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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Blow on the White Vote: Follow-up

Charles Blow does a re-analysis of the white and black votes during the primaries as indicators for the white vote in the general election. Blow's piece does re-affirm that white nationalism is alive and well in America. Those whites who say they will not vote for Obama because he is black are adherents to that ideology. The question for the election and Barack's candidacy is whether or not white nationalism still prevails in the white electorate. Given Baracks's success in largely white states and with 80%+ saying the country is going in the wrong direction, it is reasonable assume that the whites who do vote for McCain are are largely those who are either white nationalists or stuck on stupid. The enthusiasm for Obama strongly suggests that Blow's caution is a very conservative analysis. RGN

August 19, 2008, 1:14 pm
Obama v. Clinton Revisited (Gnash!)
By Charles M. Blow

The Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton nomination psychodrama nearly made me push a pencil through my temples. When it was over, I vowed never to write about it again. Ha! Silly columnist.

Here I go, again.

My last column was entitled “Racism and the Race” (Aug 9). It explored the influence of racism on the presidential polls and how it could amount to an advantage for McCain in November. I received a significant number of responses from readers who argued that the high percentage of blacks voting for Obama during the primaries amounted to a racial advantage for him that had cost Hillary Clinton the nomination.

(By the way, most of those responding to the column were readers who identified themselves as white and confessed sadly, and in sometimes disturbing and unflinching detail, that they knew whites who would not vote for Obama because of his race. Thanks to those readers for their candor.)

On the first point about the primaries you’ll get no argument from me. Those contests were rife with race-based voting in all directions. But, on the second, more interesting point, I’m not so sure.

Was the racial tilt of black voters in the primaries the reason Clinton lost the nomination? I decided to investigate.

First, I needed to know how many of the contests had exit polls, and how many of those exit polls specified who voted for whom by race. According to CNN’s website, that winnowed the measurable pool down to 35 contests. (For example, Utah was not included because the racial breakdown on its exit poll was a bit convoluted.)

Then came the tricky part. I needed to establish a metric for measuring the racial tilt. (Warning: this is going to be somewhat arbitrary.)

I plumbed recent news accounts for a fair measurement. In the New York Times/CBS poll that I cited in my column, 19 percent of whites said that most of the people that they knew would not vote for a black candidate. The following Monday, New York Magazine published a cover story by John Heileman that quoted writer John Judis as saying that in a number of swing states “15 to 20 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents may not support” Obama for racial reasons. That Wednesday, Peter Beinart of the Washington Post wrote a column in which Notre Dame political scientist David Leege estimated that “17 to 19 percent of white Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents will resist voting for Obama because he is black.”

That 19 percent figure kept appearing. So, I decided that it would be my measuring stick. In fact, I would round it up a bit and say that when any racial group’s support for a particular candidate was lopsided by a margin of 25 percent or more, that vote would be considered racially skewed. Fair? I thought so.

I then looked at the primary results through this lens.

In all but one of the contests where the black vote was broken down, it skewed towards Obama (no argument from me there). For the record, the state where the black vote did not skew was New York. Melting pot, Clinton home-state advantage, blah, blah, blah.

But when you look at the subset of those contests won by Obama, the group narrows to 15. He won a total of 667 delegates in those contests, and Clinton won 454. This represented a 213-delegate advantage for Obama.

Now let’s look at Clinton. She won 10 states in which the white vote skewed in her direction. She won 431.5 delegates in those contests, and Obama won 306.5. This represented a 125-point delegate advantage for her.

Quick mental math lends some credence to the readers’ point: Obama’s advantage from racially skewed black voting far outweighed Clinton’s advantage from racially skewed white voting. But wait. We’re not finished.

Remember when I said that racism was rife “in all directions?” This means you have to factor in the hispanic vote too, which always skewed in Clinton’s favor.

There were three additional elections won by Clinton in which the white vote was not skewed, but the hispanic vote was. In those contests, she won 357 delegates and Obama won 271. This represented an 86 delegate advantage for her. Add this to the delegate advantage she received from white-skewed contests and you get roughly the same delegate advantage Obama received from black-skewed contests. Clinton: 211, Obama: 213.

So, with as much authority as this armchair analysis can provide, there seems to be some evidence that Obama’s black racial vote and Clinton’s white and hispanic racial vote may have simply cancelled each other out. Of course, to see the full picture we would need some way of measuring the remaining contests.

Now this, I hope, is really my last time covering the Clinton/Obama drama because I’m starting to stare at the pencils again.

(Seriously though: this deserves further examination by an actual statistician or political scientist. Any takers? Send me an interesting analysis of racial voting in the primaries, and I will try to feature it in this space.)

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