What’s Wrong With (Percentages in) Mississippi

April 10, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

A Public Policy Polling survey asked Mississippi Republicans about their opinion on interracial marriage. It also asked how they felt about various politicians. The report concludes, “Tells you something about the kinds of folks who like each of those candidates.”

Not quite.

What’s been getting the most attention is the finding that Mississippi Republicans think interracial marriage should be illegal. Not all Mississippi Republicans. Just 46% of them (40% think it should be legal).* Does their position on intermarriage tell us anything about who they might like as a candidate? Does a Klaxon wear a sheet?

(Click on the chart for a larger view.)

It’s no surprise that Sarah Palin is much preferred to Romney. But as PPP points out racial attitudes figure differently depending on the candidate. When you go from racists to nonracists,** Palin’s favorable/unfavorable ratio takes a hit. But Romney’s gets a boost.

But does this tells us something about “the kinds of folks who like each of those candidates”? The trouble is that statement is percentaging on the dependent variable, implicitly comparing Romney supporters with Palin supporters. But the percentages actually given by PPP compare racists with nonracists** The statement is implying that candidate preferences tell us about racial attitudes. But what the data show is that racial attitudes tell us about candidate preferences. The two are not the same. From the data PPP gives, we don’t actually know what percent of Palin supporters favor laws against intermarriage. Ditto for Romney supporters.

In any case, neither Palin nor Romney is the top choice of Mississippi Republicans (especially the racists), who may be thinking racially but are acting locally and going with their own governor first and the former governor of neighboring Arkansas second.

* The sample was only 400. But the results aren’t too different from what the GSS has found. The most recent GSS I could find that included RACMAR was from 2002. In the “East South Central” region, the percent favoring laws against interracial marriage was 36%. So among Republicans, it might have been ten points higher.

**I realize that neither of these terms “racist” and “nonracist” is necessarily accurate. I use them as shorthand for, respectively, “people who think interracial marriage should be illegal” and “people who think interracial marriage should be legal.”

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