Posted by: The Poli Sci Guy | November 14, 2008

The Race Issue

Much has been made of the race of Barack Obama and how racial barriers were broken in this year’s presidential election.  Perhaps.  A closer look at the numbers indicates that the joyous celebration that racism in America has come to an end may be a bit premature.

Many have noted that African-Americans voted in extremely overwhelming numbers for Barack Obama.  Nationally, the exit polls indicate that over 95% of the African-American vote went to President-elect Obama, somewhat higher than the usual 88-90% of the African American vote that democrats normally receive.  Hispanics also voted in large numbers for Obama, almost 2 to 1 over John McCain.  The margin in these two groups alone is enough to account for Barack Obama’s election as president as they provided more than a 17 million vote plurality to Obama.

The numbers are starkly different when examining white voters.  Whites voted for John McCain by a margin of 55-43 nationally (the other 2% refused to say).  Out of the 58 million votes received by Senator McCain, nearly 51 million came from white voters, or about 88% of his total.  Of the 66 million plus votes received by Barack Obama, whites made up only 63% of his total.

Let me be very clear:  I am not saying that whites or African-Americans voted solely on the basis of race and I’m not saying that America is still as racially divided as it once was.  Progress has been made but perhaps not quite as much progress as we would like to think.  Consider the following:

  • whites in California voted for Obama 52% to 46%
  • whites in Minnesota voted for Obama 53% to 46% (mirroring the national vote as a whole)
  • whites in New Hampshire went to Obama by 54% to 44%
  • whites in Virginia went to McCain by 60% to 39%
  • whites in Mississippi & Alabama voted for McCain by a margin of 88% to 10%

Why such a disparity in the white vote between different regions?  In the Old South, McCain won the white vote overwhelmingly.  It is possible that religion had some influence in the southern states known as the Bible Belt.  The majority of whites in the south consider themselves evangelicals who attend church at least once a week, and these voters went to McCain 67% to 33% nationally, and by a margin of 92% to 8% in the south.

Whether the presidential vote of whites in the south and African-Americans nationwide was related to race is a matter for scholars to decide.  Nevertheless, it is an intriguing bit of data.

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