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Perilous Liaison : Dukakis Might Have Been Wise to Snub Jackson, Professor Says

August 19, 1988|JOSEPH N. BELL

Michael S. Dukakis might do well to check with Amahai Glazer, a UC Irvine economics professor and statistician, before he firms up his plans for the presidential campaign. Glazer has just completed a study that raises some significant questions about the political advisability of the current love feast between the Democratic Establishment and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

"On the basis of my study," Glazer said, "my best guess is that if Dukakis' treatment of Jackson continues along the lines established at the Democratic convention, it will either mean trading votes or losing slightly in the general election. On the other hand, if Dukakis had continued to snub Jackson and finally really angered him, my best guess is that it would have helped him slightly in November."

This is neither a racist nor a zealot speaking. Nor even a partisan. "My only interest," Glazer said, "is in explaining how things work. Economists work on the assumption that businessmen and politicians already know the theories and are using them. We're not developing new theories; we're just describing how they work."

And he sees a close marriage between Jackson and Dukakis as working to the disadvantage of the Democrats.

He arrived at that conclusion after a lengthy analysis of voting patterns in the 22 Democratic primary elections in 1988. The analysis showed rather consistently that a candidate who wins the support of blacks thereby loses the votes of slightly more whites--and the more blacks in a state, the fewer whites in the same state voted for Jackson.

There were two important exceptions to this pattern: New Hampshire and California. In New Hampshire, Jackson did poorly among whites, even though there were relatively few black voters. Glazer said that was because it was the first primary, the field was packed with candidates and New Hampshire is next door to Dukakis' home state.

In California, the opposite was true. Although there is a large black population, Jackson won 25% of the white Democratic vote. Glazer's explanation: California simply appears to be more sympathetic to black candidates than other states. Otherwise, the pattern held with minor variations.

"In the primaries," Glazer said, "Dukakis received little black support. It all went to Jackson, so whites who dislike voting for the same candidate as blacks were not averse to supporting Dukakis. In November, however, blacks probably will support Dukakis. Enough whites will see this and withhold their support of Dukakis to cause a slight decline in his support in the general election."

This rather blatant example of American racism doesn't distress Glazer. "Probably 90% of the voters have little or no racial bias," he said. "But that other 10% could swing an election. It doesn't take many anti-blacks to exert that kind of influence, so racial politics can be very important.

"That's unpleasant, but it's also the way the world is. And not just the United States. Recent elections in France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland and Israel have all had strong ethnic and racial overtones. Latent racism always shows up in a ballot box. Why? Because one vote would seem to make no difference in a national election, so the voter can vent these often subliminal feelings on a ballot. It doesn't seem to cause any harm, and no one will ever know. People who wouldn't be caught dead appearing racist in public can and do express these feelings in a voting booth."

Glazer thinks the Democrats might have turned this situation to their advantage by handling Jackson differently.

"There are two quite different kinds of carrots the Democrats could have offered Jackson," Glazer said. "One is substantial, the other symbolic. They chose to deal with him symbolically. I think they would have been better off the other way around.

"Symbolism is much more important to white voters than substance. Dukakis probably would have been better served by giving Jackson a cabinet post and getting him out of the picture. Instead, he fed the concerns of marginal white voters that Jackson will influence Dukakis' political views and decisions by giving him all sorts of symbolic exposure and attention at the convention. I think Dukakis finally realized this. Think about the last day of the convention. We saw a lot of Dukakis and Bentsen, but Jackson didn't come into the picture until much later, and we never saw Dukakis and Jackson together alone."

Glazer shrugs off the concern that he has totally programmed out feelings of justice and warmth and unity in his analysis. "That's not my job," he said. "Certainly unity is better than anger or hatred, and maybe that's why Dukakis proceeded the way he did. But I'm simply trying to explain what an analysis of the numbers shows."

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