data exploration in the Cream City

That doesn’t compute

Last week, in a piece titled, “The Case of the Disappearing Black Voter,” political journalist Sasha Issenberg announced that,

Sixty percent of Milwaukee’s black voters have disappeared.

This figure was calculated by,

… the New Organizing Institute, a Washington-based best-practices lab for lefty field operations, [who] extrapolated that nearly 160,000 African-American voters in Milwaukee were no longer reachable at their last documented address — representing 41 percent of the city’s 2008 electorate. It is a staggering figure …

Now, based on my own canvassing experience, I agree with the general assertion that many African-American voters in Milwaukee can be difficult to reach on the doors. This is likely the result of the low rates of home ownership and high rates of poverty in Milwaukee’s black community. (For more on this, see U.S. Census Bureau’s excellent analysis of geographic mobility rates.)

Yet, to conclude that there are 160 thousand African-American voters missing in Milwaukee — and to imply this is because of the current housing crisis — goes too far. 

The math simply does not work:

  • In the 2008 presidential election, 275,045 people voted in the City of Milwaukee. 160,000 “missing” voters would therefore represent 58% of the city’s electorate, not 41%.
  • Moreover, 2010 Census figures show the City of Milwaukee’s African-American voting-age population to be 154,335.

160,000 African-American voters in Milwaukee didn’t disappear or (as the article’s URL suggests) “vanish without a trace” — there never were 160,000 black voters to begin with.

The only staggering thing this about this news is its mathematical impossibility.

Source: Slate