Whitewashing the Election Results?

As you’ve probably heard or read about by now, many commentators and analysts (see here) have announced that there was no evidence of a “Bradley Effect” (or more accurately called the “white racism” effect). Obama’s victory was indeed monumental, and more whites supported him than John Kerry in 2004. Pollsters like Blumenthal at Pollster.com have declared the results “unambiguous” in the rejection of any Bradley Effect. Still, there were 22% of U.S. counties that increased their vote for Republican John McCain, and they are concentrated in places like my home state, Arkansas (see here). Obama actually did ten points worse among white women than John Kerry did in 2004. Some I’ve talked to here think that was due to a “Hillary Effect,” but I don’t buy that, given her endorsement and campaigning for him, as well as their policy similarities. See the following table, which breaks down the white votes for states in the southern/southeastern U.S. (McCain’s percent is listed first in each category):


AL —– 88-9—– 88-12—– 88-10

AR —– 68-30—– 67-31—– 68-30

FL—– 55-42—– 57-42—– 56-42

GA—– 78-21—– 74-26—– 76-23

KY—– 64-34—– 63-36—– 63-36

LA—– 83-16—– 85-13—– 84-14

MS—– 90-9—– 87-13—– 88-11

SC—– 76-23—– 70-29—– 73-26

TN—– 64-31—– 63-36—– 63-34

As Blumenthal has noted, it’s difficult to tell if the Bradley Effect was a factor in these states, since so few polls were taken in these states—being considered safe states for McCain quite early during the cycle. However, the few polls I have reviewed do suggest that white support was higher in the polls than what occurred on Election Day. But regardless whether the Bradley Effect was involved or not, what explains such overwhelming support of McCain over Obama in these states? I think that there is a whitewash in effect for yet another slice (certainly an important one) of U.S. history, in which powerful whites interpret an event that credits whites for its successes (while often marginalizing nonwhites for the successes or even demonizing nonwhites for the failures; see the Prop 8 coverage, as Jessie discussed or atfor example ).

Obama’s victory in Florida, for example, was essentially due to his support from Latino/a voters. Second, I think there is yet another attempted denial of white racism, still alive and well in our society. This election certainly presented us evidence of regional—as well as generational, educational, community type, etc.—differences among whites and how it affects their voting patterns. White denials of racism require selective consciousness and attention to events. Now we have to listen to commentators discuss the “end of racism,” despite the evidence in the data that it indeed persists.

(Note from Joe: also see the correlational analysis by Charles Franklin of the black vote versus the total white vote. He concludes thus:

There is considerable variation in the percentage of whites who voted for Obama. Where African Americans made up less than 20% of the vote (according to exit polls), whites varied from 30% to 60% in their support for Obama but with no relationship to the size of the African American vote. As the African American electorate rose above 20%, white support for Obama fell sharply to barely 10%.



  1. Shari

    In analyzing the differences in female voting patterns it might be wise to make mention of a woman on the opposing ticket. While I doubt she got true Hillary voters I do not doubt that she may have gotten some women who otherwise would have voted Democratic or not voted at all.

    Some data on the alleged “Hillary Effect” from CBS poll analyst. They asked all voters who you would have supported between Hillary and McCain.

    52 percent said Hillary; 41 percent would have voted for McCain

    16 percent of McCain voters said they would have voted for Clinton

    Characteristics of these people:
    53% were women
    61% over 45
    84% White
    12% Hispanic (Hispanic were 9% of electorate as a whole)
    21% said race was a factor in their vote
    61% do not have a college degree

    13% of Obama voters said they would not have supported Hillary 6% would have supported McCain 7% would not have voted

    59% were men
    74% White
    17% Black (more than share of total Electorate)
    5% Hispanic (less than their 9% of totl electorate)
    58% no college degree

    It is quite interesting that they ask McCain voters if race was a factor. But do not seem to have asked Obama voters if gender was a factor.

    More whitewash? I’m with you that the way Hillary campaigned you cannot call it a Hillary effect. You could call it a sexist effect. Just like you could call the so called Bradley Effect a racist effect. They now have one more euphemism to whitewash oppression.

    The Bradley effect and the Hillary effect as if Bradley and Hillary had anything to do with it.

  2. JDF Author

    Shari, thanks for your input and the data on the so-called “Hillary Effect.” These labels certainly put the onus on minorities for these phenomena (whether intended or not). It’s funny how pollsters and commentators will be quick to point out the difficulties in capturing the motivations of voters (which is indeed true) when discussing the “Bradley Effect,” yet they’ll turn around and discuss the appearance of a “reverse Bradley Effect,” in that whites lied to pollsters that they’d support McCain and then voted for Obama, while failing to provide any evidence of such a thing. I recall Chris Matthews saying that last week–even taking it as “fact.”

  3. M.

    On the lower percentages of whites voting for McCain in higher percentage African-American states: All of the ideas sociologists have about perceived “threat” posed by minorities are 100% consistent with the pattern of substantially less Obama support for McCain in states with higher percentage African-Americans. See Blalock, Blumer, and many articles in soc journals. In higher percentage African-American areas, whites are more likely to feel their group is under threat from African-Americans. The fact that whites would much more heavily support McCain in states with larger shares African-American population is actually one of few things about the election that one could predict confidently from sociological theory–and this theory worked yet again.


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