While the field of candidates vying to be the next mayor of New Orleans is still taking shape, a study gives some unique insight to the political landscape they will need to negotiate.
The study was sponsored by Tulane University and Democracy Corps, a research group founded by political strategist and Tulane professor James Carville, and collects the opinions of some 1,000 people likely to vote in the 2009 New Orleans mayoral election. The survey revealed that while some racial divisions exist among voters, New Orleans is strongly united when it comes to identifying the city’s priority issues. Crime ranked as the top concern by far, followed by education, corruption in city government and job growth.
“The much talked-about racial divide in New Orleans is no where near as deep as people think,” says Carville. “If this election becomes about race, it’s because the politicians took it there. New Orleanians are amazingly consistent about their feelings for their city and what they want for their city.”
For instance, some 72 percent of voters contacted for the survey said they think the city needs to move in a new direction, while two-thirds specifically disapprove of the performance of Mayor Ray Nagin, who’s barred by term limits from running again. The survey found 55 percent of people in New Orleans consider the next mayoral election the most important local election in their lifetime.
“People are taking this election very seriously. There’s a consensus across New Orleans that the city is going in the wrong direction,” Carville says.
One topic where a serious racial divide was evident is redrawing the footprint of the city, an issue that arose after Hurricane Katrina as a proposal to concentrate the population in the easiest areas to protect from future storms. Among white voters, 64 percent agreed that some areas of New Orleans shouldn’t be rebuilt as residential areas again, while 74 percent of black voters disagreed.
Carville says the urgency for positive change in the city is driven home by the finding that one-third of those contacted said they would consider leaving New Orleans if things didn’t improve.
“People want to stay, but their patience is not unlimited,” says Carville. “This is a city serious about its future, very aware of its challenges and people want leadership that will address it. They love their city but they’re worried about it.”
The survey is available online at www.democracycorps.com.