute: the editorial broadly supported McCain and seemed to prefer Obama; it was as if the endorsements had been decided, only to have someone pull back the names.

I’m not doctrinaire about endorsements: when I edited the Downtown Journal and Southwest Journal in Minneapolis, we didn’t anoint candidates, largely because our news and editorial staffs weren’t separate. But I think it’s pathetic that a newspaper that will endorse in a general election won’t take a stand when those general election finalists are being chosen.

It’s not like the candidates are unknown quantities; they’ve been slugging it out for months; the debates have been substantive and web-site position papers are reasonably deep. A caucus endorsement is just that: not the final word. If an endorsee turns into a general-election pumpkin, you pick the other person in the fall.

The Strib’s mystifying rationale only adds to the impression that its editorials are more concerned about offending no one than making the tough decisions you and I are confronted with.

Boost for party
One consequence of the DFL’s mammoth turnout — 212,279 voters as of Thursday morning, according to the secretary of state’s site — is a similarly massive boost to the party’s mail, phone and email lists. New voters who had not caucused before had to sign in and provide their address; phone and email info was optional. Based on an informal survey of my own Minneapolis precinct (8-6), about half the 516 voters were new and about half of those provided phone and/or email addresses. I wouldn’t want to be the DFLer doing data entry, but even with some hard feelings about the caucus crush, party building got a huge boost.

Who stuck around?
As DFL Chair Brian Melendez noted Wednesday, caucus turnout might triple the old 75,000-80,000 1968 (or 1972) record. That’s an achievement by any standard.

However, while it’s not enough to be rate an asterisk — more like a caveat — the DFL didn’t have a cast-it-and-leave presidential preference ballot until 2000. In the olden days, you had to stick around and slug it out to elect delegates reflecting your presidential, etc. preferences. How many of this year’s 230,000 or so ballot-casters stuck around for delegate selection? Let’s look at my Minneapolis precinct again: 516 presidential preference votes — but only 133 people hung around to elect the delegates eligible to endorse congressional and legislative candidates. In other words, about 25 percent stayed. If you extrapolate this statewide (yes, yes, we know it’s only one precinct), that’s about 57,500 hardcores. Score one for the oldsters! Turnout was still amazing; with 2004’s preference ballot drew only 56,000 participants, and in 2000, the first of the pre-binding-ballot years, attendance was just 12,000.

And finally…
Last Turnout Geek stat: could a gargantuan caucus actually top a general election? In at least a few parts of Minneapolis, yes. Taking only DFL numbers (the secretary of state has few GOP breakdowns, and Greens don’t caucus until March 4), 2008’s caucus turnout topped the 2005 Minneapolis city election in at least a dozen precincts. Areas were dappled through U-area Wards 2 and 3, north-side Ward 5, south-central Ward 6 and lakes-area Ward 10. As you might expect, Obamamania made it no contest around the U: in precinct 3-1, 164 people voted in 2005 and 719 voted Tuesday. More typical was precinct 10-11 — between lakes Isles and Calhoun — where 331 people voted this year versus 215 three years ago. Again, these numbers don’t include people who caucus Republican or Green. Bottom line: in several places, Barack Obama outdrew his highest-profile Minneapolis supporter, Mayor R.T. Rybak.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Brad Lundell on 02/07/2008 - 12:08 pm.

    I actually thought the Vote and Stay/Leave Option was a fairly good one.

    I’m way old, so I do miss the days when nominating things like the Dale Bumpers subcaucus and then seeing if it would be viable were a hoot. I also remember the days when you had to get on the phone at the last minute because you knew you had 25 delegate slots and there was going to be a cliffhanger episode of The A-Team on and you weren’t sure how many people would attend. 322 people voted in our precinct and about 75 stuck around for the modern version of the Athenian assembly (without ostracism of course). That is a big, big, big improvement and I hope that it quelled the fears of some who believe caucuses are a waste of time.

    Times have changed and I think the balance put forward by the DFL was a good one.

    BUT–note to Brian Melendez and DFL staff. We had all of our precincts at Roseville High School, so I’m guessing 2,500 were lining the hallways to vote and it was darn near impassable and a lot of folks were ticked off. There weren’t enough ballots (I’m sure you’ve heard all of this ad nauseum) and there were problems with parking. I would suggest splitting up some of the suburbs with larger DFL populations and have precinct caucuses within their precinct rather than at a central location. It might be tough getting dates and I am sure there would be other logistical problems, but it would make for a more pleasant experience.

    These are minor complaints. I think we should all get some perspective and realize that throughout the world, there are people who risk death trying to participate in a democracy. I think the least we can do is put up with a bit of discomfort and count our blessings.

  2. Submitted by Bob White on 02/07/2008 - 04:01 pm.

    In this year of truly competitive contests for presidential nominations, the Star Tribune’s taking an early pass is unforgivable. My recollection of ancient history – when I was the paper’s editorial page editor – tells me that we rarely endorsed before general elections at any level: local, state or national. The rarities were occasions when the outcome of a primary would be of exceptional importance. Like now. If I were running the page, which thank heaven I’m not, I would be embarrassed.

  3. Submitted by Rick Stafford on 02/08/2008 - 11:13 am.

    David my friend:
    As the author of the binding presidential preference ballot in the DFL Party, I must correct you. The binding ballot was initiated in 2000 and not just in 2004.

  4. Submitted by David Brauer on 02/08/2008 - 04:03 pm.

    Wow – and only 12K that first year? I’m surprised they didn’t kill it in the crib.

    Thanks for the cx, Rick – we’ll correct the text.

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