Barack Obama

If Obama Loses, Blame His Policies, Not Racism

American political tribalism continues to wane.

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Just 38 percent of Americans said that they would vote for a black presidential candidate back in 1958, which was the first time the Gallup Poll asked that question. Twenty years before that, only 33 percent said that they would vote for a woman; 46 percent for a Jew, and 60 percent for a Catholic.  By 1958, 54 percent would support a woman candidate, 63 percent a Jewish one, and 67 percent a Catholic. Just two years later, the Catholic Democrat Sen. John F. Kennedy defeated Protestant Republican Vice-President Richard Nixon by just over 100,000 votes, a mere 0.1 percent of the popular vote. A good case can be made that Kennedy didn't even win the popular vote.

In June 2012, the Gallup Poll reported that 96 percent of Americans said that they would vote for a well-qualified black candidate nominated by their party; 95 percent would support a woman; 94 percent a Catholic; and 91 percent a Jewish candidate. In addition, 92 percent would vote for a Hispanic candidate; 68 percent for a gay or lesbian; 58 percent for a Muslim; and for the first time ever a majority (54 percent) of Americans said that they would vote for a well-qualified atheist. One particularly interesting Gallup finding in the context of the current election is that only 80 percent of Americans said that they would vote for a well-qualified Mormon. That is marginally up from 75 percent when the question was first asked in 1967. Less than half a century after America's only Roman Catholic president had been elected, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama walloped his Republican opponent Sen. John McCain by 8.5 million votes and 7 percentage points.

Yet atavistic political tribalism hasn't been completely vanquished. In 1960, nearly 80 percent of Roman Catholics voted for Kennedy even though they had split evenly between Democrat Adlai Stevenson and Republican Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. In 2008, 95 percent of African-American voters cast their ballots for Barack Obama. Nevertheless, the Gallup numbers—and results in elections—clearly demonstrate that ethnic and religious divisions have been fading away as a single American tribe has been forged. As the Gallup Poll notes, "Americans of all political party affiliations are nearly unanimous in saying they would vote for a black, female, Catholic, Hispanic, or Jewish president." It really is true that an American of any ethnicity can grow up to become president. It seems likely as well that gender and sexual orientation are either already non-factors or well on their way to that destination.

Given the horrific injustices of slavery and Jim Crow, it is no wonder that the role of race in American politics still fascinates and haunts the imaginations of professors, pundits, and pollsters. Yet, as the Gallup data show, even race has become far less salient to most American voters.

Still, in the run up to the 2008 election some pundits worried that opinion poll numbers might be distorted by the "Bradley Effect" and Obama could lose the election to McCain despite holding a commanding lead in voter surveys. The term Bradley Effect was coined back in 1982 when popular black Los Angeles Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley, up 14 points in opinion polls, lost to white Republican George Deukmejian in the actual election. Bradley Effect theorists suggested that some white voters, fearful of being thought racist, lied to pollsters about supporting the black candidate and then voted for the white one. This apparently happened in the case of Douglas Wilder, who was elected the first black governor of a state since Reconstruction in 1989 in Virginia. In the run up to the election Wilder was leading by as much as 10 percent in final polls, but he won the election with 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent, a 7,000-vote margin.

However, the Bradley Effect wasn't present in the 2008 presidential election. The October 2008 Washington Post ABC News poll reported that Obama was pulling 52 percent of the likely voters and he won the election with 52.9 percent. In other words, voters did not markedly lie to pollsters about their electoral preferences. In a 2009 study in The Journal of Politics, Georgetown University political scientist Daniel Hopkins surveyed data from 180 gubernatorial and Senate elections from 1989 to 2006 and found that the Bradley Effect essentially disappeared after the early 1990s. Why did it fade away? Hopkins suggests that it "declined to insignificance swiftly at about the time that welfare reform silenced one critical, racialized issue, and as crime's national salience was declining."

It's good news that voters no longer feel like they have to tell politically correct lies to pollsters about for whom they plan to cast their ballots anymore. But does race still make a difference in American elections? Somewhat. An analysis by the Pew Center for the People and the Press of the 2008 election exit polling found that 7 percent of whites said that race was important to their vote, of whom two-thirds voted for McCain. On the other hand, black voter turnout increased by 2 million over the 2004 election and 95 percent of blacks voted for Obama. It is still the case that no Democratic candidates for president have received a majority of white votes since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, whereas a majority of blacks have voted Democratic since 1936. This ethnic division between the two major parties, established three generations ago, is an electoral remnant of the fight to end state-mandated racial segregation.

Academics find more clear signs of lingering racial resentment. In an intriguing study Harvard economics Ph.D. student Seth Stephens-Davidowitz used Google search data between 2004 and 2007 for racially charged terms, specifically the offensive term nigger(s), in more than 200 media markets to estimate how racial animus affected votes for Obama in 2008. Stephens-Davidowitz then combined the number of votes Kerry received in 2004 with the average gain in votes for 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates to estimate how many votes Obama "should" have received. After making these calculations, his results suggested that "continuing racial animus in the United States cost Obama 3 to 5 percentage points of the national popular vote in 2008." Since white Republicans were going to vote Republican anyway, what Stephens-Davidowitz' calculations reveal is that "between 6.7 and 10.7 percent of white Democrats did not support Obama because he was black."

Last month, Hunter College political scientist Charles Tien and his colleagues published an article in Politics and Political Science that analyzes survey data to probe for racial prejudice among voters. They too note that Obama's 2008 vote totals were lower than might have been expected given the Democrats' Congressional landslide victory. They conclude "that on balance [Obama] lost about five percentage points in popular vote share due to intolerance for his race on the part of some voters." In the current election, their data suggests that Obama's "racial cost" has fallen to three percentage points. In other words, they find that racial bias, while still present, continues to fade from American politics.

Last week, the Associated Press reported the results of its quadrennial racial attitudes survey. The AP results consist of explicit polling data and the outcomes of tests that aim to measure implicit racial bias without mentioning the topic directly. The implicit attitude tests seek to uncover unconscious bias by, among other things, having test takers match black and white faces with good and bad terms. Some 70 percent of white test takers score as being prejudiced against blacks. (Go here to take the test. For what it's worth, my results suggested "a slight implicit preference for black people compared to white people.") The AP reports that according to its polling data, racial prejudice among whites has increased slightly from 48 percent in 2008 to 51 percent today. The implicit racial attitudes tests find that anti-black attitudes increased to 56 percent from 49 percent in 2008.

A week before the presidential election, the latest Washington Post ABC News tracking poll has former Gov. Mitt Romney leading President Barack Obama by a single point, 49 to 48 percent. An earlier version of that same poll found that Obama has lost support among white voters compared to his first run in 2008. In 2008, Obama won with 52.9 percent of the vote by garnering 43 percent of the white vote and 80 percent of the non-white vote. The new poll reports that his support among white voters has dropped 6 points, to 37 percent.

So if Obama loses next Tuesday, will it be because of his race? The answer is no. American political tribalism continues to wane and Obama's "racial cost" has only fallen since the 2008 election. It's true that in a contest this close, the small and dwindling portion of Americans motivated by ethnic or racial tribalism might well make a difference in the outcome. But it would be wrong to interpret the outcome as a return to the political tribalism of the past. If Obama loses it will be overwhelmingly because the majority of voters disliked his policies, not his race.

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  1. While I agree that his race will not be a determining factor my bet is that a majority of Americans could not accurately name a single one of Obama’s policies. Rather they will reject him because they are unhappy with the current state of the country (most specifically the economy) and he is the current incumbent. They will correctly believe that Obama has not done enough to fix the problem but the fact that this belief is correct will be more accident than as a result of any actual knowledge on the part of the majority of voters and neither those who vote for him or those who vote against him will be able to accurately name actions that he has or has not done to help the economy.

    1. They will correctly believe that Obama has not done enough to fix the problem

      What should he be doing to “fix the problem?”

      1. What should he be doing to “fix the problem?”

        Get government off our backs.

        1. We have a winner!

  2. Stephens-Davidowitz’ calculations reveal is that “[b]etween 6.7 and 10.7 percent of white Democrats did not support Obama because he was black.”

    Or maybe they were pissed off Hillary supporters? Obvious answer is too obvious for some people I guess.

    1. Yeah, I’ve run across several disgruntled female voters who are pissed at Obama for keeping Hillary out of office.

      1. Me mum is one. Big Hillary fan. She says she is sitting out this election.

        1. I would puke on her tits if I were you.
          I have put up with a lot of retarded shit from my half ass parents but having a raging feminist kind of mother would be nauseating.

        2. If she would have otherwise voted for Obama I am very glad she is sitting out this election. We need to get the tyrant out of office. I am not optimistic that Romney would be much better (I voted for Gary Johnson) but I doubt he would be worse. We need to get the tyrant out.

      2. Are they lesbians? Because I’m told straight womans vaginas all tell them they should vote for Obama. Also, Chris Matthews tingles.

    2. Impossible. There couldn’t be any lurking variables there. All you have to do is extrapolate the results of a 2 year old congressional election to the current presidential election, tally up the difference, and VOILA! Racial prejudice. What else could possibly account for it? It couldn’t be the performance of the Democratic congress in the intervening 2 years. Or the rift in the primaries. Gender preference. Ageism. Apathy. Nope. The presidential contender was black. So it must have been race.

      Fuck, and this is the shit they’re going through to explain Obama’s victory. Can you possibly imagine if he loses?

  3. Yet, as the Gallup data show, even race has become far less salient to most American voters.

    Stated preference is not revealed preference. 98% or so of blacks voting for Obama is pretty damn strong evidence of racism.

    1. Remember, black people apparently don’t count, except when they do. I haven’t bothered to keep up with that Calvinball ruleset, but the gist is obvious.

      1. It’s several layers of double standard at work:

        1. If you can’t prove you aren’t a racist, you are a racist.
        2. AND if I think you are a racist, I don’t need to prove it, AND it’s ok for me to be racist against you

        eg, If you notice that black Americans commit violent crimes at 5-10X the rate of any other race, you’re a racist, and I will beat your ass.

    2. Except that white Dems generally get about 92 percent of the black vote.

      1. Except that white Dems generally get about 92 percent of the black vote.

        Unless you count Clinton (mid 80-s% both times), Dukakis (90%) and Mondale (90%)

        http://talkingpointsmemo.com/t…..ically.php

    3. Yeah, the Southern Strategy has had long-lasting electoral consequences for the Republican party.

      1. States’ rights. Come at me, bro.

      2. And the “Southern Strategy” was bullshit made up by Dems to prove that some kind of “switch” occurred between the parties in the late ’70s.

        The Dems never stopped being the racist shitheads they’ve always been, they just wrap it up in paternalism and then paint anyone who opposes their destructive social welfare policies as “racist.”

        Nicely played though, we can’t get enough of the “Southern Strategy” card in an election year from the progs.

    4. I bet a slightly smaller percentage of blacks vote this time, and a smaller percentage of the ones who do vote- vote for Obama.

  4. Recent social science data suggests that ethnic political tribalism among Americans continues to wane.

    Perhaps among Americans who identify as “white” or “asian,” this is true. I don’t see any further evidence of this among other groups, though.

    1. “Social science data.” That about sums it up.

  5. So if Obama loses next Tuesday, will it be because of his race? The answer is no.

    Doesn’t matter, the media is all ready preparing the “narrative” as to why Obama didn’t win the election with 110% of the popular vote. This week, CNN, I believe, is showing a special on the “New Ku Klux Klan”.

    1. Oh my ass HM…of course it’s racism…..Chris Matthews told me so!

  6. “Ethnic tribalism continues to wane”? In a country where students were sent home for wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the American flag on Cinco de Mayo? In a country where we were told that George Zimmerman was a neo-Nazi skinhead who murdered poor Trayvon because he’s a racist? In a country in which not not being ardently Zionist is “proof” of anti-Semitism? In a country in which any criticism of the black president is deemed racist? In a country in which flash mobs of “teens” and “youths” attack innocent bystanders? In a country in which the federal government forbids the states from enacting laws against illegal immigrants?

    Blow me, Bailey. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

  7. “So if Obama loses next Tuesday, will it be because of his race? The answer is no.”

    But in such a close race, if he wins, will it be because of his race?

    “On the other hand, black voter turnout increased by 2 million over the 2004 election and 95 percent of blacks voted for Obama.”

    Perhaps. Racism does not have to be adverse inferences in order to be racism.

  8. Did anybody other than me actually read the AP racism poll data? That study has been reported all over the place but if you look at the actual questions the conclusions they draw about racism in the United States are bizarre. The questions are oddly constructed and frankly don’t seem to me to have anything to do with any actual racism. Moreover, only a few of the seemingly gazillion questions are race based. Most of the others have to do with political attitudes.

    The authors produce no cogent hypothesis to explain the seeming shift in racial attitudes in the past four years. Even assuming they are correct in stating that racism has worsened, what accounts for that? There is no racism fairy running around to poison hearts and minds.

    1. “The questions are oddly constructed and frankly don’t seem to me to have anything to do with any actual racism. Moreover, only a few of the seemingly gazillion questions are race based. Most of the others have to do with political attitudes.”

      a la the SPLC.

      Don’t support Affirmative Action? You’re a racist, no need for any follow-up.

    2. The questions are oddly constructed and frankly don’t seem to me to have anything to do with any actual racism.

      Liberals believe that everyone is a racist. Even if you’re a liberal, you’re racist and have privilege.

      In some respects, they are right. People are inherently racist because it’s bred into our genetics. Populations that lacked a sufficient amount of xenophobia were unlikely to survive because they were likely to be killed by another tribe.

  9. If Obama Loses, Blame His Policies, Not Racism

    I will blame racially-motivated hatred against his policies!

  10. Ronald Bailey’s policies will defeat Obama? One can hope.

    Ronald Bailey’s race will not. One can assume.

    1. Referring to the blog post headline: “Ronald Bailey on Why His Policies, Not His Race, Will Defeat Obama”

  11. If Obama loses, it’s because the Cult of Obama has been undercut by his reality. Those on their knees before the Holier than Holies in 2008 may find legs to finally stand up and declare, “That teeny little flaccid cock was all I got?”

    1. He didn’t cum in their mouths. He dribbled a little on their shirt then walked away.

      1. what? No Angry Pirate?

  12. Its only racist if you have the magical racist decoder ring-you know like that guy from a beautiful mind who found hidden words in newspapers…not like as if he was a paranoid schizo or anything

  13. Another tactic that will be used to play the race card will be the “latent racism” bullshit, i.e. “you’re racist but don’t know it”. The beauty of the ploy is that it places the accused in the position of trying to prove a negative to counter an accusation based on squishy nonsense.

    In a sane world this would be rejected for the nonsense that it is. Alas a sane world is not where we live.

    1. so silly, how can you be a racist and not know it? Hence the codewords

      chicago-racist
      welfare-racist
      “work ethic”-racist
      95% of blacks voting democratic? ABSOLUTELY NOT RACIST but YOU are racist for pointing it out

      1. don’t forget my personal favorite, by lawrence o’ donnell of…well, you know which network.

        pga/golf-racist

      2. how can you be a racist and not know it?

        You have attitudes and beliefs and privilege you don’t even know about. Ergo, you’re racist even though nobody can PROVE you’re racist.

    2. i use this technique all the time. mostly it applies to things like my being “good looking” or “delightful” and people just not getting it.

    3. “In a sane world this would be rejected for the nonsense that it is.”

      That’s what a racist would say.

  14. Your data suggest little to no difference in implicit preference between White People and Black People.

  15. The stupid … it burns!

    http://www.facebook.com/julian…..ment_reply

  16. Seriously. Why would Obama’s minions blame his policies when they can blame racism!

  17. Obama can be the blond-haired, blue-eyed son of Icelandic immigrants and I still would have voted for Gary Johnson last Saturday. I still would have voted for Johnson if he was born and raised in South Central L.A.

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