Thursday, April 24, 2008


We're now starting to get some ward level results for Philadelphia. Since the exit polling started coming out, the correlation between race and support for Obama/Clinton has intensified. I'm not the first one to present the contrast shown above, but I thought I'd put my two cents in. If you look at the city of Philadelphia, broken down by race, you see a pretty solid linkage between race and vote choice. This is a dynamic similar to what we saw in Ohio seven weeks ago and its a trend that's gotten Obama supporters extremely nervous. Further complicating this is the fact that the upscale suburbs that I thought would do well for Obama were much more evenly split.

So how do we explain this?? There seem to be a couple of explanations--perhaps in combination--that can give us some answers. The first explanation would be that, yes, white working class voters won't vote for a black candidate. The "Pennsyltucky" or Appalachian phenomenon is used to bolster this argument. As I've been mulling this data and these maps, my mind keeps going back to the state I'm most familiar with and would seem to act as a counterfactual--Wisconsin. While not Appalachian, Wisconsin is certainly filled with white ethnics and working class voters. Yet it went overwhelmingly to Obama. Not only did he win where one thought he would--Milwaukee and Madison--but he won by large margins statewide.

Now either Wisconsin is an outlier or we need to look for other explanations. Two come immediately to mind. The first is political. In both Pennsylvania and Ohio Senator Clinton had powerful and popular governors--and their respective machines and GOTV operations--on her side. John and I have already speculated that this might explain Clinton's success in the Philly suburbs. In Wisconsin, Governor Jim Doyle is an Obama supporter. The second explanation brings race back in but speaks more to the calendar of the Democratic race. Wisconsin voted before the Reverend Wright controversy erupted. Thus, Badger state voters were looking at an Obama who hadn't had much of his shine rubbed off. Wisconsin voted after Obama had run off an impressive streak of consecutive wins in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, and elsewhere. In other words, momentum was on his side and states were voting in a compacted schedule, thus minimizing the chance that any attack on Obama could metastasize. By the time Ohio, and especially Pennsylvania came around, he had not only been subject to much greater scrutiny but would have to spend weeks on these issues as they dogged his campaign. Thus, white voters may be perfectly willing to vote for a black candidate as long as they haven't been thinking about race beforehand. When that issue becomes activated, Obama fares worse.

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