The White Vote

November 21, 2012

President Obama’s share of the white vote in 2012 was substantially higher in northern states than southern ones, as reported by the NBC political blog First Read. In Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia, he got less than the national average (39%) and in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa he got more than it. The farther north you went, the higher the percentage of white people voted for the black President – in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa he got about half the voters of European ancestry. The farther south you look, the lower the totals, from 37% in Florida and Virginia to under 16% in Mississippi and Alabama.

That sounds like a familiar story to anyone with even the slightest awareness of American history. And there is no doubt that the legacy of slavery and segregation are strongly imprinted on our national map and consciousness. But the political implications are probably less dramatic than they seem. Alabama, for instance, only gave John Kerry slightly more white votes in 2004 than it gave Obama in 2012 – 19% for Kerry and 15% for Obama. (In 2008, Obama got 12%.) So most white people who didn't want Obama to be Commander-in-Chief also didn't want a white liberal like Kerry to have the job either. That doesn't mean race wasn't a factor for them, but it does mean most of them were lost to a Democratic nominee anyway. (And Democrats don't come close to capturing those electoral votes anyway.)

The implication of that fact is that Democrats probably don’t pay much of a price, in raw political terms, for nominating a non-white candidate in the future. That’s a statement that would have seemed nearly absurd before 2008. It was a truism of national politics, even as late as the first half of 2008, that the road to the White House for non-whites would be incredibly difficult. No party had even risked a non-white vice presidential candidate. Now I’m not sure the Democrats, at least, could even get away with an all-white male ticket anymore. It shows -- once again -- that in politics things are absolutely true up until the exact moment when they become laughably false.

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White vote
Deep South voting patterns
Alabama presidential vote
Non-white nominee
The Bigger Hammer
2008 Election
2012 eleciton
Future Democratic tickets
North Carolina

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