Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Race and the White House race

There are four states in which fewer than 0.8% of the residents are black: South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. According to polls, John McCain will win these states handily in November.

There are three states in which more than 29% of the residents are black: Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia.

Guess what? According to polls, John McCain is going to take those three states with ease as well.

Before I go any further, I should link to my sources for the analysis I'm doing here. First, here is the Rasmussen Reports poll site, which I like because it's updated daily, and which you Obama heads will like because it says your guy has about a 65% chance of prevailing this fall:

Polls are simply predictions gauging what the voters will do, not a report on what they actually do. Maybe somehow between now and November Obama might turn it around in Georgia or McCain might pull ahead in Colorado. We don't know for sure; but one can't do pre-election analysis like this without resorting to polls. Oh, and please note I'm counting every state for Obama whether it's in his "safe," "likely", or "leans" column, and the same goes for McCain. With those caveats out of the way, now here's the Census Bureau page I'm getting data from:

I note that the table is labeled: "Percent of the Total Population Who Are Black or African American Alone." That word "alone" really stands out, in that this would seem to exclude Obama himself from the 14.8% figure for Illinois. As we have more and more people in this country like Obama, Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Tiger Woods, etc. of mixed race, the significance of charts like this will be less and less; which I regard as a plus for America. But for the moment, we have distinctions on who is black and who isn't and for better or worse--mostly worse--we continue to act on these distinctions.

Anyway, I'm bringing this up because with Obama clinching last night, and all the stories generated about how this is the first time an African-American has been a major party's nominee, I got to thinking about circumstances in my state, Georgia. The Peach Tree State has a greater percentage of African-Americans that any of the other ten largest states; nevertheless, it's considered safely Republican for the fall. That inspired me to look at the data and so I discovered the surprising thing I led this article with: McCain is beating Obama in the four states where blacks are the fewest AND in the three states where they are the most numerous. Let's investigate this phenomenon a little more.

When I said the three states with the greatest percentage of blacks were in McCain's column, I admittedly disregarded the District of Columbia, which isn't a state, but does participate in presidential elections courtesy of the Twenty-third Amendment. Now let's bring it into the discussion. There are sixteen states plus the D.C. that have a higher percentage of black or African-American residents than the U.S. national average of 12.4%. According to Rasmussen, McCain is ahead in ten of these seventeen places, and the only reason it's that close for Obama is that he is ahead in the three states ranked fifteen through seventeen: Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey. If you make the cutoff point states where fifteen percent or more of the folks are black, McCain has an absurd lead, ten states to four. Or, since in our presidential elections it's all about the electoral college, McCain leads Obama in electoral votes in these thirteen states and the District by a whopping 119 to 47! Even if Obama were to capture Florida, which Rasmussen has down as only "leaning" towards McCain, the Arizona senator would still be ahead in this group of states 92 electoral votes to 74.

Okay, let's go to the other end of the spectrum. I led with McCain winning in the four states with the lowest percentage of blacks, but that's too small a sample to have much meaning. We tallied the electoral vote count for states with fifteen percent or more black residents, now let's take a peek at the states with five percent or fewer blacks.

There are twenty such states--and by the way, I wouldn't have guessed that West Virginia, which we think of as a border state, was one of them. Let's toss out Colorado and New Hampshire, because Rasmussen has these as toss-up states this fall. What about the other eighteen?

McCain is ahead in ten of them. Again, however, it's the electoral college that matters, and McCain suffers from his strength being mostly in places like Alaska and North Dakota. Tally the electoral votes for the eighteen states categorized here and Obama wins, 51 to 45. If you want to consider the impact of those two swing states, New Hampshire has four votes, so McCain would not jump ahead by winning that; he only beats Obama in states with fewer than five percent blacks if he wins Colorado OR Colorado and New Hampshire.

So what states are left? Right, the ones with over five percent but fewer than fifteen percent black denizens. There are seventeen of these; again let's toss out the states Rasmussen says could go either way, Ohio and Nevada. What results do we get for the other fifteen?

We get an Obama rout, that's what. McCain only leads in six of these states and among the nine Obama is predicted to win is California with it's 55 electoral votes. That works out to a 162 to 77 edge for the man from Chicago. Put Ohio and Nevada in McCain's column and he's still nowhere close; the count would become 162 to 102.

So let me put this in one block of text to facilitate comparison. Here, I'm leaving out those four pesky toss-up states that I get the feeling may be crucial this fall. Taking the other forty-six states plus DC and dividing them into three groups, you get:

Group 1: Over fifteen percent black: McCain kicks butt, 119 to 47.

Group 2: Five to fifteen percent black: Obama in a cakewalk, 162 to 77.

Group 3: Under five percent black: Obama narrowly, 51 to 45.

And you know what? If you add together groups 2 and 3 to make one super group of states with fewer than fifteen percent people of African descent, it's still an Obama rout: 213 to 122. If all four toss-up states went for Obama he'd have 251 electoral votes, and by winning New York he'd be well over the 270 votes needed to win. In other words, theoretically Obama could lose almost all of the states with high percentages of blacks and still win the election; McCain could win almost all of the states with high percentages of blacks and still lose the election--and if Rasmussen is accurate, this is a very real possibility.

Look, we'll hear an awful lot about the significance of race in the 2008 election in the months to come. Some of it may be profound, much will be profane. But if someone tells you it's all going to be about race, maybe you'll remember what you've read here and point out to that someone that the way it looks right now if only the states with a large percentage of blacks were permitted to vote, the white candidate would win, and if only states with a medium to small percentage of blacks could cast ballots, the black candidate would win.

Ironic, huh?

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