Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"Political labels have their limits"

There's a good editorial in the Advocate today on Lafayette's conservatism--or lack thereof. It's one of those issues when a good editorial is more informative--in that it teaches more usefully--than "objective" reporting.

The editorial is a considered response to the Bay Area Center for Voting Research releasing a list of the most conservative and liberal cities in the country that listed Lafayette as the ninth most conservative city in the United States. The original point of the Bay Area study seems to have been to demonstrate that San Francisco was one of the most liberal cities in the state and country—Something that needed little research to establish. So, in fact, little research was done. Using info from a Patrick Courreges story (wherein the reporter, gasp, called to fact check* and find out what was the basis of the Bay Area claim) the editorial notes that the rankings were based solely on the '04 presidential election. That's actually pretty embarrassing for the group doing the study—it turns out their "research" consisted solely of lightly manipulating a database of the election numbers.

The editorial goes on to point out that the label defies a lot that we know to be true about Lafayette:

There are several ways in which Lafayette defies the conservative stereotype. For one thing, more voters are registered as Democrats than as Republicans in the area. Democrats make up a little less than 45 percent of the 74,135 total registered voters in Lafayette's city limits, while Republicans make up slightly less than 33 percent. Voters without party affiliations or with other affiliations make up a little under 23 percent, according to the Lafayette Parish Registrar of Voters Office.

Additionally, Lafayette voters recently approved, by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, a plan to allow the city's public utility system to provide phone, cable and high-speed Internet access using a citywide fiber optic network. Whatever one thinks about the merits of the proposal, approving such broad government involvement in telecommunications isn't an expression of conservative orthodoxy.

Additionally, the most conservative area in the city-- south Lafayette--gave the referendum its largest plurality. And even more disconcerting for an easy analysis the campaign that was waged here made no bones about opposing "greedy monopolists" from out of state with local self-determination in its desire to build a publicly owned utility. That, in both rhetoric and substance, is classic urban populism. Apparently its not all that easy to say what people mean when they say that Lafayette is politically conservative.

The Advocate also raises interesting questions regarding cultural conservatism--the other too easy explanation for Lafayette's conservative reputation:
South Louisiana is a bastion of Catholicism, so in today's culturally tinged political climate, issues such as abortion might be listing the region to the right. But it is also a land of joie-de-vivre, with a live-and-let-live philosophy that includes drive-in daiquiri shops. Those are not exactly what people think of as emblems of a "culturally conservative" community.
It is a puzzlement...I suggest we just go our own way and ignore all that stuff.


*Yes, that's intended to be a reference to the Benjamin debacle. This is a nice example of how editorials are supposed to be done. You take facts, established by real reporting, and dig into the implications and meaning of those facts. The contrast between the Gannett method and the Advocate method should be instructive to those that exercise editorial control at the Times and the Advertiser.

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