Deciphering those S&R Obama/racism poll results

Last week, a highly unscientific Scholars & Rogues poll asked our readers this question: What percent of the popular vote do you believe Barack Obama would win in the upcoming election if he were white? The results are in, and I’d like to spend a few moments examining what they reveal.

First, the numbers:

Less than 50% 15.15%
Roughly 50% 10.61%
60% 31.82%
70% 36.36%
80% 4.55%
More than 80% 1.52%

Here’s what those answers mean.

60%: This we’ll call the aware, informed and reasoned answer. Our friend Wufnik, in the comment thread, offers some analysis suggesting that the race factor is worth maybe four points. It’s certainly an intelligent estimate, although for reasons I briefly note in reply, I fear it underestimates.

70%: This is the the aware, informed and reasoned, but even more cynical answer. Full disclosure: this is how I voted. I don’t think everybody in the South (and various other South-like regions of the country) are racists, but I grew up there and I know the culture intimately. Over time these people have learned what to say in public. But they vote in private, don’t they?

80%: The more cynical than is probably healthy answer. Listen, 30% of the population would vote for Voldemort before they would a Democrat, regardless of race. (Although, granted, a big part of the reason this is true traces back to Johnson and the Civil Rights Act. Objection noted.)

More than 80%: The seek help answer. Lord, folks, it probably wasn’t that bad even during the Jim Crow era.

Now, to the other end of the spectrum.

Roughly 50%: The there is no racism in America answer. If Barack Obama were white, his poll numbers would be precisely what they are now, apparently. This answer asserts that there are no Americans who hold his race against him. This option pulled better than 10% of the response. Which, now that I think on it, might mean the polls has more scientific validity than I previously imagined.

Less than 50%: The positively barking being a minority is a huge plus in American politics answer. Not only does race not hinder your ability to attain higher office, it helps to be black. Which explains why we have had so many black presidents and nominees from both major parties. And why in the entirety of modern US history there have been four black senators (none of them from the South, it might be observed, and unless I’m missing someone, none currently). And why there has only been one black Supreme Court justice. (Well, two if you count Thomas.) This option rang up better than 15% of the final tally. It’s possible that some of those who voted this way were trolling. It’s certain that the rest shouldn’t be allowed outdoors off-leash.

In the end, this poll perhaps suggests that S&R’s readership is less skewed to the left than we usually assume. As Wufnik notes in the comments on the previous post, analyses of American politics begin with the assumption that 27% of the voters are certifiably insane. The percentage of respondents voting the two incoherent conservative choices here comes to nearly 26% – well within any margin of error you might like to apply – and if you add the exceedingly paranoid 1.52% from the other end, we’re at precisely 27.28%, with a significant majority of the irrationalism on the right end of the spectrum.

Sounds about right.

10 replies »

  1. That anyone thinks Obama’s race would swing the popular vote 30, 20 or even 10 points is beyond ridiculous to me. No one has even cracked 60% in 40 years, it’s just not what happens normally even without race as a confounding factor.

    I do believe racism plays some part in the narrative of Obama as some sort of “other” or the notion that he’s not “one of us.” This is worth, in my opinion 2.5 – 5 points in the popular vote max, and I think that’s pretty generous. That still represents millions of votes – its definitely not nothing.

    However, that poll above is beyond skewed – t lacks any usefulness or insight.

    • Furthermore, the “Roughly 50%” people, according to you say: “This answer asserts that there are no Americans who hold his race against him.”

      You don’t know that. Perhaps the people who selected this answer believed that for every vote against his race, there is another minority or liberal voter, who normally would not have voted, who votes in FAVOR of his race. You don’t think minority voters are more likely to vote for a black candidate?

      Perhaps many people who are uncomfortable with his race vote for him anyway just because they are Democrats traditionally, or disagree with Romney’s politics or whatever.

      Race can be a factor and not be moving the needle 10 or 20 points.

      If you’re going to put these polls up, its probably better not to make broad, judgmental statements about the qualitative sentiments that belie them. Its clear you find those who voted for the first two options as invalid opinions or some other pejorative, so why include them?

    • Wow, Matt. Well, a couple brief observations before I get to what I think is the main point here. First, you respond as though you missed this bit: “a highly unscientific Scholars & Rogues poll…” Second, your tone suggests that somehow you feel personally aggrieved, as though you’re angry because I called you a racist or something. Since I’ve never suggested anything of the sort, have never associated you with anything like that, and have never seen any reason why I would, I’m puzzled. That tone seems all out of alignment with the point you’re attempting to make.

      Onward. I’m familiar with conventional analyses on the subject (note that I mentioned Wufnik’s argument myself) and I assume you’re familiar with, or soon will be, research on the “Bradley Effect” and even on the “reverse Bradley Effect” and/or the “Wilder Effect.” Within this context, I understand that a posit in the 4% range makes sense. Your assumptions reflect that, more or less.

      But there’s a problem here. First off, I could walk you door to door in the neighborhood I grew up in and find you probably 35-40 “hell no, I ain’t votin’ fer no nigger” votes. I not only think this, I’d bet you any sum of money you’d like on it. Now, multiply that figure by the entire South. My belief that the number is higher than 4% is based on lots of unpleasant face-to-face, personal experience. Of course, the numbers are the numbers, right?

      So let’s broaden the conversation, and let’s do it with a question. You’re now a PhD student in a very fine university, so my guess is that I can expect an informed analysis, one that exhibits intellectual honesty and evidence of academic rigor, from you. The question goes to larger contexts and to the impact of historical momentum and political ideologies. It goes like this. Once upon a time the South was staunchly Democratic. Kennedy won most of the South. Johnson lost five states (the SC-LA belt) but took the rest. Then, all of a sudden, something happened. By 1968, Humphrey was only able to win one Southern state – Texas – while Nixon and George Wallace divvied up the rest. Let me repeat that. GEORGE WALLACE.

      So something happened between 1964 and 1968 that radically changed major party dynamics. What was it that changed? And with this in mind, what are the implications for our discussion of race and this election, given that the change has not reversed itself?

      Were you being fed this question on a midterm, how comfortable would be standing behind that low-end 2% estimate you offer?

      • Well, to start with, I didn’t feel aggrieved and I didn’t feel like I was being called a racist and I don’t think I really implied that. Like, at all.

        What I found troubling is that 42% of what I thought was a pretty intelligent readership -general partisan certainly, but intelligent – that 42% of them thinks Obama is the most popular presidential candidate since James Madison ran unopposed 180 years ago were it not for his race strikes me as staggeringly out of touch. Staggeringly out of touch. This strikes me as about as damning as those Fox News polls from 2004 that showed some insane percentage were being fed so much misinformation that they had lost touch with reality.

        I don’t mind partisanship so much as I do partisanship that has the effect of divorcing someone from reality. That Obama’s race would effect the popular vote to the tune of 10 or 20 points is, to me, absurdly divorced of reality.

        To speak to your point, how comfortable would I be with that 2% number on the low end? I think its a little more than that but as a low-level baseline I’m fine with it. Obama does not make an issue of his race. He doesn’t possess any racist triggers in his dress, mannerisms, affectations, speech. He is as close to a post-racial figure as one could imagine in present circumstances.

        So, we’re talking about 2% of about 120,000,000 who vote. About 1/3 of the total population. That’s 2,400,000 who will never, ever, ever vote for a black man. Ever. Because if they weren’t going to vote for Barack Obama, they certainly aren’t going to vote for Jesse Jackson Jr. or Al Sharpton.

        Let’s even say that’s representative of the larger population. 2% x approx 320,000,000 = 6.4 million people. 6.4 million people that are so racist that they will never vote for a black man under any circumstance.

        Yes, I believe that’s approximately the number. Of course we’ll never know who’s right but if my choice was between 6.4 million true, died in the wool racists or 64 million. (64 million!!!) I don’t believe that.

        I have more faith in people than that. I won’t be multiplying any figure by the entire south. The south is not all, mostly or even a large minority racist. I don’t and won’t paint them with that brush. More to the point, there’s plenty of racists all around the country.

        I think somewhere between 2.4 million and 6 million people won’t vote for Barack Obama primarily because he’s black. If you think that’s Polly-annaish, then I don’t know what to tell you. You’ve lost all faith in America. There’s hate in the world, but Jesus, not that much.

  2. How long has it been since you walked door to door in your old neighborhood, Sam? Better yet, how does that neighborhood (even if it hasn’t changed since you were there – and I’ll bet it has) extrapolate to the entire South. Let’s face it – you only come out with your Southern Roots when you want to chop at them with a hoe. I hope you free yourself of them eventually.
    I really wanted to read this article but when I got to your “intimate” knowledge of the South I had to stop. You don’t know anything about these places anymore, Sam. Why don’t you leave them behind and write about what you really know.
    Wash your bowl.

    • It’s remarkable how much you know about my life and what I do and where I go. Omniscience must be a heavy burden.

      In any event, the voting results for our county will be there for all to see. And nothing about them will come close to suggesting that I might be wrong, will they?

  3. I am far from omniscient….I leave that to smarter folks than myself.
    And when Obama wins tomorrow, and your old state goes Romney (which I suppose is what you’re referring to when you say ‘our county’ ), that will be only about race? Wow. Sorry I stopped in.