A lot of people thought they heard the faint and distant sounds of a beautiful operatic aria last week when the results of the UNO Poll were released. Lest anyone be mistaken, the fat lady is not singing. Not yet.
The survey by Dr. Susan Howell showed what everyone already knew -- that Mayor Marc Morial and his allies have a long way to go to pass hizzoner's "3T" referendum next Saturday (Oct. 20). The poll found 57 percent of New Orleans voters opposed to 3T, with only 31 percent in favor. The remaining 12 percent were undecided.
Normally, that kind of result three weeks before an election would signal a death knell. But this is no ordinary election. Morial is no ordinary politician.
He knew from the start that he would have to defy the odds to pass 3T, and his strategy is designed to do just that.
It started two months ago, when his campaign machine began systematically calling black voters all over town with a recorded message from the mayor asking them to help pass the charter change. The calls were part of an interactive telemarketing effort designed to pinpoint 3T supporters.
It's a tried-and-true means of identifying supporters for an old-fashioned get-out-the-vote effort. Morial has raised more than $1 million for his 3T drive, and he'll put several hundred thousand dollars into the most sophisticated turnout effort the city has ever seen.
If 3T opponents are lulled into thinking the referendum cannot pass, Morial could still win despite the overwhelming opposition of most voters.
It all comes down to turnout.
The UNO poll shows exactly how to do it. Consider the survey results along racial and socio-economic lines.
Among black voters, 44 percent favor 3T while 41 percent oppose it. Statistically, that's almost a dead heat.
White voters oppose it 83 percent to 10 percent. No surprise there, and it explains why Morial's phone bank focused on black voters.
Still, even if Morial turns out every black voter in town, the measure would likely fail in the face of such overwhelming white opposition, even with a paltry white turnout -- which is highly unlikely.
A look at the numbers within the black community, however, shows how he could still pull it off.
Among black voters, those with less education support 3T in large numbers. For example, black voters with less than a high school education favor it by a margin of 49-28 percent. Those with only a high school education support it by a margin of 59-32 percent.
However, black voters with college degrees oppose it by a margin of 52-29 percent.
At this stage, Morial's game plan is to turn out the poorest, least educated black voters on Oct. 20. His swollen campaign war chest will make it possible to knock on each of their doors, to maximize the turnout among 3T supporters.
Of course, there is one part of the plan that hizzoner cannot control: turnout among 3T opponents.
History tells us that college-educated people -- black or white -- are chronic voters, the most likely to turn out in any election. The outcome of 3T thus depends on whether 3T opponents turn out in sufficient numbers to offset Morial's Herculean turnout effort among lesser-educated black voters.
Put another way, might the UNO poll lull 3T opponents into thinking it's already over? If it does, Morial could still win. If not, well, the fat lady ain't singing yet -- but she is definitely warming up.