Racial Patterns in Democratic Voting: White Racism?

  The usaelectionpolls.com website has some interesting state tabulations by racial group for the exit polls for Democratic Party primaries and caucuses(photo credit). Given Senator Clinton’s recent white-framed, racialized remarks on white voters, these exit poll data are revealing and very relevant to numerous recent debates in the media:

White Voters in the 2008 Exit Polls (29 states)

State

Clinton

Obama

Averages of States

54%

39%

Senator Clinton got a larger percentage of (exit poll) white voters than Senator Obama in 23 of the 29 states listed here, and also in the more recent states of North Carolina and Indiana. (25 of 31)

Black Voters in the 2008 Exit Polls (23 states)

State

Clinton

Obama

Averages of States

17%

81%

Senator Obama got the majority of black voters (never less than 68 percent) in all 23 states listed, plus in the recent primaries of North Carolina and Indiana that are not listed. (25 of 25)

Latino Voters in the 2008 Exit Polls (12 states)

State

Clinton

Obama

Averages of States

58%

39%

Senator Clinton got a larger percentage of Latino voters than Senator Obama in 9 of the 12 states listed. (9 of 12)

Asian Voters in One 2008 Exit Poll (one state)

State

Clinton

Obama

Averages of States

71%

25%

California

71%

25%

Only one state had enough Asian American voters to report on that, and Clinton carried them by a large percentage in California. (1 of 1)


There are several interpretations of these striking racial patterns in exit poll data given by media pundits and by political bloggers. Some are arguing that the majority of white Democratic Party voters going for Senator Clinton in most states just means that these whites (and other nonblack voters) are choosing the candidate they see as more in line with their political-economic views. Another plausible interpretation of the skew in the figures for white voters, as well as for Latino and Asian American voters, is that some significant percentage of all these groups hold racial stereotypes and negative feelings about Black men from the still-common white racial frame, and that framing makes it difficult for some to vote for a Black man for president.


There is certainly significant evidence (here and here)showing the prevalence of racially stereotyped thinking among a majority of white Americans about Black Americans in the current social science literature, which has been cited here before. In this regard, as I have argued before, Senator Obama has an uphill battle, especially since the majority of white voters do not vote in Democratic primaries and have yet to be heard from on whether they will exhibit racialized preferences for a white candidate, Senator McCain.


It is also possible that these exit polls are exaggerating to some degree the white support for Senator Obama, since there is pressure for some whites to tell pollsters voting preferences that make them look unprejudiced–pressure that some who voted for a candidate besides Obama may lead them to say to pollsters that they did vote for Obama. We just do not have the data to make more than speculative judgments about the full meaning of these racialized voting data, but it would be very surprising if they are not connected, directly and indirectly, to the dominant white racial framing of African Americans.


Many media analysts, as well as some of the campaign consultants (and Senator Clinton recently) have misread these exit poll data to some extent. The white voters who are not voting for Senator Obama in most of these states are likely to be at least half middle class and upper middle class — and thus are not the proverbial “white working class” or “white blue collar” voters that many analysts seem fixated on. Is the reason white middle class voters, and their possible racist reservations about voting for Senator Obama, are neglected in the analyses because most of the media and other public commentators are white middle class?


Moreover, one very striking thing about these data is that neither Senator Clinton, nor anyone else among powerful white political, economic, or religious leaders, seems to be willing to dissect and/or condemn the likely racist framing and motivation that is leading many white voters to shy away from voting for Senator Obama. In my view, his only chance to win in November, assuming he is the Democratic candidate, is to make the white racist frame a political and societal issue and to attack it head on, rather than to let it do its usual huge, often backstage, damage. Otherwise, assuming the social science data are correct about white views on racial matters, he has only a remote chance of winning.

Comments

  1. Aaron P.

    I find it interesting that much of the talk about Obama not getting white voters is framed as “his problem with white voters.” Some whites certainly have a general issue based preference for Clinton over Obama, and that is fair. But, there will certainly too be a sizable portion of whites that are unwilling to vote for Obama based on his race. I am sure if Obama could end white racism and make all voters choose their candidate without regard to race he would. Absent that magical ability to undo years of generational racial hatred, the pundits should really frame it as “whites’ problems with a black candidate.”
    There was also an excellent article on “Real Clear Politics” that contended that “white working class” voters are picking Clinton as a way to re-draw and re-entrench boundaries of racial power and privilege. With a general economic downturn, whites are attempting to regain feelings of privilege and power by ensuring that a white individual will end up in the aptly named white house. I’ll post the link to the story if I can find it again.

  2. Joe Author

    Yes, Aaron, well said. The problem is as you suggest, white voters’ racism. And it is interesting that the white middle class voters, who are a majority of racist white voters, rarely even get mentioned. Why?

  3. Adia

    Glad to see RR back online again! Aaron, I think you are absolutely right on point here. To address Joe’s question, I think the emphasis on white working class voters (or in Hillary Clinton-speak, the “hardworking Americans”) serves to reinforce the idea that racism is primarily the province of working-class, less educated whites, rather than a problem among whites at large from various backgrounds, regions, and classes. This minimizes the extent to which racial inequality is perpetuated and reproduced by those in power, downplays the reality of racism as a central organizing principle of our society and suggests it is, to paraphrase Joe, a blemish on an otherwise healthy society.

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