November 21, 2017  

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Southern Miss Professor Studies Voting Trends and Demographics

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Dr. Marcus Coleman

The way politics functions in our country is changing rapidly. The Age of Information ushered in a new era of interaction between candidates and their voters, and the science behind targeting these voters and collecting data is evolving. Dr. Marcus Coleman, an assistant professor of communication studies at The University of Southern Mississippi, is monitoring these changes closely.

Along with communications, Coleman studies African-American citizenship, a topic that includes African-American civic engagement, patriotism and more. Coleman, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, his master’s from the University of Kentucky and his bachelor’s from Southern Miss, has presented and published research including on non-profit work. His most recent research revolved around African-American voters by answering questions about voting trends and demographics.

“It’s really about what does citizenship look like for the African-American individual in his or her respective community,” he said. “I have looked at where African-American voters are. Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) is how we assess where our pool of possible voters would be. Using that metric, I’m able to find out where we’ll find majority-minority districts.”

The most populous majority-minority district in Mississippi encompasses the Delta, the northwest region of the state between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, stretching thousands of square miles and creating most of the state’s second congressional district.

“I want to know where they are and look at the precinct-level data to find out how they voted over time,” he said. “Not surprisingly, over the past 10 years in statewide elections, Democratic candidates typically get votes from areas that are majority-minority. With that being the case and looking at outcomes from other elections, typically those democratic candidates don't win in statewide elections, except for Jim Hood who is the exception.”

The second congressional district is represented by Congressman Bennie Thompson, the only African-American and Democratic representative of Mississippi’s congressional delegation.

“For minority communities particularly, the ability to vote for a candidate of your choosing is one of the purposes of our creating majority-minority districts,” he said. “That ability is important because the assumption is people from your community understand your community and will pass policies that are beneficial to your community. The Standing Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment Redistricting uses one key metric on how to determine where to draw these district lines: BVAP.”

Despite a sharp voter decline the last seven years on the national stage, African-American voter turnout has remained stable. Around 5 million fewer voters went to the polls in 2012 since Barack Obama's historic candidacy in 2008, a turnout drop of almost 5 percent of the voting-age population. In comparison from 2004-08, voter turnout increased by almost 2 percent.

Coleman states that it’s all about whose name is on the ballot. In 2008, Obama inspired a historic turnout across the country for African-American voters, specifically in the southeast, but he still lost in Mississippi by double digits. Judging from the data, Coleman expects similar dips in voter participation this year.

“Judging from the primaries, the reality is that Hillary Clinton isn't demanding the same degree of loyalty [from the African-American community] like Obama or her husband, Bill Clinton,” he said. “Obama was getting 90 percent of the black vote nationally. She's around 86 percent. This election, where there’s no incumbent, you would like to see voter turnout higher, but all the numbers point to people not being enthusiastic about either of these candidates.”

Coleman strongly believes that voter turnout is tied to community involvement.

“Being engaged in your community is being active in your local religious center, in your local community organization, on a team of some sort, being willing to voice your opinion to your local newspaper or call the local radio station and go out to your neighborhood and canvass for some issue or candidate. All of those things lead to people being more willing to vote.”

Coleman will continue to research voter trends and community engagement, but you probably won’t find him accomplishing this in an office behind a desk.

“At the core of my work is the community; that doesn’t place me at a desk,” he said. “It puts me out in the world. My work starts from my activity first and ends up eventually on paper. That’s my way of seeing this community work.”