South Omaha is typically referred to as the heavily Latino area of Omaha. There’s a bit of confusion when I asked people for their definition of where South Omaha really is. I went through the precincts that are represented by Tony Vargas and Mike McDonell in the unicameral and added them into my definition of South Omaha. Even still, I think I may have gone too far west in saying where South Omaha is on the map (which sounds like a paradox if you are not familiar) by including some areas all the way to 72nd St and Harrison. I also may have gone too far North stretching to Douglas St. But I will be fairly upfront with the problematic areas in this analysis and let you know where the areas are that I had problems identifying. I think it is critical for us to have a shared definition of regions if we are going through this exercise.
What we will refer to as North and South Omaha are two of the areas that gave Hillary Clinton the most of her margin in Douglas County. The 24 precincts that I’ve highlighted as South Omaha had 21,798 votes cast for the four Presidential candidates.
|# of votes cast||7,288||11,956||949||372|
|% of votes cast||35.4||58.1||4.6||1.8|
Trump won two of the precincts there. It is debatable whether or not you would either consider these two precincts as part of South Omaha.
04-12: This precinct is located from 48th-60th St from about Harrison to Q St. This could be too far west for a number of people to really consider it South Omaha but it is represented by Mike McDonnell, so I included it here. But Trump still managed to win the precinct. There were 1,043 votes cast for the four presidential candidates there.
|# of votes||558||429||36||20|
|% of votes cast||53.5||41.1||3.5||1.9|
In the Congressional race, there were about the same number of votes cast for the three person Congressional race, 1,039. Ashford was able to run well ahead of Clinton. While this was his worst precinct in South Omaha, he still managed to win.
It’s not immediately obvious to me how Trump was able to win in this area. My assumption is that the more West you go in this precinct the whiter the area is. But unfortunately, I do not go in this area too often. The reason why I say it is not immediately obvious to me why he won is because we have Democrat Mike McDonnell winning the precinct with just under 58% of the vote. Of course, there were about 300 less votes in the state legislature race. Gilbert Ayala who ran a very conservative campaign for the state legislature had a poor showing.
But then, again. There were 1,006 votes cast on Referendum 426. 693 votes were cast to reinstate the death penalty. Only 313 votes were cast to keep the repeal of the death penalty. There were a number of fairly conservative votes in this area.
04-05: This is the other Trump precinct in this area. This is another area that was added to my spreadsheet with South Omaha as the region as it is represented by Mike McDonnell. This precinct is located around 42nd-50th St G St – Oak St. This is a really strange precinct on their vote totals. There were 1,322 votes cast in the precinct for the four Presidential candidates.
|# of votes||653||600||53||16|
|% of votes cast||49.4||45.4||4.0||1.2|
There are a number of Trump-Ashford voters in this precinct. There were 1,348 votes cast in the Congressional elections for the three candidates with the net votes.
It just gets a little stranger. This was Mike McDonnell’s best precinct. He got 964 votes in this precinct. Ayala only received 243 votes. But it was also a precinct that voted to reinstate the death penalty by a 52.7-47.2 margin.
This is an area that can be improved upon for 2020 and could be an area that could be improved upon for 2018, as well. The question that we have to answer is why did Trump resonate in this area to such a degree and why did Mike McDonnell do the same. To my untrained eye, as Trump did better, McDonnell should have done worse. But it simply did not happen, here.
Death penalty repeal
One of the things I am most fascinated by was how poor the death penalty referendum performed in Douglas County. Douglas County has a fairly sizable Catholic population. Traditionally, Catholicism has been linked to the abolition of capital punishment. In 1974, the U.S. Catholic conference voted to declare its opposition to the death penalty. Pope St. John Paul II wrote in the 1990s that to narrow the death penalty. He wrote that the cases in which a prisoner must be executed “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” Pope Francis wrote in 2015 to state the case for the abolition of the death penalty. He wrote that capital punishment “contradicts God’s plan for man and society.” But the Catholic Church has not necessarily called for the statewide abolition of death penalty even if there is opposition to the death penalty. Catholic teaching usually leaves no question that the right to the execution of prisoners is a right left to state. Pope Francis went further, writing, in 2015 that “today the death penalty is inadmissible, no matter how serious the crime committed.”
Beyond the Pope, a number of American Catholic publications including America Magazine, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, Our Sunday Visitor, and Patheos Catholic came out together to support the abolition of the death penalty in 2015. I am not sure of the popularity of Catholic publications in traditional Catholic families especially here in Omaha.
I want to preface something before this next paragraph. I’m not Catholic, myself. I don’t know how much weight I would give what the Pope says either in his writing or his speeches, especially if it contradicts my already held belief. In other denominations, it is more common for people to already arrive at a political belief and then use their religious beliefs to provide support to it.
One of the interesting things that I think gets overlooked is how opposition to abortion spread. Evangelical and protestant Christian groups did not originally view abortion as such an important issue for a while. In the 1970s, the consensus in the Evangelical community was that abortion was warranted in many circumstances. In 1979, Christianity Today, published an article that concluded that the fetus is not reckoned as a soul. In the 1970s the biggest defender of pro-life issues was Ted Kennedy. Richard Nixon and even George H.W. Bush were pro-choice. For most people, they simply did not think about abortion. If they did, they primarily saw it as a Catholic issue.
Pat Buchanan argued in a memo to Richard Nixon that Nixon should try to peel off Catholic Democrats by appealing to them on abortion and switching to pro-life. The argument was basically that Nixon would force Ed Muskie to choose between Catholics and liberals if Nixon came out in favor pro-life policies. Soon after, Nixon spoke of his “personal belief in the sanctity of human life-including the life of the yet unborn.” As we have seen, it did not take root for a while.
Republican strategists Richard Viguerie and Paul Weyrich recruited Jerry Falwell to lead a coalition around economic and social conservatives. The idea was to focus on abortion as the most important issue. They viewed it as a way to divide the Democratic Party. Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979. But even then, the voting patterns in Congress and the voters themselves were not as partisan until the late 1980s. Political scientist Greg Adams demonstrated that “Republicans were more pro-choice than Democrats up until the late 1980s.”
But if you ask any pro-life voter Protestant or even Catholic, they will tell you that the reason that they are pro-life is because the Bible tells them that the fetus has a soul and the Bible tells them that it is murder. The Bible hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. What has changed is people’s personal beliefs and their own partisan beliefs. For many, Republican politicians are seen as pro-life and Democrats are pro-choice, regardless of their actual stance. They use the partisan divide and then dress it up with religious connotations.
I say all this to say this. People are complex and have many different ideas floating around their head at a given time. People use flawed reasoning to explain answers to complex questions. It’s not to say who is right or wrong on a given issue, just highlighting how people’s views changed on an issue like abortion with the backdrop of their church.
Anyway, one would think in a Catholic area that they would be more likely to oppose the death penalty. But we don’t necessarily see that. In the Elkhorn area, which is over 25% Catholic, they overwhelmingly voted to reinstate the death penalty on Referendum 426. According to Pew Research, 54% of White Catholics favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. 39% of White Catholics oppose the death penalty. 43% of all Catholics support the death penalty compared to 46% who oppose it. Elizabeth Bruening uses a Pew study from 2013 to show that only 37% of Hispanic Catholics support the death penalty. She argues that it is white Catholics who are the ones not supporting the abolition of the death penalty contra the Catholic church teachings.
But this isn’t exactly what we see when we look at the precincts that are predominantly Latino and what, I’m presuming, is Catholic. In the South Omaha area, that I’ve identified, as a whole, we find that the community is evenly split between reinstating the death penalty to keeping the repeal of the death penalty. There were 19,671 votes cast for this referendum in this area. Remember, retain would be to keep the death penalty repeal and repeal would be to reinstate it.
|% of votes cast||47.3||52.7|
This does not fall upon party lines or is necessarily caused by lack of voters. There are 800 less voters on the referendum than for the 4 party Presidential vote or for Congressional vote. Hillary Clinton received 7,337 votes and 58.9% of the vote. Brad Ashford received 7,758 votes or 62.1% of the votes for Congress. Pew Research found that 36% of Latinos support the death penalty compared to 50% who oppose.
South Omaha remains to be a very Democratic stronghold but it is worth looking into the way Latinos respond to the death penalty and by extension how Catholics view the death penalty.