Racism and Mind Reading

May 24, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross posted at Sociological Images

In recent Democratic primaries in Appalachian states, Obama lost 40% of the vote.  The anti-Obama Democrats voted for candidates like “uncommitted” (Kentucky), an unknown lawyer (Arkansas), and a man who is incarcerated in Texas (West Virginia).

Could it be that there’s racism at work in Appalachia?  Or is the anti-Obama vote based entirely on opposition to his policies? 

The 2008 Presidential election – Obama v. McCain – offers some hints.  For those with short memories, the Bush legacy – an unpopular war and an economic catastrophe – may have hurt the GOP.  In that election, the country went Democratic. The Democrats did better than they had in 2004, the Republicans worse.  But not everywhere. The Times provides this map:

(Click on the map for a larger view.)

Most counties were more Democratic in 2008 than in 2004.  But in that Appalachian arc, Obama got fewer votes than had Kerry in 2004.  Yes, it’s possible that those voters in Appalachia preferred the policies of candidate Kerry to those of candidate Obama.  As Chris Cilizza says in in a Washington Post blog (here), the idea that race had anything to do with this shift is
almost entirely unprovable because it relies on assuming knowledge about voter motivations that — without being a mindreader — no one can know.
Cilizza quotes Cornell Belcher, the head of a polling firm with the Monkish name Brilliant Corners:
One man’s racial differences is another man’s cultural differences.
Right. The folks in Appalachia preferred John Kerry’s culture.

I’m generally cautious about attributing mental characteristics to people based on a single bit of behavior.  But David Weigel, in Slate, goes back to the 2008 Democratic primaries – Obama versus Hillary Clinton.  A CNN exit poll asked voters if race was an important factor in their vote. In West Virginia and Kentucky, about 20% of the voters in the Democratic primary said yes.  Were those admittedly race-conscious voters more anti-Obama than other Democrats?

Clinton outpolled Obama among all primary voters in these two states.  But among those who said race was important, she did much better.  Race added another 20 points to her lead.  Or to put it another way,  Race-important took away half the Obama vote.  As Weigel points out, this was before Obama took office, before voters really knew what policies he would propose.  Besides, there wasn’t all that much difference in his policies and those of Hillary Clinton.

Cilizza is right that we can’t read voters’ minds.  But to argue that there was no racial motivation, you have to discount what the voters said and what they did.

1 comment:

brandsinger said...

Just checking in on this blog and see the same fervent, time-consuming obsession with the usual myopic liberal themes.

Hey Jay, want an example of race in politics? Don't work so hard at it! Just tap in "percentage of blacks who voted for Obama in 2008"...and get: "Fully 96 percent of black voters supported Obama." Must be they all loved his stand on the issues!