I’ve gotten a sense of this looking over the exit polls over the last couple months. Now Jonathan Tilove of Newhouse News Service has put it together in an article. The issue of race and whether that is what has prevented Barack Obama from cutting into Hillary Clinton’s vote totals in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania has been a dicey and toxic question in this primary campaign — and one that’s not good (though in different ways) for either candidate.
But what Tilove points out is that at least a very substantial part of what’s going is not whites voting against Obama because of race but women, particularly white women, voting for Hillary because of gender. This is something that shows up not only in the breakdown of the white female vote but the turnout of female voters in this year’s primaries.
Tilove has various data points. But in Pennsylvania, for example, white women went for Clinton 68% – 33%. And they made up 46% of the electorate. Meanwhile, white men went for Clinton 57%-43% and made up only 33% of the electorate.
There are some questions the numbers themselves won’t tell you. Is Hillary’s still-strong showing among white men nonetheless an example of white resistance on the basis of Obama’s race? While I think race is and will continue (if Obama’s the nominee) to play a key role in this campaign, there’s simply no basis to infer this just on the basis of the number spread.
But I see no reasonable argument that white women are more resistant to voting for a black man than white men. So in this case, I think we can reasonably infer from the poll numbers what common sense would likely tell us is obvious: that a big factor in this contest is women voting for Hillary because of her gender — whether in the sense of identifying with her and her take on key issues or because of the historic nature of her candidacy.
This doesn’t rule out racial voting — but it does narrow the potential scope of it. And, as I alluded in the title of the post, it’s one of these facts that has the virtue, in addition to being true, of casting the whole process in a much less toxic, divisive light.