POTUS and the Racial Gerrymanders

Article excerpt

Just how misleading are the national polls when it comes to next month's congressional elections? Even more misleading than has been thought -which is bad news for Democrats trying to take or hold a seat in the House in the Lewinsky Era. The minority party has comforted itself, as much as it can, with poll results showing that some half the electorate is opposed to impeachment hearings. Democrats are sorely mistaken if they think those findings will translate into the votes necessary for them to retake the House - or even stay competitive. Because even if the polls were an accurate reflection of the votes that will be cast, because of racial gerrymandering, those votes will not be spread equally across congressional districts.

Among the population at large, President Clinton's poll numbers are ambiguous: positive job-approval ratings married to personal disapproval. But the one segment of the electorate where Mr. Clinton's numbers are not ambiguous is the black community. African-American leaders and sociologists have pointed to a slew of reasons why blacks have come to the president's aid: For reasons both current and historical, blacks are less likely to trust aggressive prosecutors, and are more likely to be receptive to claims of repentance and redemption. African-Americans are generally pleased with the president's policies, particularly his race initiative; and there is also, given Mr. Clinton's southern roots, an affinity born of shared experience.

Whatever the reason, the support for the president among blacks is in the 90 percent range. African-Americans make up about 12 percent of the population. That means when a pollster finds that 55 percent of the public opposes impeachment hearings, blacks can be assumed to account for some 10 points of that 55 percent. If African-American voters were not part of the picture, it would be hard to find any poll category in which the president's numbers were positive. And because of racial gerrymandering, when it comes to competitive congressional districts black voters are not part of the picture.

Over the last decade, Republican leaders and black leaders have found at least one thing they could agree on - racial gerrymanders. Across the South and in urban areas, Democratic legislatures had, for a generation, used black votes as a way to tip congressional districts in their party's favor. Since African-Americans have been reliable Democratic voters, the party was able to draw districts to include just enough black neighborhoods to give Democrats an edge. As many reliably Republican neighborhoods as possible would be packed into a single district. Thus the classic gerrymander: Create a preponderance of districts that lean in your own favor, and create a district or two that is overwhelmingly - wastefully so - dominated by the opposing party. …