Now that the April 1st election is plenty behind us, we can look at *why* the pro-Confluence Project referendums passed, and a prime reason has to be, well, demographics. As the legendary Hall Of Fame coach Bill Parcells once said, you are what your record says who you are. Adapted for a city, the record shows what Eau Claire is: a blue city.
By blue, I don't mean dry; the city was once termed to have the highest bar-per-capita rate in Wisconsin, which is saying something. Rather, I refer to its politics, and in America, supporting liberal politicians and policies means having your area shaded blue (from the red-blue maps in the 2000 election). While the Confluence debate was not a perfect case of liberals being pro-Confluence/conservatives being anti-Confluence -- the city business establishment seemed largely on board, while some concerned with theatre fees and historic buildings were in opposition -- once could make the case that this fit the broad pattern of the sentiment. And it sure matched the voting record of Eau Claire in recent years.
2011 saw a $50 million school referendum get the OK from voters; using some rough calculations, President Obama took 56% of the Eau Claire county vote and 61% of the citywide vote (in Eau Claire County) in the 2012 election while getting 53% statewide; Dana Wachs ran unopposed that year in the newly-drawn 91st Assembly District that essentially matches the boundaries of the city of Eau Claire. What does this mean? Eau Claire -- both the city and, to a lesser extent, the county -- will likely vote for the perspective that favors spending/investment/government involvement. Not always: witness the rejection of another school referendum question on the same 2011 ballot. Yet the recent history of Eau Claire shows a clear pattern.
What we all should have realized going into an election with a myriad of predictions on the outcome was that the answer was written in the results of years past. Even in low-turnout elections that generally favor either more-conservative or anti-spending voters, Eau Claire's demographics are now such that, given a substantive base of planning, spending proposals are likely to earn approval. This is not to say that the Confluence Project is therefore a good idea (I believe so, but anyone agreeing with that perspective says so on projection and theory, not guarantee). All it shows is the broad state of opinion in the city and county, and the challenge to those who aim to point out the flaws in such proposals. Eau Claire is likely to become more urban and cultured in the decades to come, meaning this usual majority pro-spending opinion in the electorate will only become stronger.
Eau Claire is what the record says it is.