Say It Loud! I Vote for Blacks and I'm Proud!

(Warning: Long political post, and I'd welcome someone telling me how to conceal part of it with a "read the rest" tag.)

Jake Tapper at ABC tackles the "why aren't black voters rushing to Obama" issue with some odd factoids in his arsenal.

While a recent ABC News poll indicates that 84 percent of Americans say a candidate being black would not affect their vote, the dirty little secret is what some pollsters and consultants call "the 15 percent lie" — the supposed percentage of whites who tell pollsters they would be willing to vote for a black candidate but in the privacy of the voting booth never actually would.

A prominent African-American leader in South Carolina, who endorsed the presidential race of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., this weekend, broached this subject when announcing his endorsement. Democratic state Sen. Robert Ford told the Associated Press that Obama as the Democratic nominee would "doom" every other Democrat on the ticket because America would never vote for a black presidential candidate.

"Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose because he's black and he's top of the ticket," Ford said in comments he later disowned. "We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything."

First off, let's admit it: Robert Ford doesn't sound very bright. Democrats would lose everything because they had a black candidate leading the ticket? Really? John Kerry's going to lose his re-election race? Brian Schweitzer's going to be an ex-governor of Montana? This is the same guy who said Obama would lose because he couldn't win "47 to 49 percent" of the white vote, when that's more than Bill Clinton ever got. He is a silly man who says things which are incorrect.

But the opinion's getting around because of that "15 percent lie" idea that Tapper cites. This is a figure that might have been a little true 15, 20 years ago, but it's turned into a psuedo-fact. It relies on two races: the 1982 race for California governor and the 1989 race for governor of Virginia, which pitted Democrat Doug Wilder against Republican Marshall Coleman. That race gave us "the Wilder effect," the colloquial name for "black candidates underperforming on election day, thanks to racism." The myth goes that Wilder led Coleman big in polls, but almost lost the race on election day. This isn't what happened; it was a close race in pre-election polling, but Wilder led big in bad exit polls. From the New York Times story on November 8, 1989:

In Virginia, Mason-Dixon Opinion Research Inc. acknowledged making a fundamental error in the way it conducted its Election Day polling. Its workers stopped voters outside polling places and asked them face to face how they had voted, rather than following the more widely accepted practice of having them fill out ''secret ballots'' and drop them in a box. All the New York polls used this method.

Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon's president, said that in hindsight he thought some voters might have been reluctant to admit to a poll taker that they had not voted for the black candidate, L. Douglas Wilder. The organization's Election Day polls gave a 10-point lead to Mr. Wilder, the Democrat, and at least three television stations reported the figures right after the polls closed and declared Mr. Wilder the winner. Today it appears that Mr. Wilder did defeat J. Marshall Coleman, the Republican, but by only one quarter of a percentage point.

The 1982 California race hasn't been misremembered like this; Democrat Tom Bradley did lead in pre-election polls and then lose to Republican George Deukmejian. But his lead shrunk from double digits to single digits before election day, and he was dragged down by the losing campaign of Jerry Brown, who was trying to trade the governor's office for a Senate seat. You can attribute a few points of Bradley's loss to racism, maybe. But not 15 points.

And those are the historical examples. Once you look for modern examples of black candidates radically underperforming the polls because whites, the "15 percent lie" falls apart. Here are the black candidates who ran for statewide office in 2006.

- Deval Patrick (D) vs. Kerry Healey (R), Massachusetts. Final polls: Patrick leads 54-30. Final result: Patrick wins 56-35.

- Ken Blackwell (R) vs. Ted Strickland (D), Ohio. Final polls: Strickland leads 57-37. Final result: Strickland wins 60-37.

- Lynn Swann (R) vs. Ed Rendell (D), Pennsylvania. Final polls: Rendell leads 58-36. Final result: Rendell wins 60-40.

- Harold Ford (D) vs. Bob Corker (R), Tennessee. Final polls: Corker leads 50-44. Final result: Corker wins 51-48.

- Michael Steele (R) vs. Ben Cardin (D), Maryland. Final polls: Cardin leads 49-45. Final result: Cardin wins 54-44.

The only one of those races that veered outside of the margin of error as the black candidate underperformed was Maryland's. I'm not sure why, except that polls overestimated the votes a Green candidate would get. Still, the point is that black candidates performed roughly as well as polls said they would. Voters were not saying they'd vote for a black candidate, then backing off on election day. Unless someone can prove otherwise, it's time to bury the "Wilder effect." It's a junk theory.

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  • ||

    Roanoke, Virginia, a city with a 20-30% black population and no other minority groups over 2%, had a black mayor through much of the 70s and 80s. Roanoke is one of those cities that was still making news for white supremacist activity in the 80s.

  • ||

    That's a very interesting thesis, Dave, and seems to be supported by the data.

    If you find any links and commentary to your post, I'd appreciate you updating this entry to link to them.

  • ||

    I don't know how much this affects the theory, but he was a Republican.

  • ||

    The "wilder effect" is just another example of black defeatism which is all too common and becoming less justified. I worked in an Afrocentric charter school for a while and one of the teachers asked the third grade students "How many of you think you can be president?" More than half the hands went up. The teacher was outraged: "They will never let you be president!"

  • ||

    Robert Ford seems to be falling for the same fallacy as many "colorblind" conservatives - assuming that racism primarily exists in our society as a conscious adherence to white supremacist ideology, and that absent such ideology, there isn't any racism.

    A black candidate doesn't have to worry about people who vote against black people on principle, as much as the ability of his opponents to use his race to more effectively make a narrative about his shortcomings stick.

    Very few people are in danger of switching their votes because of Obama's skin color; on the other hand, a much larger group of people might switch their votes because he's "too sympathetic to Muslims" or a "corrupt urban machine politician" or "sympathetic to criminals and thugs" or simply "doesn't share our mainstream, all-American values."

    Very often, a weakness for seeing minorities in terms of such stereotypes exists right alongside a genuine desire to vote for a minority candidate - the "right kind" of minority candidate, who isn't like those bad ones.

  • ||

    It's that much easier for blacks to play victim and leech off the rest of us as long as they're perpetuating the theory that the US would never vote for a black presidental candidate.

    I don't care if a candidate's purple, if s/he repudiates the odiousness that are identity politics they've got a chance at my vote.

  • ||

    I spent a couple hours sitting at the same 6-person table as Sen. Ford at an NAACP meeting about school funding and school choice.

    He is one of the dumbest human beings I've ever met. Some people can't read. Senator Ford can barely speak. Most of his utterances are grunts and puzzled moans. His more eloquent moments include short phrases never exceeding three words.

    He's also virulently racist. He evinces a look of boredom and disgust when any non-black person speaks. At best, it looks like he's not paying attention.

    I estimate he has the intelligence of slightly slow aligator or, alternately, a very brilliant chicken.

    Seriously, if you ever get to meet this dude, I say "Go for it!" I know it sounds like I'm making this up but it's all true. Talking to Robert Ford is a little bit like trying to teach the basic elements of quantum physics to a piece of pocket lint; it's both frustrating and amusing, but you're pretty sure that your interlocutor just doesn't understand.

  • ||

    the "right kind" of minority candidate, who isn't like those bad ones.

    Wait a minute -- is our joe . . . Joe Biden?

    ;-)

  • ||

    ..., on the other hand, a much larger group of people might switch their votes because he's "too sympathetic to Muslims" or a "corrupt urban machine politician" or "sympathetic to criminals and thugs" or simply "doesn't share our mainstream, all-American values."

    I dunno joe, unless I am misunderstanding it seems like the implication here is that white politicians wouldn't face the same risk if their opponents tried to paint this in the same way. I don't think that black or minority politicians have to worry about this any more than say a white politician with similar positions. Unless you believe that those issues are more likely to stick to a minority because of race issues.

    I don't think it's a race thing as much as it is a problem with the effectiveness of appealing to the worst in people. I don't think the American gets fired up by messages of tolerance for all religions or values that are considered "non-religious" -- but it seems to be quite effective to demonize the one espousing said tolerance as wanting to destroy "America's traditional values".

  • Timothy||

    And if that doesn't display correctly it should be {!--more--} with the curly braces replaced by less than and greater than.

  • ||

    "Unless you believe that those issues are more likely to stick to a minority because of race issues."

    Yes, exactly. Republicans are going to try to paint any candidate as sympathetic to terrorists and alientated from whitebread, Leave It To Beaverville culture.

    Obama's name, history, and skin color will make the charges more plausible among some % of the population.

  • ||

    Here are the black candidates who ran for statewide office in 2004.

    You forgot Alan Keyes.

  • ||

    Yes, exactly. Republicans are going to try to paint any candidate as sympathetic to terrorists and alientated from whitebread, Leave It To Beaverville culture.

    But I think that would happen to any liberal/progressive regardless of skin color

    Obama's name, history, and skin color will make the charges more plausible among some % of the population.

    Maybe, but I am inclined to believe that the people who find it more plausible about a black man named Barack Obama are the ones who probably weren't going to vote for him or any minority anyway.

  • VM||

    joe:

    Like this group, for example

    Post # 4 is a pretty good indication of that % of the population.

  • Larry A||

    I remember when JFK was a lost cause, since we would never elect a Catholic president. There was indeed an effort to portray him as someone who would take orders from the Pope instead of the American people. It didn't work.

    Rather than worry about the Wilder Effect among white voters, I'd wonder how many black voters will oppose Obama because he isn't Black enough.

    They, like Ford, could use Wilder as an excuse.

    the "right kind" of minority candidate, who isn't like those bad ones.

    Personally, a pro-gun, pro-gay, anti-drug war, free trade, small-government libertarian.

  • ||

    This post is as on target as a bullet (in the gun of Robert Ford).

  • ||

    Here are the black candidates who ran for statewide office in 2004.

    You forgot Alan Keyes.


    I assumed that he was left out because his opponent was Obama, who is believed by some of the electorate to be a black man. ;-)

  • David Weigel||

    All the elections I listed were in 2006, actually... I made a typo earlier.

  • ||

    . I worked in an Afrocentric charter school for a while and one of the teachers asked the third grade students "How many of you think you can be president?" More than half the hands went up. The teacher was outraged: "They will never let you be president!"
    Abdul, that's the saddest thing I have ever heard!
    Jesus H Christ, that's like some kid saying he wants to be astronaut and then someone says, "NASA doesn't accept gays!"

  • ||

    OK, so all of you who believe that the sole reason that race continues to be an issue in our society is the "victim mentality" of black people know exactly what to do: vote for Barack Obama. Electing a black president would be an incredibly powerful counter to the statements of Abdul's teacher.

  • Some James||

    I notice that you typed the names of all the Afro-American candidates in black, Weigal. My question is: When are you going to stop shilling for whitey, and even if you did, why should we trust you?

  • ||

    Actually joe, I do agree with you here...at least about how Louisiana works...

    In the last governor's election, it was current-Gov. Blanco (a white Cajun female) vs. Bobby Jindal (a very dark Indian). It looked like Jindal was going to win election, but of course he lost...when the polls came back in, supposedly a large number of white conservatives who were going to vote for Jindal at election day did not...the hypothesis was that the people did not see Jindal's picture and voted for him because his name didn't sound too foreign, but when they say the picture of Jindal, who's about as dark brown probably as most African-Americans in Louisiana, those same white voters just didn't vote...

    Of course, this is the same state that had the Race From Hell (where David Duke ran as Republican) about 15 years ago, and Gov. Mike Foster, the guy before Blanco, had a scandel during his governor-ship when he bought David Duke's mailing list for his re-election campaign...

    Well, since those same Dukers probably vote Republican anyway, but they might be the difference for Louisiana's prized electoral vote if it came Guilliani vs. Obama...

  • ||

    Frank A,

    Actually, that's not what I'm saying. What you're describing is the "Wilder Effect," while I was talking about something different.

  • ||

    Oh...sorry.
    (shrugs shoudlers)

  • ||

    Does Bobby Jindal inform this stat? Supposedly his votes significantly trailed his polling in the race for La. Governor.

  • Terry Michael||

    The "15% lie" ("figures lie and..." and...uh, well...you know the rest) informs liberal racist hallucinations. One of the possibly few good things about electing Obama/Oprah/Oprah/Obama, in addition to his almost-opposition to our criminal enterprise in Iraq, would be giving lie to the liberal racist insistence on seeing a bigot behind every bush. It would also be a big blow to the Diversity Industrial Complex, which feeds off liberal race consciousness.

  • ||

    The "Wilder effect" is what makes Westerns starring Cleavon Little so damn funny.

  • ||

    Ford is not a prominent lawmaker in South Carolina. I never heard of him until he jumped on the HRCTrain. If they want the black, South Carolina, politician voice, talk to Clyburn.

  • :-||

    I'd like to get behind a nice beige candidate, preferably a female one.

  • ||

    anonymoys:

    I personally don't know much about Robert Ford except that my father, who lives in SC, loathes him and thinks he's a racist idiot who can't speak intelligibly. So on my father's behalf, I second your comments.

  • JD||

    Seems to me like the question ("Why aren't Black voters rushing to Obama") is kind of a non-question. Firstly, maybe Black voters are just smarter than commentators give them credit for, and aren't going to automatically vote for a Black candidate, even a Black Democrat. Secondly, it would probably help a lot if his main opponent (HRC) wasn't already very popular (which the article does allude to).

    But as far as there is a question, I guess part of the answer is that while Obama is Black, he never set himself up as "The Black Candidate", like a Jackson or a Sharpton. And if he never publicly identified himself with that constituency, why should they go out of their way to identify with him? So they treat him like any other candidate, and so it goes.

  • ||

    "OK, so all of you who believe that the sole reason that race continues to be an issue in our society is the "victim mentality" of black people know exactly what to do: vote for Barack Obama. Electing a black president would be an incredibly powerful counter to the statements of Abdul's teacher."

    joe,
    I'm not sure anyone said that the victim mentality of blacks was the sole cause of our racial problems, but it undoubtedly plays a disproportionately large role.

    And regardless of how much good electing Obama would do for racial tensions in this country (nevermind that his black ancestors share absolutely nothing in common with those of most whitey-hating negroids in this country except for skin color) I'm not going to vote for him for that reason. I've actually thought about casting a vote for him because he seems to be the least odious of any of the presidential candidates with any real shot, but I'm certainly not going to do it so Jesse Jackson and scum like him can sleep better at night.

  • edna||

    It would also be a big blow to the Diversity Industrial Complex, which feeds off liberal race consciousness.

    are you kiddin', it's their wet dream come true. obama is a dem, first and foremost, and will serve that constituency. he's an articulate enough guy to come up with lots of rationalizations. "we need to help those who didn't have the advantages i did, coming from a caucasian home and traveling the world, while those poor wretches were stuck away in a ghetto, forgotten by the system. think of the children."

  • dhex||

    "whitey-hating negroids"

    what the fuck?

    is there an anthropologist in the house?

  • ||

    I have a question- Who said Obama is black? He is just as white as he is black (black dad, white mom).

    Side note. My son was born in Texas and when we had the "prick the foot" bloodtest they needed his race. It is a heavy cardboard card that you fill out and they stain with blood to send off to the state. The strange part was that they had strict rules for race identification on the card. Since Asian is a "darker race' my kid is officaly Asain even though he is 3/4 white and only 1/4 asain.

  • ||

    sam_h,

    Welcome to the good ol' US of A, where the one drop rule is still proudly in effect.

    I am willing to make a large wager that at some point the Onion will write a column saying "If elected Obama to be 44th white president" or, should he win, "Obama elected 44th white president." They're intelligent enought to see past the "If you're half white and half black you're Black. Period." bullshit.

  • ||

    Oh my god. I just totally agreed with a joe post.
    "And the seventh seal did open...."

    There may be people who don't vote for Obama just because he's black, but isn't virtually ALL support for him at the moment just because he's an electable black politician!? Almost nobody I know knows anything about him or where he stands on practically anything (except that he says he was against he war, but he wasn't in congress at the time so big deal). What they do know is that the like the idea that they might vote for a black man to be president.

  • ||

    "You can attribute a few points of Bradley's loss to racism, maybe.'

    I am trying to understand what this sentence means. Is it saying that some people did (or did not) vote for Bradley because they did (or did not) like the color of his skin, or is this saying that rascally racists somehow rigged or stole the election?

  • ||

    "whitey hating negroids"

    It's always fun when the mask slips off the "colorblind" costume.

  • ||

    Joe,

    "Electing a black president would be an incredibly powerful counter to the statements of Abdul's teacher."

    As soon as Condi Rice or Colin Powell runs for president America will elect a black president.

  • JD||

    BTW, the "one drop rule" is technically known as hypodescent: if you are the product of two groups with different status, you're "marked" by the lower-status group, and you go into that bin rather than the higher-status bin. Keeps the high-status bin pure, you see.

  • Nick||

    "There may be people who don't vote for Obama just because he's black, but isn't virtually ALL support for him at the moment just because he's an electable black politician!? Almost nobody I know knows anything about him or where he stands on practically anything (except that he says he was against he war, but he wasn't in congress at the time so big deal)."

    This is how I felt until I read his book "The Audacity of Hope." It truly inspired me. He wrote it(unlike a lot of politicians' books, which are written by 'ghost writers'). I recommend reading it.

  • ||

    "There may be people who don't vote for Obama just because he's black, but isn't virtually ALL support for him at the moment just because he's an electable black politician!? Almost nobody I know knows anything about him or where he stands on practically anything (except that he says he was against he war, but he wasn't in congress at the time so big deal)."

    Obama was OPENLY against the Iraq War as a state senator already up-and-running for the '04 senate nomination.

    Here's an impressive interview with him from an Illinois public affairs show back November of 2002:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXzmXy226po&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fandrewsullivan%2Etheatlantic%2Ecom%2F

    And here's a link to his speech at an October '02 antiwar rally: http://www.barackobama.com/2002/10/26/remarks_of_illinois_state_sen.php

    I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne. What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

    That's what I'm opposed to. A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics.

    Now let me be clear: I suffer no illusions about Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal man. A ruthless man. A man who butchers his own people to secure his own power.... The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him. But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors...and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

    I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

  • ||

    I voted for Wilder, but I don't have the slightest idea yet who I'm voting for 2008 President.

    As to Steele's loss in Maryland, I think the difference between the polls and the outcome was that many black Democrats said they would vote for Steele and then didn't.

  • Matt Weiner||

    hilzoy, a liberal who follows these things, thinks Obama has an unusually good legislative record. Just to counter the thought that virtually all support for Obama is because he's an electable black politician.

  • ||

    The Maryland polls never made sense in the Maryland context. I remember at the time thinking the polls must be inaccurate, because Maryland is WAY too Democratic to send a Republican to the Senate. I'm still not sure why the polls got it so wrong.

    One interesting thing - Steele did fairly well among white Republicans in exit polls (and the exit polls were consistent with the result). Steele managed to win 50% of white voters, only 4% lower than Ehrlich (the Republican candidate for governor).

    Steele did poorly among black Marylanders - he only won 25% of the black vote. This was much higher than Ehrlich's performance of less than 10%.

    In a State where 30% of the population is black, you can rarely win elections losing 75% of the black vote.

    Also, overall Steele and Ehrlich were within ~2% of each other - which suggests that their support was more defined by party than race.

  • ||

    It is worth noting that the Maryland data suggests that racial groups are more likely to vote for candidates of their groups on the margins (not a shocker). However, it's worth remembering that Ehrlich and Steele had pursued different campaigns. Ehrlich basically wrote off the black vote and tried to win the white vote. Steele really went for the black vote. So, it's not clear that race was determining voting nearly so much as campaign strategy.

  • Michael Welch||

    I'd pick a couple of nits with this article's analysis of the historical instances of the Bradley effect/Wilder effect. The data I've seen (and not just in pieces written recently that might be "misremembering", but also including sources from that time, like this Time magazine article written in 1989 right arter the election, which mentions that "All the published pre-election surveys had shown Wilder leading his Republican rival J. Marshall Coleman by margins of 4% to 15%") do not support Weigel's contention that it was only exit polling that was off in the Wilder/Coleman election. Contrary to what Weigel claims here, I've found many sources which explicitly say that pre-election polls, as well, showed Wilder with a discernible lead. Not necessarily a "commanding" or "landslide" type of a lead, to be certain. But enough of one that even looking *only* at pre-election polls, and not considering the also-faulty exit polls, it was still pretty anomalous that he wound up needing to sweat out a .3% margin of victory. I think the Bradley effect/Wilder effect is indeed the most likely explanation for why that happened.

    As for the Bradley race, as a Californian, I remember it well. Bradley's lead had shrunk, but like Wilder's it was still discernible in the pre-election polls, and like with Wilder the exit polling was also off. (I went to bed that night with the TV news having already called the race for Bradley, and was utterly stunned when I found out differently the next morning.) I'd take the "maybe" off of Weigel's assessment of whether the "effect" had anything to do with that. In fact, Deukmejian's own campaign manager had even *prediected* a month before the election that the effect would occur. He said he was counting on it. He said he felt like indeed all Deukmejian needed to do was get with 5% in the polls, and then the "effect" would take over in the final election results and get Deukmejian the win. It was a big controversy and he wound up having to resign from the campaign over those comments. But what he said he was looking for is pretty much exactly what happened.

    All of that said, though, Weigel does provide a strong argument for the position that Bradley effect/Wilder effect is perhaps no longer relevent today, even it was indeed relevent in 1982 and 1989, *and* for the position that quantifying that effect as being as high as 15%, even back in the 80's, is rather absurd.

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