Face it: In this part of the nation election outcomes have become as predictable as the sunrise, almost no elected office draws much, if any, opposition either from within or without the governing party, and those voters daring to openly express dissent can expect to be treated as though they had a contagious disease.
Floyd County has certainly not been immune from this trend in voter eligibility with its 46,885 voters in 2008 falling to 45,911 at the most recent 2012 verified tally. That is a decrease of 974. Which, on the surface, really doesn’t mean very much other than perhaps giving state elected officials yet more reason to be dismissive of this region’s priorities and wishes. Fewer voters in their minds translates to “easier to ignore.”
Reading anything into a single set of statistics is folly, of course, as bad or worse than taking any of those presidential political polls seriously. But hmm ... there sure seems to be an interesting dovetailing between this and another set of recent statistics in which one may be saying something about the other.
AND, AT the same time, perhaps explaining much about how the general political preference patterns and policies of a region may impact what is supposed to lie at the very core of our democratic process: The people offering their opinions in a manner that determines actual outcomes.
The recent detailed study — full of interesting statistics in its 129 pages — that was done for Greater Rome by Market Street Services Inc. didn’t get into voting at all but made these observations:
The population of the Greater Rome MSA (Floyd County) like those of the similar communities it was compared to (Chattanooga, Tenn., Greenville, S.C., and Lynchburg, Va., all multi-county) grew faster than that of the U.S. as a whole, although Rome by the smallest amount (6.4 percent). However, in the 2005-2010 time frame Greater Rome’s growth pace fell to 2.3 percent and only about 2,000 residents were added.
Even more interesting is how this broke down: 91 percent of all population growth in the 2005-2010 frame came from Hispanics and the white population decreased in total numbers — the only one of the communities in which this occurred. The actual addition numbers in just five years: 1,768 more Hispanics, 727 more blacks, 346 of two or more races, 92 Asians. And 962 fewer Caucasians.
THAT SHIFT is also reflected in the 2008-2012 registered voter numbers for Floyd County: There are now 37,419 registered white voters instead of the 39,100 four years ago, a decrease of 1,691, and some 8,492 minority voters which is up by 717 from 2008.
That’s no cause for alarm, diversity being a positive thing and particularly so in the emerging America where minorities will soon become the majority. Besides, Floyd County remains more than 70 percent white, not that things like that should even matter. However, such change adds an exclamation point to the need for local (Rome/Floyd) government to become both more inclusive and interested the concerns of those communities.
It does, however, raise additional questions about the possible negative impact on voting numbers by the state’s “prove who you are” law that plainly places the greatest burden on anyone, of any race, who arrives in a new voting jurisdiction — born in the U.S.A. or naturalized … or even just newly married with a name change — and must register anew even if having voted in the past elsewhere. The problem with the so-called Voter ID law is not so much in denying citizens the vote but in discouraging them from going through all the new (and sometimes costly) hoops to just register.
AS FOR the growth slow-down for Greater Rome, that can easily be understood in terms of the impact of the economic Great Recession that started in 2008 and that is receding only at a turtle’s pace. However, in explaining this the Market Street study will likely furrow many more brows by pointing out:
“Stakeholders’ concerns about the retention of young families and young professionals are validated, as between 2005 and 2010 populations of residents under the age of 18 and those between the ages of 25 and 44 decreased.”
In other words, most of those disappearing whites were likely those singles and young families that are fleeter of foot and more mobile as they left a local market that has shed about 5,000 jobs in the same general time frame.
That doesn’t explain the gains in the minority population as this was occurring — they need jobs too — but the known and much-higher birth rate in those citizen segments may tell a part of that story. Also, in “tough times” it is similarly known that minority families tend to be more close-knit and mutually supportive than among whites where the so-called “nuclear family” has long become the norm.
IN OTHER WORDS the declining regional/Greater Rome ranks of voters even as population increases, although more slowly, may be a reflection of a “perfect storm” of factors, some of them purely economic, some political, some legislative — and none of them having anything to do with whether or not those living in this area (and let’s assume reluctant to leave it) are “voting with their feet.”
The economic aspects may actually be of the least concern. As the Market Street study reported, with some surprise given the times:
“Greater Rome was the only community among the comparison geographies to replicate the positive, if slight, gains experienced in per capita income (PCI) at the national level.”
Translation: This is more of a good place for earning a growing paycheck even though there may be less opportunity to do so than before. Well, maybe. That count probably does not reflect absorbing the loss of 750 health-care jobs in the last half of 2011 when the state closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital.
As for the decline in voter registration, it may have less to do with population or the economy than with the reality that, in what is generally considered the most lopsidedly Republican congressional district east of the Mississippi River, being able to vote has been made into too much of a bother while the candidate/party decks are stacked in such a manner as to deliver a “Why bother?” message.