Time or Geography?


TPM Reader EM writes …

I keep hearing people say that Obama’s percentage of the white vote is decreasing markedly, including David Brooks on The NewsHour, and Michael Duffy on Washington Week (sorry–old habits). I haven’t seen stats on this, but I just did a little non-mathematician math. If, as I’ve heard reported more than once, 25% of Hillary’s MS vote was Limbaugh Republicans, the white vote that would actually support a Democrat looks somewhat different. The total vote was 420,751, and Hillary got 38% or around 160,000 votes. Give her the 10% of the black vote that she won and take away the Limbaugh votes, and that leaves her with around 120,000 white Democratic votes. Give Obama his 25% of the white vote, and that comes to about 65,000 white votes for him. The percentages? about 65% Clinton white, non-Limbaugh votes, 35% Obama white votes. That’s not a great number for Obama, but it’s considerably better than the one getting play.

Speaking for myself I think this ‘Limbaugh Democrat’ line is an interpretive rathole which is at best self-serving and mainly a distraction from the reality of all elections which is how many votes each candidate got. But you don’t have to get into this Limbaugh stuff to see why this decreasing white vote theory is nonsense. Perhaps there are national polls that show Obama with a decreasing share of the white vote though the aggregate national polls from Gallup and Rasmussen show no sign of it. But to draw this conclusion on the basis of the vote in Mississippi is to show an almost perverse ignorance of the country’s history.

Mississippi is arguably the most racially polarized state in the US. Two or three other Deep South states certainly give it a run for its money. But given the state’s history and political present it should not surprise anyone that the primary results were as polarized as they were (Whites — Clinton 70%, Obama 26%; Blacks Clinton 8%, Obama 92%). The difference here isn’t one of change over time; it’s change over geography. When Hillary and Obama go up against each other in the most racially polarized state in the country, you’re going to get a really racially polarized result.

That’s not a mystery. It’s a statement of the obvious.

It’s true that neighboring Alabama is similar to Mississippi in many ways. So how much did things change between Alabama on Super Tuesday and Mississippi this week?

Not a lot. Among white voters, Clinton did even better than she did in Mississippi, beating Obama 72% to 25%. Figuring in the margin of error in the exit polls themselves, those numbers are identical. But if you want to look at the exact numbers, it’s actually Clinton whose numbers among white voters ever so slightly diminished.

Maybe the deterioration will start now. Who knows? But based on the information available to date, the theory is nonsense, a product of reporters who don’t bother to come up to speed on the politics in the different states in question.