Jim Crow’s Legacy: Anti-Felony Voting Law

While going over the exit polling from Mississippi for the Election, something jumped out at me when observing the cross-tabs for race and gender: the fact that the gender gap in voter turnout for blacks was double that of whites. The gender gap regardless of race exists likely for several reasons, including women’s longer life expectancies. With the 2000 Election debacle in mind (along with Gov. Crist’s rather surprising push to reform the law), I looked here to see which states have the most stringent (i.e., repressive and racist; see here) anti-felon voting laws, and the bulk of them are ex-slave states.

Anti-felon voting laws are part of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation in this country because they disproportionately affect black men’s ability to vote. The following is a chart examining the gender gap for blacks and whites in selected states with the toughest voting laws regarding felons (note: each number listed represents the percentage of the total voter turnout for the state; women are listed first for each category):


AL— 33-32% 18-11%

AR— 45-37 7-6

GA— 32-33 19-11

KY— 44-41 7-4

LA— 36-30 19-10

MS— 33-29 21-13

MO— 44-38 7-5

NC— 37-35 14-9

SC— 37-34 14-11

TN— 42-42 9-3

VA— 38-32 10-10

So in Mississippi, for example, where “many” felons can never vote again in the state, black men made-up 13 percent of the total vote, eight points below that of black women. Although white women also made-up a higher percentage of the total vote than white men, the difference was only four percent. Meanwhile, the gender gaps in states like Louisiana and Tennessee were even higher. There are some disparities in the data, perhaps based on other factors (e.g., Obama’s time and money spent in the state, such as Virginia) or the variations in the anti-felon laws (e.g., the laws are less restrictive in the Carolinas than in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama).

Still, the important analysis put forth by Charles Franklin (see here) may shed light on the issue of white fear and its relationship to the percentage of blacks in the population. It appears that the higher the proportion of the black population, the more severe the anti-felon voting laws are in that state. Imagine if the gender gap for blacks had not existed in this election…in a state like Mississippi (where Obama won the black vote 98-2), perhaps that increased black turnout could have made the difference in the outcome. What do you think?

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%.


Hoping for a Bradley Effect?

Like so many others at this point, I’m suffering from election fatigue. Despite promising poll numbers, many argue that McCain shouldn’t be counted out .

After wondering why the heck McCain was continuing to campaign in places like Iowa and Pennsylvania, states in which Obama leads on average by double-digits (see this), there seems to be only one explanation: that the McCain campaign is hoping for the Bradley Effect, along with the Wilder Effect.

The former refers to whites lying to pollsters about supporting the black candidate while actually voting for someone else (i.e., the white candidate), while the latter refers to the remaining undecideds to break overwhelmingly for the white candidate. (Thus, it is more accurately called the “white racism effect.”)

In both RCP averages in those states, Obama’s raw score is above 52 percent, meaning that the Wilder Effect alone would be insufficient for McCain to win in those states. So why spend time campaigning there with such little time left before Election Day? Part of the explanation could be that they have nothing left at this point, but why ignore Colorado at this juncture? Turns out that they may be banking on the older white populations of Iowa and Pennsylvania (along with others like Florida and Ohio), while giving up on Colorado (the youngest state in the union). Apparently the recent charges ranging from “palling around with terrorists” to “socialist” to “Marxist” are attempts to gain favor with these voters. What do you think: could the McCain camp be onto something (say, based on their own polling), or is this just another poor decision of an utterly miserable campaign?

Hate Crime Fueled by DVD?

Have you found a DVD in your mailbox recently entitled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” released by the Clarion Fund? In its jacket they ask “How can you help fight radical Islam?” and directs you to a website (www.radicalislam.org) to “take action” and for “activism ideas.” The cover (and title) of the DVD should be telling enough, but after watching for a few minutes, you get the idea: that the production is pure fear mongering and anti-Islam (see this ), not to mention the Clarion Fund is a pro-McCain group. As One at Huff-Post reported, just four days after the DVD’s release, an attack at a Dayton mosque took place in which two white men sprayed some kind of chemical into a window, with children praying inside. Zero attention has been paid to this attack, while the local press has bought the line from the police that it was not a hate crime . Unfortunately we haven’t heard either candidates speak out against this attack, though McCain should feel more inclined to do so, since the group supports his candidacy.

Is this “Obsession” video the “October surprise” we should expect from the Republicans this election cycle? Or rather, is this just the beginning? Just yesterday Governor Palin tried to accuse Obama of “palling around with terrorists” something the AP has recently said is racially tinged, though now she is denying it is.

Following Jessie’s recent entry, Palin is now pivoting from her own image of whiteness and attacking Obama for his perceived Otherness. But what about McCain? Many in the media seem to think he won’t go there, but I’m not so sure. McCain recently said he would “take off the gloves” this Tuesday night at the debate.

Obama supporters, brace yourselves. This final month before election day is going to get very rough.

Jesse Helms: “Not the Least Bit Racist”?

On July 4 Jesse Helms, former Republican Senator from North Carolina, joined the likes of former U.S. Presidents Jefferson, Adams, and Monroe when he died of natural causes(photo: ohnocriso). Following his death, the response from the MSM was rather telling in its defense—albeit a subtle one—of white supremacists and white racism. One might expect to see the responses from conservatives like Sean Hannity (who choked up when talking about Helms on air), or President Bush calling Helms “a kind, decent, and humble man,: and “a wavering champion of those struggling for liberty” (see here), or White House spokesman Scott Stanzel remarking that “America lost a great public servant and true patriot today.”

Even white Democrats spoke positively about Helms; Senator Joe Biden, getting attention from the MSM as a potential running mate for Obama, remarked that Helms was “one of the most thoughtful, considerate, and gracious senators I have ever served with.” Anti-racists cannot help but feel disgusted at the respect this man gets from former Senate colleagues, party members and supporters, and the general care taken by MSM outlets reporting his death and his ‘legacy.’ The only exception, at least mentioned in one of the MSM articles (CNN),was from Jesse Jackson:

He was a talented man. A man of considerable power. But he used his powers to maintain the order of the Old South. It was divisive…We offer condolences to his bereaved family, but the senator had a chance to move toward a more perfect union and he chose the Confederacy (emphasis added).

Unfortunately Jackson’s own legacy of progress and equality has been thoroughly smeared by the MSM, and he is simply written off as a lightening rod—even associated with a white racist like Helms. Despite the fact that CNN had a good blog appear on its site by Roland S. Martin, which criticizes the MSM for sanitizing Helms’ racist past, notice how CNN is careful not to associate too closely to Martin’s ‘opinion’ with a headline like “Give Helms credit where it’s due but don’t cover up his racism, columnist says (emphasis added).” Meanwhile, even among white liberals there is difficulty in speaking of Helms’ racism, such as Hitchens’ article in Slate, in which Hitchens calls Helms a “provincial redneck.” Hitchens gets it wrong in that he takes the perspective that racists possess the “authoritarian personality” and (thus) his (and everyone else’s) racism is a product of ignorance and/or stupidity.

So why is this happening?

What we are witnessing is the celebration of racist white men in our culture. This situation is particularly telling, given the current political situation and concerns about white racism derailing Obama’s hopes of victory in November, and the non-stop smear campaign waged against Barack and Michelle Obama by Hannity and Fox News. It’s important to note that Helms, despite a long history of profiting off of white racism for political power, wrote in his memoir that he was “not the least bit racist,” a response similar to David Duke’s denial that he was racist. After investigating his legislative record (his opposition to extending the Voting Rights Act, supporting the apartheid regime in South Africa, and filibustering the effort to make Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday), and past statements (e.g., saying once that the Civil Rights Movement was “infested by communists and moral degenerates”), how can anyone believe him? And furthermore, how can conservatives like Hannity and still-President Bush speak so glowingly of him? The sad fact about Helms is that white racism remains potent today, only now no longer requires the blatantly bigoted rhetoric that Helms had used.

We Americans should know just who Jesse Helms was: a Dixiecrat who came to fame when elected to the Senate riding the coattails of Nixon’s Southern Strategy (and later on the coattails of Reagan for reelection in 1984), for the anti-democratic and racist policies he supported (see here for some more examples), and his race-baiting tactics he used, including his “Hands ad” in 1990, to win more elections. We must question the “principles” Helms actually stood for, and that his attack on “liberalism” is a euphemism for “civil rights.” And yet the MSM gave him their blessing!

Race-Based Affirmation Action Remains Necessary

Following the recent results in the West Virginia primary, we should be well aware of the continuing significance of race and racism in U.S. society. Exit polling (such as at CNN) shows that a significant number of whites who voted there said that race played a role in their decision. This continuing significance is not limited to politics, but also remains salient in other areas of social life, including employment and college/university admissions. (photo credit)

In the last debate on April 16th, Barack Obama made some comments on affirmative action (followed with some more by Hillary Clinton) in which he seemed to suggest his support for ending race-based  admissions policies at selective colleges and universities, replacing them with class-based policies. In a recent blog post, Kahlenberg argues that Obama should continue in this vein, that it will help him win over the support of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” (a group of voters who, as recent polls have shown in their head-to-head match-ups with McCain, either of these Democrats would lose in the general election anyway). As he did in his book from 1996, Kahlenberg reiterates in the blog that class-based affirmative action “would be colorblind but not blind to history” and “reinforce the common interests of working-class voters,” thereby assisting Obama in his pursuit of the White House.

Unfortunately Kahlenberg and other proponents of setting the sun on race-based affirmative action fail to recognize the legacy of white racism and the continuing impact of the white racial frame in U.S. society. One simple reason of this is the fact that affirmative action benefits other groups, including veterans, persons with disabilities, and women, yet the focus is on race. As pointed by Bowen and Bok, the reality is that very few students of color benefit from race-sensitive admissions policies at selective colleges and universities, so what we need is more transparency on what exactly affirmative action is, rather than mischaracterize what it does.

Kahlenberg and others also fail to account for exactly WHY we have  race-based affirmative action policies to begin with, and argue that our society today is colorblind so we should end these policies. As a variety of studies (here and here and here) have documented, and along with the results from the primary Tuesday night, U.S. society is far from colorblind. Some states have already moved in the direction Kahlenberg has wished for, and the results haven’t been promising: following the passage of Prop 209 in California, for example, black enrollment at UCLA has dropped considerably. A decline in black enrollment has also commenced at the University of Texas at Austin, following then-Governor Bush’s “Texas 10 percent Plan”, as well as brother Jeb’s similar “One Florida Plan” led to a decline in black enrollment at the University of Florida (though through recruitment efforts, black enrollment rebounded). One reason why this has happened is the fact that the majority of poor people are white in this country.

We need to understand why race-based affirmative action remains necessary in dealing with racial inequality and misunderstanding. As Bowen and Bok point out, whites need contact with students of color in order to prepare for interactions within an increasingly globalized society.

And finally, as Kahlenberg and Barack Obama (at least based on his recent statements on this issue) fail to realize is that Barack’s daughters may indeed be in a privileged position in terms of socioeconomic status. However, they remain black in U.S. society, and race can operate independently. For example, research has found that job applicants with “white-sounding names” such as Greg were 50 percent more likely to receive called for interviews than applicants with “black-sounding names” such as Jamal. In addition to future employers, will Barack’s daughters be viewed any differently from police officers, judges, teachers, or salespeople because of their more favorable socioeconomic status? Obama shouldn’t bother to pander to Reagan Democrats on this issue, since (1) they largely won’t vote for him anyway; and (2) it is bad policy.

~ John D. Foster, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff